Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology

by Wilt L. Idema


“It is always a pleasure to pick up a book and immediately know the person who wrote it. In a few sentences, one recognizes Wilt Idema, whose distinctive wit and erudition here ventures into the realm of insects. From the elite classical idiom to the popular, Professor Idema pursues the signifying bugs of the Chinese tradition. Beginning with a discussion of Lu Xun’s collaborative Chinese translation of a German translation of Dutch insect fables, Idema shows how anthropomorphic fabulation has indeed a rich tradition in Chinese popular literature. As always, Idema provides a wide range of delightful and readable translations that demonstrate a hitherto unknown side of Chinese literature.” —Stephen Owen, James Bryant Conant University Professor, Emeritus, Harvard University

"Insects in Chinese Literature offers valuable insights into Chinese tradition and society through cultural entomology. From classical poetry and rhapsodies to popular ballads and drama, from canonical literary figures to modern performers, the representation of various insects opens up a rich array of imaginative possibilities. Wilt Idema’s wonderful translations introduce the reader to many original and thought-provoking works. The materials also throw light on cultural connections and comparative literature; through them the author traces the arc of Indian insect tales traveling to Europe and China and examines Lu Xun’s fascination with and translation of insect stories from the West." —Wai-yee Li, Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University

"This is a work of enormous scope and erudition. It is the first comprehensive study and translation into English of Chinese literary works dealing with insects. The linguistic demands of this sort of work are very considerable as one needs to be able to translate classical writings from antiquity as well as ballads in regional languages. There is no comparable work available, and this book opens up a fascinating insect world as imagined by countless scholars, singers and storytellers who have used insects as a motif to relate to vital concerns in the human world. Insects represent human beings at their best and their worst, as slanderers, philanderers, rapacious officials, predators, brawlers, seducers and so on. In this way the volume resonates with vital human concerns such as the evanescence of life and the causes of strife and dissension. The translations deal with a huge number of social and cultural topics, both philosophical and prosaic. The book is written in an accessible fashion that will attract a wide range of readerships. This would include those with a scholarly interest in Chinese culture, college teachers seeking engaging material on the Chinese natural world and the general reader with an interest in representations of nature and animals across different cultures. This work complements similar works in European and classical studies." —Anne McLaren, Professor in Chinese Studies, University of Melbourne

"There is no other book that I am aware of that provides a discussion of Chinese classical writings about insects, and the research in this book has been presented very well. Written in a refreshingly accessible manner, this book would be of particular interest to anyone who wants to know about Chinese popular literature." —Olivia Milburn, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Seoul National University

"That prodigiously productive scholar and translator of Chinese literature is at it again. This time Wilt Idema takes us into the teeming world of creepy, crawling things—insects. Entertaining and erudite, and covering a mind-boggling range of genres, serious and parodic, the extraordinary range of Chinese writing on this subject—from culturally venerated insects like silkworms, cicadas, and crickets to universal scourges like fleas, mosquitos, and lice—over millennia is here made available for the first time." —Judith T. Zeitlin, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, East Asian Languages & Civilizations, The University of Chicago


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