Introduction: Writing and Reading Chinese Lives

  • Marjorie Dryburgh


China has long and rich traditions of life writing that run from its earliest historical records to the contemporary blogosphere. Biography was, for centuries, a central strand in historical writing, and this official, public life narration co-existed with ‘social’ biographies, necrologies, hagiographies, diaries, poetry, letters, essays and other genres that contained a wealth of reflection on character, experience, identity and the life course. These were preserved in personal collections, exchanged to cement friendships and social alliances, published to promote or challenge hegemonic values, or to enhance individual or communal reputations. China scholars have drawn on this work to supplement or interrogate the orthodox historical record and have mined life narrative for insights into shifting representations of ideas or practices, into generic conventions, and into changing modes of s elf-re presentation and identity formation.1


Life Story Chinese Work Historical Writing Life Narrative Autobiographical Narrative 
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  1. 1.
    Recent work that relies heavily on auto/biographical material to explore late imperial and twentieth-century society includes Joseph Esherick, Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History (Berkeley: Uni versity of California Press, 2011)Google Scholar
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  23. 26.
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© Marjorie Dryburgh 2013

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  • Marjorie Dryburgh

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