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  • A Defense of Innovation:The Editor's Response to david [sic] McCraw's Review
  • Zong-qi Cai

In How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, my coauthors and I offer a new kind of comprehensive textbook for studying classical Chinese poetry. Our anthology differs from most of its predecessors in three important ways. It provides

  1. 1. a display of the Chinese text for each poem;

  2. 2. phoneticization of each poem in tone-marked pinyin; and

  3. 3. an interpretative commentary by a specialist in the relevant genre and period.

Each of these innovative features has been harshly criticized by David McCraw in his review. For each point, I shall summarize his criticism and then offer a defense of our endeavors.

Issues of Professional Ethics

Before my defense, I must first deal with two issues of professional ethics: willful misrepresentation and the use of highly inappropriate language and tone in the review.

Sloppiness is an issue addressed in great detail by my coauthors (see their responses above). A wide range of errors by the reviewer has been identified. He faults the authors for doing what they did not do and, conversely, not doing what they actually did. He cites ideas or arguments that have never been made by the identified scholars. He reverses an author's surname and middle name and refers to her by her middle name. He changes the spelling of the names of several renowned scholars in the field. The list goes on. Some of my coauthors who have [End Page 50] not made public their responses have also pointed out many errors of the same or other kinds in the review. It is ironic that the reviewer who shows little tolerance for others' errors and, in his own words, plays the game of "substituting reviewer as editor" (p. 28) has committed so many errors himself. Regrettably, the fact the reviewer cannot get (or does not bother to get) facts, quotes, and even names right undermines his trustworthiness as a critic.

However, sloppiness is a minor fault compared to willful misrepresentation. Some of McCraw's errors are too egregious to be taken merely as evidence of sloppiness. In these cases, McCraw appears guilty of willful misrepresentation. Consider his criticism of my commentary on "The Zhongnan Mountain" by Wang Wei:

Cai assures us that merge 合 refers to a Sanskrit word for "composite," while dispel/turn empty 無 refers to "negation of both sides" 無二. While as reader's association it remains just possible, this Buddhist over-reading wrongly limits students' understandings and inhibits precisely the evocative nature of Tang poetry and the full readers' co-participation Cai has previously recommended. Now he would have us respond: "Oh, they're just Buddhist technical terms," neither a likely nor a desirable effect (p. 30).

One has to wonder what would motivate a reviewer to omit (and, in effect, deny the existence of) my detailed discussion of the poet's perceptual processes and illusions, painterly approach to poetry, his surreptitious use of Buddhist terms, and his ultimate evocation of a Buddhist vision of the world (Guided Anthology, pp. 177-179). Do those pages not do exactly what he is trying to fault me for not doing—demonstrating the "evocative nature of Tang poetry" and inviting the "readers' coparticipation?" With sleight of hand, he reduces my commentary to a gloss of two Buddhist terms in order to allege that the commentator "would have us respond: 'Oh, they're just Buddhist technical terms.'"

On a larger scale, McCraw is willing to change/misrepresent the subject if it allows him to score on the authors of this anthology: "Throughout, Cai simply assumes, uncritically, that we have a corpus of 'orally performed' Han yuefu (e.g., p. 28); now he claims their hedonism finds a source in the views of 'Warring States' thinker Yang Zhu, as quoted in Liezi." McCraw has willfully changed the subject of chapter 5 from "nineteen old poems" (generally considered a corpus of literati compositions) to Han yuefu (a corpus with oral and folk origins). This manipulation allows him to ridicule the author for attempting to trace oral and folk compositions to the written text of an ancient philosopher. To bolster his accusation, McCraw...


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