Review

Republic of Letters

Eleanor Goodman reviews A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang

One evening this summer as I was waiting for a table at a restaurant, I overheard a well-dressed woman describing a bike trip she was planning to take to Japan. “I’m so excited about it,” she told her companion, “that I just picked up Memoirs of a Geisha.” That literature is a window onto a culture – a point of access that can be utilized even from afar, a safe mental space in which one’s own attitudes, prejudices, preconceptions, and expectations can be challenged and even altered – is an idea that is not only true but important. In an era in which globalism is a simple fact and travel to previously remote places is easy and ordinary, while simultaneously xenophobia and racial fear-mongering are on the rise, there is an increasing need for exposure to other cultures in many forms. Then again, reading a book written by a white man about sex workers in the 1930s and 40s does not necessarily offer the most accurate picture of Japan as it exists today.