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3000 Years of Chinese Literary History in One Book

2017-12-09 13:01:25 China Minutes

On 8th December Frances Wood, a distinguished Sinologist and historian of China introduced her new book Great Books of China to an audience of keen Chinese culture enthusiasts at the Guanghwa Bookshop in London.

Frances studied Chinese at Cambridge University, later setting off to Beijing to study at Peking University in 1975-76. In 1977 she joined the staff of the British Library as a junior curator, and later served as Curator of Chinese collections until her retirement in 2013. Frances has written numerous books about China including Hand-grenade practice in Peking: my part in the Cultural Revolution and the controversial Did Marco Polo go to China?

Frances Wood at the Guanghwa Bookshop in London

France’s new book Great Books of China allows readers to explore 66 Chinese literary works with concise introductions and quotations spanning over 3000 years. Commencing with TheBook of Songs, the book then traverses the work of Chinese poets, authors and philosophers with such classics as The Confucian Analects and The Dao De Jing, popular dramas and novels (The Romance of the Western Chamber;The Water Margin), twentieth-century political and biographical works (Quotations from Chairman Mao, The Autobiography of the Last Emperor) and modern novels that are little known in the West (Memories of South Peking, Six Chapters from a Cadre School Life).

Great Books of China

Frances said her aim is “to give a Western audience an introduction to this canon of wonderful works and her translations are not ends in themselves, but a way of generating interest in Chinese literature.” She was particularly impressed by the time Wen Jiabao, sixth Premier of theState Council of the People's Republic of China between 2003 and 2013, during a trip to the UK showed that he already knew the birthplace of Shakespeare. “Unfortunately, in the UK there are few who can name a Chinese writer let alone list the circumstances around which they lived, yet in China it seems many people are familiar with Western writers.”

Frances said her personal favourite is The Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety, with stories such as a filial son lying down on an ice-covered lake in winter to melt the ice so that he could fish out supper for his mother. Her least favourite is the Confucian classic The Analects because it denies social mobility, fusses over rituals and is disrespectful to women.

The audience were able to select works from the book and have Frances, a fountain of Chinese literary knowledge elaborate on these classics of literature. Those who attended the event left with a new Chinese work of literature on their reading list, some almost unknown in the West. Guanghwa Bookshop once again provided a real gem for aspiring sinologists.

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