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How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology [Paperback]

Zong-qi Cai
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 28, 2007 0231139411 978-0231139410 Bilingual

In this "guided" anthology, experts lead students through the major genres and eras of Chinese poetry from antiquity to the modern time. The volume is divided into 6 chronological sections and features more than 140 examples of the best shi, sao, fu, ci, and qu poems. A comprehensive introduction and extensive thematic table of contents highlight the thematic, formal, and prosodic features of Chinese poetry, and each chapter is written by a scholar who specializes in a particular period or genre. Poems are presented in Chinese and English and are accompanied by a tone-marked romanized version, an explanation of Chinese linguistic and poetic conventions, and recommended reading strategies. Sound recordings of the poems are available online free of charge. These unique features facilitate an intense engagement with Chinese poetical texts and help the reader derive aesthetic pleasure and insight from these works as one could from the original.

The companion volume How to Read Chinese Poetry Workbook presents 100 famous poems (56 are new selections) in Chinese, English, and romanization, accompanied by prose translation, textual notes, commentaries, and recordings.

Contributors: Robert Ashmore (Univ. of California, Berkeley); Zong-qi Cai; Charles Egan (San Francisco State); Ronald Egan (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara); Grace Fong (McGill); David R. Knechtges (Univ. of Washington); Xinda Lian (Denison); Shuen-fu Lin (Univ. of Michigan); William H. Nienhauser Jr. (Univ. of Wisconsin); Maija Bell Samei; Jui-lung Su (National Univ. of Singapore); Wendy Swartz (Columbia); Xiaofei Tian (Harvard); Paula Varsano (Univ. of California, Berkeley); Fusheng Wu (Univ. of Utah)

Frequently Bought Together

How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology + How to Read Chinese Poetry Workbook + How to Read A Chinese Poem: A Bilingual Anthology of Tang Poetry
Price for all three: $74.69

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Editorial Reviews


By presenting poems in so many different forms: Chinese characters, Romanization, English translation, audio files, stress maps, and transliteration, the book enables the reader -- no matter what her background in Chinese language, to grasp much of what is going on.

(BLT Not Just a Sandwich)


This valuable guidebook offers multiple routes toward understanding the vast and varied traditions and practices of classical Chinese poetry, from its beginnings through the Qing dynasty. Close readings of individual poems-including the 'chestnuts' we all love to teach-are grounded in useful discussions of literary-historical and cultural contexts. A cross-cutting discussion of themes suggests ways in which the poems can speak to each other across boundaries of genre and dynasty. And the unusually extensive attention paid to the sound and prosody of Chinese poetry will be especially welcome to student and scholar alike.

(Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Bilingual edition (December 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231139411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231139410
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zong-qi Cai is Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, Translation Studies, and Medieval Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He received his Ph. D. from Princeton University. He is the author of The Matrix of Lyric Transformation: Poetic Modes and Self-Presentation in Early Chinese Pentasyllabic Poetry (Michigan, 1996) and Configurations of Comparative Poetics: Three Perspectives on Western and Chinese Literary Criticism (Hawaii, 2002), and the co-author (with Cui Jie) of How to Read Chinese Poetry Workbook (Columbia 2011). He has edited A Chinese Literary Mind: Culture, Creativity, and Rhetoric in Wenxin dialong (Stanford, 2001), Chinese Aesthetics: The Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties (Hawaii, 2004), and How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology (Columbia, 2008). He has also published numerous articles, in both English and Chinese, on classical Chinese poetry, literary criticism, comparative literature, and philosophy.

To read and download his published works, visit
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Have for Chinese Poetry Learners April 19, 2008
By K. Liu
This book is perfectly designed for a variety of Chinese poetry readers, learners, and even researchers. The eighteen chapters starting from The Book of Poetry and ends with the Ming-Qing poetry cover Chinese poetry tradition of more than two thousand years and all types of Chinese poetry genres and sub-genres in this marvelous tradition. You will easily get to know how Chinese poetry developed for two thousand years even just after scanning the Primary Table of Contents!

In these chapters, authors deliberately choose great poems of each important period or Dynasty in Chinese history. They not only list these poems in Chinese characters, translate them into English (for regulated verses and songs, there is even word by word translation), and show each word in pinyin with tones, but also analyze these beautiful poems in historical background and poetic tradition. The templates of poems, including original Chinese texts, English translation and Chinese pinyin with tones to a great extent help Chinese language learners to learn how to understand Chinese poetry word by word and how to recite them in Chinese. The analysis of poems following will largely improve your knowledge of how to appreciate the beauty of Chinese poems, and more importantly, will help you get to see the great ideas underlying those poetic lines in terms of culture, history, religion, art, music, and etc.

And the well-done thematic table of contents, glossary-index, list of entering tones, and careful explanations of syntax, structure, and many other major issues of Chinese poetry will be very useful even for a scholar of Chinese poetry. You will save plenty of time looking up those important informations in all kinds of Chinese dictionaries!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in classical Chinese poetry and language. It is very different from other anthologies of Chinese literature both in approach and in style, and touches upon many essential features of classical Chinese poetry.

Each chapter is written by a well-known scholar in the field. Together they provide a pretty clear picture of classical Chinese poetry. What is especially worth noting of this book is that, first, it well explains the features of Chinese poetry, such as rhymes and ping-ze patterns; it even gives pinyin romanization and tones for the Chinese texts, in addition to English translations which are side by side with the Chinese originals; and secondly, it not only looks at Chinese poetry from a literary perspective, but also tries to interpret the poetic texts according to the particular syntax of the Chinese language. This last feature well illustrates how different syntactic structures could influence the style and effect of a poem, and how the development of the syntax has impacted the development of Chinese poetry in general. Overall, the book is both resourceful and illuminating.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars go for it if you have any impulse at all January 18, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I took a long time to read this book, about 8 or 9 months. I kept being blown away and then coming back to it. There's also the frustration of wanting to be able to appreciate this material MUCH better, but I can't imagine a better introduction. Columbia University Press also hosts a web page with mp3 files of dozens and dozens of these poems being recited.

I did a few years of mandarin with traditional characters decades ago back in college but have been brushing up on it again the last few years with simplified characters, so some frustration was caused by not recognizing more of the book's traditional characters, but traditional characters and toneless pinyin are an academic convention so it's not really a shortcoming that this book follows the academic convention. I've communicated with the editor and he's planning a workbook with simplified characters which I will definitely eat up.

If you don't follow Chinese and have any interest at all, you are bound to love this book. The translations do justice to the original much more than most of what's out there and the text is uniformly interesting. The book even offers many word-by-word grids with translation to help any readers appreciate the prosody of how each syllable is loaded with meaning so their sequence has a semantic rhythm used by the master poets with power and elegance.

Chinese culture is vast and varied and this book offers a revealing introduction to why poetry has such a leading, treasured role in the high culture. As an opportunity for individual expression, its status is very unique and offers endless personally touching insights.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Tian En
I had the privilege of reading chapters of this anthology before it went to print, and as my first introduction to the intricacies of Chinese poetry it was an excellent place to start.

The format in which the poems are printed, with Chinese and English side by side, helped me to understand translations better. There is also an excellent chapter on ping-ze patterns in Tang poetry, which is a difficult concept to convey in English.

I highly recommend this book to students of Chinese literature and anyone else interested in a solid explanation of Chinese poetic styles.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Found in Translation
Robert Frost called poetry that which is "lost in translation", but this marvelous volume does its best to remedy that situation. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sam A. Mawn-Mahlau
5.0 out of 5 stars A good volume to read
I have been interested in Chinese poetry for quite some time. I have found this
book to be very clear and very well organized.
Published 8 months ago by Fleabus
2.0 out of 5 stars Did not like it
The reason I did not like this is because I thought it was boring. I really needed to spend a lot of time on this book before I got my satisifaction from it. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Suzhoukid32
3.0 out of 5 stars how to read chinese poetry
The book comes having more writings in it than it has disclosed on the sales page. I am not very happy with it.
Published on October 17, 2011 by linda
5.0 out of 5 stars Friendly introduction and great guide
A kind of textbook/anthology survey. Having the mp3 files available on the Columbia U. Press website pulls this all together, even for those with little or no Chinese. Read more
Published on March 25, 2011 by ThisandThat
5.0 out of 5 stars how to read chinese poetry
This "Guided Anthology" covers the gamut of Chinese poetry, from the very beginning. Fifteen of the very best Chinese scholars are given an historical slice of the genre, from... Read more
Published on April 9, 2009 by Thomas Thornton
4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous book, terrible index
Lukas Klein has a good review of this book in Rain Taxi but I think it understates just how magical the experience this book conveys of making classical Chinese come alive. Read more
Published on March 30, 2009
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