Claudine Ang's Poetic Transformations: Eighteenth-Century Cultural Projects in the Mekong Plains is about the power of literature to transform perceptions of geographic space. The setting is southern Vietnam (Đàng Trong) in the eighteenth century, when the Mekong plain was a rowdy frontier. The main actors are Nguyễn Cư Trinh (1716–67), a Nguyễn official who penned the humorous play Sãi Vãi (A monk and a nun) while serving as governor of Quảng Ngãi Province at the upper edge of the Mekong plain, and Mạc Thiên Tứ (1710–80), a Ming loyalist who governed the Chinese enclave Hà Tiên and commissioned the poetry compilation Ten Songs of Hà Tiên. These men, Ang argues, shared the goal of incorporating and redefining frontier land through literature. Ang approaches these texts as a historian to uncover their political meanings.

Chapters 1–3 analyze the satirical play Sãi Vãi, which was written in rhymed verse in...

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