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Introduction: Writing and Reading Chinese Lives

  • Marjorie Dryburgh

Abstract

China has long and rich traditions of life writing that run from its earliest historical records to the contemporary blogosphere. Biography was, for centuries, a central strand in historical writing, and this official, public life narration co-existed with ‘social’ biographies, necrologies, hagiographies, diaries, poetry, letters, essays and other genres that contained a wealth of reflection on character, experience, identity and the life course. These were preserved in personal collections, exchanged to cement friendships and social alliances, published to promote or challenge hegemonic values, or to enhance individual or communal reputations. China scholars have drawn on this work to supplement or interrogate the orthodox historical record and have mined life narrative for insights into shifting representations of ideas or practices, into generic conventions, and into changing modes of s elf-re presentation and identity formation.1

Keywords

Life Story Chinese Work Historical Writing Life Narrative Autobiographical Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Recent work that relies heavily on auto/biographical material to explore late imperial and twentieth-century society includes Joseph Esherick, Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History (Berkeley: Uni versity of California Press, 2011)Google Scholar
  2. Beata Grant, Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventeenth-century China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009)Google Scholar
  3. Susan Mann, The Talented Women of the Zhang Family (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007)Google Scholar
  4. William T. Rowe, Saving the World: Chen Hongmou and Elite Consciousness in Eighteenth-century China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Wolfgang Bauer, Das Anüitz Chinas: die Autobiographische Selbstdarstellung in der Chinesischen Literatur von ikren Anfängen bis heute (The face of China: autobiographical self-representation from its origins to the present) (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1990)Google Scholar
  6. Wu Pei-yi, The Confucian’s Progress: Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)Google Scholar
  7. Lynn Strave, Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ jaws (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Compare, for example, Phyllis E. Wachter, ‘Annual Bibliography of Works About life Writing, 1999–2000’, Biography 23.4 (2000): 695–755CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 6.
    Yang Zhengrun, Xiandai zhuanji xue (A modern poetics of biography) (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, 2009).Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    For a concise and lucid account of Chinese history that takes seriously both internal changes and global connections, see Paul Ropp, China in World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    See the essays, collected in Maureen Perkins, ed., Locating Life Stories: Beyond East-West Binaries in (Autobiographical Studies (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2012)Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Ii Zhanzi, ‘Di er ren cheng zai zizhuan de renji gongneng’ (The interpersonal function of second-person address in autobiography), Waiguo yu Journal of Foreign Languages) 6.6 (2000): 51–56Google Scholar
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    Quan Zhan, ‘Shiji zhi jiao: Zhongguo zhuanji wenxue de liu da redian’ (At the turn of the century: six key points in Chinese biographical literature) Huaibei zhiye jishu xueyuan xuebao (Journal of the Huaibei Professional and Technical Institute) 1.1 (2002): 34–36.Google Scholar
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    Hermione Lee, Biography: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 189–207Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Denis Twitchett, ‘Chinese Biographical Writing’, in W.G. Beasley and E.G. Pulleyblank, eds., Historians of China and Japan (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 95–114.Google Scholar
  18. On-cho Ng and Q. Edward Wang, Mirroring the Past: The Writing and Use of History in Imperial China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Kevin Sharpe and Stephen Zwicker, eds., ‘Introducing Lives’ in Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1–28.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Lu Xun, Diary o f a Madman and Other Stories, tr. William Lyall (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 101–102.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Qian Zhongshu, Fortress Besieged, tr. Jeanne Kelly and Nathan ?. ??? (London: Penguin, 2004), 142.Google Scholar
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    Lynn A. Struve, ‘Self-Struggles of a Martyr: Memories, Dreams, and Obsessions in the Extant Diary of Huang Chunyao’, Harvard journal of Asiatic Studies 69.2 (2009): 343–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 26.
    Critic and biographer Emil Ludwig, writing in 1936 and quoted in Laura Marcus, ‘The Newness of the ‘New Biography’, in Peter France and William St Clair, eds., Mapping Lives: The Uses of Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 196.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Paul John Eakin, How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 43.Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    Thomas Couser, Memoir: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 9Google Scholar
  26. Ben Yagoda, Memoir: A History (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).Google Scholar

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© Marjorie Dryburgh 2013

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  • Marjorie Dryburgh

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