China under review

February 23, 1996

China Review International Edited by Roger T. Ames University of Hawaii Press, Twice yearly, $15.00 (students), $25.00 (individuals), $30.00 (institutions) ISSN 1069 5834

Produced by the University of Hawaii centre for Chinese studies, this new journal aims to review books relating to all aspects of sinology. The editors intend to cover books in many disciplines, from art to economics, from linguistics to Chinese medicine. But their intention has limitations, for, so far, the journal has concentrated largely on books in English. It is of course wise to avoid the mass of books in Chinese or Japanese, which are covered in other specialised journals. But the range covered is inevitably influenced by this constraint.

If this limitation is noted, the four issues published so far are extremely useful, with some 50 or more reviews in each issue. As the editors suggest in the editorial to the first issue, sinology is an interdisciplinary subject - practitioners in the West are inevitably interested in language and at least one other subject, and often far more than that. Easy access to a large number of reviews on material from more than one discipline will be welcomed by all in the wider field of sinology.

For British scholars and all university libraries with even the slightest interests in any of the fields touched upon by Chinese studies, this is an indispensable reference tool.

The journal reviews some books in lengthy analytical features. These, including those of Art and Political Expression in Early China by Martin Powers and Ma Hezhi and the Illustration of the "Book of Odes" by Julia Murray, have led to ripostes from the authors.

This debate is welcome, not because it illumines differences of opinion between author and reviewer, which it certainly does, but because it also allows us a glimpse of the specialised debates within a discipline.

In the case of these two books, Powers is criticised for taking too much of a "new" approach to his subject matter - namely interpretations of the subject matter of tomb decoration - and Julia Murray is taken to task for a reverse position - adopting an insufficiently contextual approach. The fairness or otherwise of the criticisms is less interesting than the indication of a discipline in a stage of transition, searching for new methods, but not yet committed to any of them.

Although these debates sometimes take on an unfortunate air of personal criticism, they are, perhaps, most helpful in revealing that there are two sides to every question and that, where the jury is still out, we may have to listen to both of them. Debates in other disciplines will, we must hope, also have an airing in this journal.

However valuable these lively discussions and intelligent criticisms are, and they are very helpful, the principal importance of the journal is likely to remain its service in spreading information to members of the field in its diverse areas.

Jessica Rawson is warden, Merton College, Oxford.

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