Most people suppose that the whole world knows what it is to love; that romantic love is universal, quintessentially human. Such a supposition has to be able to meet three challenges. It has to justify its underlying assumption that all cultures mean the same thing by the word ‘love’ regardless of language. It has to engage with the scholarly debate on whether or not romantic love was invented in Europe and is uniquely Western. And it must be able to explain why early twentieth-century Chinese writers claimed that they had never known true love, or love by modern Western standards. By addressing these three challenges through a literary, historical, philosophical, biographical and above all comparative approach, this highly original work shows how love’s profile in China shifted with the rejection of arranged marriages and concubinage in favour of free individual choice, monogamy and a Western model of romantic love.
‘This book, Lynn Pan’s best to date, adds a wonderful new angle by encouraging us, via comparison, to better appreciate how unusual, even in some ways exotic, a part of the Western past we take for granted, as though it were natural, actually is. While the reader will learn a great deal about Chinese literary and cultural traditions from this book, if read with an open mind the Western reader may end up rethinking things about his or her tradition just as deeply.’
—Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History, University of California at Irvine
‘Nobody writes about China quite as brilliantly as Lynn Pan, who in this new, illuminating work on love showcases her trademark erudition entwined with a novelist’s sensibility. Pan’s rare skill makes the book a treat from start to finish; a sumptuous, deft and moving analysis of China’s relationship with love.’
—Mishi Saran, author of Chasing the Monk’s Shadow: A Journey in the Footsteps of Xuanzang and The Other Side of Light