When I met the young Chinese writer Yu Hua in Beijing in 1990, I asked him what he was reading at the moment. Somewhat to my surprise he answered 'Walter Benjamin's essays on Baudelaire' and told me they made a great impression on him. A central concept in Benjamin's discussion of the French poet is allegory, and I was reminded of Yu Hua's words when I recently came across the much debated article by Fredric Jameson (1986) on self and allegory in third-world literature.1