Cao Shunqing 曹顺庆 & Wang Chao 王超等
Beijing: Higher Education Press 高等教育出版社, 2021.
Reviewed by Yifan Cao (Ph.D. candidate of Sichuan University, HYI Visiting Fellow)
In the recent monograph The Dialogue between Chinese and Western Poetics (Zhong xi shixue duihua) (2021), Shunqing Cao, Chao Wang, and other authors make new advancements in the field of comparative literature and poetics. Proposing a model of equitable dialogue between Chinese and Western poetics, the authors seek to critically assess and move beyond the ‘West-interprets-China’ paradigm that has dominated Chinese scholarly discourse in the last decades. This work aligns with Professor Cao’s longstanding commitment to cultivating a balanced inter-civilizational conversation, evident in his editorial contributions to previous publications, e.g. Selections of Eastern Literature theories (Dongfang wenlun xuan, 1998) and Histories of Chinese and Foreign Literary Theories (Zhong wai wenlun shi, 2012), which have greatly enhanced the corpus of Asian literary theories in China.
The book Dialogue is structured into two sections. In the first section, four chapters delineate the scope and methodologies conducive to Sino-Western poetic dialogues. It begins with an empirical analysis of the Chinese influence on European crucial thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault, tracing the integration and transformation of Chinese perspectives within Western literary theories. The second section offers comparative analyses that juxtapose ancient Chinese literary theory with Western theoretical movements, including Russian Formalism, Anglo-American New Criticism, and Western Marxist Literary Theories. It proposes a method for interpreting the West through China, exemplified in the eighth chapter’s exploration of the roots and diversity of ancient Chinese exegesis and Western hermeneutics. Here, the authors delve into the genesis, comparability, and heterogeneity of ancient Chinese exegesis and Western hermeneutics, and acknowledge their parallels and divergences in textual nature, interpretive methods, and social roles. This chapter also links one Chinese poetic concept shi wu da gu (诗无达诂) , which means poetry defies fixed interpretation, to the essence of hermeneutics—textual infinity and openness leading to diverse meanings, in line with Hans Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic principles.
The book actualizes and extends the variation theory of comparative literature, moving away from the homogenizing focus on commonality and uniformity seen in previous French and American schools of comparative literature. It embraces a methodology that recognizes the shared aesthetic pursuits of humanity while also valuing the distinctiveness and plurality of various cultures and literatures. While the term “West” is retained within the narrative for strategic reasons, a shift towards more nuanced terminology could offer a more refined lens for such intercultural exchanges. Nonetheless, this study paves the way for embracing a broader civilizational spectrum, enriching the domain of comparative poetics.
In summary, the work underscores the intrinsic value and reference that Chinese literature provides for the construction of a new global literary and poetic paradigm and fosters inclusive and equal dialogues within the international literary community.
“shi wu da gu,” is a term from Chinese poetics, which was coined by Han Dynasty scholar Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BC). It originally described the varied interpretations of The Book of Songs, emphasizing the impact of historical and personal contexts on literary analysis. This concept underscores the intrinsic ambiguity and suggestiveness of poetry, advocating for deeper, personalized engagement with the text rather than rigid, superficial readings. While it acknowledges interpretative plurality, it also cautions against overly liberal interpretations, balancing openness with respect for the text’s potential complexity.