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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

MIRRORED VOICES Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism, edited by Kang-i Sun Chang & Huan Saussy (Stanford University Press) hardback £45.00, paperback £18.95

'Since her destiny is already dust / What need has she for a face like jade?' wrote Meng Shuqing in her poem 'Facing the Mirror'. Produced against all odds, the writings collected in this anthology are unique because, as the editors point out in the preface, they had no utility, career value or prestige.

Poetry in China has always held a special position no self-respecting candidate to the vast bureaucratic apparatus of traditional China could afford to ignore it. Indeed, the only hope of succeeding when all else failed was for one's ability to compose verse to come to the attention of the emperor. Even Mao Zedong, who strove to force literature away from traditional models, continued to write expert classical-style poetry.

Since women were excluded from public life, they had little or no encouragement to write and much of their output is irretrievably lost. What does survive is handsomely represented in the present selection which, in nearly 700 pages, gathers the work of some 130 poets from ancient times to the early twentieth century. The concise biographies that precede each poet's work, along with the brief notes that accompany the poems where needed, and the additional 150 odd pages of prose writing by both female and male poet-critics on and about their art, frames and makes our understanding of the poetry richer. There can be no doubt that this anthology will become an essential tool in academic circles, but this is a book that ...


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