In This Review

An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics
An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics
By Perry Link
Harvard University Press, 2013, 376 pp.

Link focuses on how Chinese syntax is to a great extent ordered by speech and sound and not by the kind of grammatical logic at work in many Western languages. He scrutinizes the ways in which certain Chinese words take on metaphoric meanings. For example, the word for “yellow” can imply “licentious,” and the word for “black” sometimes connotes “calamity”; the terms for “to eat” or “to ingest” can imply “taking or conquering,” “suffering,” or “incurring blame.” In writing about the intersection of politics and language in China, Link reveals -- with precision, courage, and irony -- how the Chinese Communist Party’s officialese dominates the speech and writing of the world’s most populous country. Link’s mastery of Chinese extends beyond modern Mandarin to include subdialects of Cantonese, and it is difficult to overstate the breadth and subtlety of his analysis. This book should be read by anyone who wants to engage with China intellectually, commercially, or culturally.