Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet Review

Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet
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Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet ReviewProfessor Ropp's sensitive and passionate book is not only a learned study but also a valuable memoir. He has chosen a highly ambitious and broadly conceived approach to a complex and intriguing subject, Shuangqing--the 18th century peasant woman poet whose existence is still being debated today. In recent years Shuangqing has emerged as the focus of attention in Ming-Qing women's studies, but so far Ropp's book is the first work (in any language) which demonstrates--through extensive field trips and years of research and reading--the abundance and complexity of the questions of Shuangqing as a cultural icon. The book manages to be specific and broad-ranging at the same time, providing valuable information not just on Shuangqing but also on Shi Zhenlin and his circle, the group of Qing literati responsible for the transmission (or possibly the creation) of the Shuangqing story. This is indeed a richly researched and elegantly written book
Most important, Ropp has written an engaging study of Shuangqing which demonstrates impressively what an innovative methodological approach could mean to the general public and the scholarly field. Instead of following the conventional way of academic writing by routinely presenting an analytical argument with a supply of copious notes, Ropp creates a lively narrative throughout the book which offers its readers an exemplary interplay of literary history and personal observation. He begins his narrative with his trip to Jintan and Danyang with Professors Du Fangqin and Zhang Hongsheng, two of China's leading scholars, in search of information about the vanished worlds of Shuangqing and Shi Zhenlin. In retelling and reconstructing the story, he has skillfully introduced the various themes running through the book, namely (1) his reading of Shuangqing's story in Shi Zhenlin's Random Notes; (2) the poetry and song lyrics of Shuangqing and their place in Chinese culture; (3) the evolution of Chinese opinion on Shuangqing and her poetry from the mid eighteenth century to the present, including debates over whether she really lived or was just the fictional creation of Shi Zhenlin.Parallel to Shi Zhenlin who prized the opinions of like-minded people, Professor Ropp also documented his discussions with many scholars and friends, so that his is an extremely interesting book with a fresh perspective. It tells the readers not only the result of his research but also the "process" of the long search for the "mysterious" Shuangqing. Needless to say, its implications are numerous and rich. I believe readers are bound to learn more about Chinese culture from this book than from a conventional academic book. For Ropp writes like a literary detective, and the book has a message about the joy of constant discovery. As he explains in the "Preface," the most interesting part of this project has been the process of discovery along the way. From this book readers will learn how a scholar can study and examine the past of an alien culture, how one can use a book such as Shi Zhenlin's Random Notes as a window for learning about a significant aspect of traditional china, and how people (of all cultures) are inclined to mingle history, fiction, and legend in recreating our remembered past. Moreover, the fact that Professor Ropp has experienced firsthand the dust and dirt of farm work in his youth (in a small town of Illinois) certainly enriches his many close readings of poetry by Shuangqing, a peasant woman poet in 18th century China. Ropp's translations of Shuangqing's poems are generally accurate and elegant, and so far they represent the most comprehensive and meticulous treatment of this body of texts in English. Again, rather than providing a conventional book of translation with notes, Ropp has incorporated his many discussions of poems with informed people like Liu Laoshi of Taipei's Stanford Center and Zhengguo Kang of Yale University , thus creating an interesting account of the translation process which would make fascinating reading for general readers and scholars alike. Indeed, in terms of the study of Shuangqing's poetry, this book is hard to match. Truly this work by Professor Ropp will make a significant contribution to the fields of cultural and gender studies, China studies, anthropology, and even other branches in the social sciences. One of its strengths lies in its innovative methodological approach which I have already mentioned above. It is obvious that the author of this manuscript has read a vast quantity of materials in a wide variety of fields, and many of the primary texts he read in the original Chinese. In particular, this is the only book (in any language) which discusses in such depth the history of reception regarding the story of Shuangqing. There is no doubt that Professor Ropp's scholarship is both sound and solid. Moreover, he writes in an elegant and powerful style that holds the reader's attention to the subject amidst highly detailed descriptions and discussions.Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet Overview

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