Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Modern Chinese Celebrities

by Christopher Rea


"For today’s readers, these biographical essays on key cultural figures draw scholarly attention to the scene of Republican multilingual print media and their representation of socio-political topics and discussions of culture and entertainment. These Critic essays include biographical sketches of leading writers, philosophers, and artists, and of important social, political and cultural figures of the day. Rea’s edited volume brings this collection to a global audience, and provides a much-needed contextualization through a well-researched introduction and with its appendixes. ... An important contribution to the fields of modern Chinese history, biographical studies, literary aesthetics, philosophy and cosmopolitan non-fiction writing in early twentieth century China. Its attractive layout and richly informative content make the volume ideal course material for graduate seminars or advanced undergraduate courses on modern Chinese literature or history studies. Historical figures familiar to specialists become animated and approachable in the individual sketches, and the appended thumbnail biographies provide details for non-specialist readers ... a rich contribution to our growing understanding of how the multilingual media sources and a culturally and linguistically diverse readers’ community influenced the public space of Republican China." —MCLC

“Satirical, witty, and compulsive reading, these bite-size essays expose the quirks and foibles of China’s celebrities. With the clear eye and cutting tongue of an astute observer, Wang Yuan-ning’s Imperfect Understanding reveals the weird and wonderful personalities of the famous and the fabulous—be they politicians, generals, artists, teachers, writers, athletes, diplomats, or opera stars.” —Louise Edwards, Scientia Professor and Deputy Head of School - Research, School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales

Imperfect Understanding is an extraordinary artifact of Chinese literary and social history. The people written about are among the most important figures of the Republican era, and the particular perspective on them presented by the essays is of both literary and historical importance. The introduction is excellent, full of the information the reader needs to make sense of the context in which the book was originally produced. This is an important book for scholars in Chinese literature and Chinese history, as well as general readers who wish to gain an understanding of the culture of that period.” —Theodore Huters, Professor Emeritus, UCLA; and Chief Editor, Research Centre for Translations

“Wen Yuan-ning (along with his various fellow contributing authors) was the John Aubrey of his age, the author of brief, intimate, and always insightful English-language portraits of some of the most remarkable Chinese personalities of a remarkable era. Christopher Rea—the preeminent Western scholar in this area of Chinese literary studies—and Cambria Press have now rescued this gem from obscurity, making it available once again to readers. Imperfect Understanding is a valuable book for those interested in Chinese literary and social history.” —Duncan M. Campbell, Adjunct Teaching Fellow, Chinese Studies Programme, School of Languages and Cultures, Victoria University of Wellington

“The mid-1930s was an immensely important time in modern Chinese history. This collection of pieces is a sparkling set of pen portraits of key figures of the age, covering figures important in politics, culture, and social change. All those interested in the history of the Republican period will be grateful that these pieces have been collected and edited for a new generation of scholars to discover.” —Rana Mitter, Director of the University China Centre and Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford


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