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Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou (review)

Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou (review) Reviews  233 Lucie Olivová and Vibeke Børdahl, editors. Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou. NIAS Studies in Asian Topics, vol. 44. Copenhagen, Denmark:  Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2009. xxiii, 488 pp. Hardcover $90.00,  isbn 978-87-7694-035-5. This handsomely produced, profusely illustrated volume is the result of a long- term, truly international collaboration among scholars whose work focuses on  various aspects of Yangzhou from the seventeenth century down to the present  day. Building on conversations begun in cyberspace (a Yangzhou Club within the  Chinese Storytelling website www.shuoshu.org), the editors organized a three-day  workshop in October 2005 in Yangzhou itself. Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou is the result. e Th  text is divided into four sections, dealing respectively with “the city of  sights” (five essays addressing everything from architecture and city planning  through gardens to fashion), books and literature (four contributions), perfor - mance and entertainment (five studies), and the Yangzhou school of painting (four  papers).e  Th  roster of scholars is distinguished, the mix of senior and junior  scholars judicious, and the caliber of scholarship for the most part very high. It is  an excellent place to get a sense of the state of this very active subfield. Yet it is not  the first place one would send a colleague who wished to be brought up to speed  about this important place. In part, this reflects the quality of existing scholarship  — much of it the work  of participants in the workshop  — already in print. To limit oneself to publications  in English, Ginger Hsu (2001), Toby Meyer-Fong (2003), and Antonia Finnane  (2004) published major books on the city not long before attending the confer - ence. Workshop proceedings are apt to leave the reader to bridge the gaps separat- ing aspects brought into sharp focus in individual papers. This is particularly true  if the introduction is (as here) a mere three pages and there is neither an aer ft word  nor a conclusion that attempts to make a whole of the parts. er Th e are, however, deeper problems. While individual contributors are oen ft   rigorous in the way they define their terms, there is little evidence of consistency  between essays. Three days is, of course, far too little time to have achieved  this—    but could more not have been done, either before or aer ft  the workshop, to  thrash out such issues? One might, moreover, have hoped that twenty-first-century  technology would have enabled participants to engage more fully with one anoth- er’s findings and arguments; there is little evidence that this actually happened.  Further, some authors clearly assumed they were addressing a specialist audience  © 2012 by University with much more than passing familiarity with the topic. Others seem to have  of Hawai‘i Press pitched their contributions to a far more general audience. McKinnon’s “A Traveler’s Tale of Two Cities: Yangzhou, Shanghai” brings  many of the more problematic aspects together. This article adopts the stance of a  234  China Review International: Vol. 18, No. 2, 2011 naive outsider prepared to recognize Chinese proto-modernity  — only defined by  invoking Anthony Giddens secondhand on the penultimate page of the chapter  —   when he sees it. Given the rigor they bring to their own work, one suspects that  many of the other contributors would have cautioned that early modernity would  look very different, and would certainly be differently configured, in China than in  the West. Olivová’s essay “Building History and the Preservation of Yangzhou”  —   which makes clear how little has been done, until very recently, to preserve physi- cal traces of the past  — suggests that seeking such evidence on the ground is a  dubious enterprise, in any case. Yet the point does not seem to have registered, and  the editors seem to have avoided raising it. A stronger editorial hand would have enhanced the book throughout. Care- less errors mar otherwise valuable contributions: thus, the poet Wang Shizhen is  elevated from prefectural judge to prefect of Yangzhou. In a book about place, the  only map  — of the city proper  — is found on page 164, and would be of little use to  a non-Chinese reader. While comparative dimensions are alluded to, they are  seldom explored in any detail  — thus, while Fei Li provides us with a vivid descrip- tion of traditional story houses in Yangzhou, there is no systematic comparison  with teahouse culture in other parts of China. Kuzay uses 9 of the 103 songbooks  collected by Finnish scholar Hugo Lund to describe late Qing brothel culture.e  Th   results are fascinating and vivid  — but inevitably leave the reader wondering to  what degree they reflect “life in the green lofts” (p. 268) rather than conventional  tropes that combine uplift with titillation in time-honored fashion. Convincingly  demonstrating the importance of Buddhist themes in the work of (at least two)  Yangzhou eccentrics, Loring suggests that these were attempts to assuage the  tensions created by “wealth and excess, traditional elite values and the novelty of  the historical present” (p. 404). Suggestive as this is, the reader is left wondering  whether this reflects the sensibility of a few artists, the concerns of their patrons,  or a general social phenomenon. Given the opportunities the web ao ff rds for ongoing engagement, it is dis- appointing to report that this volume is no better (though certainly no worse)  than the typical set of published conference papers. One hopes that, in the future,  twenty-first-century technology will allow implications to be more fully explored  and remaining areas of disagreement more clearly defined before a workshop  becomes a printed volume. If this is to occur, it will, however, almost certainly  require editors to infuse the enterprise with an old-fashioned elitism and rigor at  odds with the democratic spirit of the Internet. Michael Marmé Michael Marmé teaches Asian history at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus; he specializes in the social and economic history of late imperial China. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png China Review International University of Hawai'I Press

Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou (review)

China Review International , Volume 18 (2) – Sep 19, 2012

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Abstract

Reviews  233 Lucie Olivová and Vibeke Børdahl, editors. Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou. NIAS Studies in Asian Topics, vol. 44. Copenhagen, Denmark:  Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2009. xxiii, 488 pp. Hardcover $90.00,  isbn 978-87-7694-035-5. This handsomely produced, profusely illustrated volume is the result of a long- term, truly international collaboration among scholars whose work focuses on  various aspects of Yangzhou from the seventeenth century down to the present  day. Building on conversations begun in cyberspace (a Yangzhou Club within the  Chinese Storytelling website www.shuoshu.org), the editors organized a three-day  workshop in October 2005 in Yangzhou itself. Lifestyle and Entertainment in Yangzhou is the result. e Th  text is divided into four sections, dealing respectively with “the city of  sights” (five essays addressing everything from architecture and city planning  through gardens to fashion), books and literature (four contributions), perfor - mance and entertainment (five studies), and the Yangzhou school of painting (four  papers).e  Th  roster of scholars is distinguished, the mix of senior and junior  scholars judicious, and the caliber of scholarship for the most part very high. It is  an excellent place to get a sense of the state of this very active subfield. Yet it is not  the first place one would send a colleague who wished to be brought up to speed  about this important place. In part, this reflects the quality of existing scholarship  — much of it the work  of participants in the workshop  — already in print. To limit oneself to publications  in English, Ginger Hsu (2001), Toby Meyer-Fong (2003), and Antonia Finnane  (2004) published major books on the city not long before attending the confer - ence. Workshop proceedings are apt to leave the reader to bridge the gaps separat- ing aspects brought into sharp focus in individual papers. This is particularly true  if the introduction is (as here) a mere three pages and there is neither an aer ft word  nor a conclusion that attempts to make a whole of the parts. er Th e are, however, deeper problems. While individual contributors are oen ft   rigorous in the way they define their terms, there is little evidence of consistency  between essays. Three days is, of course, far too little time to have achieved  this—    but could more not have been done, either before or aer ft  the workshop, to  thrash out such issues? One might, moreover, have hoped that twenty-first-century  technology would have enabled participants to engage more fully with one anoth- er’s findings and arguments; there is little evidence that this actually happened.  Further, some authors clearly assumed they were addressing a specialist audience  © 2012 by University with much more than passing familiarity with the topic. Others seem to have  of Hawai‘i Press pitched their contributions to a far more general audience. McKinnon’s “A Traveler’s Tale of Two Cities: Yangzhou, Shanghai” brings  many of the more problematic aspects together. This article adopts the stance of a  234  China Review International: Vol. 18, No. 2, 2011 naive outsider prepared to recognize Chinese proto-modernity  — only defined by  invoking Anthony Giddens secondhand on the penultimate page of the chapter  —   when he sees it. Given the rigor they bring to their own work, one suspects that  many of the other contributors would have cautioned that early modernity would  look very different, and would certainly be differently configured, in China than in  the West. Olivová’s essay “Building History and the Preservation of Yangzhou”  —   which makes clear how little has been done, until very recently, to preserve physi- cal traces of the past  — suggests that seeking such evidence on the ground is a  dubious enterprise, in any case. Yet the point does not seem to have registered, and  the editors seem to have avoided raising it. A stronger editorial hand would have enhanced the book throughout. Care- less errors mar otherwise valuable contributions: thus, the poet Wang Shizhen is  elevated from prefectural judge to prefect of Yangzhou. In a book about place, the  only map  — of the city proper  — is found on page 164, and would be of little use to  a non-Chinese reader. While comparative dimensions are alluded to, they are  seldom explored in any detail  — thus, while Fei Li provides us with a vivid descrip- tion of traditional story houses in Yangzhou, there is no systematic comparison  with teahouse culture in other parts of China. Kuzay uses 9 of the 103 songbooks  collected by Finnish scholar Hugo Lund to describe late Qing brothel culture.e  Th   results are fascinating and vivid  — but inevitably leave the reader wondering to  what degree they reflect “life in the green lofts” (p. 268) rather than conventional  tropes that combine uplift with titillation in time-honored fashion. Convincingly  demonstrating the importance of Buddhist themes in the work of (at least two)  Yangzhou eccentrics, Loring suggests that these were attempts to assuage the  tensions created by “wealth and excess, traditional elite values and the novelty of  the historical present” (p. 404). Suggestive as this is, the reader is left wondering  whether this reflects the sensibility of a few artists, the concerns of their patrons,  or a general social phenomenon. Given the opportunities the web ao ff rds for ongoing engagement, it is dis- appointing to report that this volume is no better (though certainly no worse)  than the typical set of published conference papers. One hopes that, in the future,  twenty-first-century technology will allow implications to be more fully explored  and remaining areas of disagreement more clearly defined before a workshop  becomes a printed volume. If this is to occur, it will, however, almost certainly  require editors to infuse the enterprise with an old-fashioned elitism and rigor at  odds with the democratic spirit of the Internet. Michael Marmé Michael Marmé teaches Asian history at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus; he specializes in the social and economic history of late imperial China.

Journal

China Review InternationalUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Sep 19, 2012

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