Chinese-Western Comparative Poetics
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0114
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0114
Until the rise of narrative fiction as the dominant genre of literary cultural production (in the 18th century), much of what we have now come to call “literary theory and criticism” was synonymous with “poetics.” In the early 21st century, poetics reflects both this broad historical tradition as well as issues relating to poetry’s genre-specific features (prosody, form, etc.). Because poetics lays claim both to ancient and modern cultural discourses, it has come to represent a highly contested domain of literary and cultural criticism. Poetics can be seen as an imbrication of ideologically charged social practices, political doctrines, and aesthetic, ethical, and philosophical discourses that structure how societies attempt to understand and control social worlds. These interpretive horizons also come to shape the lenses through which other cultural imaginaries are read, negotiated, contested, assimilated, domesticated, or rejected (and so on). Therefore, the term “comparative poetics” (bijiao shixue 比較詩學) has come to demarcate a space of critical, literary, and cultural comparison, competition, and contestation between two very different literary traditions. While the term did not come into circulation until the 1970s, the subject has generated a highly charged field of critical inquiry. While there exist several important works of general introduction in English, “comparative poetics” as a formal disciplinary category is more robustly represented in Chinese-language scholarship. However, when taken more generally as the field of Chinese-Western literary theory and a set of closely related subfields (e.g., transpacific poetics), this article expands to include an impressive list of English and Chinese monographs, critical anthologies, articles, chapters, and widely ranging journals revealing a vibrant subfield of comparative literature and branch of Chinese studies.
General Overviews and Foundational Texts
General overviews and foundational texts of comparative poetics introduce readers to a range of key theoretical terms and historical approaches to the subject. While these works provide background to the topic as a whole, it is important to note that most also are actively pursuing one of many historically specific arguments. While James Liu’s early works (Liu 1962, Liu 1975) laid the groundwork for the subject as a whole, he primarily employed comparative elements as a Sinological method to explain Chinese poetry and poetics to his English audience. Stephen Owen’s seminal work (Owen 1985) followed in Liu’s model of employing innovative comparative arguments to communicate complex elements of classical Chinese poetics. Miner 1990 was arguably the first study to explicitly pursue the subject for its own sake, though it also expanded the field to include more than Chinese-Western comparisons. In Yip 1993 (cited under Purposeful Synthesis), the author encapsulates his earlier foundational arguments, which can be said to have laid the groundwork for comparative poetics in Chinese scholarship. Cai 2002 opened up a more systematic study of this subject in English, with broad comparison of traditional poetics as well as more-focused case studies, and Sun 2011 offers a broad comparison, though within the scope of the author’s earlier lines of argument outlined Sun 1996, Sun 2006, and Sun 2011, cited under Metaphor versus Feeling-Scene. Chinese readers have a far more extensive list of general introductions to chose from, which began with Ye 1983 and was followed by Yu 1999 and Rao 2000; each covers a wide range of heterogeneous case studies and arguments. These were followed by works completed during a period of historical consolidation, including Chen 2005, which resembles a textbook featuring both historical chronologies and key terms, and, more recently, Cao 2008, which offers a historical survey of comparative works and models.
Cai, Zong-qi. Configurations of Comparative Poetics: Three Perspectives on Western and Chinese Literary Criticism. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002.
Arguably the most authoritative monograph dedicated to the study of comparative Chinese-Western poetics. Yet, due to the heterogeneity of the chapters, the book is difficult to categorize. The first two broad chapters on Chinese and Western poetics are essential reading for anyone interested in comparative Chinese-Western poetics, while the majority of chapters that follow take on far more specific themes.
Cao Shunqing 曹顺庆. Zhongxi bijiao shixue shi (中西比较诗学史). Chengdu, China: Bashu shushe, 2008.
In this history of Chinese-Western comparative poetics, Cao explores the development of the notion of comparative poetics in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Hong Kong in relation to issues of globalization, colonialism, and cross-cultural hermeneutics and argues that the future of Chinese-Western comparative literature rests on raising Chinese poetics to the same level as Western theory and poetics. His ideal would be to do comparative poetics as a “cross-cultural research.”
Chen Yuehong 陈跃红. Bijiao shixue daolun (比较诗学导论). Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2005.
Designed as a textbook for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students, this introduction to comparative poetics includes chapters devoted to outlining the historical timeline of the field and the major theoretical trends and schools, but it ends with a charge to build a new Chinese literary discourse and thus tends toward the China-specific model of cultural difference.
Liu, James J. Y. The Art of Chinese Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
One of the most influential demonstrations of how comparative poetics can serve as a Sinological method. While Liu’s universalist orientation was later to be criticized by those who argued (and defended) notions of cultural specificity and difference, one can still see Liu’s influence on modern scholars such as Cai-zongqi, among others, who seek “objective” and “transhistorical” values while self-reflexively regarding the utility and complexity of the comparative frameworks within which they operate.
Liu, James J. Y. Chinese Theories of Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
For many reasons, this volume represents one of the best examples of comparative poetics as Sinological method. While Liu’s work is focused on exploring “Chinese Theories of Literature,” he does so through tactically comparing each theory with Western examples and categories.
Miner, Earl. Comparative Poetics: An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
In this seminal book, Miner includes references to a vast amount of material and does not shy away from sweeping generalizations; he also draws on numerable specific comparisons between texts such as Jane Austen’s Persuasion and The Tale of Genji, classical Chinese poems and the work of Tennyson, or poems by Emily Dickinson and Fujiwara Teika’s tankas.
Owen, Stephen. Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics: Omen of the World. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
One of the most influential works on Chinese poetics of the 1980s, Owen deploys comparative tropes throughout and hinges a main argument on a comparison between Du Fu and William Wordsworth to reveal how the two traditions differ on the subject of “fiction” and “reality” in poetry.
Rao Pengzi 饶芃子. Bijiao shixue (比较诗学). Xi’an, China: Shanxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2000.
In this collection, simply titled “Comparative Poetics,” the author includes twenty-five studies across several genres, presenting a combination of studies to trace the impact of global theories of literature on Chinese poetics through various forms of transmission, translation, and reception that mark the departures of modernism, postmodernism, etc.
Sun, Cecile Chu-chin. The Poetics of Repetition in English and Chinese Lyric Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Using comparative poetics as a form of cultural critique, Sun’s newest work returns to older arguments about the differences between metaphor and scene-feeling poetics. The former, Sun asserts, is an extension of a metaphysics of imposition of a violent creativity (metaphor imposes similarities), while the latter is based on harmony and interconnectedness (seeking out existing correlatives).
Ye Weilian 葉維廉 (Wai-lim Yip). Bijiao shixue: Lilun jiagou de tangao (比較詩學：理論架構的探討). Taibei: Dong da tushu gongsie, 1983.
The first book-length study of comparative poetics published in Chinese not only helped launch this field of study but also introduced key ideas that went on to become very influential in the establishment of the so-called Chinese school of Chinese literature.
Yu Hong 余虹. Zhongguo wen lun yu xifang shixue (中国文论与西方诗学). Beijing: Shenghuo dushu xinzhi sanlian shudian, 1999.
In this work, which translates as “Chinese literary theory and Western poetics,” Yu focuses on the differences between what the author identifies as particularly Chinese and Western poetic terms which represent a giant semantic gap between ancient and modern Chinese terms, which is exacerbated by taking Western and Chinese terms to be equivalent.
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