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Grand Canal, Great River: The Travel Diary…

Grand Canal, Great River: The Travel Diary of a Twelfth-Century Chinese…

by Philip Watson (Translator), Lu You [陆游] (Author)

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This is an English translation of a 12th century Chinese travel diary of an imperial official sent to Szechuan as Assistant Prefect. The journey, first via the Grand Canal and then up the Yangzi River, takes three months. As a highly educated person (necessary to pass the exam to become an official), the author includes a vast number of literary references and allusions in the text describing a profusion of temples and galleries and viewing points.
The translated text would be almost totally inaccessible without the notes of the translator interspersed with the original text.
More detail than I feel I need to know about an obscure time in the life of China, but impressive in reinforcing the sense of continuous high culture in China over millennia. How many such travel diaries could have been written in Europe at the same time, and of that exceedingly small potential number, how many could include almost daily references to the travel and literature of those who went before - up to 1,000 years before!
Read January 2014. ( )
  mbmackay | Jan 11, 2014 |
My first impression of this book was that it was an expensive, glossy book appealing to the China bandwagon boom. Some of my initial discomfort is still lingering, as I find the design of the book aesthetically displeasing. Examples of these are very small (less than .5 cm) margins, photos which exceed margins, photos which are "embedded", showing eg sculptures freestanding in the text, high-gloss paper and contemporary photographs of present-day Chinese landscapes (which often disharmoniously juxtapose with the poetic nature of the text).

Nonetheless, upon closer inspection (after purchase), I find the book a valuable addition to my collection and enjoy reading the diary, and notes of the translator. Basically, the book is an enriched edition of Lu You [陆游] 's Travel diary "Record of entering Shu" (= Sichuan) [入蜀记]. The diary is faithfully translated, while the text is embedded in a text that supports it with notes, remarks and many illustrations of both period works of art, as well as impressions of landscapes the poet travelled through.

My distaste of the modern juxtaposition of old and new is apparently shared by the author, as the description under a photo (p. 106) [describes] "the Lute Pavillion, Jiujiang Buddhists believe evil acts in one life lead to a rebirth in a lower form in the next. This seems to be the fate of traditional Chinese buildings which are successively incarnated in ever more garish style, often reaching their modern apotheosis in painted concrete."

However, the many photos of art works make the book a fine edition that brings a book such as this to life and illustrates the life, art and period for the reader who has less knowledge and access to books about art and culture of ancient China.

Valuable additions to the book are maps, an index and a "dramatis personae" listing all important figures appearing in the text in both romanised script as well as Chinese characters. The bibliography, however, is entirely in hanyu pinyin.

Altogether a splendid book, with some minor faults, appealing to both the specialist and newcomer to ancient Chinese literature.
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 9, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Watson, PhilipTranslatorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lu You [陆游]Authormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0711227195, Hardcover)

In July 1170, a Chinese poet, politician and historian made a journey from east to west China. Lu You (pronounced 'loo yo') kept a daily record of his experiences: the people he met, the unfolding landscape and the famous historical sites he visited. What emerges is a detailed panorama of 12th-century China, an exotic mixture of travelogue, literature and politics. This new modern translation by Philip Watson of the whole of the diary makes the entirety of this fascinating work of literature accessible to the general reader for the first time, and his detailed commentary fills in all the essential background information. Contemporary paintings and other artworks, together with photographs of the places described, complete this beautifully produced book, which brings the world of Lu You dramatically to life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:26 -0400)

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