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  • How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology:Reviewer's Truncated Second Thoughts
  • David McCraw
  1. 1. Apologies for having mangled Prof. Samei's name!

  2. 2. Respondents attacked my review—correctly—for its blunt style. Reviewer regrets some curmudgeonly word-choices!

  3. 3. Thanks, Prof. Lin, for correcting a citation.

  4. 4. Problematic "rebuttals" demand discussion. Prof. Cai's preface—recall—made grand claims for what including Sinographs would do for undergraduates. We questioned that; he rebuts: "McCraw obviously considers the inclusion of the Chinese text unnecessary." His rebuttal reminded me of the guy who complained to his tailor about a button, an epaulet. Tailor: "you're against coats!" With tailors and Sinologists, one watches one's tone—or wears the consequences. Restoring lucidity will take space. Let's pursue just one loose thread, involving Sinographs. Sometimes, Prof. Cai seemed to confuse "characters" with words. He tried to cite Chao Yuen Ren to support a contention that, since traditional Chinese critics didn't use "words," we shouldn't either.1 Well, traditional Chinese critics wrote with brushes made from rabbit's-hair; they offered the briefest and most unsystematic of observations, which their intended audiences apparently understood; and they obeyed imperial taboos. Need we? Prof. Cai's continued insistence on the quasi-magical power of "characters" has unfortunate repercussions. One example must suffice: my review took him to task for misusing Northrop Frye's distinctions among three kinds of rhythm. Rebutting, Prof. Cai ditches Frye for a distinction between "character-based" and "sense-based" rhythm. Changing terms does clarify that (Frye's) metrical rhythm can diverge from "semantic rhythm"; here, Prof. Cai has improved on his previous confusing usages. But we still balk at "character-based rhythm" for prosodic features. What happens when we try to apply this to his beloved "folksongs" and "oral-formulaic" poetry? Did folksongs acquire "character-based rhythm" only after someone wrote them down? Did their singers need literati to inform them how many characters to sing before pausing, to complete a line?? Another reason why modern linguistic usages like "syllable" and "word" often work better than "character." [End Page 58]

  5. 4a. Due to editorial error and miscommunication, my response has gotten truncated. No chance to illumine misunderstandings about "Anachronism: Zhuangzi, Dreams, 'Reality' "(Prof. Lian), "Sinographs and Language Change," and "Argument from Less-than-silence: Singing Quatrains" (Prof. Egan). CRI won't allow reference to online forums and enjoins me from online discussion. Readers may contact me, samizdat-style, for fuller response.


1. But Chao's humorous apologetic sought only to explain indigenous use to skeptical linguists, not to advocate its adoption in interlingual contexts. Prof. Cai also tries to claim Baxter/Sagart in support, but it would astonish everyone if he could have produced a citation. Even linguists might admire Prof. Cai's semi-magnificent obsession, if only iconolatry did not mislead young readers. [End Page 59]



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