Asia Past and Present Books

TO DIE AND NOT DECAY: Autobiography and the Pursuit of Immortality in Early China (Matthew V. Wells)

ISBN: 978-0-924304-58-3. 200 pages. Paperback

“To Die and Not Decay” is the only book-length study to date on early Chinese autobiographical writing and the cultural issues surrounding this particular genre. While other studies have regarded texts of the Han (206 BCE–220 CE) and early medieval period (220–589 CE) as antecedents for later authors, Matthew Wells focuses exclusively on earlier texts such as Ge Hong’s (ca. 283–343 CE) “Authorial Postface” to the Baopuzi Waipian and asks what they say about the development of subjectivity, individual identity, and historical consciousness in early China. By putting these texts in dialogue with contemporary literary criticism, Wells challenges Western approaches to autobiography that have largely dominated studies of early Chinese self narrative.

“Without a doubt, specialists in Chinese medieval history, literature, religion, and culture will be delighted with this book. It will have an important effect on our views of medieval China and the texts that it produced.”

Keith N. Knapp
Chair, Department of History
The Citadel, Charleson, South Carolina

“This book satisfies on two levels: as a study of Ge Hong’s crafting of the Baopuzi, and as a cross-cultural reflection on how different notions of the self play out in the development of autobiographical genres. As such, it is not just a useful contribution to the study of medieval Chinese literature, but has much to teach anyone interested in understanding a tradition of self-narrative that is not rooted in Augustine.”

Mark Csikszentmihalyi
Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures
University of California, Berkeley

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