2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 56

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New Poetic Voices in an Old Tradition: Classical Chinese Poetry at the Turn of the Age (The 19th Century to the Early Republican China)

Organizer: Tsung-Cheng Lin, University of Victoria, Canada

Chair: Jerry D. Schmidt, University of British Columbia, Canada

Discussants: Kang-I S. Chang, Yale University, USA; Jerry D. Schmidt, University of British Columbia, Canada

The 19th Century to Early Republican era is the critical moment of transition from traditional to modern Chinese literature. Most scholarship on this period has focused on fiction and led to a better understanding of the transition. Nonetheless, other forms, especially poetry, contributed to modernity in Chinese literature, but research on them has lagged behind . Poets were not indifferent to the dramatic changes around them, but responded to them in a variety of ways. Some broke the traditional rules of line length and rhyme and adapted colloquial language to experiment with new themes, in order to make classical poetry more accessible for readers. Others were loyal classicists, devoting their works to the old poetic tradition and so resisting the transition from the literary language to the vernacular. Yet others adopted abstruse diction and transformed existing metaphors to express their feelings of oppression and anxiety in the face of the radical transformation in the poetic tradition. This panel is concerned with two major poetic forms, shi and ci, and with four important themes, including memories of history, nature, female knight-errantry, and political and social criticism. Four panellists and two discussants will examine how poets established new poetic voices within the classical tradition and how these voice reflected the literary transition. Their purpose is to contribute from a poetic perspective to the ongoing discussion of recent literary history and to shed light on how poets contributed to the modernity of Chinese literature.

Jin He (1818-1885) and the Poetic Tradition of the Female Knight-errant in 19th Century China
Tsung-Cheng Lin, University of Victoria, Canada

Jin He (1818-1885), one of the most pioneering poets of mid-nineteenth century China, wrote in a highly colloquial style strongly influenced by the ballad tradition. Moreover, Jin’s style was prose-like and broke all the structural limitations of earlier poetry in order to both create innovations in form while also experimenting with new subject matter. Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and Hu Shi (1891-1962) considered Jin He and Huang Zunxian (1848-1905) to be the two major poets of the nineteenth century. Jin had a major impact both on other late nineteenth-century poets and on the “Poetic Revolution,” which led to the rise of modern Chinese literature, but his verse has been largely ignored since then. Among the most striking contributions Jin made to the literary transition in the nineteenth century was his creative innovation in the presentation of the female knight-errant (nüxia). This invented image of the female knight-errant reflected a new tradition of women's voices in the literary works of his time and had a great impact on the representation of swordswomen in modern literature. This paper examines how the image of nüxia in Jin's writing is distinct from those found in past poetry, how the female knight-errant in Jin’s works inverts conventional gender norms, how Jin’s female knight-errant image is both connected with and distinct from those in other literary forms, and how Jin’s works contributed to the new literary presence of the female voice while influencing the general portrayal of women in modern literature.

Wang Kaiyun’s “Ode on the Old Summer Palace” and the Advent of World Literary Modernity
Jon Eugene von Kowallis, University of New South Wales, Australia

Wang Kaiyun (1833-1916) is considered the chief figure by the most archaistic of the poetic schools during the late Qing. His works were written-off by Hu Shi in his 1929 work Wushi Nian lai Zhongguo zhi Wenxue (China’s literature over the last 50 years) as so many “imitation antiques,” but in his lifetime he won high acclaim both as a poet and as a scholar of the classics. In 1871 he wandered through the ruins of the Yuan Ming Yuan and interviewed local people, developing his own revisionist interpretation of the sack of the Old Summer Palace by the Anglo-French Forces in 1860. He became a respected lecturer in private academies, his reputation earning him a place in the Hanlin Yuan. Due to the political upheaval, he later resigned his position and returned to his native place of Xiangtan in Hunan. His life thus spanned all the major events of the late Qing and intersected with the history of the era at many points. In poetry he advocated learning from the Han, Wei and Six Dynasties, not only as literary, but as spiritual models. Despite Hu Shi’s reservations, if we examine his poetic works from the critical perspective of Anglo-American literary modernism, there are striking similarities. This paper seeks to argue that modernity in fact entered Chinese letters before its counterparts in the West, and did so beginning with Wang’s composition of the “Yuan Ming Yuan Ci” or “Ode on the Old Summer Palace” in 1871.

Nature and the Inner-World of Chen Sanli’s Classical-style Poetry
Wuei Yi Chang, Fo Guang University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Chen Sanli (1852-1937) is considered to be the greatest of the Tong-Guang poets, and served as a model for younger poets working in classical styles during the late-Qing and early Republican era. His shi poetry is greatly valued by critics such as Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998). One significant trope that runs through much of Chen’s poetic oeuvre is Nature – natural scenery and phenomena both as a backdrop for the poet’s inner-reflections and as a symbol of the nation and society. The most striking features found in Chen's nature poems are the transformed existing metaphors such as the willow tree and moon, commonly found in past poetry, and the use of rare and abstruse diction. These metaphors originally suggested a sense of gentleness and affection, but in Chen’s poems referred to ugliness and ferocity in order to produce a feeling of alienation and oppression; the employment of abstruse diction was an attempt to make his poems difficult to understand. Both the transformed metaphors and recondite diction are used to both break conventional poetic regulations while also suggesting Chen's feelings of absurdity, marginalization, and despair toward the great tumult and myriad changes that came upon China in the first decades of the modern era. This paper aims to examine how Chen's innovative poetic devices enriched the tradition of classical Chinese poetry, how his poems reflected the drastic changes at the turn of the new age, and how his poems contributed to the birth of modern literature.

Allusive Memories: The Qing Loyalist Chen Zengshou’s Ci Lyrics
Lap Lam, National University of Singapore, Singapore

After the fall of the Qing dynasty, a large number of loyalists expressed their memories of the Qing through ci lyric in addition to shi poetry. Chen Zengshou (1878–1949), like other loyalists such as Zhu Zumou (1857-1931) and Wang Guowei (1877-1927), was a significant writer in the ci genre. But unlike his peers, Chen’s work has been understudied. Influenced by the Changzhou School, an important school of ci poetry prevailing from the 18th century to early Republican era, which championed the allegorical function of the ci, Chen's work appeared to be highly allusive while also displaying an appealing quality of its own. The use of allusion to suggest the poet’s trauma and grief over the collapse of the past empire is an important writing device, found in most ci poems written at the turn of a new age, for example, the ci poems written by the early Qing poet Wu Weiye (1609-1671). Aside from the political upheaval the era experienced, the late Qing to early Republican era, unlike that of the 17th century, was a critical age when Chinese literature underwent an important transition from the classical to the modern. In addition to arguing how Chen adapted writing tactics from past ci poetry, such as indeterminacy and veiled representation of memories, to convey his grief over the fall of the previous empire, this paper mainly attempts to examine how Chen experimented with new writing devices to respond and contribute to the modernity in the classical poetic tradition.