The Southern Garden Poetry Society: Literary Culture and Social Memory in Guangdong.

Author:Yang, Xiaoshan
Position:Book review
 
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The Southern Garden Poetry Society: Literary Culture and Social Memory in Guangdong. By David B. Honey. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv + 258. $45.

This is a study of poems about Guangdong by poets from Guangdong. Its focus is on the Southern Garden Poetry Society and its later revivals. The conceptual framework is the idea of the Southern Muse, defined as a set of images "that occupied the minds of Cantonese poets" (p. 41). Honey explores the history of such images before turning to the formation of the society as a space of sociality. The second part of the book examines how later generations (from the mid-Ming to the early Republican) appropriated memories of the society for their own literary, cultural, or political purposes.

As the first full-length study in English of a regional poetic tradition in China, the book ventures into hitherto unexplored territory and sheds light on the process through which writers from a historically marginal(ized) area constructed a distinct literary identity. The critical narrative is vivified by the author's judicious treatment of a fascinating array of texts on Guangdong's ecology, history, and lore. However, the Southern Muse might be something of a Procrustean bed: on the one hand, images of what is indigenous to Guangdong appear only in a small number of poems in the oeuvres of the region's native poets; on the other, such images can be readily found in the works of many non-Cantonese poets.

Another contribution of the book lies in its translation of a large quantity and variety of texts with which most readers will not be familiar. Honey is a skillful translator, but his accuracy is not always optimal. 1 devote my remarks in the following to this aspect of the book, since it has not received much attention in the reviews that have appeared so far. Many of the problems in Honey's translation fall into four areas: names and titles, Chinese characters, allusions, and implications of parallelism. I use his translation of Zhang Jiuling's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (678-740) "Fu on the Lichee" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (pp. 12-16) as the prime example and draw further illustrations from elsewhere in the book.

Part of Honey's translation of Zhang Jiuling's preface reads (p. 12): "But my assistant, Liu Hou from Peng City, who had moved around while young and had passed several times through Nanhai commandery, agreed with me. He sighed with delight several times when he heard my words" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Liu is Liu Sheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who was exiled to Lingnan in his youth but who was appointed a Drafter in the Secretariat [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Kaiyuan period (713-741). Hou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used here as an honorific, not as part of a personal name. An error of the same type but in the opposite direction is the translation of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "the Marquis of Qujiang, Andou" (p. 4). Hou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the family name of Hou Andu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (519-563), a native of Qujiang. The error is all the more puzzling since Honey mentioned Hou's biographies in Chenshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Nanshi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (although he misquoted the latter book as Liangshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], p. 166 n. 7). The translation of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "Female Historian Liang Ruozhu" is yet another example (p. 134). Nushi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used here as an honorific for educated women. "Lady Liang Ruozhu" would suffice.

The excerpt from Zhang Jiuling's preface reveals another problem: the recognition and transcription of Chinese characters. The original text reads: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. It may be translated...

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