In addition to a more in-depth and informative introduction, I think the book as a whole could have included more scholarly apparatus, including a less sketchy, multi-lingual bibliography, without harming its appeal to a general audience.
If Pollard assumes anything about his audience, it is that they are familiar with the European prose essay, which I think leaves some room for doubt especially with respect to the younger generations.
represent most of the best-known Chinese essayists, through some of their most anthologized and well-known works.
Never have premodern and modern essays been placed next to each other, and never has the considerable tradition of the modern Chinese essay been presented so richly.
I applaud his insistence that personal taste—an important theme in ancient and modern essays—was his principal guide.
This accounts for his enthusiastic inclusion of essays by Gui Youguang (1506-1571) despite their criticism by the modern essayist Lin Yutang, his exclusion of Lin Yutang’s own essays, and no doubt as well the inclusion of contemporary writer Yu Qiuyu, well-known for his popular, fictionalized imaginings of significant historical moments, over those with strong links to the Republican period essay tradition like Wang Zengqi, Zhang Zhongxing and Ji Xianlin.Moreover certain Republican period publications such as Shen Qiwu’s 1932 (The Late Ming xiaopin: twenty masters) exerted an influence on the modern Chinese essay, and these could at least have been mentioned.The reader who wants to explore the Chinese essay in more detail would have benefited greatly from some guidance as to which anthologies are best, and which exerted the greatest influence.Because of the infancy of the study of the Chinese essay in English, an anthology like this and its introduction are potentially seminal statements, situating this genre in the field of Chinese cultural studies in general, justifying our interest in it, and pointing the way to avenues of further inquiry.But if answers the question, Why publish or read such an anthology? Pollard observes that there has not been a general anthology of Chinese essays published since Herbert Giles’ 1884 , so his argument begins from a gap or lack in the representation of a genre.The European essay was of course an important context for the modern Chinese essay, but Pollard is probably putting unnecessary emphasis on features peculiar to the European tradition (“absence of dignity,” “refining and directing sensibilities to create a polity that was new and particular,” “entertainment value,” [p. 7] etc.) in the effort to define the Chinese essay for the general English reader.It might have been more effective and engaging to discuss what prose essays in China are like and what they are used for, rather than comparing them (often unfavorably) to the European tradition that the reader may not be very familiar with anyway.In saying this Pollard makes it clear that he intends this collection to represent the Chinese essay with some authority and self-sufficiency, which seems out of step with his claim of using personal taste as his guide.Nevertheless, I think the resulting balance between personal taste and the need to reflect the received canon makes for a selection that both makes good reading and a good textbook.I am not certain, but a general English readership (which has already proven itself lukewarm to Chinese fiction and poetry in translation) may not be inclined to delve into this anthology thus described.Why not say more about the extraordinary personalities and intellectual genius evinced in included works by Tao Qian, Han Yu and Su Shi, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Feng Zikai and Zhang Ailing?