Modern Archaics

Modern Archaics: Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900-1937

Wu Shengqing
Volume: 88
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
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    Modern Archaics
    Book Description:

    After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the rise of a vernacular language movement, most scholars and writers declared the classical Chinese poetic tradition to be dead. But how could a longstanding high poetic form simply grind to a halt, even in the face of tumultuous social change? In this groundbreaking book, Shengqing Wu explores the transformation of Chinese classical-style poetry in the early twentieth century. Drawing on extensive archival research into the poetry collections and literary journals of two generations of poets and critics, Wu discusses the continuing significance of the classical form with its densely allusive and intricately wrought style. She combines close readings of poems with a depiction of the cultural practices their authors participated in, including poetry gatherings, the use of mass media, international travel, and translation, to show how the lyrical tradition was a dynamic force fully capable of engaging with modernity. By examining the works and activities of previously neglected poets who maintained their commitment to traditional aesthetic ideals, Modern Archaics illuminates the splendor of Chinese lyricism and highlights the mutually transformative power of the modern and the archaic.

    eISBN: 978-1-68417-072-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xviii)
    W. S. Q.
  5. Introduction: Ornamental Lyricism (pp. 1-42)

    In a 1927 anthology of Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) poetry, Hu Shi 古月適 (1891–1962) comments scathingly on the dense style of Wu Wenying 吳文英, a thirteenth-century poet. Hu quotes Zhang Yan 張炎, a contemporary of Wu, as saying, “Wu Mengchuang’s [Wenying] song lyrics are like a seven-tiered trea sure pagoda that dazzles the eyes, but when broken apart, the fragments cannot be formed into a coherent whole” 吳夢窗詞如七寶樓臺,眩人眼目,拆碎下來,不成片斷.¹ Despite the tremendous popularity of Wu Wenying among the lyric poets of the late Qing era (1840–1911), only two short simple poems of his appeared in Hu...

    • CHAPTER 1 Falling Leaves and Grieving Cicadas: Allegory and the Experience of Loss in Song Lyrics (pp. 45-107)

      It is August 1900, the year Gengzi in the Chinese lunar calendar. Allied forces from eight foreign countries are laying siege to Beijing, and the royal family is preparing to flee the capital before the invaders arrive. The crossfire of Chinese snipers and foreign artillery barrages is creating chaos and terror throughout the city. At stake are the future of the capital and the balance of power between foreign forces and the collapsing Qing dynasty.

      The conflict had its seeds in the Boxer Rebellion, which began in the impoverished northwestern province of Shandong. The rebellion was started by a group...

    • CHAPTER 2 Radical Antiquarianism: Chen Sanli and His Poetic Response to Cultural Crisis (pp. 108-162)

      In his influential 1917 manifesto “Some Modest Proposals for the Reform of Literature,” Hu Shi initiated a call for a “literary revolution” and attacked Chen Sanli and other contemporary poets for slavishly adhering to the ancients and lacking individuality.¹ Ironically, in 1936, two representatives of Chinese letters were chosen to attend the International Writers’ Conference in London: Hu Shi, representing New Literature; and Chen Sanli, representing “old” literature.² It is said that Chen did not understand what the invitation was for, so he discarded it.³

      During the first three de cades of the twentieth century, old-fashioned poets and intellectuals held...

    • CHAPTER 3 Contested Fengya: Loyalists and Classical-Style Poetry Clubs (pp. 165-217)

      This chapter investigates the writing of classical-style poetry as a sociocultural phenomenon with the goal of gaining a fuller understanding of the production and consumption of literature in the Republican era. Although literary societies and associations in modern China have gained critical attention in recent years, scholars have tended to decry the traditional poetry clubs as resisting social progress, assuming that these sorts of literary events distracted the elite from more practical concerns and meaningful endeavors by encouraging inconsequential leisure activities.¹ As a result, scant critical attention has been accorded to these lively cultural forums. I attempt to fill this...

    • CHAPTER 4 A Lonely Enterprise: Classical Poetry and New Means of Cultural Production (pp. 218-264)

      On February 5, 1932, the lunar new year’s eve, the young Qian Zhongshu found himself engaged in a lively conversation with Chen Yan. The subject was contemporary poetry and the scholarly world. Because it was a private conversation, Chen did not censor his comments about his contemporaries, including some prominent poets, intellectuals, and celebrities.¹ Qian’s talents, however, impressed Chen, and over time Qian became his protégé. In a poem sent to Qian in Europe where he was studying at the time, Chen referred to him as his “black eyes” (qingyan青眼), an indication of his favor. Throughout Qian’s prominent scholarly...

    • CHAPTER 5 Refeminizing Modern Space: Lü Bicheng and Her Overseas Lyrics (pp. 267-332)

      In this chapter, I aim to bring critical attention to thecipoetry of Lü Bicheng, which was written during the first three de cades of the twentieth century and has been generally neglected by literary scholars until very recently.¹ I focus on the nexus of space and gender relations in literature to demonstrate how Lü significantly expanded natural, cultural, and imaginary spaces in the context ofciwriting. Specifically, I argue that Lü rewrote concepts of the feminine across entrenched gender boundaries, both in her life and in her work, and arrived at a more fluid sense of femininity...

    • CHAPTER 6 O My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose: Classical Form and Translation (pp. 333-379)

      O My Luve’s like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June:

      O my Luve’s like the melodie, That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

      As fair art thou, my bonie lass, So deep in luve am I;

      And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry.

      Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

      And I will luve thee still, my dear, While the sands o’ life shall run.

      And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve! And fare-thee-weel, a while!

      And I will come again, my Luve, Tho’ ’twere ten...

  9. Epilogue: Translations of Tradition (pp. 380-386)

    Yu Dafu’s most famous story, “Sinking,” begins with a poet wandering through pastures in Japan, reciting lines of William Wordsworth and other Western writers. This melancholic protagonist, a psychologically tormented loner, is a typical Romantic figure. Reading Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper” aloud, the protagonist makes an effort to translate it into vernacular Chinese but later realizes that the linguistic barriers are insuperable: “He suddenly felt that he had done something silly and started to reproach himself: ‘What kind of a translation is that? Isn’t it as insipid as the hymns sung in the church? English poetry is English poetry and...

  10. Selected Bibliography (pp. 387-422)
  11. Index (pp. 423-438)
  12. Back Matter (pp. 439-442)


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