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The anthology ends with the early 20th century, and represents largely poetry written in classical or literary Chinese. While some of these poets have appeared in general anthologies of Chinese poetry, and will be well known to scholars in the field, there has never been such a comprehensive work in English before this one. I was delighted to discover among my old favorites like the empress Wu Zetian and the Sung poetess Li Qingzhao, large numbers of female poets, especially from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) through the beginning of the republican period in China (1911). It was also delightful to find that the criticism of some of these poets, and male counterparts who commented on women's poetry, were translated, many for the first time. As near as I can tell, they have been exhaustive in their attempts to select from a broad range of titles by individual poets and the overall result is that one can no longer credibly present women as minor contributors to the literature of this vast and ancient country.
The text described above is not the earliest attempt, but it is the most complete for a scholarly audience. The earlier anthology addressing female poets of China, edited by Kenneth Rexroth, and it was a thrilling introduction when it first came out in the seventies, but Women Poets of China (first published by Seabury Press as The Orchid Boat, 1972). New York: USA New Directions, 1982, which is still in print, offers both many fewer poets and much less context for their work. While Rexroth and Chung should be applauded for their service to the scholarly community, they serve as only a taste of the wealth to be found in this new 1999 title.
As I am sure is by now clear, this anthology includes all the scholarly framework that make it an excellent addition to any academic library purporting to deal with world literature, and a potential candidate for a course book. In fact, one could present undergraduates with a decent history of Chinese poetry by using it to introduce the periods and types rather than a more traditional anthology.
However, Women Writers of Traditional China is so well organized and readable that it is also appropriate for most public libraries as a solid, readable, general introduction to women in Chinese poetry. The translations are poetically rendered, the periodization gives them context and the bibliography locates the texts in a corpus of Chinese poetry. This book is well worth its price and highly recommended. Cloth, 891 pg., Notes, Bibliography, Index of Names.
Jan Bogstad, ReviewerWomen Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism Overview
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