Forthcoming: “Memory in Folk Epics of China” by Anne E. McLaren

In pre-contemporary China, folk epics performed at village level helped create a sense of regional as opposed to national identity. This is the first book-length study in the West on the folk epics of the Han Chinese people, who are the majority population of China. These folk epics provide an unparalleled resource for understanding the importance of “the local” in Chinese culture, especially how rice-growing populations perceived their environment and relational world. Below, read Levi. S. Gibbs of Dartmouth University on the book:

This is the first major English-language study to examine a local Han epic tradition. These folk epics of the lower Yangzi delta were only ‘discovered’ in the late twentieth century, making this work extremely valuable. McLaren’s focus on texts sung by individual singers brings the texture of her translations of the epics closer to the experience of hearing them as orally performed. In addition, McLaren does a good job of comparing various versions of each epic, further highlighting their emergent quality in performance. McLaren does an excellent job of giving us a picture of the socio-historical contexts surrounding these epics, and tying all of those quotidian contexts to the symbolically powerful metaphor and lived experience of rice cultivation. The epics as translated and interpreted by McLaren offer an intimate view into the quotidian life, desires, and fears experienced by people over several generations in the lower Yangzi delta. We not only see sacred and secular songs and tales of culture heroes and rebel leaders, but also amorous encounters and the subsequent tragedies to which they led. The book and selections from it could be used in college courses introducing Chinese cultural studies, traditional Chinese culture, regional traditions in China, comparative world epics, Chinese folk beliefs and/or comparative folk beliefs, as well as courses on East Asian oral traditions. It is quite accessible—there is something in it both for scholars and more general audiences.”

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