Cornell East Asia Series (CEAS) Uncategorized

Wilt Idema on Buddhist Piety in Late Imperial China

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We asked Wilt L. Idema three questions about The Pitfalls of Piety for Married Women: Two Precious Scrolls of the Ming Dynasty, and the difficulties faced by women whose religious devotion conflicted with the demands of marriage and motherhood.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

The stories translated here are moving stories. That’s why they remained popular for centuries. Even after reading, translating, and rereading these texts, some scenes can still move me to tears.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

When you start out on a translation you have read the original repeatedly and you think you are prepared for the job, but doing the job you are time and again surprised by the limits of your knowledge as you are confronted by details that continue to elude you despite all modern reference works.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Literary Studies?

One of my aims is to enhance our understanding of the full extent of the variety and richness of Chinese literature by drawing attention to the manifold traditions of verse narrative and prosimetric narrative. I believe that translation is one of the most suitable means to introduce Western readers to the thematic and formal diversity of these genres and that their contents confront us with aspects of Chinese culture in past and present that often remain untouched in male elite literature.

*Featured photo by Julie Ricard.

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Wilt L. Idema is Emeritus Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard. He is the author or co-author of numerous books on Chinese fiction, drama, and storytelling traditions, including Personal Salvation and Filial Piety and The Immortal Maiden Equal to Heaven and Other Precious Scrolls from Western Gansu.

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