Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature 1138647543, 9781138647541

TheRoutledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literaturepresents a comprehensive overview of Chinese literature from the 1910s

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Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature
 1138647543, 9781138647541

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The Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature presents a comprehensive overview of Chinese literature from the 1910s to the present day. Featuring detailed studies of selected masterpieces, it adopts a thematic-comparative approach. By developing an innovative conceptual framework predicated on a new theory of periodization, it thus situates Chinese literature in the context of world literature, and the forces of globalization. Each section consists of a series of contributions examining the major literary genres, including fiction, poetry, essay, drama and film. Offering an exciting account of the century-long process of literary modernization in China, the handbook’s themes include: • • • • • • •

Modernization of people and writing Realism, romanticism and modernist aesthetics Chinese literature on the stage and screen Patriotism, war and revolution Feminism, liberalism and socialism Literature of reform, reflection and experimentation Literature of Taiwan, Hong Kong and new media

This handbook provides an integration of biographical narrative with textual analysis, maintaining a subtle balance between comprehensive overview and in-depth examination. As such, it is an essential reference guide for all students and scholars of Chinese literature. Ming Dong Gu is Distinguished Professor of Foreign Studies at Shenzhen University, China and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Dallas, USA. His recent publications include Sinologism: An Alternative to Orientalism and Postcolonialism (2013), Translating China for Western Readers (editor, 2014) and Why Traditional Chinese Philosophy Still Matters (editor, 2018).


Tani Barlow, Professor (Rice University) Kang-I Sun Chang, Professor (Yale University) Sihe Chen, Professor (Fudan University) Xiaoming Chen, Professor (Peking University) Gloria Davies, Professor (Monash University) Fan Ding, Professor (Nanjing University) Liangyan Ge, Professor (University of Notre Dame) Eric Hayot, Professor (Pennsylvania State University) Theodore Huters, Professor Emeritus (University of California-LA) Dennis M. Kratz, Professor (University of Texas at Dallas) Kam Louie, Professor Emeritus (University of Hong Kong) J. Hillis Miller, Professor Emeritus (University of California-Irvine) Andrea M. Riemenschnitter, Professor (University of Zurich) Lena Rydholm, Professor (Uppsala University) Ban Wang, Professor (Stanford University) David Der-wei Wang, Professor (Harvard University) Xudong Zhang, Professor (New York University) Xian Zhou, Professor (Nanjing University)


Edited by Ming Dong Gu with Assistance from Tao Feng

First published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 selection and editorial matter, Ming Dong Gu; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Ming Dong Gu to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Gu, Ming Dong, 1955- editor. Title: Routledge handbook of modern Chinese literature/edited by Ming Dong Gu. Description: London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.| Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018009658| ISBN 9781138647541 (hardback) | ISBN 9781315626994 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Chinese literature – 20th century – History and criticism.| Chinese literature – 21st century – History and criticism. Classification: LCC PL2302. R68 2018 | DDC 895.109/005 – dc23 LC record available at ISBN: 978-1-138-64754-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-62699-4 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders for their permission to reprint material in this book. The publishers would be grateful to hear from any copyright holder who is not here acknowledged and will undertake to rectify any errors or omissions in future editions of this book.

To David Der-Wei Wang, Dennis M. Kratz, and Xudong Zhang, With deep appreciation for their encouragement and support


Notes on contributors xiii Acknowledgementsxxi Prefacexxiii Chronology of major events in modern Chinese literature by Tao Feng xxv General introduction: writing modern Chinese literature in English Ming Dong Gu



Early modern literature (c. 1910s–1942)


Introduction: national salvation and human enlightenment  19 SECTION I

Realism and the anatomy of Chineseness


  1 Lu Xun’s writings: modernizing Chinese language and consciousness Ming Dong Gu


  2 Mao Dun and his masterpieces Theodore Huters


  3 Ba Jin’s fiction and The Family48 Kristin Stapleton   4 Lao She’s fiction and Camel Xiangzi59 Lena Rydholm vii


  5 Li Jieren’s fiction and Ripples on Dead Water72 Kenny K. K. Ng   6 Fiction of left-wing writers: between ideological commitment and aesthetic dedication Nicoletta Pesaro



Romanticism and the new people


  7 Imagining new Chinese in Guo Moruo’s poetry Paolo Magagnin


  8 Romanticizing new Chinese in poetry: Zhu Ziqing, Wen Yiduo, Xu Zhimo Frederik H. Green   9 Yu Dafu’s romantic fiction: youth consciousness in crisis Tong He

111 128


Modernist aesthetics and sensibilities


10 Modern consciousness and symbolist poetry: Fei Ming, Li Jinfa and others Gang Zhou


11 The poetry of Dai Wangshu: where tradition meets modernism Yaohua Shi


12 The new sensationists: Shi Zhecun, Mu Shiying, Liu Na’ou Christopher Rosenmeier



Old and new Chinese on stage and screen


13 Early modern drama: Hong Shen, Ouyang Yuqian, Xia Yan Xiaowen Xu


14 Cao Yu’s plays and Thunderstorm194 Liangyan Ge



15 Masterpieces of early cinema Corrado Neri



Middle modern literature (late 1930s–1977)


Introduction: war, revolution, and the individual  217 SECTION V

Poetry and patriotism


16 Zang Kejia and Tian Jian’s poetry: a clarion for national salvation Bingfeng Yang


17 Ai Qing’s poetry and Dayanhe, My Nurse235 Victor Vuilleumier 18 Feng Zhi, Mu Dan and the Nine Leaves Gloria Davies



Topical plays and modern essays


19 Historical plays of Guo Moruo and Tian Han Ning Ma


20 Plays of Chen Baichen and Yang Hansheng Letizia Fusini


21 Modern Chinese essays: Zhou Zuoren, Lin Yutang and others Tonglu Li



Literature of revolutionary realism


22 Novels of Zhao Shuli and Sun Li: chronicles of new peasantry Tonglu Li


23 Zhou Libo’s fiction and The Hurricane318 Marco Fumian



24 Fiction of Yang Mo and Ouyang Shan: from new youth to revolutionary youth Yuehong Chen



Proto-feminism and liberal realism


25 Ding Ling’s feminist writings: new women in crisis of subjectivity Géraldine Fiss


26 Eileen Chang’s fiction: a study of alienated human nature Ming Dong Gu


27 Independent writers: Shen Congwen, Xu Dishan, Qian Zhongshu Philip F. Williams



Literature of socialist realism


28 Fiction of new China (1949–1966) Xiangshu Fang and Lijun Bi


29 Poetry of new China (1949–1966) Lijun Bi and Xiangshu Fang


30 Dramas of new China (1949–1966) Weijie Song


31 Literature of the Cultural Revolution Lena Henningsen



Late modern literature (late 1970s–early 1990s)


Introduction: humanist revival and literary renaissance  435 SECTION X

Literature of trauma, memory, reflection


32 Literature of trauma and reflection Meng Li and King-fai Tam




33 Literature of reform and root-seeking Meng Li and King-fai Tam


34 Films of reflection and nativity Yanjie Wang



Literature of experiments and innovation


35 Avant-garde fiction: Can Xue, Ma Yuan,Yu Hua and others Irmy Schweiger


36 Experimental and opaque poetry: Bei Dao, Shu Ting, Gu Cheng, and others Cosima Bruno 37 Plays of late modern period Liang Luo

491 502


Postmodern literature (late 1980s–present)


Introduction: multiplicity of themes and forms  515 SECTION XII

Literature of new realism


38 Fiction of Wang Meng and Alai: new approaches to historical fiction Mei-Hsuan Chiang


39 Yu Hua’s and Su Tong’s fiction Anne Wedell-Wedellsborg


40 Masterworks of Jia Pingwa and Chen Zhongshi: temporalities of modernity Yiju Huang 41 Female neo-realism: masterworks of Zhang Jie, Wang Anyi, and Chi Li Hui Faye Xiao


542 553


Postmodern realism


42 Mo Yan’s fiction: human existence beyond good and evil Tonglu Li


43 Gao Xingjian and Soul Mountain580 Carolyn FitzGerald 44 Ge Fei and his South of   Yangtse Trilogy592 Andrea M. Riemenschnitter 45 Bi Feiyu’s fiction: portraits of the disadvantaged Xiuyin Peng



Literature of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and new media


46 Postwar Taiwan literature: an overview Christopher Lupke


47 Masterpieces of Taiwan fiction: Chen Yingzhen and Bai Xianyong Pei-yin Lin


48 Masterpieces of Taiwan poetry: Ji Xian and Yu Guangzhong Pei-yin Lin


49 Hong Kong literature: an overview Paul B. Foster


50 Chinese internet literature: digital literary genres and new writing subjects669 Guozhong Duan Conclusion: a review of Chinese literature since the 1980s Chen Xiaoming


Chinese glossary: selected names, terms, and work titles 697 Index725



Bi, Lijun lectures at the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Australia. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne in 2011. Her main research interest focuses on poetry and children’s literature in China. Bruno, Cosima is Senior Lecturer in China Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her publications include Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry Through Translation (2012), translations, and articles in Target, Intervention, Shi tansuo, In forma di parole, Life Writing, and in the collected volumes Translating Others (2006), China and Its Others (2012). Her main research interest covers contemporary Chinese, Sinophone and bilingual poetry, poetry performativity, and the theoretical issues related to its translation; visual and sound poetry; language art. Chen, Xiaoming, Changjiang Chair Professor of Chinese Literature and chairman of the Department of Chinese at Peking University, is Deputy President of the Association of Modern Chinese Literature Studies and Vice President of the Chinese Association of Literary Theory. His major scholarly writings include these books in Chinese: Limitless Challenges: Postmodernity of Chinese Avant-garde Literature; Main Literary Trends in Present-Day Chinese Literature; Traces of Deconstruction: History, Discourse, Subject, The Undying Pure Literature; Derrida’s Bottom-line: Essentials of Deconstruction and the Coming of Neo-Humanist Literature; and Guarding Remnant Literariness, and numerous journal articles and book chapters. Chen,Yuehong is currently Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean of Foreign Studies at China Three Gorges University. She received her Ph.D. in Studies of Literature from the University of Texas at Dallas. Her research interest focuses on comparative literature and translation studies. In recent years, she has published scholarly works in the field of eco-critical studies and eco-translatology in addition to journal articles and book chapters. Chiang, Mei-Hsuan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Filmmaking, Taipei National University of the Arts. She has taught and researched on Chinese cinema, modern Chinese literature and critical theories. Her research interests include the representation of history in film and literature, ethnicity and identity formation, and gender and sexuality. Her current project xiii


explores the intersection between gender and the construction of Cold War narrative in Taiwan cinema from 1964 to 1982. She has published in journals such as Asian Cinema and Chung-Wai Literary Monthly. Davies, Gloria is Professor of Chinese Studies at Monash University and an Adjunct Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) at the Australian National University where she is a regular contributor to the CIW’s China Story Yearbook project. She has published widely on modern Chinese intellectual politics and on Chinese literary and cultural topics. She is the author of Worrying About China: On Chinese Critical Inquiry (2007) and Lu Xun’s Revolution:Writing in a Time of Violence (2013). She co-edited Pollution: China Story Yearbook 2015 with Jeremy Goldkorn and Luigi Tomba. Duan, Guozhong graduated from the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas with a Ph.D. in the studies of literature and is currently an associate professor of English at Yangzhou University. His research interests include comparative literature, visual culture, and internet literature. He has published scholarly articles in the fields of literary studies, history of ideas, and education. Fang, Xiangshu is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University, Australia. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne in 2002. His research interest covers political and moral indoctrination in China, Confucianism, and Chinese intellectual history. Feng, Tao graduated from the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas with a Ph.D. in the studies of literature. He is currently a lecturer of foreign studies at Yangzhou University, China. Having published scholarly articles in the fields of literary studies, history of ideas, and Buddhism, he is completing a book length study on old age and senior subjectivity in Chinese and Western literature and thought. Fiss, Géraldine teaches modern Chinese literature and film at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on transcultural practice and innovation in modern and contemporary Chinese fiction and poetry, especially Chinese-German literary and poetic encounters. She also works on Chinese literary and cinematic modernisms, Chinese women’s fiction and film, and East Asian eco-criticism. She is currently working on a book that traces Chinese poets’ encounters with the German modernist poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s (1875–1926) oeuvre and poetic thought. FitzGerald, Carolyn is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Auburn University. She has published a study on late Chinese modernism, titled Fragmenting Modernisms: Chinese Wartime Literature, Art, and Film, 1937–49 (2013). Her articles on modern Chinese literature, film, and drama have appeared in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Chinese Films in Focus II, and CHINOPERL Papers. Foster, Paul B. is Associate Professor of Chinese at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He specializes in the study of Lu Xun, the icon of Modern Chinese Literature, and is the author of Ah Q Archaeology: Lu Xun, Ah Q, Ah Q Progeny and the National Character Discourse in Twentieth Century China (2006). His current manuscript, The Kungfu Industrial Complex: Jin Yong’s Martial Arts Fiction and Chinese Popular Culture, explores the discourse of martial arts fiction, film, and popular culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. xiv


Fumian, Marco is Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the Oriental University of Naples, Italy, where he teaches Mandarin language and modern Chinese literature. His main interests are in the area of modern Chinese literature and popular culture, with a focus on their role in the production of mainstream ideological discourses in the PRC. He is the author of a number of articles on contemporary popular literature and a book-length study in Italian, which analyses the emergence and development of writings by writers born after the 1980s. He is also an occasional translator of modern Chinese literature into Italian. Fusini, Letizia (Ph.D., SOAS) is currently Associate Lecturer in History of Chinese Theatre at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her doctoral thesis (2016) examines the tragic aspects of a selection of pre- and post-exile plays by Sino-French writer Gao Xingjian. Her research interests and publications to date fall in the realm of Sino-Western intercultural exchanges with a focus on literature and drama. Her scholarship has appeared in CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, Neohelicon, and edited books. She has collaborated with the University of Venice for the publication of a handbook of modern Chinese literature in Italian. Ge, Liangyan is Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests lie in the fields of premodern Chinese fiction, the interplay between the oral and the written in Chinese popular culture and literature, comparative literature, and cultural studies. In addition to his many articles and essays, he is the author of Out of the Margins:The Rise of Chinese Vernacular Fiction (Honolulu: 2001) and The Scholar and the State: Late Imperial Chinese Fiction as Political Discourse (Seattle: 2014). With Vibeke Børdahl, Liangyan Ge coedited Western Han: A Yangzhou Storyteller’s Script (Copenhagen: 2017). He is also a coauthor of Integrated Chinese, a multivolume college language textbook series. Green, Frederik H. is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at San Francisco State University. A native of northern Germany, he received his BA in Chinese Studies from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Yale University. His research interests include Republican period literature and visual culture, Sino-Japanese relations, and post-socialist Chinese cinema. His articles have appeared in journals such as Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, and Journal of East-Asian Popular Culture. Gu, Ming Dong is Distinguished Professor of Foreign Studies at Shenzhen University, China and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the author of Sinologism: An Alternative to Orientalism and Post-colonialism, Chinese Theories of Reading and Writing, and Chinese Theories of Fiction; and editor of Translating China for Western Readers and Why Traditional Chinese Philosophy Still Matters (2018). He has also published more than 120 articles in journals including Journal of Asian Studies, CLEAR, Asian Philosophy, Philosophy East & West, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Journal of Oriental Studies, Monumenta Serica, New Literary History, Poetics Today, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Diacritics, Narrative, Journal of Narrative Theory, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Modern Language Quarterly, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Studies, and many others. He, Tong received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Foreign Studies University, China, majoring in Chinese Language and Literature. She continued her studies in the English department and acquired her master’s degree in English literature. She studied at Lancaster University in the UK for one year and received her second master’s degree in English Literary Studies. Currently, xv


she is a Ph.D. student of comparative literature in the School of Arts and Humanities, University of Texas at Dallas. Henningsen, Lena is a junior professor at Freiburg University. Her current research focuses on reading practices in China’s 1970s and handwritten entertainment literature circulating during the Cultural Revolution. She has published scholarly works on popular literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with topics ranging from Socialist Realist fiction to the current bestseller market. Huang, Yiju is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Fordham University. Her research interests include twentieth and twenty-first century Chinese literature, film, and visual culture, with a special emphasis on trauma studies and cultural memory of deep social transformations. Her book, Tapestry of Light: Aesthetic Afterlives of the Cultural Revolution (2014), offers an account of the psychic, intellectual, and cultural aftermath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Huters, Theodore is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Literature at University of California–Los Angeles and editor of the translation journal Renditions. His primary interest is in the literature and cultural history of China in the period between 1840 and 1920, his latest book being Bringing the World Home: Appropriating the West in Late Qing and Early Republican China. He is currently completing a book on the uses of modernity in the same period. Li, Meng received her Ph.D. from the University of Sydney and is currently teaching in the Confucius Institute of Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She has published journal articles and presented her research in the areas of Chinese intellectual men and women, femaleauthored Chinese literature, subaltern women, Chinese diasporic cinema, and women’s cinema. Li, Tonglu is Associate Professor of Chinese at Iowa State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 2009. His primary research area is twentieth-century Chinese literature and intellectual history. He has published articles on Zhou Zuoren and Mo Yan in Asia Major, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, Frontiers of Literary Theory, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Modern Language Quarterly, and Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Literature. Recently, he has been conducting research on religion and literature in modern China. Lin, Pei-yin obtained her Ph.D. from SOAS, University of London and is currently Associate Professor at the School of Chinese, the University of Hong Kong. She also taught in Singapore and England, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard Yen-ching Institute (2015–2016). A specialist on modern Chinese literature and culture, she has published one monograph, Colonial Taiwan: Negotiating Identities and Modernity Through Literature (2017), and two edited volumes – Print, Profit and Perception: Ideas, Information and Knowledge in Chinese Societies, 1895–1949 (Brill, 2014) and Border-crossing and In-betweenness (2016). Luo, Liang is Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China (2014). Her recent writings on intermediality, the politics of performance, and the dialectics of dancing and writing are published in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Trans-Humanities, and Frontiers of Literary Studies in China.



She is working on two projects, The Humanity of the Nonhuman: Gender, Media, and Politics in The White Snake (book and digital project) and The International Avant-Garde and Modern China (book and documentary film project). Lupke, Christopher received his Ph. D. from Cornell University and is Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies and Chair of East Asian Studies at the University of Alberta. Most recently, he has published The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien and translations of the poetry of Xiao Kaiyu. Lupke has worked extensively on literature from Taiwan and is particularly interested in the theme of filiality in modern Chinese literature and cinema. Ma, Ning is Associate Professor of Chinese in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has taught at Tufts University and is the author of The Age of Silver: The Rise of the Novel East and West (2016). Her research interests include Ming-Qing vernacular literature, comparative early modernity, Confucianism and modern China, and world literature. Magagnin, Paolo is Assistant Professor of Chinese and Translation Studies at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His current research focuses on Republican literature, contemporary Chinese fiction, translation studies, didactics of Chinese literature and culture, and contemporary Chinese political discourse. He has translated a number of works by contemporary Chinese writers including Zhu Wen, Xiao Bai, Xu Zechen, Cao Wenxuan, Chen He, and A Yi. Neri, Corrado is Associate Professor at the Jean Moulin University, Lyon 3. He has conducted extensive research on Chinese cinema in Beijing and Taipei and published many articles in English, French, and Italian. His book Tsai Ming-liang on the Taiwanese film director appeared in 2004 (Venezia, Cafoscarina). Ages Inquiets. Cinémas chinois: une representation de la jeunesse was printed in 2009 (Lyon, Tigre de Papier). His third book, Retro Taiwan, has recently been published for l’Asiathèque (Paris, 2016). He co-edited (with Kirstie Gormley) a bilingual (French/ English) book on Taiwan cinema (Taiwan cinema/Le Cinéma taiwanais, Asiexpo, 2009) and Global Fences (with Florent Villard, 2011). Ng, Kenny K. K. is currently teaching at the Academy of Film in Hong Kong Baptist University. He has taught a variety of subjects in Chinese humanities, comparative literature, film culture, photography, and cultural studies. His book, Li Jieren, Geopoetic Memory, and the Crisis of Writing Chengdu in Revolutionary China (2015), seeks to challenge official historiography and rewrite Chinese literary history from the ground up by highlighting the importance of cultural geography and historical memory. His ongoing book projects concern censorship and visual cultural politics in Cold War China and Asia, and a critical history of Cantonese cinema. Peng, Xiuyin teaches in the School of Foreign Studies at Yangzhou University, China and is a researcher in the Center for Bi Feiyu Studies. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Humanities, working on a doctoral thesis on Bi Feiyu’s life and literary works. In addition to the focus on Bi Feiyu, her research interest broadly covers modern and contemporary Chinese literature, comparative literature, and literary translation. Pesaro, Nicoletta is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where she coordinates the MA program in Interpreting and Translation.



Her field of research includes modern and contemporary Chinese literature, theory of narrative, and translation studies. The author of several articles on Chinese literature and of translations of contemporary Chinese novels, she is presently preparing a new Italian translation of Lu Xun’s short stories. She has edited The Ways of Translation: Constraints and Liberties of Translating Chinese (2013), and will soon be publishing a history of modern Chinese fiction (Carocci). Riemenschnitter, Andrea M. is Chair Professor of Modern Chinese Language and Literature and Deputy Director at the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich. Her research is focused on literary and cultural negotiations of sinophone modernities. Recent book publications include The Visible and the Invisible: Poems by Leung Ping-kwan (tr. and ed., 2012); Carnival of the Gods: Mythology, Modernity and the Nation in China’s 20th Century (in German, 2011); Entangled Landscapes: Early Modern China and Europe (ed. with Zhuang Yue, 2017). She serves on the executive boards of the European Association of Chinese Studies and the Swiss Asia Society, the advisory board of CETRAS Freiburg, and is honorary fellow of Lingnan University, Hong Kong.Visiting professorships and fellowships brought her to Beijing, Berkeley, Freiburg, Shanghai, Singapore, and Vienna. Rosenmeier, Christopher has a BA and MA from the University of Copenhagen and a Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). After postdoctoral studies at the University of Cambridge, he went to the University of Edinburgh where he is now a lecturer. His research includes journal articles on Shi Zhecun and Mu Shiying as well as a book on popular Chinese fiction in the 1940s, On the Margins of Modernism: Xu Xu,Wumingshi and Popular Chinese Literature in the 1940s (2017), which studies the influence of the New Sensationist writers upon popular fiction. Rydholm, Lena is Professor of Chinese at the Department of Linguistics and Philology at Uppsala University, Sweden. Rydholm’s research focuses on ancient and modern Chinese literary theory, especially theories of genre and style, classical poetry, and fiction. Her publications include True Lies Worldwide: Fictionality in Global Contexts (co-edited with A.Cullhed, De Gruyter, 2014), “Theories of genre and style in China in the late 20th century,” in Orientalia Suecana LIX (2010), and “The theory of ancient Chinese genres,” in G. Lindberg-Wada (ed.). Literary History:Towards a global perspective (2006) vol. 2. Schweiger, Irmy studied at Heidelberg, Leiden (NL), Taipei, Tianjin, and received her Ph.D. from Heidelberg University (Germany). She is currently Professor of Chinese Language and Cultures at the Department for Asian, Middle Eastern and Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. Her research interests are situated in the realm of modern and contemporary Chinese literature and culture. Among other things she is interested in historical trauma and cultural memory, cosmopolitan and vernacular dynamics in literature and literary history, literature as counter narrative to official discourse, and cultures in contact. Shi, Yaohua received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University. He is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Wake Forest University where he teaches Chinese, Chinese literature, East Asian culture, and East–West cultural relations. Yaohua Shi’s research interests include pre-modern Chinese vernacular fiction and Republican modernism. He has published articles on The Scholars, Dream of the Red Chamber, contemporary Chinese film, and twentieth-century Chinese architecture. With Judith Amory, he has translated the fictional works of Yang Jiang and Lin Huiyin. xviii


Song, Weijie is Associate Professor of modern Chinese literature and culture at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is the author of one monograph in English, Mapping Modern Beijing: Space, Emotion, Literary Topography, and two books in Chinese: From Entertainment Activity to Utopian Impulse: Rereading Jin Yong’s Martial Arts Novels and China, Literature, and the United States: Images of China in American and Chinese-American Novels and Dramas, in addition to other publications and translations. Stapleton, Kristin is Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, and editor of the journal Twentieth-Century China. Her research interests include twentieth-century urban history, how history is represented in works of fiction, and the history of Chinese humor. She is the author of Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family (2016) and other works. She serves on the international advisory committee of the Urban China Research Network and on the editorial board of Education About Asia, the teaching journal of the Association for Asian Studies. Tam, King-fai received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and is Associate Professor Emeritus of the Department of Chinese Culture at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. A specialist in modern Chinese literature and culture, he has published on the modern Chinese essay (xiaopinwen), detective fiction, and war memories in Chinese as well as Japanese film and political humor. He is currently working on a project on Chinese spy fiction. Vuilleumier, Victor is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University Paris 7 – Paris Diderot, and a member of the East Asian Civilizations Research Center (Paris). He also teaches in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Geneva. He has published papers on Chinese literature and thought of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His research interest covers comparative literature, cross-cultural studies, and gender and representations of the body. He received his education in Geneva and has studied in various Chinese and American universities. Wang, Yanjie is Associate Professor of Chinese Literature and Cinema in the Asian and Asian American Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. Her research interests are displacement, internal migration, trauma, violence, and gender and sexuality. Her articles have appeared in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, American Journal of Chinese Studies, Asian Cinema, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context, among others. She is currently working on a book project which explores the discursive cultural politics of representing rural migrant workers in contemporary Chinese literature and cinema. Wedell-Wedellsborg, Anne is Professor Emeritus of China Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. She specializes in modern and contemporary Chinese literature and has published extensively in this field. Publications include Modernism and Postmodernism in Chinese Literary Culture (1991 co-ed.), Cultural Encounters: China, Japan and the West (1995 co-ed.), “Between Self and Community: The Individual in Contemporary Chinese Literature,” (iChina 2010), “Contextu­ alizing Cai Guoqiang” (2010), and “Alone in the Text: Solitary Individuals in Chinese Literature” (Zhongguo Xueshu 2015). Other research interests include the contemporary Chinese cultural scene, Søren Kierkegaard in Chinese and Sino-European cultural relations. Williams, Philip F. has held the position of Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at a number of research universities in the United States and Australasia, and is currently teaching xix


at Montana State University. Along with over two hundred shorter publications such as journal articles and book chapters, he has authored or edited more than ten books, including Village Echoes:The Fiction of Wu Zuxiang (1993), The Great Wall of Confinement (2004), and Asian Literary Voices (2010). Xiao, Hui Faye is Associate Professor of Modem Chinese Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas. She has published a book, Family Revolution: Marital Strife in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Visual Culture (2014), and articles in Chinese Literature Today, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC), Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Journal of Contemporary China, Chinese Films in Focus II, and Gender and Modernity in Global Youth Cultures. Currently she is working on a new book project about youth culture in contemporary China. Xu, Xiaowen teaches Applied Chinese Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. She holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto (2014) and another Ph.D. in English from the Beijing Foreign Studies University (1997). Her current research interests include the idea of the “fantastic” in Chinese classical tales, vernacular stories and modern Chinese fiction, and its adaptation in modern Chinese drama and film. She has published numerous Chinese translations, among which are Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Linda Hutcheon’s Irony’s Edge:The Theory and Politics of Irony. Yang, Bingfeng is currently a lecturer in the School of Foreign Languges, China Three Gorges University. He holds a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. His academic interests include comparative literature and cultural studies. He has published articles in the area of the English novel and poetry. Zhou, Gang is Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Louisiana State University. She is the author of Placing the Modern Chinese Vernacular in Transnational Literature (2011) and co-editor of Other Renaissances: A New Approach to World Literature (2006) and Shen Congwen at a Global Perspective (in Chinese, 2017). Her articles have appeared in PMLA, MLN, and other journals.



The completion of the Routledge Handbook has brought an enormous sense of relief. At the same time, it has given me an opportunity to pay my indebtedness to numerous scholars around the world who have contributed to the completion of the project. For space reasons, I will only express my thanks to those who deserve special recognition. First of all, I wish to thank all the contributors to the handbook who come from institutions of higher learning in numerous countries and regions around the world, including China, the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Without their participation and cooperation, the handbook would not have been possible in the first place. A detailed list of their names and institutional affiliations is presented in the Contributors pages, which show a diverse array of talents ranging from senior luminaries in Chinese literature through seasoned mid-career specialists to budding young scholars. Second, I wish to express my thanks to members of the Advisory Board: Chen Xiaoming, Changjiang Scholar Chair Professor of Chinese Literature at Peking University; Tani Barlow, T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of History at Rice University; Kang-I Sun Chang, Malcolm G. Chace ’56 Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University; Chen Sihe, Professor and chair of Chinese Department at Fudan University; Gloria Davies, Professor of Chinese Studies at Monash University; Ding Fan, Professor of Modern Chinese Literature at Nanjing University; Liangyan Ge, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame; Eric Hayot, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University; Theodore Huters, Professor Emeritus of Asian Languages and Cultures at University of California-Los Angeles; Kam Louie, MB Lee Professor Emeritus at the University of Hong Kong; Andrea M. Riemenschnitter, Chair Professor of Modern Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Zurich; Lena Rydholm, Professor of Sinology at Uppsala University; Ban Wang, William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies at Stanford University; Xudong Zhang, Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies at New York University; Zhou Xian, Changjiang Scholar Chair Professor at Nanjing University; and David Wang, Edward C. Henderson Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. In the process of completing the project, they have provided their expertise and guidance in various ways and recommended suitable scholars as contributors to the handbook. Third, I am obliged to thank my former doctoral students Yuehong Chen, Bingfeng Yang and Guozhong Duan, and my current doctoral student Tong He, who graciously accepted my invitation to write the few chapters left by those scholars who xxi


had their last-minute withdrawal after the deadline of submission was long overdue because of their ill health or tight schedule. Their timely participation in the project not only saved me from despondence and despair but also spared the project from indefinite postponement. Fourth, I want to express my special gratitude to Professor David Der-Wei Wang, Professor Dennis M. Kratz and Professor Xudong Zhang for their encouragement when I was initially hesitating to accept Routledge’s invitation to edit the handbook. Without their encouragement, I might have declined the invitation. I am especially grateful to Professor David Der-Wei Wang who not only encouraged me to undertake the project but also took his precious time to read and comment on the overall plan and introduction. Fifth, I need to thank Dr.Tao Feng for preparing a chronology of major events in modern Chinese literary history, compiling the book’s index, and assisting in other matters. Last but not least, The General Introduction has appeared as an article in Modern Chinese Literature Studies (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan), (2018), vol.7, pp. 101–122. I acknowledge my indebtedness to that prestigious journal for publishing a Chinese version of my introduction. I am deeply grateful to Routledge for having confidence in me, and to the press’s editorial staff, Stephanie Rogers and Georgina Bishop, for their professional guidance and editorial work.Without their assistance, the book may not have appeared in its current form. Needless to say, any errors and imperfections are my sole responsibility. Ming Dong Gu



The Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature consists of a chronology, a general introduction, four part-introductions, fifty chapters, a conclusion, a glossary of Chinese characters, and an index of names, terms, and work titles. In combining historical narrative with thematic and aesthetic explorations, the handbook has organized a series of thematic groups into an overlapping chronological structure, and each thematic group is composed of several topical essays in terms of major genres of literature: fiction, poetry, drama, essay and film. Altogether, there are four parts, each covering a rough historical period, and fourteen theme groups arranged in a chronological order, each group having three to six chapters. The overall plan aims to integrate sketchy overviews of a period or a form of writings or a writer’s works with detailed analyses focusing on one or more commonly accepted masterpieces. The conceptual frame is designed with these specific points in mind: (1) each part is headed by an overview of the materials covered in that period; (2) each theme group in a part collectively contributes to a general view of the topics covered in that part; (3) each chapter in a theme group is devoted to a focused study of one or more chosen authors; and (4) each chapter seeks as much as possible to offer new readings of chosen masterpieces from a fresh perspective so as to stimulate thinking and further discussions on the topic. In the actual writing of individual chapters, all single-author chapters are organized in a three-tier structure which consists of (a) the author’s life and career, (b) the author’s literary achievements, and (c) an in-depth analysis or a new reading of the author’s masterpieces against the large background of modern Chinese and world literature. For chapters with two or more authors, each begins with an overview of the chosen authors’ writings in terms of the theme or genre that holds them together, and then allocates the remaining space to each author according to their importance and literary achievements. For chapters focusing on the literature of a period or a genre, though they enjoy a relative autonomy in conception and organization, their structural organization remains in line with the overall conception and adheres to the overarching theme of the book. As a whole, the book seeks to achieve a balance between overview of a topic and in-depth analysis of chosen masterpieces, and hopes to satisfy the double demand for known knowledge and new scholarship. For stylistic matters, this handbook uses stylistic guidelines as stated in the Chicago Manual of Style (2010 edition). For quotations from a literary work under discussion, endnotes are used to provide publication information for the first quotation and more quotations from the same xxiii


work will have page numbers in a bracket after the citation. No reference lists are used, but lists of “Further Readings” are provided. The chosen items are meant as an aid for further studies on the topic and observe these requisites: informative, authoritative and influential. For Chinese names, the pinyin spelling is adopted with family names before given names (e.g. Mao Zedong, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo). However, if a Chinese person has a widely accepted English name, the well-known English name (e.g. Sun Yat-sen; Chiang Kai-shek) is used. For Chinese proper nouns, the pinyin system of Romanization is also adopted with exceptions for some wellknown terms, such as “Kuomintang” instead of “Guomingdang.” For the titles of literary works, English versions are listed first and then the pinyin spelling is put in a bracket following it, i.e., Call to Arms (Nahan), Wandering (Panghuang), and The True Story of Ah Q (A Q Zhengzhuan). Unless in exceptional circumstances, no Chinese characters are used, but at the end of the handbook, a glossary of selected pinyin items in the texts is provided for the reader’s convenience.



1911: The Republican Revolution 1912.1: The Republic of China founded 1913: First Chinese feature film, A Difficult Couple 1914.6: The inaugural issue of Saturday, a journal of the Mandarin Duck and Butterfly School 1915.9: The founding of New Youth by Chen Duxiu 1917.1: Hu Shi’s “Tentative Proposal for Literary Reform” 1917.2: Chen Duxiu’s “On Literary Revolution” 1918.5: Lu Xun’s first vernacular story “The Diary of a Madman” 1918: Hu Shi’s article on “Ibsenism” 1919.5: The May Fourth Student Movement 1920.3: Hu Shi’s Experiments, a collection of vernacular poems 1920.8: Chinese translation of the Communist Manifesto published 1921.1: The founding of Literary Research Association, the first modern literary society in China; founders including Mao Dun, Zheng Zhenduo and Zhou Zuoren; literary journals sponsored by the Association including Poetry and Drama, the first of their kind in China 1921.5 The founding of the People’s Drama Society 1921.7: The Creation Society; founders including Guo Moruo,Yu Dafu and Tian Han; Publication of Creation Quarterly 1921.7: The Chinese Communist Party founded 1921.8: Guo Moruo’s first collection of poetry The Goddesses 1921.10:Yu Dafu’s Sinking, the first collection of modern vernacular short stories in China 1921.12: Lu Xun’s most influential story, “The True Story of Ah Q” 1921.12: Shanghai Drama Association founded 1922.1: The Xue Heng School founded in Nanjing 1923: Ye Shengtao’s The Scarecrow, the earliest collection of fairy tales in China 1923.3: The Crescent Society founded in Beijing 1924.11: The Thread of Talk Society founded in Beijing; publication of Thread of Talk 1924.12: The inaugural issue of Contemporary Review 1925: Xu Zhimo’s first collection, Poetry of Zimo; Li Jinfa’s first collection of poetry Light Rain 1926.5: Guo Moruo’s “Revolution and Literature” published in Creation Monthly 1927: The first Civil War between Nationalists and Communists starts xxv

Chronology of major events in modern Chinese literature

1927: The Sun Society; founders including Jiang Guangci and Meng Chao 1927: Dai Wangshu’s poem “Rain Alley” published 1929.8:Ye Shengtao’s Ni Huanzhi serialized 1930.3: The League of Left-wing Writers formed 1931: The founding of the League of Left-wing Dramatists 1931: Ba Jin’s novel The Family published 1933: Mao Dun’s novel Midnight published 1934: Shen Congwen’s novel Border Town published 1934: Cao Yu’s play Thunderstorm published and staged 1934.10: Zhou Yang’s article “National Defense Literature” 1936: Lao She’s novel Camel Xiangzi published 1937: The first Chinese Civil War ends 1937.7: Japan’s all-out invasion of China 1938.3: Chinese National Federation of Anti-Japanese Writers and Artists founded in Wuhan 1942: Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” 1943: Zhao Shuli’s “Little Blacky’s Wedding” and “The Rhymes of Li Youcai” 1943: Zhang Ailing’s Golden Cangue published 1945.8: Japan’s surrender in World War II 1946: The second Chinese Civil War starts 1947: The epic film, Spring River Flows East 1947: Qian Zhongshu’s novel Fortress Besieged published 1947.2: The February 28th Incident in Taiwan 1947.7: The inaugural issue of Poetry Creation; contributors including a group of poets later called the Nine Leaves group 1949: Ding Ling’s The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River published 1949.5: The Chinese People’s Literature and Art Series starts to be published 1949.7:The Congress of Chinese National Literature and Art Workers held in Beijing;The Chinese National Literature and Art Federation founded; Guo Moruo elected president of the Literature Federation, with Mao Dun and Zhou Yang as vice presidents 1949.9: The inaugural edition of the Literary Gazette, the official publication of the National Literature Federation 1949.10: The Founding of the People’s Republic of China 1949.10: The inaugural edition of People’s Literature, the official publication of the Chinese National Literature Workers Association 1950.4: The inaugural issue of People’s Theatre 1951: Lao She’s play Dragon Beard Ditch 1952.3: Chinese writers and artists winning Stalin Prizes for 1951: Ding Ling’s novel The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River (second prize), the opera The White-Haired Girl by He Jingzhi and Ding Yi (second prize), and Zhou Libo’s novel Hurricane (third prize) 1952.10: Cai Yi’s Lectures on the History of China’s New Literature 1953.2: The Beijing University Literature Research Institute established with Zheng Zhenduo as director 1956.1: Socialist Transformation in the realm of literature and arts 1956.4: Liu Shousong’s Draft History of China’s New Literature 1956.9: The inaugural issue of Literary Review in Taiwan 1956: The Hundred Flowers campaign, a policy of supporting diversity in literature and arts 1956: Wang Meng’s “The Young Newcomer in the Organization Department,” a representative work of the Hundred Flowers campaign xxvi

Chronology of major events in modern Chinese literature

1956: Manifesto of Taiwan Modernist School of Poetry published 1957.1: The inaugural edition of Poetry Monthly, including a letter to Poetry Monthly and 18 poems by Mao Zedong 1957.6: The editorial “Why Is This?” published in People’s Daily; the onset of Anti-Rightist campaign 1958.3: Publication of Literary Writings of Mao Dun, Literary Writings of Ba Jin, and Literary Writings of Ye Shengtao 1958.5: The beginning of the Great Leap Forward 1958.12: Mao Zedong on Literature and the Arts published 1960.3: The inaugural issue of Modern Literature in Taiwan 1960s: Bai Xianyong’s Tales of Taipei Characters 1964.6: The National Modern Beijing Opera Festival held in Beijing 1965.11:Yao Wenyuan’s critique of Hai Rui Dismissed from Office 1966: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution starts 1966: Hao Ran’s novel Bright Sunny Skies completed 1967.5: Eight works of Model Operas designated 1971:Yu Guangzhong’s poem “Homesickness” published 1972: Hao Ran’s novel The Golden Road (Book One) 1974: Hao Ran’s novel The Golden Road (Book Two) 1976: The end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 1976.1: Poetry Monthly and People’s Literature resumes publication 1976.4: The April Fifth Movement 1977.11: Liu Xinwu’s story “Class Teacher” 1977–1978: The Debate of Nativist Literature in Taiwan 1978: “Practice Is the Sole Criterion of Truth” published 1978: The reform policy announced 1978.8: Lu Xinhua’s story “The Scar” marks the start of “scar literature” 1979.2: Ru Zhijuan’s “A Story out of Sequence” marks the start of “reflection literature” 1979.3: Brecht’s Das Leben des Galilei performed in Beijing marks the returning of Western theatre 1979.4: The commentary “Rectifying the Name of Literature and Art – Refuting the Theory That Literature and Art Are Tools” published in Shanghai Literature 1979.10: The Fourth Congress of Writers and Artists convened 1980: Qian Gurong’s article, “Literature Is the Study of Humanity” 1980.11: Dai Houying’s Ah, Humanity 1981.3: Sun Shaozhen’s essay “New Aesthetic Principles Are on the Rise” 1982: Xu Chi’s essay “Modernization and Modernism” 1982: The first Mao Dun Literature Prize awarded 1985: Essays on “root-seeking literature”: Han Shaogong’s “The ‘Roots’ of Literature,” Li Hangyu’s “Tend Our Roots” and Zheng Wanlong’s “My Roots” 1985.5: Publication of “On the Twentieth Century Literature in China” by Huang Ziping, Chen Pingyuan and Qian Liqun 1985.11: Liu Zaifu’s treatise “On the Subjectivity of Literature” 1986.3: Mo Yan’s novella “Red sorghum” published 1986.10: The Major Exhibition of Modernist Poems in China 1987: Works of avant-garde writers published in Harvest 1988: A column “Rewriting Literary History” in Shanghai Journal of Literary Criticism 1989: The Tiananmen Square Incident xxvii

Chronology of major events in modern Chinese literature

1989.10: Deng Xiaoping on Literature and Art published 1992:The rise of the Belated Generation; representative writers including Bi Feiyu, Lu Yang, He Dun, Zhu Wen, Han Dong, Chen Ran, et al. 1993.6: The Avant-garde Novel Series published by the Flower City Publishing House 1997: Chen Zhongshi’s novel White Deer Plain awarded the fourth Mao Dun Literature Prize 1998: The first Lu Xun Literature Prize awarded 1998.7:Yu Hua’s novel To Live awarded the Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy 2000: Gao Xingjian awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2001: China joins the World Trade Organization 2008: The Beijing Olympic Games 2011: Bi Feiyu’s novel Massage published 2012: Mo Yan awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2015: Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem awarded the 73rd Hugo Award for Best Novel (Prepared by Tao Feng)


GENERAL INTRODUCTION Writing modern Chinese literature in English Ming Dong Gu

The Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature attempts to meet the general demands for specialized knowledge of Chinese literature by providing a comprehensive overview of Chinese literature in the modern period (1910s–2017) and in-depth studies of some modern masterpieces for English-speaking readers and students as well as scholars. With a dual emphasis on coverage and depth, it seeks to survey the state and development of modern Chinese literature in the past century, redefine existing areas of modern Chinese literature in the context of world literature, highlight emerging areas in the field, and offer new insights and inspirations for future research agendas. In addition, it is intended to serve as a handy guide for further studies and a useful reference work for undergraduate and graduate students of literary and humanistic studies. For a clear view of the multiple purposes, this introductory chapter will address the core issues in the writing of the handbook in English: the overall conception, content, structure, organization, approaches, and format of presentation, and locate an underlying theme that provides unity and coherence to the multiple issues in this handbook. The editor suggests that the historical development of modern Chinese literature in the past century is essentially a continuous development dedicated to modernizing the Chinese consciousness and the Chinese literary tradition in the larger context of worldwide globalization and aesthetic internationalization of national literatures. This continuous process of modernization constitutes two main dimensions: the modernization of the Chinese people and the Chinese writings. In the encounter with Western thought and literature, the Chinese literary tradition sought to rejuvenate itself by producing literary writings that collectively present a panoramic picture of the Chinese people in terms of the modern conceptions of human nature, human condition, human freedom, human dignity, and human values, using the modern literary modes of realism, critical realism, romanticism, modernism, avant-gardism, and postmodernism while drawing resources from the traditional concerns with the relationship between the individual and society, and from traditional modes of representation and narration in linguistic, thematic, and aesthetic considerations.


Ming Dong Gu

Part I: conceptual issues The rise of modern Chinese literature as part of world literature The conception of the handbook takes into account the rise, development, and maturity of Chinese literature in the modern times in the context of what Goethe envisioned as “world literature.” From its outset, modern Chinese literature came into the world as a result of the influence of foreign literature and intellectual thought, as most of the early writers received education in Europe, America, Russia, or Japan and were exposed to literary thought and works of those countries and regions. After digesting the nutrients of foreign literary works, they integrated newly acquired themes, formal styles, and writing techniques with the Chinese counterparts and inaugurated modern Chinese literature. Needless to say, without the foreign nutrients, modern Chinese literature would not have been what it is, and one may even say that Chinese literature would have remained largely traditional in most of its basic aspects for the simple reason that as a tradition of several thousand years, Chinese literature has a deeply entrenched system of themes, forms, and aesthetic mechanisms, sustained by enduring moral values and tenacious literary unconscious. Since Goethe first proposed the idea of “world literature” in the eighteenth century, literatures of the world have moved towards this direction and the worldwide globalization in the last quarter of the twentieth century has ensured the periodic completion of the movement. Modern Chinese literature, which arose in the second decade of the twentieth century, reached its maturity in the international movement towards world literature, and has continued to develop as a branch of world literature. Accompanying China’s opening to the outside world and moving towards worldwide transformations, traditional Chinese literary tradition reflected on its past, warmly embraced other traditions, and avidly digested thematic, stylistic, and aesthetic nutrients of Western literary traditions. In the process of active engagement, dialogues, and assiduous assimilations, Chinese literary tradition self-consciously initiated its own new birth and completed its own creative transformation, while retaining its distinctively Chinese features. Now, after a century-long development, modern Chinese literature has undoubtedly become part of world literature, which has gradually matured as a result of its opening to the world. The influence of foreign literature is all around, but this handbook focuses on two key issues responsible for traditional literature to be transformed into modern literature: the modern conceptions of Man and writing. Traditional Chinese literature arose, came to maturity, and developed into a distinct literary tradition in a geo-cultural environment dominated by dynastic history, feudal politics, and aesthetic sensibilities compatible to the agricultural mode of life, and only in the intellectual domain was it influenced by the introduction of Buddhism. By contrast, modern Chinese literature (including contemporary literature) came into being as a result of the introduction, translation, and critical appreciation and emulation of foreign, mostly Western literature. Towards the end of the last dynasty, imperialist aggression and colonial expansion by Western powers forcefully opened the closed door of China and brought with them foreign literary trends and works which were fantastically new, excitingly lively, and extremely provocative to the Chinese literary imagination. Moreover, the coming of the West also brought what could be subsumed under the rubric of theory and, by extension, ideological, philosophical, and intellectual discourses of modernity, which in effect constituted the conceptual and aesthetical foundation for the rise of modern Chinese literature. Because of the infusion of Western ideas, ways of life, and techniques of literary composition, Chinese literary tradition started to rejuvenate itself, resulting in its renaissance amidst the drastic social upheavals of the twentieth century. 2

General introduction

Having emphasized the impact of Western literature and the ontological condition of modern Chinese literature as part of world literature, we must not lose sight of a less discernable dimension in modern literature, which is evidenced in the repeated resurgence of ancient themes and forms imparting traditional ideas, values, visions, and sensibilities in every nook and cranny of modern literature. Because of the tenacity of the time-honored tradition to resist total westernization, it is reasonable to state that radically different as it is from traditional literature, modern Chinese literature has NOT rejected its indigenous origin and roots, and is NOT a transplanted form of Western literature. By integrating the imported modernities and the repressed modernities inherent in linguistic, generic, and conceptual aspects of the literary tradition, Chinese literature in the modern periods has undergone a process of clash and mingling between the foreign and domestic, the elite and the popular, the traditional and avant-gardist elements and eventually evolved into a distinctly new literary tradition which is both traditional and modern, national and international, local and global in themes, forms, and aesthetic agendas.

Overall conception: balance of multiple demands Although comprehensive surveys of modern Chinese literature can be counted by thousands in China, there are only a handful of such works in the English-speaking world. A review of these surveys (both Chinese and Western) informs us that they can be classified into two large categories: (1) literary histories and surveys; (2) companions to literature. In the first category, an overwhelming majority of them take the form of literary history, and most of them adopt a chronological approach to the subject while only a few adopt a genre approach. This situation is evident in the available English surveys, History of Modern Chinese Literature (Chinese 1979; English translation 1998) by Tang Tao, A History of Contemporary Chinese Literature (Chinese 1993; English translation 2007) by Hong Zicheng, The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century (1998) by Bonnie S. McDougall and Kam Louie, and A New Literary History of Modern China (2017), edited by David Der-wei Wang. In the literary history category, two comprehensive histories of Chinese literature also cover the modern part of Chinese literature: The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (2010, 2 Volumes), edited by Kang-i Sun Chang and Stephen Owen, and The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (2002), edited by Victor Mair. As historical surveys of modern Chinese literature in English, they share the common feature of chronologic organization, though each may adopt a slightly different method which divides Chinese literature in the twentieth century into various historical periods. The chronological organization is accompanied by a treatment of major literary works in terms of the major genres of literature: poetry, fiction, drama, and prose. David Der-wei Wang’s New Literary History of Modern China, based on an innovative conception, offers a new chronological way of writing modern Chinese literature. The book, written by a widely diverse group of scholars, writers, and thinkers from around the world, is composed of nearly 150 mini-articles, each having approximately 2,000 English words. With a conception determined to break away from the conventional ways of writing Chinese literary history by pushing the boundaries of modern Chinese literature further back to its precursors before the nineteenth century, it includes both time-honored literary genres and unconventional writing forms such as pop song lyrics, presidential speeches, political treatises, and even prison-house notes. Inspired by the New Historicist emphasis on the contingencies of history through a variety of artifacts and discourses, it adopts a more radical chronological order by matching each article with a year in structural organization. The second category of modern Chinese literature consists of two related sub-categories: companions and handbooks: A Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (Wiley-Blackwell 2015), edited by Yingjin Zhang; The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (2016), edited by 3

Ming Dong Gu

Kirk A. Denton, and The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures, edited by Carlos Rojas and Andrea Bachner. Although these innovative volumes feature a comprehensive overview in the beginning, they only adopt a loose chronological structure, which organizes the component parts and chapters around a thematic approach in terms of categories as diverse as genre, modernity, geography, media, ethics, cannon formation, language reform, structure, taxonomy, and methodology, etc. Clearly, the editorial emphasis is not on panoramic overview, but on how to present modern Chinese literature in depth and with fresh insights. While this approach gains strengths in innovativeness and critical depth, it downplays historical comprehensiveness in comparison with the chronological approach. Having examined the conceptual framework and structural organization of the two approaches to the writing of modern Chinese literature, I have come to the realization that both approaches are struggling to maintain a balance between historical comprehensiveness and critical depths, and attempt to generate a dual appeal to both common readers and specialists, an essential requisite expected of such surveys as guides and references. In planning the conceptual framework of the Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature, we have encountered the same thorny issues confronted by previous surveys. In this introduction, we have devised some strategies to cope with them. Like previous works of similar nature, the Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature seeks to find a satisfactory way to maintain a balance among multiple demands. Rather than taking a purely chronological approach to this field or using an exclusively thematic approach, as most Chinese and Western language books of similar content have done, this book adopts a historico-thematic-aesthetic approach to the subject and integrates history, themes, genres, styles, and aesthetic concerns into a conceptual framework which aims to present modern Chinese literature as the outcome of modern development of Chinese literary tradition under the impact of the coming of the West and as part of the formation of world literature in the process of globalization. The aim of this book is thus to provide a comprehensive account of modern Chinese literature by situating it within the larger context of comparative and world literature, which has made Chinese literature a component of world literature today, and to offer in-depth analyses of selected masterpieces broadly recognized by specialists in the field.

Principle of organization: “Overlapping Indeterminism” 模糊重叠说 Modern Chinese literature in this handbook includes contemporary literature. It covers a literary tradition of over a century from the second decade of the twentieth century to the present. Although scholars do not have a unanimous opinion on periodization, a widely accepted consensus divides Chinese literature in the past century roughly into these phases in terms of historical development of Chinese society: (1) modern literature (1917–1949); (2) contemporary literature (1950–1978), new-period literature (1979–1989); and (4) present-day literature (1990–present). There are other ways of periodization, which either extends the beginning of modern literature back into the last dynasty or simply divide modern literature into two large periods: the modern and contemporary. Although this handbook professes to be thematically oriented in its conceptual framework, it does not abandon the chronological organization altogether. For historical chronology to play a role in structural organization, we have adopted a way of periodization grounded in the notion of “overlapping indeterminism.” This notion grows out of observations of the internal logic which drives the development of Chinese literature in the historical period of modern times. Historical periodization of modern Chinese literature is a controversial topic for scholarly debates both in and outside China. It centers on these key issues: When did modern Chinese literature begin? How can we divide literature in modern times into viable periods? For the 4

General introduction

first question, the answers can be very different. The commonly accepted beginning of modern Chinese literature is the year of 1917, when the January issue of the New Youth published Hu Shi’s “Suggestions for a Literary Reform” and Chen Duxiu’s “On Literary Revolution.”1 An overwhelming majority of histories of modern Chinese literature in mainland China follows this dating. But some scholars do not agree, arguing that incipient ideas of modern Chinese literature had appeared as early as the late Qing Dynasty. In mainland China,Yan Jiayan suggested as early as in the 1980s that incipient modernities in Chinese literature appeared after 1895.2 Before him, Chen Zizhan in his Chinese History of Literature of the Recent Thirty Years published in 1930 cited the abolition of Civil Service Examination system, imitation of Western literature, elevation of fiction and drama, language reform, and secularization of literature, etc., as evidence to argue for the identification of the late Qing period as the beginning of modern Chinese literature.3 With the publication of David Der-wei Wang’s influential book Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1848–1911, the idea that the origins of modern Chinese literature can be traced back to literature in the late Qing period seems to have become an accepted view.4 Some other scholars have gone even further, arguing that the process of qualitative transformation of traditional Chinese literature into modern literature started as early as the late Ming Dynasty.5 In his most recently edited volume, David Der-wei Wang has put this idea into A New Literary History of Modern China, tracing the beginning of modern literature back into the seventeenth century. The first three dozen short essays6 in the history cover a period from 1635 to 1916, and the first essay has this title: “1635; 1932, 1934: The Multiple Beginnings of Modern Chinese ‘Literature’ ” [Sher-shiueh Li]. Ding Fan, President of the Chinese Association of Modern Literature, argues against this kind of efforts to push back the rise of modern literature to the late Qing or late Ming, criticizing this kind of periodization as based on a shaky ground, and insists on adopting a political periodization which sets the beginning of modern literature in 1912, right after the Republic of China was established. My few cited examples suffice to illustrate the complexity and diversity of opinions pertaining to the start of modern Chinese literature. Obviously, each scholar determines the beginning of modern literature by his own conception of history and literature; all have some reasonable grounds. How can we reconcile all the different opinions? Just as a journey has a starting point, so does the beginning of modern literature require a landmark(s) in its rise and development. Scholars who propose different opinions have identified their own landmarks, but I suggest that a commonly acceptable landmark must meet these requirements: linguistic, formal, thematic, and aesthetic. A literary work or treatise cannot be considered a landmark in the beginning of modern literature if it only meets one or two requirements. Otherwise, scholars will continue to push back the beginning of modern literature. It is therefore reasonable to establish this rule: for a literary work or treatise to be viewed as the beginning of modern literature, it must meet all of the four above-mentioned requirements. Linguistically, some literary works in the late Ming and Qing dynasties use vernacular language and display incipient modernities, but they cannot be viewed as beginnings of modern literature because of these reasons: (1) the vernacular language they use is still dominated by the classical language; (2) the incipient modernities do not rise to the level of modern themes; (3) their form and style are still heavily traditional in nature; (4) their aesthetic sensibilities are largely incompatible with the spirit of modern times. They therefore are, strictly speaking, not qualified for being viewed as landmarks of modern literature. The same rule applies to literary works composed by modern writers. Li Jieren, one of the great modern fiction writers, wrote fictional works in vernacular language before Chen Duxiu called for a “Literary Revolution” in 1915. He published a vernacular story “Garden Party” (Youyuan hui) in 1912, five years before Hu Shi wrote his vernacular verse, and six years before Lu Xun published his “A Madman’s 5

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Diary” in 1918. Despite its vernacular language and its theme of common people’s life, it cannot be regarded as a bone fide modern story because it has the characteristic features of a traditional story and lacks sensibilities and narrative methods of recognized modern stories. In terms of the four requisites that I have proposed, it is fully understandable why the majority of scholars have adhered to the notion that modern Chinese literature began in the 1910s. The reason is simply because they agree to some widely accepted landmarks for the beginning. What are those landmarks likely to be acceptable by most, if not all the scholars? A glance at the early period of modern literature shows that a number of works qualify as landmarks. Hu Shi’s “Suggestions for a Literary Reform” and Chen Duxiu’s “On Literary Revolution” can certainly be viewed as landmarks simply by their titles and contents. This opinion, however, entails another view: the beginning of modern Chinese literature does not have a single landmark but multiple landmarks. But one may retort by saying that their two works are but treatises on literature, not literary works per se. The beginning of a new literary tradition must be inaugurated by some representative literary works. Although we should not overlook the treatises as manifestos for modern literature, the retort certainly makes some good sense. We are therefore obliged to re-conduct the search for literary works as landmarks. On this account, we also have a few qualified candidates. Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” (1918) is generally accepted as the first literary work of modern literature because it fulfills all the four requisites of a modern work. For this reason, Lu Xun has been regarded as the father of modern Chinese literature. But can it be viewed as the sole landmark for the beginning of modern literature? One may express a different opinion, for before Lu Xun’s story, Hu Shi was experimenting with Chinese poetry in 1916 while he was still an overseas student at Columbia University in New York, and even had eight vernacular poems published in the New Youth. Although those poems are not great specimens of literature by aesthetic standard, they were composed in vernacular language, expressing modern sensibilities for freedom and individualism, rejecting the rigid forms of traditional poetry, and displaying aesthetic sensibilities compatible with modern times. In chronology, they appeared earlier than the new poems by Liu Bannong, Shen Yinmo, Zhou Zuoren, and others, and even earlier than Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” by one year. Guo Moruo is regarded as the father of modern Chinese poetry, but Hu Shi’s Changshi Ji (Poetic Experiments, 1920), the first collection of new vernacular poems in Chinese history anticipated Guo Moruo’s monumental poetic work Nüshen (Goddesses, 1921) by one year. For these reasons, one may well argue that Hu Shi’s experimental poems should be regarded as the first landmark of modern Chinese literature. But although those poems may serve as a landmark in modern literature, they are rather crude in poetic form, and cannot be regarded as the true beginning for aesthetic reasons. If we note the fact that some of Guo Moruo’s poems in The Goddesses were composed in 1916, the situation would become even more complicated. Having identified multiple landmarks in the treatises on literature by Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi’s experimental poems, Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary,” and Guo Moruo’s early poems, we have good reasons to adopt an ambiguous approach to the birth of modern Chinese literature and set the beginning roughly in the 1910s, rather than pinning it down to a specific year, be it 1916, 1917, or 1918. The concept of “indeterminism” should work in tandem with another in the periodization, which is “overlapping.” While the former is useful for reconciling different opinions on literary landmarks, the latter is useful for the division of larger historical periods, and for identifying developmental trends driven by the internal logic of literary history. It is well recognized by scholars of literature around the world that literary history does not go hand in hand with social history, and literature has a logic of development related to but independent of social development. It is most common to see that when a society has entered a new epoch, the literary trend and style of writing continues into the new era and lingers for a considerable period of time. 6

General introduction

This is true of the development of modern Chinese literature. In the beginning of modern literature, literary works using classical language and representing traditional themes did not disappear from the literary scene for a considerably long while. Moreover, literary trends and writing style tend to lag behind social changes. While a new social period gives rise to new literary themes and styles, old themes and styles linger into the new period, thereby generating literary phenomena that can only be explained by the concept of overlapping vagueness. Unlike social history, which can be delimited by clear-cut demarcation lines, literary history cannot be separated into distinct periods. This is not only because of the incommensurability of history and literature, but also because a writer’s career may extend for a long time and cover several historical eras. Just as literary periods overlap, a writer’s literary career also stretches over several periods, thus making writers and their works overlap in the chronological organization. Take Ba Jin (1904–2005) for example. He lived for over a century, going through the last dynasty, warlord period, Republican period, the Anti-Japanese War period, the Civil War period, early period of New China, the Cultural Revolution, and the Period of Openness and Reform. All through these periods, he continued to write until very late in his life. Although his writings are marked by distinct historical traits, there is certainly overlapping in his themes, style, and writing techniques. His writing career may be said to illustrate well the concept of “overlapping indeterminism.”

Grounds of periodization: inner logic of literary development Employing the concept of “overlapping indeterminism,” the Routledge Handbook does not follow the accepted division or adopt a neat periodization. Instead of dividing Chinese literature according to a clearly demarcated historical timeline, this book adopts four terms: “early modern,” “middle modern,” “late modern,” and “postmodern,” and divides the history of modern Chinese literature into four overlapping phases with ambiguous beginnings in terms of the internal logic of literary development: 1 2 3 4

Early modern literature (mid 1910s–1942); Middle modern literature (late 1930s–1977); Late modern literature (late 1970s–early 1990s); Postmodern literature (late 1980s–present).

The overlapping timeline is meant to describe as close as possible the internal movements of modern Chinese literature in the historical periods. According to the above periodization, early modern literature starts in the 1910s and ends in 1942. In this period, Chinese literature follows a logic determined by the New Culture Movement, which is characterized by what Li Zehou calls the “double tune of national salvation and enlightenment.” I have already explained why the ambiguous 1910s are used for the beginning. It is necessary to explain why 1942 is chosen as the end of the first period. In 1942, Mao Zedong delivered his famous Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, which serves as the ideological guidelines for the majority of Chinese writers from 1942 to 1979. In the middle modern period, Japan’s all-out invasion of China in 1937 exerted a profound impact upon the literary creativity of Chinese writers. With the establishment of the Anti-Japanese United Front of All Workers of Literature and Art in 1938, the mainstream of Chinese literature gradually channeled its creativity in the direction initiated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for national salvation and later systematically charted by Mao Zedong in his Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art (1942). Literary creation with the anti-Japanese invasion themes appeared as early as 1931 when Japan forcefully 7

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occupied Manchuria and started to conquer China by a piecemeal strategy. It is therefore reasonable to identify the late 1930s as the rough beginning of the second phase, which overlaps with the first phase by a few years. The driving force for literary creation motivated by Mao’s Talks exerted its impact not only in the late Anti-Japanese War period, but also continued through the period of New China from 1949 until 1978, when the Cultural Revolution ended two years earlier. The late modern period did not begin with the ending of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, but in fact started in 1978 when Lu Xinhua’s story “Scar” initiated the so-called “Scar Literature.” But the beginning of the late modern period is also an ambiguous issue because Liu Xinwu published his story “the Class Teacher” in 1977, which many scholars of modern literature take as the inauguration of “Scar Literature.” It is thus necessary to designate the beginning of the late modern period in an ambiguous way. In the late modern period, the internal logic of development was shaped by the social movement of Openness and Reform, and nurtured by a return of the realist aesthetics in the first period and tragic vision of modernism in the second period, re-energized by the influx of Western thought and literary trend after 1979. In a short period of time, a few centuries of Western thought and literature were either re-introduced or newly introduced into Chinese literary circles. The biggest impact was exerted by the inundation of the modernist thought and literature, which deeply penetrated into the literary mind and imagination of Chinese writers. Western modes of literary representation like stream of consciousness, surrealism, symbolism, imagism, absurdist drama, and Western writers like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Eugène Ionesco, and other modernist writers were on the lips of Chinese writers so much so that if one has not heard of these names, he or she will be dismissed as an ignoramus. The beginning of the fourth phase is also vague. Most scholars accept 1990 as the beginning of a new phase of modern literature influenced by globalization and pressurized by commercialization and telecommunication. But they will invariably go back to the late 1980s to discuss the burgeoning ideas of the new phase. Chen Xiaoming, who has written an authoritative overview for this period, follows this practice. It is therefore sensible to employ a vague “late 1980s” as the beginning of the period. To describe the fourth phase of modern Chinese literature as “postmodern literature” requires a little more argument. I employ the epithet “postmodern literature” for several reasons. First, the term “postmodern” is used for its literal sense, meaning “after the modern.” This epithet is meant to sidetrack the controversy over a series of terms such as modern literature, contemporary literature, New Period literature, present-day literature, and New Century literature, etc. Second, literary works produced in this period indeed follow the postmodern logic in its content and subject matter. Thematically, they show a clear tendency to distrust any forms of “metanarratives” or “grand narratives,” the cardinal idea used by Lyotard to define postmodernism,7 but at the same time they attempt to think through historical issues at a time when it is unable to think historically, a feature identified by Fredric Jameson in his study of postmodernism. Third, aesthetically, nearly all the formal and technical features of Western postmodernism such as extended irony, parody, pastiche, playfulness, temporal distortion, intertexuality, metafiction, magical realism, etc., appeared in literary works of this period. Fourth, literature of this period is marked by its multiplicity and diversity. Different kinds of literary writings struggle to find their voices and expressions in different cultural forms, ideological positions, and styles. Fifth, even literary works composed in the style of nativity and root seeking display postmodern features so much so that they can no longer be viewed as belonging to the old schools of cultural realism. Last but not least, the postmodern designation is made in terms of Lyotard’s idea that postmodernism is “not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant.”8 It is in this sense that literature of this period is designated as postmodern. This designation has 8

General introduction

meaning and significance beyond the current period. In accordance with Lyotard’s argument that “A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern” (Ibid.), the postmodern epithet can be used to describe Chinese literature not only up to the present day but also for years to come. In the postmodern period, the full-scale reform and complete opening to the world in Chinese society endowed Chinese literature with a logic of unprecedented multiplicity of themes, styles, and techniques characteristic of postmodernism. Writings of this period display the characteristic features of postmodernism: distrust in grand narrative, depthlessness, weakening of historicity, waning of affects, use of irony, parody, pastiche, fantasy, magical realism, and reliance on technology.9 Magical Realist writers like Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel Ángel Asturias, and others became writing models for imitation and emulation. While the fourth phase is dominated by a creative impulse for avant-gardism and postmodern experiments, early forms of literature such as “Nativist Narration” and “Root Seeking” were alive and kicking, competing with martial art fiction and science fiction for readership, overlapping with refined literary works in modernist and postmodern forms. It is truly a period of overlapping indeterminism.

Part II: thematic issues Modernizing people and writing Chinese literature in the past century is saturated with a dazzling range of themes and motifs. As a comprehensive survey, we need to find a unifying theme that may serve as a red thread going through the whole handbook with multiple periods. What is a viable overarching theme capable of holding all the periods and themes together? Possible and eligible themes in existing literary histories and surveys would include: humanity, national salvation, intellectual enlightenment, memory and trauma, democratic revolution, proletarian revolution, cultural reconstruction, social modernization, etc. But while each of the mentioned themes is pertinent to one or two periods or one or two schools of literary writings, none of them comprehensively covers the historical and aesthetic development of all periods. This survey will therefore not adopt any of the single themes above, but subsume all the mentioned themes under an overarching theme: the study of historical humanity under specific human conditions. Literature is generally regarded as a study of people.This is true to Chinese literature as well as any literature.The proposed concept of “historical humanity” 历史人性 is similar to but different from the Marxist idea that one’s humanity is the totality of his or her social relations. Rather than examining the formation of one’s humanity on purely social terms, it focuses on the historico-psychological formation of the individual’s humanity in terms of the interplay among the individual, self, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity of a particular culture in a historical period with its whole way of life, material, emotional, and spiritual. In the historical periods of modern Chinese literature, social humanity may be reduced to the properties of Chineseness, an idea which has been hotly debated. Since this handbook views modern Chinese literature as the modern development of the Chinese literary tradition under Western impact on Chinese culture and aesthetics, and as part of world literature in the process of globalization, it identifies the totalizing efforts of describing, analyzing, psychologizing, critiquing, imagining, and transforming the Chinese people in the past century as the most comprehensive focus of modern Chinese literature. Inspired by Western ideas of modern individuals as social, political, ethical, and aesthetic beings, traditional Chinese literature underwent its most fundamental transformation into modern literature and became part of world literature. The proposed overarching theme for this book is 9

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therefore the study of the modernization of Chinese people and writing 人与文的现 代化 as represented in the major literary works of the modern periods.

Modernizing people through language Modernizing people and modernizing writing seem to be two separate issues, but they are intimately related via language. The birth of modern Chinese literature was initiated not by a literary revolution in terms of theme, form, sensibility, but by a linguistic revolution, which sought to replace the highly venerated classical language with vernacular language for daily communication and educational instruction. Of course, the initiators of modern Chinese literature did plan to start a literary revolution (Chen Duxiu) or literary reform (Hu Shi), but the literary reform or revolution initially yielded results in the domain of language reform. In C. T. Hsia’s A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, he documents how the literary revolution called for by Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi, Lu Xun, and others achieved one of its initial successes in language reform in the May Fourth New Culture Movement, when in 1920 the Ministry of Education issued the decree that vernacular Chinese be used as the medium of instruction in elementary schools.10 In describing and analyzing the language reform, scholars tend to adopt a line of thought which sees the language reform in an instrumental way. For over a century, Chinese scholars had blamed classical Chinese for the backwardness of Chinese culture, science, and society. The success in language reform was but the culmination of a long-term effort to modernize Chinese language for communication and instruction. This is an obvious aspect of the language reform. The instrumental dimension of the language reform has been extensively explored. But hardly anyone has paid any attention to another deeper dimension of the language reform: the linguistic construction of self, human identity, and subjectivity in Chinese society at that time. Hu Shi’s “Suggestions for Literary Reform” is essentially a call for language reform so that Chinese can serve as an effective medium for literature in modern times. The treatise talks about the importance of language reform for literary creation and proposes eight practical measures to carry his proposed language reform. His treatise is a specimen of the instrumental view of language. Nowhere in the treatise did he hint at the linguistic construction of mentality, self, and subjectivity of the language user.11 Other scholars who promoted language reform did not address the constructive function of language either. Chen Duxiu’s “On Literary Revolution” supported Hu Shi’s proposal and pushed it further into a language revolution, but did not go beyond Hu Shi’s ideas in substance. Only in a largely unconscious manner did some writers become aware of the hidden but profound function of language and go beyond the instrumental view of language reform. Lu Xun is one of them. Lu Xun’s awareness is evidenced in his first story, “A Madman’s Diary,” which marked the beginning of modern Chinese fiction. The story employs two registers of language: vernacular narrative in the story proper and classical narrative in the preface.The use of two registers of language in “A Madman’s Diary” has aroused some interest among scholars who have raised a few thoughtful questions. Since “A Madman’s Diary” is supposed to be a vernacular story meant to initiate a new direction for literary creation using vernacular language as the medium for writing, why did the author write the opening section in classical Chinese? One possible and interesting answer to this question may be that: there is an opposition between the vernacular story proper and the classical opening, which in turn represents a disjunction between two narrators, two narratives, and two ideological views.The conclusion of this answer is that the opening section was intended not to lead the reader to identify with the story proper, but to split, subvert, negate its stated content.12 Along this line of reading, some scholars suggest that though Lu Xun declared that he “sometimes called out, to encourage those fighters who are galloping on in 10

General introduction

loneliness, so that they do not lose heart,” in the deep recess of his consciousness, he had already negated those forerunners and brave warriors because he was quite sure that they would eventually identify with the old society and old forces against which they had rigorously struggled.13 The reading of the two language registers as a ploy for literary irony certainly makes sense. But I wish to offer a view by examining the structural function of language in molding human consciousness. The two language registers give the story a form of presentation, which mimics the dual structure of the human mind: the preface as the conscious part; the diary proper as the unconscious part. The conscious nature of the preface lies in the fact that the character is able to repudiate what he had said and done as a madman’s folly. The unconscious nature of the story is shown through the irrational, illogical, and disjointed impressions and narration of the plot. In general, as the preface puts it, “The writing was most confused and incoherent, and he had made many wild statements.” The narrative mode follows exactly that of a deranged mind. Precisely because it is illogical and irrational, it is endowed with a capacity that is alien to logical and rational language. Clearly, there is a reversal of the author’s intention. The seeming reversal of the authorial intention to promote vernacular writing may not entirely be a ploy for ironic representation. I suggest that Lu Xun may have gone beyond the instrumental view of the language reform for literature, culture, and human mind. My argument can be supported by modern insights into the function of language in formulating human thought in language philosophy. Lu Xun seemed to have intended the contrast between the opening and the story proper as a ploy to hint at the necessity to modernize the people’s mind through a modernization of their language. In contradistinction to the dominant approach to Lu Xun’s works, which stresses ideology as the soul of his writings, I argue that language carries a fair share of the profundity of his vision. Language as the material for the discourse carries and shapes ideas, visions, views, commitment, and tendentiousness. For Lu Xun, language is not simply the medium of representation; it is also responsible for shaping the people’s perception, conception, and comprehension of society and reality. In a psycho-linguistic approach to the mind, Jacques Lacan links Saussure’s linguistic theory with Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and makes this famous saying, “The unconscious is structured like a language.” He reverses the positions of the signified and signifier in Saussure’s model of the sign and makes it conform to Freud’s topographic model of the mind as an opposition between the conscious and unconscious.14 In terms of the semiotic model of the mind and the psycholinguistic model of the sign, I argue that just as consciousness is inseparable from unconsciousness, and the signifier from the signified, so the preface written in classical language is closely related to the diary written in vernacular. They form a topographic structure not unlike that between the conscious and unconscious, signifier and signified. And this topographic model may allow us to see the implied significance in the use of two language registers. The preface does not simply perform the function of negation or irony. It serves multiple purposes. Ostensibly, it serves as a narrative frame within which the story of the madman is to be retold. Actually, it acts as more than a narrative frame. It embodies a number of the author’s concerns. First and foremost, it may serve the author’s purpose of promoting the vernacular language as a way to reform people’s mind. In his “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud,” Lacan shows how language performs the function of constructing human identity and subjectivity: “language and its structure exist prior to the moment at which each subject at a certain point in his mental development makes his entry into it.”15 And the discourse using language establishes the foundations of a tradition, which “lays down the elementary structures of culture. And these structures reveal an ordering of possible exchanges which, even if unconscious, is inconceivable outside the permutations authorized by language.” He even goes so far as to argue that a human subject “appear[s] to be the slave of language” (Ibid.). This is another 11

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way of expressing Heidegger’s notion that it is not Man who speaks language but language that speaks Man.16 If language has such great formative power in molding human consciousness and constructing subjectivity, for Lu Xun and other thinkers and writers, the first move to reform the Chinese mind is to change the form of language. From this perspective, the use of classical language in the opening and of vernacular language in the story proper was intended, at least intuitively, as a symbolic gesture to reform the Chinese mind by a transition from classical language to vernacular language. Thus, it is reasonable to argue that the dual language of the story does not simply show a transition from classical language to vernacular language as a necessary step toward literary revolution; it reveals the underlying logic of the Confucian tradition, which must be undermined and demolished from its linguistic seat. Ostensibly, the protagonist is able to see the true nature of the Confucian tradition as a four-thousand-year-long account of cannibalism when he is mad. It is as though a deranged mind affords him the insight into the deep dimensions of Chinese culture. The use of dual language implicitly conveys a hidden idea: the vernacular language reveals and tells the truth while the classical language hides and camouflages reality. According to the story, the protagonist is deemed mad in the vernacular narrative, but he is regarded as “recovered” from madness and is sensible enough to take an official position. With this opening, Lu Xun seems to have issued a warning that if we insist on using classical language, we will never be able to rid our consciousness of the Confucian thought imparted through classical language. In this sense, language is more than a medium for representation; it becomes an ideology with hegemonic powers. Indeed, the classical language in Lu Xun’s story plays the role of ideology in the Marxist and Althusserian sense as the “false consciousness” that distorts and covers up truth and social reality.17 In his non-literary polemic essays, Lu Xun abhorred classical language and passed such a harsh judgment on Chinese writing: “China will die if Chinese language and writing do not die!”18 Lu Xun’s radical view has proven to be wrong, but he seemed to have recognized the formative function of language and writing for human existence. Otherwise, he would not have regarded Chinese writing as “latent tuberculosis in the body of the laboring people”; “If it is not removed, they will die by themselves” (Ibid.). I used to feel baffled by Lu Xun’s pathological metaphor for Chinese writing. Now in relating his radical judgment to Heidegger’s idea that “language belongs to the closest neighborhood of Man’s being”19 and Lacan’s claim that human beings are slaves to language, I think Lu Xun intuitively understood the power of subjectivization by language. And the use of two registers of language in his first modern story is an artistic representation of the need for the replacement of the old language and writing with new ones in Chinese literature. He was clear that there would not be a clean break from classical Chinese in particular and from the old tradition in general.

Modernizing people through literature In his magnum opus The Order of Things, Michel Foucault posits a seemingly preposterous argument that Man is a recent invention which is less than two hundred years old, and will soon be extinct: “As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.”20 By this argument, he means to say that Man is an epistemological concept which did not exist during the Classical Age, because during that time, “There was no epistemological consciousness of man as such.”21 The concept of Man did not appear until the Age of Enlightenment, when thinkers like Kant conceived Man as the subject that knows and at the same time as the object of epistemological inquiry. Foucault gives his reason why Man will be extinct:


General introduction

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared . . . as the ground of classical thought did at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.22 In terms of Foucault’s thesis, the Chinese concept of Man appeared even later. According to some scholars, the discovery of Man in the Chinese tradition did not appear until the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and was closely related to the modernization of Chinese literature. Zhu Donglin, a renowned Chinese historian, states: The discovery of Man, Man’s self-conscious recognition, development and description, Man’s objectification of his self-discovery, i.e. the evolution of the conception of Man, have constituted the inner driving force that has run through and propelled the development of the twentieth-century Chinese literature.23 Although he does not refer to the Foucauldian sense of Man, his view is without doubt based on the concept of Man which appeared in the Age of Enlightenment. The Chinese tradition, however, does not lack conceptions of Man, but its various conceptions are based on the cardinal principle of the “unity of heaven and man.” It draws no clear-cut demarcation line between Man and Nature, and differs radically from the conception of Man upheld by Western thinkers like Kant and Husserl, who view Man as a unified, independent, and self-responsible subject with reason. The moralization of the unity of Man and Nature in dynastic times subordinated individuals to the power of family, society, and the state so much so that an individual often became a sacrificial object to the social and governmental powers, which caused Lu Xun to denounce the Chinese civilization as a “four-thousand-year history of man-eating” in the first modern Chinese fiction, “A Madman’s Diary,” and to call for the appearance of “Real Man” in Chinese society. Lu Xun’s first modern story not only inaugurated modern Chinese literature but also initiated the critique of Chinese conception of Man and the modernization of Man via literature. In many ways, traditional Chinese literature completed its modernization by modernizing Man in literary representations. The new concept of Man in modern Chinese literature departs radically from the traditional concept of Man in history. It received its formative power from Western intellectual thought and literary works. After China’s door was forced open by the imperialist gun-boats, although a large number of Western thinkers and writers from the Greek and Roman times down to the twentieth century were introduced, translated, and assimilated into Chinese literary thought and imagination, there are a number of thinkers and writers who were favored by the Chinese intellectuals and writers because their thought and writing catered directly to the needs of Chinese society and literature and were immediately assimilated into Chinese literary thought and works. Without exception, they are all concerned with Man, Man’s conception, Man’s fate, and Man’s conditions in society. It is no exaggeration to say that modern Chinese literature was concerned with an ongoing project which centers on radically transforming the traditional conception of Man from the very beginning.

Modernizing literature through Western thought In the process to modernizing people and writing, Western intellectual thought and literature played a vital role in transforming traditional Chinese literature into modern literature and in modernizing Chinese conceptions of the individual, society, and literary representation. In


Ming Dong Gu

the century-long process, practically all major Western thinkers and writers have exerted their influences on the Chinese literary mind in one way or another, as their major ideas and works have been introduced, translated, and critiqued in the Chinese literary circles. Among them, six thinkers and writers stand out as having both an immediate appeal and enduring influence among Chinese men of letters.They are Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henrik Johan Ibsen, Sigmund Freud, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The first Western thinker to exert a lasting influence is Karl Marx. The October Revolution of Russia in 1917 brought Marxism to China. It coincided with the widely accepted year of the birth of modern Chinese literature. The translation of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels in 1920 enabled numerous Chinese intellectuals and writers to have access to Marxism. With the founding of CCP and its eventual victory all over China, Marx’s political and economic theory became the orthodox ideology of the CCP, and the literary theory growing out of his scanty critical work on some Western literature was upheld as the dominant guiding principle for literary and artistic creation in the middle modern and late modern periods. Marx’s aesthetics is the theory of realism. His comrade-in-arms Friedrich Engels elaborated realism as “the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances.”24 This realist aesthetics was upheld as the sole literary standard for judging the value of literary works in the middle modern period. For several decades, the idea of “typical character under typical circumstances” was exalted as the highest principle for characterization in literary creation in the periods of proletarian revolution and socialist reconstruction. The second Western thinker is Nietzsche. He seems to have enjoyed an enduring influence on modern writers. In the early modern period, his fierce attack on idol worship coincided with the iconoclastic spirit of the New Culture Movement participants, and his advocacy of individualism provided much-needed ammunition to the anti-traditional young intellectuals and writers. We can see a clear connection between Nietzsche’s famous dictum “God is dead” and the May Fourth New Culture slogan, “Down with the Old Curiosity Shop of Confucius.” He exerted his influence on a broad array of Chinese writers in the formative years of modern literature, especially on Lu Xun whose creative writings as well as his large number of miscellaneous essays are foregrounded in Nietzsche’s iconoclastic spirit. His influence waned during the middle modern period, but returned with a vengeance in the late modern and postmodern periods. Rousseau is the third Western thinker who exerted a profound impact upon the Chinese writers. His masterwork The Confessions was translated half a dozen times into Chinese and inspired a literary trend of “confession” style fiction and essays produced by numerous writers in the early modern period. Among them, we can find Yu Dafu, Guo Moruo, Ye Lingfeng, Zhang Ziping, Ba Jin, and others, who not only revealed their heart and soul to the world in autobiographical writings but also exposed the hypocrisy of Chinese morality and social customs. Sigmund Freud is the fourth Western thinker who had strong influence on Chinese writers in the New Culture Movement as well as in later times. His psychoanalytic theory captivated a large number of Chinese writers from the early period of modern literature to the present day. His ideas such as “libido,” “unconsciousness,” “id,” “ego,” and “superego” were either used directly or in changed forms in the works of writers, including Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren,Yu Dafu, Guo Moruo, Zhang Ziping, Mao Dun, Cao Yu, Shen Congwen, Shi Zhicun, Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying, Zhang Xianliang, Jia Pingwa, and others. The fifth Western intellectual who influenced Chinese writers is the Norwegian dramatist Ibsen. Though a playwright, he was hailed as an intellectual thinker. His play A Doll’s House was staged and re-staged in China over different historical periods and played a significant role in attacking patriarchalism, promoting women’s emancipation, and advancing individual’s rights both in society and literary works. 14

General introduction

The sixth Western thinker and writer is Sartre, the French philosopher, novelist, playwright, and literary critic, whose existentialist philosophy and literary works exerted such a huge impact on the Chinese intellectuals after the Cultural Revolution that in the 1980s, there appeared an “Existentialist Fad” and his ideas like “existence before essence” and “the other is hell,” etc., find their resonances in the literary works of many late modern period. The impact of these six Western intellectuals is long lasting and continued intermittently through various historical periods, as is evidenced in the “Great Debate on Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts,” “Freud Fad,” and “Existentialist Fad” in the 1980s, and “Nietzsche Fad” in the 1980s and 1990s. The impact of the Western thought on modern literature is deeply reflected in the new Chinese conception of Man, to be creatively rendered in literary works in the four periods. In the first period, the individualist conception of Man constituted the dominant theme of literary works in the May Fourth literature. Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” is a literary investigation of Man’s history, a deep reflection upon his condition, and a prediction for his fate. His masterpiece The True Story of Ah Q is a literary critique of the Man in Chinese patriarchal society.Yu Dafu’s novella Sinking is a literary exploration of the dilemma faced by Chinese youth caught in the conflicts of national salvation, personal humiliation, and emotional devastation. Guo Moruo’s The Goddesses sings praises of a new generation of Chinese people engaged in rebellion against the old society and fighting for personal emancipation. Ba Jin’s Family trilogy is a realistic representation of the human conditions in a patriarchal society. In the second period, literary representations of Man took a turn from individualism to revolutionary collectivism. Inspired by the Marxist theory of Man, the Left-wing writers like Mao Dun, Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi,Ye Zi, and others emphasized Man’s social nature and tended in their works to replace abstract human nature with revolutionary class nature of Man, but in the same period, writers like Ba Jin, Cao Yu, Shen Congwen, Zhang Ailing, Lu Ling, Lao She, Qian Zhongshu continued to work on the May Fourth idea of Man as an individual in search physical, emotional, and spiritual freedom. In the second period, especially the latter half, the May Fourth individualist conception of Man was marginalized due to the needs of proletarian revolution and socialist reconstruction. Incessant criticism of the so-called “bourgeois human nature” and “bourgeois humanitarianism” practically negated the May Fourth conception of Man as a freedom-seeking individual. Nevertheless, there were still fictional works, plays, and films which continued to focus on the May Fourth concept of Man, albeit in a subtler and more implicit manner. Even in some revolutionary novels such as The Song of Youth and Three Family Lane, we can find echoes of May Fourth Man’s voice. The third period of modern literature saw a large-scale return and revival of the May Fourth conception of Man. All literary trends including “Scar Literature,” “Literature of Reflection,” “Reform Literature,” “Native Soil Literature,” “Root Seeking Literature,” and “Avant-garde Literature” center on the theme of Man. There appeared quite a few literary works with “Man” in their titles. Dai Houying’s novel, Ah, Humanity! is a typical example. In the investigation of human nature, a considerable number of literary works of this period abandon the tragic vision of Man and emphasizes the nullity and absurdity of human existence. In the fourth period, literary works on human nature take another turn. It harks back to a marginalized form of literature in the first period, which has the slightly derogatory epithet,“Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly School,” but has gone beyond the limits of its precursor in all ways. It advocates a secular conception of human nature which defies lofty nobility of idealized human nature, justifies sensual gratification and popular entertainment, and emphasizes the carthartic function of literature.This secular conception of human nature gave rise to “personalized writing,” “body writing,” and “Youth Writing.” Although literary works based on this conception of human nature has been criticized as catering to the popular desires driven by consumerism and lacking aesthetic sensibility, they nevertheless serve to reveal a dimension of human nature, which tends 15

Ming Dong Gu

to be dismissed and neglected in more serious and refined literature. The eventual recognition of this kind of writings has confirmed from the Chinese perspective the disappearance of the Great Divide between high culture and popular culture, refined literature and secular literature in the age of postmodernism and globalization.

Part III: practical issues This handbook mainly targets students and scholars of the West with English-speaking readership in mind. Only secondarily is it meant for the benefit of readers, writers, and scholars in other parts of the world including China. As such, it would make more sense to present the subject in relation to Western literature and literary thought, and against the larger background of world literature than simply offering an introductory account of Chinese literature per se. The Western background would certainly facilitate Western readers familiar with Western literary tradition in their efforts to understand and appreciate a literary tradition other than their own. In conceiving the conceptual framework and structural organization of the handbook, we are aware of several practical difficulties. First, we recognize that no comprehensive survey can be truly comprehensive, and Chinese literature composed in the past century is so abundant that it is simply impossible to cover all literary works that deserve at least a mention in the history of Chinese literature. Even with a single writer, it is impossible to present and study his or her major works in a chapter with designated word limit. Second, we are aware of a series of issues troubling the writing of overviews of Chinese literature, which include the demand for “comprehensive accounts” which cover all major aspects of modern Chinese literature, the right way to separate modern and contemporary literature, and competing demands for attention between elite literature and popular literature, mainland literature and Taiwan literature, Chinese literature in China proper (including Taiwan) and overseas literature in Chinese, and between history of literature and literary scholarship. Third, we are aware of the competition between accounts of existing knowledge and the desire for newly created knowledge of the field. With these competing demands in mind, the handbook seeks to locate a balanced approach, which does not claim that all the mentioned issues can be satisfactorily resolved, but attempts to downgrade the centrality of those issues as the necessary focus of attention for a comprehensive handbook. In the overall design, it adopts an approach which is thematic, comparative, and aesthetic. Nevertheless, it does not abandon chronology completely. On the contrary, historical periodization will serve as the diachronic coordinates while aesthetic study of masterpieces of major generic forms works as the synchronic coordinates, with an overarching theme of modernizing the Chinese and Chinese writing as the unifying connection between the diachronic and synchronic coordinates. Thus, the overall structure of the handbook will be based on an integration of three main factors: history (chronological narrative), people (study of authors and characterization), and aesthetics (generic forms and modes of representation). The adopted approach and conceptual framework aim to maintain a balance between another set of competing objectives, demanded by a handbook: comprehensive overview versus in-depth introduction, historical knowledge versus aesthetic appreciation, classroom needs of students versus research needs of scholars. To facilitate the use of the handbook as a textbook, each part is headed by a brief introduction, giving an overview of Chinese literature covered by that part; each theme group is headed by a subtitle meant to summarize the major theme of the section. Each chapter adopts a threetier organization structured on an author’s life and career, his or her literary achievements, and an in-depth study of his or her masterpieces. All chapters seek to avoid as much as possible the use of jargon and dense language so as to appeal to as broad a readership as possible. Moreover, to 16

General introduction

stimulate further research, all chapters strive to present their topics from the perspective of world literature, relating their discussions as much as possible to these questions: (a) In what ways did the learning from the West exert positive impact upon the rise and maturity of modern Chinese literature? (b) In what aspects was the encounter between traditional Chinese literature and Western literature less fruitful? (c) What lessons can Chinese and Western writers of the future draw from the introduction, translation, and assimilation of foreign literatures? (d) What possible inspirations and insights can be offered to students and scholars who wish to pursue further study of Chinese literature? With the overarching theme of modernizing people and writing, the handbook hopes to provide an account of the century-long process of literary modernization.The efforts to situate modern Chinese literature in the context of world literature, the multiple approaches to history, themes, and aesthetics,“overlapping indeterminism” in periodization, the integration of brief overview and in-depth analysis, and the self-conscious efforts to balance various demands, are some of the major features of this handbook.To what extent are the intended objectives realized to the satisfaction of the reader and user is an open question that remains to be answered. But at least in one aspect, we believe that the published volume should come in handy as a reference for scholars, an inspiration for further studies, and as source materials for courses of Chinese and world literature both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.To maintain a balance among different demands for a handbook is an impossible task. This handbook offers only a new attempt to deal with the impossible.

Notes 1 See New Youth (1917), no. 1, reprinted in New Chinese Literature-Volume on Theoretical Construction (Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi-jianshe lilunji) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 2003), 34–44. 2 See Yan Jiayan, “Preface” to From Late Qing to May the Fourth:The Rise of Modernity in Chinese Literature (Wan Qing zhi Wusi: Zhongguo wenxue xiandaixing de fasheng) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2003), 7. 3 See Yang Lianfen, From Late Qing to May the Fourth: The Rise of Modernity in Chinese Literature (Wan Qing zhi Wusi: Zhongguo wenxue xiandaixing de fasheng) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2003), 13. 4 See, Yingjing Zhang’s “Introduction,” in A Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (Oxford: WileyBlackwell, 2016). 5 Zhu Donglin, A Refined Volume of Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo wenxueshi jingbian) (Beijing: Gaodeng jiaoyu chubanshe, 2013), 13. 6 Ding Fan, Reasons for the Re-periodization of New Literature (Gei xin wenxue chongxin duandai de liyou), in Modern Chinese Literature Studies (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan), (2011), no. 3, 25–33. 7 Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xiv. 8 Ibid., 79. 9 See Ibid., 71–82; Friedric Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 1991), 1–54. 10 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1961), 5. 11 Hu Shi, “For Literary Reform,” in New Youth (1917), vol. 2, no. 6. 12 See Wen Rumin and Kuang Xinnian, “A Madman’s Diary: The Labryrinth of Irony“ (‘Kuangren riji’: fanfeng de migong”), in Lu Xun Studies Monthly (Lu Xun yanjiu yuekan) (1990), no. 8, 31–34. 13 Qian Liqun and Wang Dehou, “Preface” to Complete Fictional Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun xiaoshuo quanbian) (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1991), 18. 14 Jacques Lacan, “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud,” in Écrits: A Selection, translated from the French by Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), 147. 15 Ibid., 148. 16 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language,Thought (New York: Harper-Row, 1971), 189–210. 17 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” in Lenin and Philosophy (London: New Left Books, 1971), 162.


Ming Dong Gu 18 Lu Xun, The Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun quanji) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005), vol. 6, 165–166. 19 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language,Thought, 189. 20 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 387. 21 Ibid., 309. 22 Ibid., 387. 23 Zhu Donglin, “The Discovery of Man and the Constitution of Literary History,” in Academic Monthly (Xueshu yuekan) (2008), no. 3, 13. 24 Friedrich Engels, “Letter to Margaret Harkness,” in Marxists on Literature: An Anthology (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1975), 269.



Early modern literature (c. 1910s–1942)

Part I: introduction: national salvation and human enlightenment On October 10, 1911, the new-style army soldiers of the Qing Dynasty in Wuchang, Hubei Province, started a rebellion to overthrow the Manchus government of the last Chinese dynasty. In 1912, the three-year-old last emperor abdicated, and the Republic of China was declared to be established with Dr. Sun Yat-sen as its provisionary president. After the last dynasty was consigned to history, China entered a new historical epoch. But literature lagged behind historical development. For several years, Chinese writers continued to turn out literary works using classical language and time-honored forms and styles, producing traditional themes and motifs, and expressing outmoded aesthetic sensibilities. Then in 1917, the New Youth, a journal founded by Chen Duxiu who was later to become the leader of the CCP, and supported by many scholars who returned from their studies in Europe, America, and Japan, published two articles: “Suggestions for Literary Reform” by Hu Shi and “On Literary Revolution” by Chen Duxiu himself. This totally changed the status quo of Chinese literature. As specimens for the literary revolution, the New Youth first published Hu Shi’s eight poems in vernacular language and free-verse style in 1917, which, however, did not arouse much attention. Then, it published a story by Lu Xun, “A Madman’s Diary.” This vernacular story with an iconoclastic theme and modern sensibilities captured the attention of Chinese intellectuals and students instantly and inaugurated the formal birth of modern Chinese literature. Following Lu Xun’s lead, other writers created fictional and poetic works with modern themes and aesthetic forms and jointly laid the foundation of modern Chinese literature. The fiction writers include Ye Shaojun, Bing Xin, Yu Dafu, Feng Yuanjun, Lu Yin, Fei Ming, Lin Shuhua, and others. While these fiction writers excelled in stories and novellas, writers who created long and extended narratives were the novelists in whose rank were Mao Dun, Ba Jin, Lao She, Shen Congwen, Li Jieren, and others. Mao Dun’s novel Mid-Night, Ba Jin’s The Family, Lao She’s Camel Xiangzi, Shen Congwen’s Border Town, and Li Jieren’s Stale Water Stirs Ripples marked the full maturity of the modern novel. In the 1930s, there appeared a group of left-wing fiction writers, in whose rank we find Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi,Ye Zi, Zhang Tianyi, Sha Ding, Xiao Hong, and Xiao Jun. Their fictional works are characterized by the Marxist theme of class struggle and revolutionary aesthetics.

Early modern literature (c. 1910s–1942)

Modern Chinese poetry started with Hu Shi’s experiments with free verse. The early poets include Hu Shi, Liu Bannong, Shen Yinmu, Liu Dabai, Zhu Xiang, Xu Zhimo, Feng Zhi, Zhu Ziqing, Wen Yiduo, and last but not least, Guo Moruo, whose poetic masterpiece Goddesses pioneered a free-verse style of poetry which displaced the time-honored traditional poetry in literary language and regulated forms. Younger poets include Bi Zhilin, Li Jinfa, Dai Wangshu, and others.With the exception of Fei Ming’s poems, their poetic works showed visible influence of Western modernism in formal representation and techniques of expression. Dai Wangshu’s “Rainy Lane” is noted for its integration of Western symbolism and traditional Chinese poetic methods. Influenced by Freudianism and the Japanese school of New Sensationalism, a group of writers, Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying, Shi Zhecun, Ye Lingfeng, and others, formed the Chinese school of New Sensationalism. Modern literary essay appeared early with the literary revolution. In contradistinction to traditional essays, writers like Li Dazhao, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Yu Pingbo, Zhu Ziqing, Xu Dishan, and others created a modern essay style, which was enriched by later essayists. In the genre of drama, playwrights like Hong Shen, Tian Han, Ouyang Yuqian, Cao Yu, and others drew inspirations and sources from the Western opera and pioneered modern Chinese drama. When Western opera was first introduced to China, its Chinese form often incurred a mild criticism. But Cao Yu’s two representative plays, Thunderstorm and The Sunrise, drew inspiration and techniques from the Greek drama and Ibsen’s plays and marked the full maturity of modern Chinese opera. As a closely related genre, Chinese cinema arose very early in comparison with other literary forms. The first Chinese film was produced in 1905 and the first feature film A Difficult Couple appeared in 1913. But the early films only served as a new medium for old themes and traditional performing art such as Peking Opera. Chinese cinema in its modern sense of the word did not appear until the early 1920s. At the founding stage, all the literary genres displayed a distinctive variety of new themes, new characters, new language, and new styles of writing. Infused with the iconoclastic spirit of the May Fourth New Culture Movement, literature of this period was motivated by the implicit and explicit aim to attack the old tradition with Confucianism at its core and to modernize Chinese people, thoughts, society, and ways of life by introducing Western ideas with democracy and science at the center. At the same time, it engaged in modernizing Chinese ways of writing by learning from Western techniques of writing. Of all the themes, the dominant one was that of national salvation through modernizing the people and writings.This major theme continued all the way from the 1920s till 1938, when all Chinese writers and artists joined the national united front against the Japanese invasion. The first part of this handbook will present major writers of all literary genres including film, and their representative works will be examined in depth.



Realism and the anatomy of Chineseness

1 LU XUN’S WRITINGS Modernizing Chinese language and consciousness Ming Dong Gu

Life and career Lu Xun (1881–1936), pen name of Zhou Shuren, is widely regarded as father of modern Chinese literature. Born in a declining scholar-official family, Lu Xun received a traditional education in his early life and laid a solid foundation of traditional Chinese scholarship. He even half-heartedly participated in the imperial examination. In his late teen years, he received a modern style education in Nanjing, where he passed a government examination for overseas studies in 1902 and won a government scholarship, which enabled him to study in Japan. Initially, he was studying medicine and planned to be a physician to save the physically sick like his father. But one incident changed his planned career. While studying in the Japanese medical school, he watched a documentary film about the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, fought in northeast China. In the film, a Chinese man alleged to be a Russian spy was captured and about to be beheaded by the Japanese military, while a large crowd of physically healthy Chinese watched the execution nonchalantly. This incident greatly shocked Lu Xun, who was compelled to reconsider his career objective: “Medicine is not that important. For, the citizens of a weak nation, even if they are strong and healthy, will only become meaningless materials for the pillory or on-lookers.” He stopped his pursuit of a medical career and became a writer, hoping to use his writings to enlighten his muddle-headed compatriots and to heal the spiritual sickness of the Chinese nation. After his return to China in 1909, he was totally disappointed with the social conditions of his motherland before and after the Republican Revolution and indulged himself in pursuing traditional literary activities. In 1915, Chen Duxiu and Li Dachao, two founders of the Chinese Communist Party, initiated the New Culture Movement and called for a literary revolution. Lu Xun pitched himself into the revolution and published in 1918 the first vernacular Chinese story, “A Madman’s Diary,” in New Youth. Through the mouth of a madman, the story denounces the time-honored Chinese civilization as a three-thousand-year history of metaphorical cannibalism under the façade of Confucian morality and virtue. The story became a call to arms for people to join the revolution. It also made him nationally famous overnight and prompted him to the forefront of the New Culture Movement. It was followed by a dozen other stories, which were collected in 1923 into a book Call to Arms (Nahan). These stories were characterized by its thorough-going anti-feudal themes and original artistic style and form, which exerted a profound impact on a generation of young intellectuals and laid the foundation for the maturity and 23

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development of modern Chinese fiction. Lu Xun is a multitalented writer and scholar, but in terms of his major literary output, he is mainly a writer of stories, old-style poetry, lyric essays, miscellaneous essays, social criticism and commentaries, as well as a scholar of traditional fiction. In addition to his first story collection, he published two more collections of stories, Wandering (Panghuang) and Old Stories Retold (Gushi xinbian). His new-style lyric essays were collected into two volumes, Wild Grass (Yecao) and Morning Flowers Collected at Dusk (Zhaohua xishi). Of all literary styles, he was the most prolific in writing miscellaneous essays, which has a total number of 16 volumes.

Literary achievements Lu Xun is perhaps the most creative Chinese writer in the twentieth century, but some critics regret that he did not write a single novel in his life even though he drew a plan for two. He is a recognized master of short stories, yet his stories read more like lyric essays or literary vignettes. Although his fictional works are supposed to be realistic representations, they display clear thematic and stylistic concerns pertaining to symbolism, surrealism, supernatural realism, magical realism, and other experimental writings. In writing style, his writings show an open disregard for generic demarcations as they blend different genres and forms. Contemporaneous with Western modernist writers, he composed literary works which exhibit visible modernist and even postmodern features. For these reasons, I argue that the dominant critical opinion that Lu Xun is a writer of critical realism has overlooked a distinctive dimension of Lu Xun’s literary creativity, which is modernist in nature and exhibits postmodern tendencies, and that his experimental writings should be viewed as contributions to the international Modernist Movement from a non-Western, third-world country. I also suggest that any history of international Modernism would be incomplete if it does not incorporate the incipient modernism pioneered by Lu Xun independent of the modernist influence from the West.1 Greek mythology attributes sources of creativity to the Muses. Lu Xun’s muse was enigmatic, but far from charming. She takes the form of various demons: social, emotional, moral, and artistic. An adequate understanding of Lu Xun’s muse should be sought from his ambivalent approach to his past, his self-identity, his self-positioning in society, and to his artistic temperament and aspirations formed by his classical training and Western education. First and foremost, Lu Xun wrote his creative works as his efforts for national salvation and cultural revolution. His artistic inspiration is demonic or Dionysian in nature. But like many great writers of the world, he produced his creative writings not only as expressions of political and social ideas but also as ways to work out his personal, emotional, and artistic problems. By temperament, Lu Xun is a lyric poet. For various reasons, social, political, and economic, he chose fiction writing as his literary specialization. In his fictional creation, the poet plays an invisible but decisive role in shaping his literary works. We can describe his lyric talent either as a demon that haunted him all his life or as a muse that guides his literary creation. It is this demon or muse that lay in the deeper stratum of his literary creativity, exerted the most profound impact upon his art, and accounted for the enigmatic discrepancies and colorful varieties of his artistic career.

The masterpieces “A Madman’s Diary”: modernizing Chinese language Lu Xun’s fame was inaugurated by his story, “A Madman’s Diary” (Kuangren riji). It consists of an opening in classical language and a diary written by a mad protagonist in vernacular. In the


Lu Xun’s writings

opening, the narrator tells us that the story proper is an account of the madman’s diary. In the diary, he becomes mentally sick and suspects that everyone around him including his brother and doctor attempts to eat him, but he eventually recovers and takes an official position.Thus, through the madman’s mouth, the story conveys an allegorical theme which condemns traditional Chinese history and society: under the disguise of Confucian virtue and morality, Chinese history is a full account of cannibalism, and Chinese society is one inhabited by a cannibalistic people who are both man-eaters and eaten by men. This iconoclastic theme is recognized as having played a crucial role in remolding the national character, thereby contributing to the modernization of Chinese people. Scholars have extensively discussed this theme. In this section, I will examine how Lu Xun’s use of two registers of language reveals the interconnections between consciousness and language, and how linguistic form conveys a subtle message. In dividing the story into the preface in classical language and the diary proper in the vernacular, Lu Xun has pioneered a model of writing that builds on the opposition between the conscious and the unconscious, and the interplay of different registers of language.The preface stands for the conscious aspects of not just the normal mental state of the characters but also for the conscious perception of Chinese culture and society. In contrast, the diary proper represents the perception of the mad man and stands for the true conditions of Chinese culture and society repressed into the unconscious, or covered up by the Confucian ideology. By opposing the preface against the diary proper, Lu Xun’s story mimics both the content and form of the mind in its conscious and unconscious discourse. In the story, the creative impulse follows the logic of free association. It starts with the act of looking by a dog. The animal’s eyes lead the narrative to the eyes of a conservative old man, the children of the neighbors, and a woman who beats her son and curses that “I’d like to bite several mouthfuls out of you to work off my feelings!” Then the woman’s curse leads to a series of incidents of cannibalism, real and imagined. By this time, the look of the eye and the act of eating are interconnected: looking for possible victims and then eating them. In the whole story, the unifying element is the image of eating: eating fish, eating medicine, eating human flesh as medicine, eating a baby’s flesh as delicacy, eating a bad man’s flesh as revenge, cannibalism in times of famine, historical references to cannibalism, the eating habits of a hyena, the eating of a revolutionary’s heart and liver, etc. All these references to eating are subsumed under one phrase, “eating people,” highlighted in the key passage in the story: “When I flick through the history books, I find no dates, only those fine Confucian principles ‘benevolence, righteousness, morality’ snaking their way across each page. As I studied them again, through one of the my more implacably sleepless night, I finally glimpsed what lay between every line, of every book: ‘Eat people!.’”2 This passage contains the working mechanism of the mind: the interconnection between the conscious and the unconscious. It not only shows the opposition but also reveals the overcoming of repression. The passage in question also literally demonstrates a way of reading: to read between, behind, and beneath the lines in order to get the hidden message. Thus, the construction of the story on the division between the preface and the diary seems to suggest that Lu Xun may have understood the function of language in formulating human thought through his artistic intuition. Moreover, Lu Xun seemed to have intended the contrast between the opening and the story proper as a ploy to hint at the necessity of modernizing the people’s mind through a modernization of their language. Since language as the material for discourse carries and shapes ideas, visions, views, commitment, and preferences, for Lu Xun, language is not simply the medium of representation and communication; it plays a vital role in shaping people’s perception, comprehension, conception, and ideological commitments. The story should therefore be read as an expression of Lu Xun’s commitment to modernizing consciousness through language apart from its other themes.3


Ming Dong Gu

The True Story of Ah Q: modernizing national consciousness4 Although Lu Xun’s literary achievements are many-sided, his greatest achievement is perhaps the creation of The True Story of Ah Q (A Q zhengzhuan). A novella first serialized in a magazine and then collected into Call to Arms, it narrates the life story of Ah Q, a hapless tramp without education or a decent job. He is a bully to the weak and less fortunate but a coward to those who are physically strong and socially powerful. When he meets misfortunes or is bullied, he resorts to “psychological victories” and persuades himself to believe that he used to be much better off and is spiritually superior to his opponents or oppressors even though he succumbs to their oppression and tyranny. He vows to participate in the Revolution, but joins a gang of thieves in robbing a wealthy family, and is apprehended by the law-enforcers. After a facetious trial, he is paraded through the streets and executed. To the last of his life, he continues to delude himself with his spiritual victory. His name gave rise to Ah Quism, a household word widely regarded as symptomatic of weaknesses in the Chinese national character. Since the publication of the novella, Ah Quism has been the focus of scholarly research and debates both in and outside China. Up to this day, however, it remains a topic of controversy: Who is Ah Q? Is he an embodiment of the Chinese peasantry or of all Chinese? Is Ah Quism a representation of the seamy sides of the Chinese national character or of those of all nations? Is the characterization of Ah Q a typification of a typical character under typical circumstances or a concretization of an idea? Is Ah Quism an ephemeral social phenomenon or an enduring existential problem? What significance may the novella have beyond the immediate context of Chinese society in the first quarter of the twentieth century? In my view, we will be unable to find satisfactory answers to these questions unless we first find apt answers to these questions: Who is Ah Q? What does he stand for? What is the author’s creative intention? What are the themes of this story? etc. The novella has been viewed as a literary work of realism and critical realism.This finds confirmation in Lu Xun’s initial intention, which, as he later recalled, was to “bring out the soul of our present-day country folks” and to “paint the soul of the silent citizens.”5 He also declared, “I had only to follow my own awareness, and with a lonely voice wrote out these observations, which serve to represent the Chinese life that I had seen with my own eyes” (Ibid., 84). At the same time, Lu Xun vigorously denied some critics’ speculation that Ah Q was based on this or that person in real life. This dovetails with Mao Dun’s initial reading of the novella: “One cannot find such a character as Ah Q among real persons in modern society, but when I read this story, I always feel that this character is so familiar. Indeed, he is the crystallization of the Chinese character.”6 Ah Q’s characterization cannot be simply explained by recourse to critical realism predicated on imitation and the theory of typification. Behind the façade of realism, Ah Q was created in a mode of representation that has affinity to modernist representation in art, especially the technique of collage and multiplicity of voices.

What’s in a name? Ah Q is the name of the main character. In his naming, the novella exemplifies a tendency in contemporary writing: language is not a mere vehicle of ideas; the materiality of language itself carries ideas that are often hidden and subvert the surface ideas.The first chapter, “Introduction,” wholly focuses on Ah Q’s naming. Its significance has been neglected to a certain extent. Indeed, in an early English translation, the translator simply omitted it. C. T. Hsia regards it as incongruous with the overall design of the novella due to its genesis as a humorous serial.7 In my view, the introduction is not only an integral part of the overall design but may also shed new light on 26

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the conception of the novella.The integrity of the introduction can be seen by both textual and extratextual evidence. It opens with these words: “For several years now I have been meaning to write the true story of Ah Q.” This is confirmed by Lu Xun’s words from extratextual sources. In “How ‘The True Story of Ah Q’Was Written,” Lu Xun’s account of the genesis of the novella confirms the long gestation of this work and its protagonist: “Ah Q seems to have figured in my imagination for several years, but I had never felt the slightest urge to write about him. This request made me remember him, so I wrote the first chapter that evening, ‘Introduction.’ ”8 Another piece of internal evidence suggests that the tragic destiny of Ah Q was conceived by the author when he first started the novella: “As a last resort, I asked someone from my district to go and look up the legal documents recording Ah Q’s case, but after eight months he sent me a letter saying that there was no name anything like Ah Quei in those records” (68).9 Thus, both internal and external evidence proves the integrity of the overall design. In a way, the introduction may be viewed as a treatise on fiction writing. One of Lu Xun’s concerns is with the deconstructive tendencies in writing as a result of textual signification.The opening sentence suggests that the author intends to use an omniscient narrator to tell A Q’s story, but the rest of the introduction totally cancels out the omniscient point of view, and then the story proper again reverts to omniscient narration. On the one hand, the narrator claims not to know Ah Q’s name, nor his origin, but on the other, he goes on to tell the latter’s whole life. The word game of knowing and not knowing and then full knowing again goes beyond the explanatory power of irony. I argue that this flip-and-flop pattern is a way to deny the existence of a unified speaking subject and thereby deliberately to rule out a unified perspective from which to read the story. This pattern of alternation underlies the entire introduction and sets up an open framework for the whole story. In the second paragraph, the narrator declares that he wants to write a literary work that he hopes will go into oblivion no sooner than it has been finished. But what has gone before the second paragraph contradicts this proclaimed intention: But while wanting to write, I kept on thinking back, which is sufficient to show that I am not one of those who achieve glory by establishing words; for an immortal pen has always been required to transmit the deeds of an immortal person so that the person becomes known to posterity through the writing and the writing known to posterity through the person until finally it is not clear who is making whom known. But finally, as though possessed by some fiend, I ended up deciding to transmit the story of Ah Q.10 Here the narrator seems concerned with a series of issues which cancel each other out. As a result, we do not know what his exact intentions are. First, he seems concerned with the mortality and immortality of his writing and any other forms of writing. The mention of liyan (establishing words) and buxiu (immortality) suggest that he must have had in mind the three immortalities in the Chinese tradition: “establishing virtue,” “establishing meritorious deeds,” and “establishing words.” In this connection, the passage reveals Lu Xun’s intention to write something that may have lasting value. The playful tone of this concern may be interpreted as his making light of his own writing, but it may also be read as his anxiety over its possible literary value. Second, this passage reveals Lu Xun’s paradoxical stance towards his protagonist. All scholars agree that one of Lu Xun’s intentions in creating Ah Q was to hasten his disappearance from Chinese society. Thus, as a social type, Lu Xun wished to see his demise as soon as possible. But as a literary creation, Lu Xun wanted it to have a lasting value and to procure an immortal place for himself in the gallery of literary characters in the Chinese Pantheon. In this sense, Lu Xun 27

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may be said to have secretly nursed the idea of emulating Sima Qian (145–c. 90 B.C.) who is known to posterity for his Shiji (The Grand Scribe’s Records). The discussion of different forms of biography in the later passages reinforces this impression. For the salvation of Chinese culture, Lu Xun wants to get rid of this character, but a great literary work is supposed to write on something that has lasting value. If Ah Q and Ah Quism should fall into oblivion no sooner than it was written, then Lu Xun’s work would not have a place in the literary canon. Certainly, it would not make him known. Fortunately, Lu Xun seems quite unsure whether this type of person will easily depart from the historical stage. The playful meditation on the question of who makes whom known offers us a meaningful glimpse into the creative mind of Lu Xun at the time of composition, especially his uncertainty about the future of his work, the future of his created character, and the future of Chinese culture, and even his own literary fame. The introduction then enumerates four difficulties involved in transmitting the story of Ah Q: The first [difficulty] was the question of what to call it. Confucius said, “If the name is not correct, the words will not ring true”; and this axiom should be most scrupulously observed. There are many types of biographies: official biographies, autobiographies, unauthorized biographies, legends, supplementary biographies, family histories, sketches . . . but unfortunately none of these suited my purpose. (65) The narrator now ponders on the form of his writing. He examines many possible types of biographies and finds them inadequate. Although he dismisses all of them, the playful tone and the not-so-sure attitude suggest to the reader that all these forms might have been appropriate for his purpose, thereby giving what he is going to write a universal quality. By declaring all these forms of biographies to be unfit for Ah Q, the author implies that Ah Q is meant to represent every man. The mention of Confucius’s notion of rectification of names shows the author’s concern with language and forms of writing. There may be several implications. First, we may read it as a critique of the Confucian scholars’ rigid adherence to superficial formalities. Second, it points to the author’s awareness of the impossibility of rectifying names owing to the unstable nature of language signification. Third, it may embody the author’s promotion of fiction as a proper form of literature as is further seen from the tongue-in-cheek self-belittlement of his writing, “since I write in vulgar vein using the language of hucksters and peddlers, I dare not presume to give it so high-sounding a title” (66). Fourth, it paves the way for the hesitation over the naming of Ah Q. Last but not least, it reveals Lu Xun’s attitude towards biographical writing and criticism: his reaction against the common type of biographical writing whose subject matter is an individual’s “life” related to a particular work, and against the old-style biographical criticism the object of which is the discovery in the appropriate source materials of the model or original of this or that character, event, or situation. Through the playful examination of various types of biographies and their inappropriateness, Lu Xun implies that the form of biography for Ah Q which he calls “zhengzhuan” (literally, “proper story”) is neither a set of empirical facts, nor a textual system of characteristic behavior, but rather the crystallization of images, traces, and symptoms of many typical characters under many typical circumstances filtered through a creative mind. To borrow an insight from Jameson, it is an unstable or contradictory structure, whose persistent actantial functions and events (which are in life restaged again and again with different actors and on different levels)


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demand repetition, permutation, and the ceaseless generation of various structural ‘resolutions’ which are never satisfactory.11 In my opinion, the narrator’s hesitation over the naming of Ah Q should not be understood as merely the author’s playful pretending not to know his protagonist for comic effect but should be read as an indication of his awareness of the difficulty of capturing the crystallization of an array of persons with diverse features and of his deliberate ploy to tackle the difficulty. In the process of hesitation, the author finds his coping strategy which is not meant to produce a unified system. Lao Zi’s The Way and Its Virtue opens with the famous statement: “The way that can be spoken of / Is not the constant way; / The name that can be named / Is not the constant name.”12 If a name that can be named is not the common name, then by reverse logic, a name that cannot be named is the common name. Lu Xun’s naming of Ah Q may be said to be a Taoist one. Since no available names are suitable for Ah Q, the most suitable name is a nameless name. To spare Ah Q a regular name, Lu Xun makes him eligible for all names. In this sense, I would coin a phrase for Ah Q’s name: a great name is no name. Lu Xun’s own statement supports my Taoist interpretation. In “A Reply to the Editor of the Theatre,” Lu Xun discloses one of his methods in characterization: My method is to make the reader unable to tell who this character can be apart from himself, so that he cannot back away to become a bystander but is bound to suspect that this may be a portrait of himself if not of every man, and that may start him thinking.13 This may be an explanation of why the narrator in the introduction spends so much time on naming Ah Q, but ends up giving him no proper Chinese name. Thus, the naming process becomes one of the ways with which Lu Xun devises an open frame of reference, depriving the reader of a privileged position from which to view Ah Q in a disinterested way. The varied responses of readers, as the story was first serialized, were precisely the effect that the author had wanted to generate. A detailed analysis of Ah Q’s naming will partially explain why the readers’ responses were so colorful.The narrator confesses that he does not know Ah Q’s surname but perhaps his surname is Zhao. Again the ambiguity was meant to hint at the universal character of Ah Q. Lu Xun once said that the reason he chose Zhao as Ah Q’s surname is that no one would mistake it for a personal attack:“In order to spare talented scholars’ vain soul-searching and to avoid unnecessary troubles, I named two characters in my story ‘Master Zhao’ and “Master Jian,” since zhao and jian are the first two surnames in Hundred Family Names. As for Ah Q’s surname, no one knows for sure.”14 But precisely because zhao is the first name in the Hundred Family Names, the choice itself carries a universal connotation. The incident in which Ah Q is deprived of the right to bear the surname Zhao has always been read to mean the oppression of the poor and lowly by the rich and powerful. I may read it differently. I suggest that by making Ah Q have no family name, the author allows him the potential privilege to use every family name.The indeterminate choice of Ah Q’s given name reveals the universal quality of Ah Q even more clearly: I have given the question careful thought: Ah Quei – would that be the “Quei” meaning cassia or the “Quei” meaning nobility? If this other name had been Moon Pavilion, or if he had celebrated his birthday in the month of the Moon Festival, then it would certainly be the “Quei” for cassia. But since he had no other name – or if he


Ming Dong Gu

has, no one knew it – and since he never sent out invitations on his birthday to secure complimentary verses, it would be arbitrary to write Ah Quei (cassia). Again, if he had had an elder or younger brother called Ah Fu (prosperity), then he would certainly be called Ah Quei (nobility). But he was all on his own: thus there is no justification for writing Ah Quei (nobility). All the other, unusual characters with the sound Quei are even less suitable. (68) In China, fu (prosperity), gui (cassia), and gui (nobility) are popular names like the English counterparts of Tom, Dick, and Harry.The narrator’s hesitation over which fits Ah Q is a ploy to hint at the universality of his name. Here, the name of Ah Q may associate with other persons and other concerns through its sound and shape. By its shape, Q looks like the drawing of a head with a pigtail dangling, a vivid pictogram of a male person before the fall of the Manchu dynasty. According to Zhou Zuoren (Lu Xun’s brother), this frivolity was deliberately invented by Lu Xun because Ah Q was started as a comic character.15 By its sound, the narrator has himself associated it with other popular names. Maruo Tsuneki, a Japanese scholar of Lu Xun, examines the sound association in an interesting way: Quei is a homophone of gui (ghost, phantom). In this reading, the word has a two-fold meaning: (1) it is the phantom of the disease in the national character inherited from traditional culture; (2) it is the superstitious idea of the soul of a dead person. Through meticulous investigation into the novella itself and correlation with Lu Xun’s other writings, Maruo argues that Lu Xun seems to have intended Ah Q to symbolize the phantom with its literal and metaphorical implications in his conception.16 From a different angle, I may suggest that Q has other associations: it may be an abbreviation of the English words “Quest” or “Question.” Both English words might have been on the mind of Lu Xun at the time of composition. For the narrator says: “Since I am afraid the new system of phonetics has not yet come into common use, there is nothing for it but to use the Western alphabet, writing the name according to the English spelling as Ah Quei and abbreviating it to Ah Q” (68). If we take Q to be an abbreviation of a “quest,” then the character of Ah Q may be construed to represent the author’s search for the root cause of the disease in the national character. If we take it to be an abbreviation of a capitalized “question,” then Ah Q may be understood as the big question that the author poses to the reader. It makes sense either way. At any rate, the author’s choice of the English letter “Q” leaves the associations open. The use of Western alphabet endows Ah Quism with a capacity for transcending national boundaries in linguistic terms. My suggestion is further augmented by another piece of evidence in the introduction. In choosing an appropriate form of biography, the narrator for some time considers the English official history: “It is true that although there are no ‘lives of gamblers’ in official English history, the famous author Dickens wrote Supplementary Biographies of the Gamblers.” Here the author seems to have had a slip of memory. Supplementary Biographies of the Gamblers is the English novel Rodney Stone by Conan Doyle (1839–1930). The translator of the novella corrects the slip in the English translation. I, however, think that the slip of memory might have been deliberately committed to blur the boundaries between Chinese and foreign, truth and fiction, universality and particularity. The number of difficulties the narrator has encountered in the introduction may sound funny to a casual reader, but a thoughtful reader would ask: if the author does not even know the surname and given name of the protagonist, why is he obsessed with writing a biography of this nameless person? Thus, the playful ignorance becomes food for thought for the reader, forcing him/her to think hard about the author’s intention and the story’s implications. But the answers are left completely open. The reader may


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devise a number of answers. The miscellaneous readings I have examined or invented are just some possible readings. The open reference of Ah Q is also attested by the choice of his place of origin. The place where Ah Q lives is called Weizhang (Wei Village). Wei in Chinese means “non-existent” (meiyou).17 Coupled with “village,” weizhuang literally means “non-existent village,” or “no village.” Lu Xun’s own words confirm this. In a letter to the editor of the journal Theatre, which published a dramatic version of the novella, Lu Xun provides a direct answer to the question: “Where is Weizhuang?” He understands why the dramatic version places Weizhuang as a village in his hometown Shaoxing, but he unequivocally states: “in all my fictional works, rarely do I clearly identify a place.”18 He goes on to explain why he made the setting vague: to prevent readers from associating the places in his fictional works with real places in society.Thus, his designation of the setting as “no village” is similar in narrative function to “nowhere” or its inverted form “erewhon” in the English satirical novelist Samuel Butler’s (1835–1902) masterpiece, Erewhon. Butler’s novel attacks contemporary attitudes in social morals, religion, and science. It was immensely popular in late nineteenth century. I suspect that Lu Xun might have had a chance to read the novel. The “no village” or the village that has never existed is another piece of evidence for the idea that the author might have intended his novella to refer to the universal conditions of human existence. The universality of intention and implications is further supported by the narrator’s claim: “The only thing that consoles me is the fact that the character ‘Ah’ is absolutely correct. This is definitely not the result of false analogy, and is well able to stand the test of scholarly criticism” (69). “Ah” is an endearing but meaningless word attached to a given name in China. It can be added to any person’s given name. In this sense, it is another way of implying that Ah Q is a nameless everyman. The ending of the introduction alluding to the unknown origin of Ah Q is often read as a satirical jab at scholars like Hu Shi and his students, but it may also be understood to be the author’s invitation to the reader to ponder on who Ah Q is and what he stands for. In this connection, my and other scholars’ readings of Ah Q’s name in terms of the name’s sound, shape, and meaning are largely justified.

Ah Quism: a private religion for all Ah Quism is an open verbal construct with a universal significance. Its wide appeal does not simply come from the author’s self-conscious use of the free play of language signification. Its universal appeal emanates from the author’s profound understanding of human psyche and its operations in relation to social reality. The author’s psychological insight finds its concentrated expression in his artistic representation of “spiritual victory.” I suggest that Ah Q is not mentally sick and his spiritual victory is not the warped consequence of a perverted mind. Lu Xun’s creation of Ah Quism reveals a profound insight into the deep recess of the human soul and represents a complex form of psychological coping that has affinity to the psychological definition of “character” in a person’s identity. In its social function, it may be viewed as an unrecognized private religion. Let us return to two questions: How can Ah Q represent all classes if he possesses the typical character of a peasant? Does Ah Quism possess international significance and lasting literary value? From the perspective of everyman, we may say that Ah Q is a typical peasant, but at the same time he is also a man like everyone else with the same need for self-preservation and self-fulfillment. For self-preservation, he needs food, shelter, and freedom from harm; for self-fulfillment, he needs love, respect, esteem, etc. Like everyone else, he has his life trajectory


Ming Dong Gu

from birth to death. The only difference is that Ah Q’s existence remains on the lowest level of self-preservation and self-fulfillment; indeed, he can hardly keep himself from falling below the lowest level. Although he tries to improve his existence, he never succeeds in obtaining his objective. A look at the major actions of Ah Q tells us that throughout his life span, he is engaged in a struggle for survival. What makes his miserable life a little more bearable is none other than his sense of spiritual victory. Ah Q’s strange strategies of coping with overwhelmingly adverse circumstances have caused some scholars to regard him either as an animal-like person almost completely driven by animal instinct and without an inner self19 or a “typical representative of a vagabond peasant with a serious psychological disease.”20 Both views are only partially correct. The symptoms of Ah Q’s disease are of course the actions related to his sense of spiritual victory. His need for spiritual victory is not a psychological disease, because all his seemingly perverted actions are the results of rational calculations. At most, it amounts to a neurosis and never reaches the level of psychosis. In fact, I wish to argue that it is precisely the sense of spiritual victory that prevents him from going mad in circumstances that would make a person with less mental endurance go crazy or commit suicide. In psychological terms, Ah Q’s spiritual victory is a compulsive repetition of an imaginative solution to problems that provides false satisfaction to the mind so that he, though inflicted with unbearable mental pains, finds his existence less painful. It is not that Ah Q was born with this obsessional neurosis but that circumstances force him to develop this coping strategy. Through Ah Q’s series of conflicts with the external world, Lu Xun describes vividly how a sense of spiritual victory becomes the only solution to the demands made by external circumstances and internal pressures. And his sense of spiritual victory consists of different strategies to cope with different defeats and frustrations. Without exception, all coping strategies function according to the psychological principles of the mind. For example, Ah Q’s self-belittlement has been viewed as an abnormal behavior. In fact, it is only an adaptive strategy to cope with overwhelming odds. According to ego psychology, a person’s ego, which is the executive branch of the mental apparatus, has to cope with pressures from several directions: the id, the superego, reality, and the compulsion to repeat.21 In resolving the different kinds of pressures, one forms his character or identity. As one psychoanalytic theorist states, “The mode of reconciling various tasks to one another is characteristic for a given personality. Thus the ego’s habitual modes of adjustment to the external world, the id, and the superego, and the characteristic types of combining these modes with one another, constitute character.”22 Ah Q’s character or his sense of spiritual victory is formed in his various frustrated encounters with adverse forces. In his fight with an idler, he is defeated. He consoles himself by saying to himself, “It is as if I were beaten by my son.” In so saying, he neutralizes the aggressive drive of the id for revenge, which would lead to greater humiliation and suffering, and at the same time satisfies the demand of the superego for self-esteem, giving the ego the illusion that it has successfully negotiated a solution to the conflict. In another fight, the tormentor takes a preemptive move to prevent Ah Q from winning a spiritual victory by forcing him to say that “This is not a son beating his father, it is a man beating a beast.” Faced with this situation, Ah Q would devise another strategy, calling himself the “No. One belittler.” The coinage of this epithet does not simply attest to Lu Xun’s keen observation; it shows his profound insight into the function of language in Ah Q’s psyche. The superlative degree of “No. One” is a move to fool the superego that demands the safeguarding of one’s self-esteem. When his conscious ego subtracts the “belittler,” what remains is the “No. One.” Then he relates the “No. One” with the highest successful candidate in the imperial examinations and thereby satisfies demands from both the superego and reality.


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In the psychological framework of Ah Q’s character, reality is a formidable force against which he is helpless. In order to restore his psychological equilibrium, he has to capitulate to the adverse force in reality at the expense of id, ego, or superego. In another episode, Ah Q wins a lot of money at a gambling table but loses it all because of the trickery of the gambling table owner. He tries to console himself with the old strategy of spiritual victory but to no avail. This time the id in his psyche is full of uncontrollable aggressive drives and on the point of explosion. Finally, he devises a new way to console himself: “Raising his right hand he slapped his own face hard twice, so that it tingled with pain. After this slapping his heart felt lighter, for it seemed as if the one who had given the slap was himself, the one slapped some other self, and soon it was just as if he had beaten someone else” (74). With this new strategy, Ah Q has incidentally used the technique of displacement: he displaces his pent-up anger within his psyche onto an imaginary other person, thereby preventing his ego from losing control. Ah Q’s coping strategies show him to have an inner self, but it is not a consistent self. Spiritual victory, as C. T. Hsia adequately characterizes it, is in the final analysis a form of self-deception.23 The sense of spiritual victory is Ah Q’s only comfort that sustains him through his miserable existence. Without it he would either commit suicide or murder or go mad. Marx once said that religion is the opiate of the people. Here, I suggest, the sense of spiritual victory may be said to be Ah Q’s personal religion since he, like most male Chinese peasants, does not believe in any established religion. The idea of spiritual victory as a personal religion endows Ah Quism with a universal meaning that transcends time, space, class, gender, nationality, and culture. In the past, scholars have already talked a good deal about the universal significance of Ah Quism, but little has been said about its source. In my opinion, the core of this universal significance is its capacity of appeasing the superego, and of performing a quasi-religious function. In a study of the resemblances between obsessional neurotic actions and ceremonies of religious believers, Freud comes to the conclusion that obsessional neurosis is an individual’s religion while religion is a universal form of obsessional neurosis.24 Ah Q’s repeated use of spiritual victory to cope with his problems may be considered a form of obsessional neurosis. This may provide a new insight into why Ah Q’s behavior is a mixture of comic and tragic elements. Having argued for the resemblances between obsessional neurosis and religious practices, Freud points out their differences: “[W]hile the minutiae of religious ceremonial are full of significance and have a symbolic meaning, those of neurotics seem foolish and senseless. In this respect an obsessional neurosis presents a travesty, half comic and half tragic, of a private religion.”25 To other persons, Ah Q’s resort to spiritual victory is a perverted behavior, symptoms of a mental disease. To Ah Q, it is his personal religion that can suppress his instinctive aggressivity and fend off the unbearable bitterness of frustration. To many Chinese men who have no religious beliefs and therefore have no recourse to religious consolation, Ah Quism plays the role of a personal religion.

The enduring value of Ah Quism Ah Q is not merely a typical character under typical circumstances. He is an artistic representation of an existential problem. By ingeniously blurring Ah Q’s naming, family background, and social identity, Lu Xun meant to allow Ah Q’s characteristic way of dealing with external and internal pressures in the face of disappointment, setbacks, and frustrations to assume an existentialist significance. Ah Quism is, in the final analysis, an artistic representation of a private “religion” for life. As such, it is endowed with a universality irrespective of class, gender, nationality, and culture. Scholars and writers of third world countries have already testified to the existence


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of the Ah Q phenomena in their countries.26 One Indian writer also said:“Ah Q is Chinese only by name. We have seen this character in India, too.”27 In the first world and second world, there are Ah Q phenomena too. As early as the 1920s, Romain Rolland, after reading The True Story of Ah Q, pointed out that before the French Revolution, there were French peasants who acted like Ah Q. Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist of culture, observes in his study how members of the working class, unable to afford certain commodities and tastes because of their economic disadvantage, console themselves by saying that they did not like them anyway. In Britain and the US we can identify numerous instances of Ah Quism, but because of space constraint, I will only cite one example: a British statesman’s declaration of the Dunkirk retreat in WWII as a defeat turned into victory. Despite its intention to boost the morale of the British people, the rationale was essentially an English version of Ah Quism. Thus, Ah Q’s experiences and his devices for coping with them are not limited to China. Indeed, “Ah Q is an international everyman.”28 Like Don Quixote and Hamlet, he “is a mirror that satirizes the world.”29 Of course, not many people would resort to turning actual defeat into psychological victory to the same obsessive extent as Ah Q. But how many people can live in the same helpless and humiliating circumstances and go through similar traumatic experiences without going mad or committing suicide or murder? Carried to an extreme, Ah Quism becomes obsessional neurosis. With moderation and common sense, it is an individual’s source of solace, capable of providing emotional consolation to and restoring mental equilibrium for anyone in distress and disappointment, irrespective of age, gender, race, nationality, and social status. This is where Lu Xun’s novella transcends the immediate context of Chinese culture and the local achievement of Chinese literature and is endowed with lasting literary value in Chinese and world literature.

Notes 1 Ming Dong Gu, “Lu Xun and Modernism/Postmodernism,” Modern Language Quarterly (2008), vol. 69, no. 1, 29–44. 2 Lu Xun, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, tr. Julia Lovell (London: Penguin Books, 2009), 21–31. 3 For an interesting study of other themes, see Wen Rumin and Kuang Xinnian, “ ‘A Madman’s Diary’: The Labyrinth of Irony,” Lu Xun Studies Monthly (Lu Xun yanjiu yuekan) (1990), no. 8, 31–34. 4 This part is a reworked version of an earlier article published in International Communication of Chinese Culture (2015), vol. 3, no. 2. I acknowledged my indebtedness to the journal. 5 “Preface to the Russian Translation of The True Story of Ah Q,” in the Complete Works of Lu Xun (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005), vol. 7, 83 and 84. 6 Fiction Monthly (Xiaoshuo yuebao) (February 1922), vol. 13, no. 2. 7 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1961), 37. 8 Lu Xun: Selected Works, translated by Yang Hsienyi and Gladys Yang (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1957), vol. 2, 315. 9 Unless indicated otherwise, English quotations are taken from Lu Hsun: Selected Stories (New York: Norton, 1971), 65–112. 10 I have made some modifications to the English version translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang to emphasize certain points in this passage. 11 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 180. 12 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, trans. D.C. Lau (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961), 57. 13 Lu Xun: Selected Works, vol. 4, 141. 14 Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun quanji) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005), vol. 6, 149. 15 See Zhou Xiashou, Characters in Lu Xun’s Fiction (Lu Xun xiaoshuo li de renwu) (Shanghai: Shanghai chuban gongsi, 1954), 64. 16 Maruo Tsuneki, “Investigating the Name of Ah Q: Shadows and Images of Ghosts,” Lu Xun Studies (Lu Xun yanjiu) (1986), no. 6, 135–153.


Lu Xun’s writings 17 See Origins of Words (Ciyuan) (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1988), 810. 18 Complete Works of Lu Xun, vol. 6, 149. 19 Yu-sheng Lin, The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Antitradtionalism in the May Fourth Era (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 129. 20 Yan Jiayan, “Notes on Reading The True Story of Ah Q,” in Lu Xun Studies (1983), no. 4, 52. 21 See Robert Waelder, “The Principle of Multiple Function: Observations on Over-Determination,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly (1936), vol. 5, 45–62. 22 Otto Finichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (New York: Norton, 1945), 466–467. 23 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 37. 24 See The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay (New York: Norton, 1989), 435. 25 The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay (New York: Norton, 1990), 431. 26 At an international conference commemorating Lu Xun, writers and scholars from a number of third world countries pointed out that Ah Quism is a common phenomenon in their countries. See the Supplement to Literary Gazette (Wenyi bao) (1956), no. 20. 27 See Literary Gazette (1956), no. 20, supplementary volume. 28 William Lyell, Lu Hsün’s Vision of Reality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 244. 29 Zhang Mengyang, A General History of Lu Xun Studies (Zhongguo Lu Xun Xue Tongshi) (Guangzhou: Guangdong jiaoyu chubanshe, 2002), vol. 2, 268.

Further readings Button, Peter. “Lu Xun’s Ah Q as ‘Gruesome Hybrid.’ ” In P. Button, ed., Configurations of the Real in Chinese Literary and Aesthetic Modernity. Leiden: Brill, 2009, 85–117. Chou, Eva Shan. Memory, Violence, Queues: Lu Xun Interprets China. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies, 2012. Davies, Gloria. Lu Xun’s Revolution:Writing in a Time of Violence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Foster, Paul B. Ah Q Archaeology: Lu Xun, Ah Q, Ah Q’s Progeny, and the National Character Discourse in Twentieth Century China. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005. Gu, Ming Dong. “Lu Xun’s Ah Quism: A Study of Its Intrinsic Nature and Transcultural Value.” International Communication of Chinese Culture 3.2 (2015): 207–228. Huters,Theodore. “The Stories of Lu Xun.” In B. S. Miller, ed., Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide for Teaching. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, 309–320. Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Voices from the Iron House: A Study of Lu Xun. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Wang, Hui. “Intuition, Repetition, and Revolution: Six Moments in the Life of Ah Q.” In C. Rojas and A. Bachner, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 702–721.



Of all modern Chinese writers, perhaps Mao Dun (pen name of Shen Yanbing, 1896–1981) was most heavily invested in the bringing of Western ideas about literature, and particularly about the novel, to China. Born into a highly educated although somewhat down at heel family in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province – just outside Shanghai – in 1896, he was able to attend the Beijing University Preparatory School in that city for two years beginning in 1914. Forced to withdraw owing to financial difficulties, he secured employment in 1916, at the tender age of 20, at the Shanghai Commercial Press, China’s largest publishing enterprise and probably the leading intellectual institution in the country at the time, even though it had only been founded twenty years earlier. Beginning in the English Correspondence Division, he quickly moved on to take on greater editorial and translating responsibilities, eventually in 1920 assuming responsibility for the revamping of one of the Press’s most important publications, Fiction Monthly (Xiaoshuo yuebao). This renovation entailed changing the journal from being an eclectic collection of various sorts of fiction to a specific focus on publishing the work of the “new literature” being written in response to the reform entreaties emanating from the “New Culture Movement” springing from the “May Fourth” movement that had begun at Peking University in 1919. At the center of this effort was extensive attention paid to Western literary theory, generally centering around notions of literary realism. At the same time Mao Dun was invited to join the new “Society for Literary Research,” a group originating in Beijing devoted to the new literature, of which Mao Dun was initially the only member from Shanghai. Within a short time, the revamped Fiction Monthly had become closely associated with the Society, so much so that it was often assumed to be its official organ. During this entire period Mao Dun continued to write a great many critical articles for the magazine, mostly introducing modern Western ideas about literature. Mao Dun had all along been committed to radical politics, and was one of the early members of the Chinese Communist Party, which was officially founded in Shanghai in July of 1921. Because of political pressures he was obliged to step down as editor of Fiction Monthly at the end of 1922, although he continued to publish his critical articles there. He also became increasingly immersed in political work, helping to facilitate the new alliance between the Communist and Nationalist parties that got underway in 1923. He was eventually sent to Canton in early 1926 to join in the preparatory work for the Northern Expedition, the joint effort of the CCP and KMT to bring all of China under Kuomintang rule led by Chiang Kaishek. He soon became the Secretary of the KMT Central Propaganda Department, working 36

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directly under Mao Tse-tung. When the Northern Expedition reached Wuhan in late 1926, Mao Tun followed it there, becoming editor of the new government’s official newspaper, the Republican Daily (Guomin ribao), in April 1927. With the suppression of the CCP in Wuhan that summer, Mao Dun fled that city for Shanghai, with a stop in the mountain resort of Guling, arriving in Shanghai in late August with a price on his head and thus being obliged to go into hiding. It was during these difficult days in seclusion that Mao Dun moved from being a critic and theorist of fiction to being a creator of it. He chose as his subject the events he had witnessed in 1926 and 1927, the tumultuous years of the revolution that saw at once the birth of a new KMT government and the purging of the communist members from its ranks. While in hiding in Shanghai he quickly produced three novellas, Disillusion (Huanmie), Waverings (Dongyao) – the subject of detailed analysis below – and Pursuit (Zhuiqiu), which together form the Eclipse (Shi) trilogy. They were rapidly serialized in Short Story Monthly, with the author using for the first time the pen name Mao Dun, a thinly disguised reference to the Chinese term for “contradiction.” After completing the work, the author fled to Japan in the summer of 1928, where he remained for almost two years, meanwhile completing another novel, Rainbow (Hong), a narrative of the personal and political growth of a young woman from the interior province of Sichuan that followed her from her home to the modern metropolis of Shanghai. Even as he was writing his first novels he also begins writing a number of short stories, all of which illuminate the social problems, both urban and rural, of the times. “Spring Silkworms” (Chun can) and “The Lin Family Store” (Lin jia puzi), both first published in 1932, are prominent examples of stories candidly illustrating problems facing rural China, even the prosperous areas close to Shanghai. Soon after his return to Shanghai in April of 1930, he, along with the prominent writer Lu Xun, played a major role in convening the League of Left-Wing Writers (Zuoyi zuojia lianmeng), essentially a front group through which the CCP quite successfully sought to exercise significant influence on the writers of the time and the work they created. Afflicted with eye problems soon thereafter, he slowed his writing endeavors and devoted himself to social research in Shanghai, intending to write a novel that encapsulated the Chinese situation at the time. The result was Midnight (Ziye), his longest novel, completed at the end of 1932 and first published in January of the following year. In spite of encountering problems with government censorship in 1934, the novel was an immediate and enduring success, and has come to be regarded in China as Mao Dun’s “representative work.” (The novel will be analyzed below). In the years that followed Mao Dun continued his involvement in politics even as he continued to write short stories. As the war with Japan drew near, after having participated in a sharp debate essentially over the extent of political dictate over literature in support of the Chinese defense, in which he defended the realist style to which he had long committed, he joined in a united front group of writers in late 1936. During the war he moved numerous times among various cities in free areas, even as he was able to complete two important novels, Putrefaction (Fushi, 1941), an exposé of KMT perfidy even during the bleakest parts of the war, and Maple Leaves as Red as February Flowers (Shuang ye hong si eryue hua, 1943), a tale of the choices facing young people set in the early years of the century. After spending time in Hong Kong after the war, he went to Beijing soon after the communists took the city in 1949, becoming Minister of Culture in the new People’s Republic shortly thereafter. His novel, The Tempering (Duanlian), his final work of fiction, began serialization in 1948, but was published as a book only in 1981. During the entire time between 1949 and his death in 1981 he published no more creative writing, although he continued to write literary criticism and take an active role in governmental literary policy. 37

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Waverings First serialized in Fiction Monthly in its first three issues of 1928, Waverings is the second of three novellas detailing events in the crucial years of 1926 and 1927. Disillusion, the first and shortest, is set in Shanghai before the revolution actually begins, and offers a panorama of educated youth in that tension-filled time. Pursuit, the final work of the three, returns to Shanghai to show the sense of depression and futility among the same class of young men and women after the revolution’s failure. For its part, Waverings presents an in-depth perspective on key moments of the 1927 revolution itself, being the first work to make the attempt. Remarkably enough, it remains even today the only fictional narrative of the crucial events of that time, although the convoluted course of how things developed as represented in Mao Dun’s text perhaps makes it understandable why other writers have been chary of taking on such a difficult task. The work was written in a short time in the autumn of 1927, and is remarkably well crafted, especially given the speed with which it was produced, not to mention as part of a first attempt at writing a novel, and many of the issues it raises retain their relevance even today. The text is multifaceted, conveying both important political micro-history, literary meditations on vital social issues of the day – notably gender relations in a time when traditional social roles were in flux – as well as sharply realized and highly memorable characters, particularly Fang Luolan, the conflicted man through whom the author focalizes the story. One of the things that renders the work particularly noteworthy is that Mao Dun was an actual eyewitness to events much like those he describes, as editor of Republican Daily based in the great central Chinese city of Wuhan, the revolutionary capital for the period represented in the text. At that point in early 1927, “the Party” refers to the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, which was for a few years in the mid-1920s an uneasy coalition of conservative, moderate and radical forces united briefly with the Communist Party under the sign of bringing into being a modern and united national government. One of the prominent features of the novel is the depiction of how the various forces temporarily aligned finally fall out of solution as a result of the pressures brought to bear by the rightist purge of April 1927, although, probably to avoid censorship, the purge itself is barely mentioned in the novel. As Mao Dun was to write somewhat later, many of the events depicted in Waverings are based on reports that came to him from the field during that period of social upheaval.The novel offers an intriguing contrast to the editorials he wrote while working for the newspaper in Wuhan, which were generally upbeat propaganda in support of the revolutionary cause; the novel, by contrast, is characterized by frank uncertainty about the wisdom of various radical policies of the period and even from time to time seems to entertain doubts about the nature of revolution itself and the chaos unleashed by it. While Mao Dun was later to claim that the “waverings” depicted in the novel were those of the characters rather than the author, the fact remains that the rendition of these doubts is replete with a vivid sense of how difficult and unnerving it was to have to make decisions in the midst of total and unprecedented social tumult. It is perhaps Mao Dun’s commitment to literary realism that enables this neutrality: in a later defense of his method written a few years later, the author notes that, while he would have liked to be able to paint an optimistic portrait of the times, he also felt obliged to try to do justice to what he understood to have actually taken place while he was in Hubei. The implosion of the left front over the course of the narrative is portrayed in great detail, and it is of particular interest that this melt-down is represented as more the result of internal imbalances and poor judgment than as anything imposed from a more powerful political center. Again, events as depicted in the text render it an open question whether the success of the progressive forces as they were constituted at the time was possible or even desirable. 38

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Perhaps the most striking feature of Waverings is its depiction of the 1927 revolution in the central Chinese countryside, away from the coastal cities that are the most common settings for the new literature of the 1920s and ’30s. It is, however, important to note that what we are presented with are events at the level of a rural county seat, not in the actual countryside per se, and such enduring issues of modern Chinese history as land-holding and landlord-tenant relations are thus conspicuously absent. Instead social issues like concubinage, labor relations in commercial establishments and the rights of women take center stage. And in its discussion of these pivotal issues, the rhetoric of the novel is remarkably even-handed – the problems are acknowledged as serious, but finding genuinely practical solutions to them is invariably shown to be where the really intractable issues lie. We also get a striking picture of crucial facets of the social structure of the county-town: At the top is situated the elite level represented by Fang Luolan and his wife and their social peers, the Lus, heirs to the grand tradition of graduates of the imperial examinations who had access to office in the old imperial government. By the 1920s, however, the younger generation of this elite is shown as having adeptly transformed itself to having become graduates of modern universities and now exercising their traditional leadership roles through the new revolutionary party, albeit with a fatally imperfect grasp of the rough-and-tumble of politics at the grass roots. The novel’s most compelling characterization, however, is that of the level immediately below this hereditary elite. Although also a player in local politics, the amazingly tawdry Hu Guoguang, a character so full of menace that he makes Dickens’s Uriah Heap seem like a choir-boy, made all the more repellent by the stark naturalism by which he is represented, is depicted as being culturally completely removed from his immediate superiors in the social hierarchy: the scene in which Hu first visits the Fang household reveals him as being in complete awe and incomprehension at its grace and elegance, and that of Mrs. Fang in particular – they might as well be from different planets. In other words, for all that Hu and his father have been local notables for at least two generations, the social distance between him and Fang Luolan could not be greater, and that distance has only increased via the “modernization” that has transformed the highest level local elite into a group whose values and basic orientations are closer to the Westernized inhabitants of the coastal cities than to people like Hu, who have essentially never left home, and is accordingly regarded with complete disdain by his more cosmopolitan social betters. It is also of note that Hu presents a figure utterly without the moral scruples that appear to have been instilled through elite education in those like Fang, making it all that much easier for Hu to successfully manipulate the murky world of local politics; Fang’s very disdain, in fact, allows him to disastrously underestimate the danger Hu represents to him and his cause. Hu is presented throughout as the complete opportunist, leaning left or right as circumstances decree or as his immediate personal interests dictate, with no conscience or moral standards to guide him. Political operatives who have by implication moved to the country from the city in pursuit of their revolutionary aims constitute the third set of characters. The femme fatale Sun Wuyang, who seems acquainted with all the visiting political figures who come through the countytown, is the resplendent representative of this group as a whole. For all the differences between Hu Guoguang and Fang Luolan, it is ironic that the two of them respond to her in a similar fashion, being basically bedazzled by her sophistication and romantic allure and at a loss as to how to respond. A number of the newly installed officials who come to briefly involve themselves in the affairs of the town had appeared as characters in the first novel of the trilogy, Disillusion, set in Shanghai during the period immediately preceding the revolution. In the earlier text they had been portrayed as basically callow and intemperate, hardly the type of character that one would imagine being entrusted with vital matters of state. As one might expect, then, several of these men make significant errors of judgment when matters become exigent and the capacity for 39

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mature reflection would presumably have at least made solutions possible. The resulting fiascos only lend weight to the impression that at least at this stage the revolution lacked the sort of talent and experience that would have seen it through the various crises that eventually came to swamp it, at least at this microcosmic level. A quieter, if equally significant, part of the story is the depiction of the ambiguity of gender relations in a transitional China, where those born into one order of social existence are struggling to find new means of being and expression. This is represented with startling clarity in the three-cornered relationship among Fang Luolan, his wife and the “liberated woman” Sun Wuyang, who also represents the free-floating sexuality that provides an omnipresent continuo to the whole text. While both Fang and his wife are university graduates and have thus gained exposure to the wider world, Sun seems to be an entirely different sort of person, apparently completely unrooted in the partly traditional matrix of morality the other two had taken for granted.While in the first part of the novel, Fang is secure in his political leadership position, he is completely thrown off balance by the image of Sun, which seems to constantly bedevil him, with his wife inescapably aware of this, however much Fang tries to cover it up. The personal and the political meet here, with Sun representing in her attitudes and behavior all the quandaries that Fang faces in coming to grips with the new. This all comes to a head in Chapter 9, in which Fang and his wife engage in a series of remarkably searing interchanges over the nature of their relationship and the possibilities for the future, with Sun holding herself tantalizingly aloof; there are few such scenes in modern Chinese literature and it throws into high relief the complexities of the new life choices presented to China in the early twentieth century, which is one of the definitive qualities of “modernity.” At the lowest social level, where the local people have not had the benefit of prolonged exposure to new ideas, gender relations take on a positively nightmarish cast in this period of social upheaval, when new concepts are fit into decidedly traditional ways of understanding. As the passage cited below indicates, the local farmers cannot make any sense of new ideas concerning property, the place of women in society and social mobilization in general, resulting in a scene that would be darkly amusing if the fates of actual people were not at stake: From the tail-end of the previous year, the peasants in the area to the south had formed a Peasant Association. It had been organized and rumors had sprung up in its wake. Because the Association was assessing the land held by the peasants, the earliest rumor was that property would be communized, but this rumor changed into “Men will be nabbed for soldiers, women seized for public use.” So the peasants in the southern district had passed the New Year festival in terror. There was also an event that undercut the Association: Wang Zhuofan, a special representative from the County Peasant Association, was tasked with going down to the countryside to make an inspection. It wasn’t hard to understand what was happening: the rumors were being started by the small-time tyrants and petty landlords, and the peasants misunderstood. But no matter how much you insisted there wouldn’t be communization of wives, the peasants wouldn’t believe you. It was obvious: it was a Communist Party, so property had to be communized. There was no doubting that. Wives were property, so to hold that they were outside the purview of communization just didn’t make sense to the simple peasants; it had to be a trick. Special Representative Wang was a capable man, so of course he could see that much, and a week after he arrived, aside from the well-known, “Land to the tiller,” there was now, “Wives to the wifeless.” There were plenty of extra or extra or unoccupied women in China: some men had two wives, so naturally, that meant an extra woman. Neither widows nor nuns had husbands, so naturally they were 40

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unoccupied. The peasants in the southern district were going to remedy the situation. They were going to take those extras and unoccupied and send them to men who could make use of them. On a clear afternoon, probably around the time when Lu Muyou had “freely loved” the widow Suzhen, the peasants of the southern district held a meeting in front of the Temple of the Earth God. Cudgels, shovels, hoes and spears crowded together in ranks that looked quite impressive.Wang Zhuofan served as Interim Chairman, and standing in front of him were three women with terrified faces. One was dressed a little better than the others: she was the tyrant Tiger Huang’s concubine. At about five o’clock they had broken into Tiger Huang’s house. She was hiding at one corner of the bed trembling. She was completely naked when she was pulled off the bed. Someone had the idea to drive her out into the street that way, but that idea was not carried through once they realized she would belong to another man, so she was brought there wearing her regular clothes after all. This 18-year-old country girl stared at the men surrounding her with her eyes wide open. She knew she was there to be “communized,” but her simple mind couldn’t fathom how they would go about it. With her own eyes she had seen her husband seduce and rape a young girl. At first, the girl’s resistance and screaming were terrifying, but later, when Tiger Huang was actually taking it out on that helpless piece of flesh like an animal, she came back to the standard attitude many women might have in that kind of situation: that it didn’t look so painful. So she thought rape might not be so awful. But now she was going to be “communized,” and she couldn’t figure out the difference between rape and “communization,” so she couldn’t help but feel anxiety tinged with fear.1 The work ends with the crushing of the forces of radical change beneath the regrouped forces of reaction, Hu Guoguang having become a key agent among them. The final scene is seen through the eyes of Mrs. Fang, who, having never really understood the forces swirling around her, is the perfect person through whom to embody the surrealistic sense of utter dismay and disintegration that are the upshot of this attempt to bring into being a new social order: Mrs. Fang thought painfully and regretted that she had wavered too much in her thinking back then. She felt dizzy with a distending pain in her head, and her body rocked back and forth as if floating in air. She felt that she had become the little spider, hanging alone in the boundless vastness of the air, unable to keep from being swayed back and forth. – – Her spider-eyes looked out and the worship-hall of the narrow and lowlying nunnery had turned into a huge and ancient structure. A myriad of ox-headed, horse-faced monsters stretched out from cracks in vermillion walls, the columns of the structure shuddering precariously, their stone footings groaning as if they couldn’t bear their load. Suddenly, with a thundering sound like the sundering of heaven and earth, that ancient structure completely collapsed! Yellow dust shot high into the air; smashed bricks, shattered tiles, splintered beams, cracked rafters along with clouds of dirt infused with reds and greens – they all scattered and bounced wildly in all directions before settling onto the broad earth with a noise like thunder, but sounding more like a mournful cry or gasp. – – Suddenly a wisp of green smoke issued forth from the collapsed ruins, becoming higher and broader as it came forth, enshrouding the ancient decayed pile of ruins. 41

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Little moss-like objects competed to burst forth from the green smoke coming from the ruins; they took on all kinds of colors, and all kinds of shapes. The little things, shaking back and forth in the smoke, slowly grew larger, and a face formed on each one. Among them Mrs. Fang seemed to see Fang Luolan, Chen Zhong, Miss Zhang . . . Every person she saw in her daily life. Their faces grew larger and larger as they shook. – – Suddenly, the embers of the ancient structure, prostrate, panting for breath, flew into the air again. They tried hard to coalesce and unite, then fell together like a summer torrent on the clump of tiny objects. They struggled, fled, surrendered, everything swirling around wildly, turning into a ribbon of kaleidoscopic color. And among them appeared a dark heart, suddenly expanding, suddenly contracting, finally beating ceaselessly! With every beat, a new layer of darkness emerged at its periphery, beating pit-a-pat like the core. As the heart expanded one layer after another, the rate of beating quickened and the expansion kept pace. The darkness devoured and destroyed everything, filling all space, filling the entire universe . . . Mrs. Fang, with a long anguished moan, fell to the ground. (194–195) With this finale Mao Dun expressed his disillusion, perhaps more than he actually intended, which upset a number of left-wing critics who had hoped for a more hopeful scenario. All in all, in this brilliant work Mao Dun is able to bring a pivotal period of modern Chinese history vividly to life, combining thick description of political and social life in flux with an equally rich depiction of the complicated lives of people struggling to make it through a set of bewildering transitions that nowhere offer ready and satisfactory solutions. It is all shadowed by a keen awareness of the failure of the revolution, and even more than that, of the chaos of modernity itself.

Midnight Midnight was written in 1931–1932 and published in book form in January of 1933. The first two chapters had been scheduled to appear in Fiction Monthly in early 1932, and had been set in type, but the Japanese attack on the Chinese-controlled parts of Shanghai in January of 1932, including the deliberate bombing of the Commercial Press, derailed this plan, as the magazine actually ceased publication at this time. During the months he spent researching and writing the book Mao Dun was hobbled by eye trouble, forcing him to concentrate on his work on the novel and pay less attention to other writing commitments. One of the activities he performed in connecting with his research was to work his many connections in the financial world to gain access to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, where he went almost daily to observe modern finance at work, something that shows up in almost obsessive descriptions of the bond market in the text of the novel. The original plan for the book was to provide a comprehensive vision of China as a whole, including the countryside, but only a rather haphazard Chapter 4 survives of this part of the project; Midnight is one of many works by Mao Dun in which he was not able to fulfill the enormous task of providing an all-embracing vision of the times that he invariably set for himself. The book was an instant success – Mao Dun is said to have made enough money to move from the working-class Hongkou area to the upscale Bubbling Well Road neighborhood (i.e., the area where the book’s capitalist protagonist, Wu Sunfu, lives, although Mao Dun soon moved back to Hongkou because all his literary friends lived there). The KMT government banned the book (and most of Mao Dun’s other work) in 1934, after which chapters 4 and 15 were deleted before it and his other work could again be sold openly.


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The novel’s opening passage presents a view of the Shanghai riverfront just as the sun is setting, and emphasizes the conspicuously kinetic modernity of the scene: The sun had just dropped below the horizon and a soft breeze tickled one’s face. The turbid water of Suzhou Creek took on a golden-green cast as it flowed quietly and gently westward. The evening tide of the Huangpu had already imperceptibly risen and the various boats lining either bank were riding high on the water, their decks some six inches above the quay. Music from the Park on the Bund wind was carried over by the wind, dominated by the sizzling and exciting sound of the kettledrums. An evening gloom was shrouding the tall steel arches of the Garden Bridge in a light mist, and as the street cars passed over it, their overhead electric cables suspended beneath the arches from time to time gave off greenish sparks. Looking east from the bridge one could make out the warehouses of Pudong, resembling giant beasts squatting on the shore in the dusk, their myriad lights twinkling like so many tiny eyes. Looking west there was a shockingly large neon advertisement resting on the roof of a tall office building that gave off the words “Light, Heat, Power!” in fiery red and green letters. Just then on this heavenly May evening three lightening-fast 1930 model Citroens passed over the bridge and turned west, proceeding along the North Suzhou Road.2 This passage with its hints of Futurism and its fascination with the notable features of modern Shanghai – the bustle, the steel bridge, the tramways, Western music, lights, commerce and the English language – brilliantly sets the tone for the book in its expression of the fast-moving modernity the new Chinese educated elites aspired to. The huge neon sign advertising “Light, Heat, Power!” is the very emblem of the dynamism of the modern city. Following immediately upon this panorama, we follow the Citroens to a wharf on Suzhou Creek, where they pick up the handicapped old Mr. Wu, who has arrived by steam launch from his home in the unstable countryside to stay at Wu Sunfu’s (his successful and entrepreneurial son) Shanghai mansion. Holding on for dear life to a Buddhist devotional text, The Supreme Book of Rewards and Punishments, the old man is seated in one of the cars, which rushes into the evening traffic, the perspective then switching to that of the old man: The car raced crazily forward, with old Mr. Wu staring straight ahead. My god! Hundreds of lighted windows like so many strange eyes, and skyscrapers mounting into the sky, all rushing toward old Mr. Wu’s field of vision, only to disappear as they passed them by. An endless line of lamp poles springing out of the bare ground, one after the other assailed old Mr. Wu and then vanished; a stream of black monsters snaked by, each with a pair of of huge eyes emitting a blinding light, horns sounding and bearing down upon him, aiming at the black box in which Mr. Wu was sitting, closer and closer! Mr. Wu closed his eyes, his whole body trembling. (10–11; 15–16) Like Mrs. Fang’s horrible vision at the conclusion of Waverings, the modern fantasy has suddenly turned malign, as seen through the tradition-bound eyes of Mr. Wu, who had actually been a revolutionary during the time of the overthrow of the Qing dynasty almost thirty years earlier. Soon after reaching his son’s mansion, old Mr. Wu succumbs to a stroke, a perhaps too obvious symbol of the demise of China’s old order. As Mr. Wu lies dying, other people at the


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mansion discuss the various types of visitors represented in the house, which is a perpetual social center: “But there is still an old gentleman who devoutly believes in The Supreme Book of Rewards and Punishments.” “Correct, but that old gentleman is about to, to – give up the ghost.” “There are still countless old gentlemen like Mr. Wu down in the countryside.” “Absolutely true, but as soon as they get to Shanghai they too will give up the ghost. Shanghai is. . . .” (27–28; 29) Symbolically, then, the old and the new cannot really coexist, with the inevitable new bound to supersede and obliterate the old, or, at least, any morally worthwhile elements of the old. And significantly enough, in this conversation, the man talking of the future is unable to provide a predicate for the subject of “Shanghai.” Once this highly fraught scene is set, the novel turns to its main business: a long socioeconomic demonstration of how a would-be domestic capitalist industry is doomed to failure under the pressure of foreign financial imperialism, a plot line is so relentlessly adhered to so as to lend a mechanical cast to the work as a whole. The younger Mr. Wu, Wu Sunfu, is cast as a tragic hero, flawed though he is, engaged in an epic struggle to keep his indigenous enterprises going concerns in the face of various sorts of opposition. We are told early and often that Wu Sunfu is possessed of the charismatic leadership qualities that should have sufficed for the task: “He was never one to belittle himself, and if he went in with them in their scheme, it would of course become something completely different: he had a way of taking mediocre men and turning them into thoroughbreds” (81; 76). And, again, when he is engaged in an effort to persuade his more timid colleagues: Thinking as he listened,Wu Sunfu’s face suddenly took on a look of determination. As he glanced at Sun Jifu and Wang Hefu, his eyes were burning with optimism and courage. This look of his could generally inspire the enthusiasm of his two colleagues, spur on their dreams, and firm up their resolve.This look of his was magic, it was a look that could overawe others whenever it came to firming up a plan or overcoming doubt. (347; 314) A tragic hero, then, the heroic demiurge of the rising bourgeoisie, but in this case ultimately unable to overcome the sea of mediocrity and perfidy surrounding him. While Mao Dun was certainly an orthodox Marxist in his conviction that imperialism would fatally inhibit the growth of an indigenous industrial capitalism, the sympathy he lavishes on his protagonist – not to mention the enthusiastic depiction of the dynamism of the city with which he begins the novel – perhaps reveals an underlying wish that an ideal national capitalism would be desirable should it actually be allowed to develop. The depredations of imperialism aside, however, there is another factor impeding the advent of a modern society: the “feudal,” or traditional perspectives among the moneyed classes that make it impossible for them to see beyond gaining immediate, short-term return on their investment, leading to a propensity to favor financial manipulation over investment in long-term industrial development. As the narrator notes at one point, clearly expressing Wu Sunfu’s views of even his own brother-in-law, Du Zhuzhai: “To prevent Du Zhuzhai from wavering, however, any sort of long-term entrepreneurial plan


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was useless; only an investment scheme that would generate shady speculative profits tomorrow for money invested today would be of any interest to him at all.” (299; 271) On closer inspection, then, the “modernity” of Shanghai turns out to be merely a thin veneer on top of a series of retrograde attitudes and practices that constantly distort any propensities for “healthy” development. One of the symptoms of this is the underlying current of sexuality that old Mr. Wu had, it turns out, correctly seen as pervading and corrupting the city. Not even Wu Sunfu is exempt from this, as he falls to temptation a number of times. Perhaps the clearest embodiment of the two aspects of this speculative bent, however, is Zhao Botao, who is at once an expert manipulator of the securities market even as he is someone given to excessive indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh. While Wu is a character of complexity and nuance, a product of the high realism that Mao Dun had so long advocated, those like Zhao tend to be caricatures of evil, in a more Dickensian, “low-mimetic” mode. One of the most interesting things about the depiction of these depraved relics of the past is that Mao Dun seems to have borrowed the characteristic means of expression of the “blackscreen” novel of the urban fiction of the previous decade to portray them. While it might seem that to be inspired by other works and genres of fiction is inevitable to any novelist, the obloquy poured on this earlier urban fiction by the May Fourth school of literary realists – slandered by them with the pejorative title “Mandarin Duck and Butterfly School” – led by Mao Dun and his Society for Literary Research does render this borrowing at least a bit ironic. Although, of course, it comes as no surprise that Mao Dun nowhere registers his obvious debt to the fiction he had so despised in his critical essays. There also turns out to be a decided difficulty when it comes to finding new blood to replace the corrupt and incompetent representatives of the old order. In a lengthy and illustrative segment in Chapter 5, Wu has a long conversation with a young man by the name of Tu Weiyue; Tu is justifiably arrogant, as he is well aware that he is virtually unique in his competence and perspicacity. Although somewhat put off by Tu’s manner, Wu eventually realizes he needs someone of this caliber and thereupon gives him a position of great responsibility. Ironically, it turns out that Tu had originally been hired through family connection, leaving the reader to wonder whether Wu would have been able to find a person of such ability other than through such a traditional method of hiring new staff. Pondering this leads Wu to the melancholy conclusion that: “In industrially undeveloped China there simply were no such [competent] ‘subordinates;’ all these factory employees were merely the equivalent of the spongers and slackers who hung around the big landlords in the countryside. Their only skill was at being idle, at flattery, but they had no idea as to how to run things – having deliberated thus far,Wu Sunfu could not help becoming pessimistic, thinking there was little hope for China’s infant industry; considering only lower levels of management, society had no one in reserve, much less at any other level” (148–149; 135). Emblematic of this problem is the name of the manager that Tu replaces: “Mo Gancheng,” a clear pun on a phrase meaning “accomplishing nothing.” Interestingly enough, this is one of the few instances in all his work in which Mao Dun names a character by his personal qualities, perhaps indicating the author’s ultimate frustration with the phenomenon he is describing. In this work, then, the enlightened “young China” in which the reform generation had invested so much hope turns out to be much harder to find than anyone had anticipated. As another symptom of this weakness of the younger generation, the powerful women who had played such pivotal roles in Mao Dun’s earlier novels – such as Waverings’ Sun Wuyang, powerful both sexually and politically – are no longer in evidence, having been replaced by weak-willed wives or glorified call-girls like Liu Yuying. As Wu Sunfu’s financial world collapses around him he simultaneously loses his old charismatic authority. For instance, as he attempts to negotiate a way out of his predicament with the


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foreign-backed Zhao Botao, who has managed to outmaneuver him,Wu cannot even sustain his old resolve: “With this vague response, he suddenly weakened. It was as if something snapped inside, and his heart was in pieces; he could no longer pull himself together. He had lost his power to resist, along with his self-confidence, and only a single idea revolved around his mind: was it to be unconditional surrender?” (515; 473–474) Wu is now not even the equal of the colleagues he had once dominated: Wang Hefu spoke resolutely, his eyes wide open and staring directly at Wu Sunfu. Two months earlier such a bold and powerful comment would certainly have come from Wu’s mouth, but the current Sunfu could no longer be compared to that earlier one; he now thought straightaway of compromise and the conservative path. Even as he was goaded in this way by Wang Hefu, Sunfu was still shilly-shallying, unable to come up with a single plan of his own. (555; 509) The arc to the story is thus from bourgeois stability and ascendance, marked by the death of old Mr. Wu in the first chapter, through its steadily being undermined by forces both internal and external through to the collapse of both the hopes for a robust indigenous industrial capitalism and a vigorous modernity. All the hopeful qualities held out in the beginning are gradually picked away, and replaced by instability and weakness at the end. There is a sort of false dawn at the end of Chapter 7, when Wu Sunfu has for the moment overcome the various adversities pressing down upon him, but it does not last. Symbolically, Chapter 8 begins with a tale of the most depraved sort of “blackscreen” family decadence, when a wealthy newcomer to the city plots to barter off his spoiled daughter to Zhao Botao to gain insider information, a sure sign of the way things will be moving as the novel moves on; the contrast with the “Light, Heat, Power!” that begins the text could not be more striking. Significantly, as the novel moves towards its close, we are presented with scenes of the labor movement, but it is represented as being just as corrupt as everything else in the city. The victory of the speculator Zhao Botao over the industrialist Wu Xunfu is emblematic of the endurance of the old ways in the face of the challenge of the new. Perhaps the most poignant example of the retrogression is the career of Zhou Zhongwei, who had progressed from “compradore” (i.e., an agent of foreign interests) to factory owner and back again: “Zhou Zhongwei’s reflections moved far into the distance. The whole of his life revolved in front of his eyes: He had begun as a compradore, and later become an autonomous owner, but later still a compradore again – a compradore in disguise, although from now on a nominal owner! A dream, a full circle!” (497; 457)

Notes 1 Mao Dun, Waverings, trans. David Hull (Hong Kong: Renditions Paperbacks, 2014), 110–111.The Chinese edition used is Shi (huanmie, dongyao, zhuiqiu) (Hong Kong: Lingnan chubanshe, 1965), 85–230. Further page references will be inserted in the text. 2 Mao Dun, Ziye (Beijing: renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1977), 3. All translations are my own. There is an English translation of the complete text: Midnight, trans. Xu Mengxiong and A.C. Barnes (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1957), 9. All subsequent references will be in the text following the passage cited, the Chinese pages numbers first followed by the page number of the Beijing translation in italics.


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Further readings Anderson, Marston. The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, 119–151. Chen, Yu-shih. “False Harmony: Mao Dun on Women and Family.” Modern Chinese Literature 7.1 (1993): 131–152. ———. Realism and Allegory in the Early Fiction of Mao Dun. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. Feuerwerker, Yi-tsi Mei. “The Dialectics of Struggle: Ideology and Realism in Mao Dun’s ‘Al gae.’ ” In Theodore Huters, ed., Reading the Modern Chinese Short Story. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1990, 51–73. Gálik, Marián. Mao Tun and Modern Chinese Literary Criticism. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1969. Hsia, C. T. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1971, 140–164, 350–359. Laughlin, Charles. “Mao Dun.” In Thomas Moran, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography – Chinese Fiction Writers, 1900–1949. New York: Thomson Gale, 2007, 164–177. Wang, David Der-wei. “Mao Tun and Naturalism: A Case of ‘Misreading’ in Modern Chinese Literary Criticism.” Monumenta Serica 37 (1986–1987): 169–195. ———. Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 25–110.



Life and career As a writer and political activist, Ba Jin (also written as Pa Chin, 1904–2005) wished above all to emulate his hero, the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), and inspire Chinese youth to rise up to create a just society. Born into the Li family of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in China’s interior, in private life he was known by his given and courtesy names, Li Yaotang and Li Feigan, respectively. After he launched his writing career in Shanghai in the late 1920s, he adopted the pen name Ba Jin, borrowing the first syllable from the name of another famous anarchist, Bakunin (1814–1876), and the last from the Chinese spelling of Kropotkin’s name (jin). Ba Jin’s family was wealthy and well educated. His uncles, brothers, and cousins all took an interest in events in the wider world, subscribing to literary magazines and reading the news from eastern China in the tumultuous years after WWI that witnessed the rise of the New Culture movement in China. By the time he was fifteen, Ba Jin had obtained a Chinese translation of Kropotkin’s Appeal to the Young, first published in French in 1880. In his autobiography, he recalls its effects on him – he was so moved he could not sleep and, weeping with joy at discovering a kindred spirit, he dedicated himself to transforming the cruel social order and saving humanity from the injustices embedded in it.1 In 1923, Ba Jin left Chengdu with his older brother to go to school in eastern China, where he involved himself in anarchist circles. He witnessed the rise of the communist movement in wake of the May 30th Incident of 1925, when police in Shanghai’s British-administered International Settlement shot Chinese protesters outside a Japanese-run factory. As a committed anarchist, however, Ba Jin was critical of both of the major political parties, the Communists and the Nationalists, each of which claimed leadership of the Chinese revolution against local warlords and international imperialists. Just before open warfare between the two parties broke out in the spring of 1927, Ba Jin traveled to France, settled in Paris, and studied French literature while continuing to read and write about anarchism. Ba Jin returned to Shanghai in 1929, where his first novel, written in France, had already appeared to popular acclaim. During the next decade, he published many popular works, some written in Japan, where he lived from late 1933 to mid-1935. As Japanese troops advanced across China in 1940, he left Shanghai and spent the war years in southwest China, writing constantly. In 1945 he returned to Shanghai, where he lived the rest of his long life. He was a celebrated 48

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literary figure in the early years of the People’s Republic of China and served as head of the Shanghai Writers Association and founding editor of the literary magazine Harvest (Shouhuo). During the Cultural Revolution, however, he was criticized for his anarchist views and petty bourgeois sympathies; his works were banned. After the death of Mao, his novels began to circulate once more, and he reemerged as a literary elder. He played a leading role in the establishment of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo xiandai wenxueguan) in Beijing.2 He publicly criticized the Cultural Revolution, famously calling for a museum to be dedicated to explaining how so many innocent people could suffer so in “New China.” Under the title “Record of Random Thoughts” (Suixianglu), he published a series of influential essays reflecting on Chinese history and culture. In 1990, he was among the first recipients of the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize. The Chinese government unsuccessfully nominated him for a Nobel Prize in literature several times. Illness kept him out of public sight for the last fifteen years of his life.

Literary achievements As a writer of fiction and essays, Ba Jin was remarkably prolific; he wrote in service to his i­deals and tried to tell stories that would move his readers to reflect on social problems. Both his politics and his desire to appeal broadly led him in the direction of melodrama, especially in his novels of the 1930s. The Turbulent Stream trilogy, The Family (1933), Spring (1938), and Autumn (1940), constitutes the most important fictional representation of the May Fourth movement of the late 1910s and early 1920s. The trilogy offers a series of tragic stories of young people whose lives are blighted by their elders’ adherence to patriarchal cultural practices justified by reference to Confucian precepts. As with many a May-Fourth-era critique, Turbulent Stream represents Chinese ideals of masculinity, femininity, filiality, and family harmony as tools by which patriarchs control the lives of the young and prevent social change that might threaten their authority. The novels were based on Ba Jin’s own life, and many young readers found his account of May Fourth student activism and family strife gripping. The Family was a best-seller when it appeared and continues to appeal to the young. More than any other Chinese writer of the twentieth century, Ba Jin established the coming-of-age novel as a popular form.3 While acknowledging the popularity of Turbulent Stream, many literary critics consider the trilogy and most of the rest of Ba Jin’s early writing naïve and less interesting than the more inventive and provocative writing of such luminaries as Lu Xun and Eileen Chang. In the caustic judgment of C. T. Hsia, Ba Jin’s novels of the 1930s display his “manifest inability to give the illusion of life to his characters and scenes.” Hsia argued that this began to change in Autumn, published in 1940, and by 1947, with the publication of Cold Nights, Ba Jin had become “a psychological realist of great distinction.”4 Xiaobing Tang analyzed Cold Nights in a chapter entitled “The Last Tubercular in Modern Chinese Literature,” arguing that the illness of its main character represents the culmination of a literary practice, pioneered by Lu Xun, in which an individual character’s ill health is used to reflect on a range of broader problems, including “an enfeebled nation, a benighted populace, an individual’s existential angst, or a continually thwarted sensitive mind.”5 After Cold Nights, Tang argues, the founding of the PRC led to the establishment of socialist realism as the only acceptable mode; the individual angst-ridden protagonist gave way to the forward-looking and confident collective of common people as literary subject. Of all Ba Jin’s novels, Cold Nights could be said to win the critics’ award, but The Family certainly remains the people’s choice. Translated into many languages, it has also appeared as a graphic novel, as well as in film and TV serial versions. It has an enduring appeal among young readers. 49

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The Family The Family chronicles the lives of three young brothers as they try to achieve happiness within the confines of a large family ruled autocratically by their grandfather, the Gao patriarch. As the future head of the family, eldest brother Gao Juexin is expected by his grandfather to impose discipline on his brothers, Gao Juemin and Gao Juehui, and on the other members of the younger generation. Juexin himself has accepted, although very unhappily, his elders’ decisions about whom he should marry and what work he should take up. His brothers, inspired by May Fourth values, choose to defy arranged marriages and other family dictates. Juehui, in particular, becomes a harsh critic of the behavior of his uncles and aunts, who abuse the servants and behave hypocritically while flattering the patriarch and his vulgar concubine. A deathbed conversion of the grandfather into a more understanding old man is too late to save the family; after he dies the atmosphere becomes even worse. The novel ends as the idealistic Juehui heads for Shanghai and the freedom it promises from the tragedies of life in a corrupt family and oppressive social order. The Family, written as a serial for a Shanghai newspaper in 1931–32, appeared in book form in 1933 and quickly established itself as the most widely read novel of the era. Ba Jin’s contributions to modern Chinese literature stand out clearly in his most famous work: he showed how writers could capture the hearts of young readers via a passionate attack on cultural practices that were beginning to be seen as oppressive and backward. As with Lu Xun, Ba Jin came to believe that fiction offered the most effective vehicle for cultural critique. Like most of his other work, The Family highlights the tragedies that result when human sympathy is sacrificed in the name of social conventions. Such conventions, his plots reveal, are set up not to contribute to human happiness but rather to buttress the power of patriarchs and make it impossible for the hierarchical social order to be challenged by the young and marginalized members of the community. The critique of Chinese culture offered in The Family will be discussed in more detail below. Because Ba Jin’s interest in literature grew largely out of his commitment to social change, his approach to the written word can be characterized as pragmatic rather than perfectionist. He was not known as a prose stylist; some critics found his language stilted and too influenced by patterns of speech he had picked up while studying in France. He did not capture different types of speech effectively – servant and master all tend to speak and think in the same register, reflecting his idealism about human commonality rather than a keen sociological understanding.6 From his point of view, though, stylistic weakness was not a fatal flaw. The basis on which to judge literature, he would argue, was on how effectively it stimulated people to reflect on and try to improve the social order, not on abstract principles of beauty or creativity unrelated to the lives of the majority of readers whose primary concern was how best to act in a rapidly changing world. As many Ba Jin scholars have pointed out, and some have documented in detail, Ba Jin revised The Family several times over the decades after it first appeared.7 He encouraged other writers, such as Cao Yu (1910–1996), to transform his story for the stage and for the screen. In letters to his fans, published as prefaces to the novel or as essays, he characterized his novel as words from his heart, not as a work of art that could not be improved by rewriting. In this approach to literature, with its responsiveness to readers’ opinions, Ba Jin seems to have subscribed to the ideal of “literature to serve the people,” later promoted by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in his famous “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” of 1942. Mao argued that writers and artists needed to understand and interact with their audiences in order to produce good work. More than most twentieth-century Chinese writers, Ba Jin tried to relate to his readers, communicate with them, and adapt his writing to address their 50

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concerns. He also accepted the need to revise his novels after 1949, to accord with the expectations for literature in socialist New China. References to bourgeois literature were cut, and the characters lost some of their complexity, so that heroes and villains could be distinguished even more easily than in the earlier versions. That he fell afoul of Communist critics after 1949, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, was not because he had a fundamentally different vision of the role of literature from that championed by Mao. He was criticized, rather, for caring too much about the plight of relatively privileged young people, as opposed to downtrodden workers and peasants, as well as for having believed that anarchism rather than communism offered the best hope for the liberation of humankind. The Family resonated with young people in 1930s China because it told a story they could identify with, one based on Ba Jin’s own experiences as a youth. Gao Juehui, the young protagonist whose life resembles Ba Jin’s, recalls an idyllic childhood lost as his beloved mother dies, his father remarries, and then his father dies. Meanwhile, the Qing dynasty has collapsed and warlords vie to control the city in which he lives, leading to street battles and confrontations between arrogant soldiers and angry students. Juehui’s grandfather rules the family as an autocrat, ordering Juehui’s eldest brother, Juexin, to enforce his dictates among the younger generation. The ideals of democracy and science, promoted by the May Fourth movement launched in 1919, appeal to the boys, but they seem impossible to attain, given the control exercised over them by their grandfather and the cultural norms that require that they submit to him. Many of the details of the story correspond to Ba Jin’s own life; the general outline of oppressed youth seeking to change society despite the opposition of their elders appealed (and still appeals) widely to young readers. Ba Jin intended the novel to comfort young people caught in the stifling webs of family obligation and to encourage them to change their lives by standing up for themselves. Lu Xun may have worried about raising false hopes of radical change among the young – awakening sleepers trapped in an air-tight iron house, in his metaphor8 – but Ba Jin, a member of that younger generation, had no such reservations. His passion is conveyed through Juehui’s anger and disgust at the sacrifices the family demands of its members. His elder brother Juexin’s attempts to mediate and compromise are depicted as cowardly, as well as devastating to his own psyche and the happiness of those he loves; Juexin’s wife Ruijue dies a miserable death in childbirth because he fails to stand up to the unreasonable demands of his elders. The path forward, Juehui comes to believe, is to abandon a family united only by birth, hierarchical relations, and ritual in favor of joining like-minded youth in a “family” that is defined rather by common values and mutual love and respect. In the novel, Juehui is able to forget his unhappy home life as he gathers with other young people to publish a radical newspaper. In The Family, Ba Jin does not state explicitly that the newspaper that Gao Juehui helps run is associated with an anarchist organization. But he himself had participated in such an organization as a youth, and as a teenager published essays in anarchist journals in his hometown, Chengdu. By the time The Family appeared, he was quite well known in Shanghai as an advocate of anarchism. While in France in 1927 and 1928, he had written for international anarchist journals and engaged in polemics with Chinese Communists. At the time, two Italian-American anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, were in jail in Massachusetts, accused of murder. Ba Jin wrote to them to express his outrage and support, and Vanzetti replied with words of encouragement. Ba Jin also began a correspondence with another American activist, Emma Goldman (1869–1940), while in France. As with his experience of reading Kropotkin as a boy, Ba Jin clearly felt a deep emotional connection to these heroic anarchist figures. When he took up fiction writing as a way to promote his political goals, he attempted to infuse the relationships of the young heroes and heroines of his works, including The Family, with this sort of intense comradely emotion. 51

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Ba Jin was a fierce critic of Chinese tradition, but, unlike many other leftist writers of the postMay-Fourth era, his criticism was not motivated by a desire to see a rejuvenated China become strong and powerful. Nationalism is not a significant theme in Ba Jin’s fiction. In addition to passionate anarchist visions of human community, Ba Jin’s writings were influenced by his broad reading in Chinese and European fiction and other literature. Olga Lang, author of an excellent English-language biography of Ba Jin, points out the impact of Russian literature and history on The Family. When Juehui falls in love with Mingfeng, the young girl who serves as a maid in his branch of the family, he compares their mutual attachment to that between the central characters in Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Juehui’s female cousin, Qin, aspires to be a heroine in emulation of Sophia Perovskaya, who helped formulate a plot to assassinate Russian Tsar Alexander II and was hanged for it in 1881. Juehui’s brother Juemin, who is in love with Qin, quotes a line from Turgenev’s On the Eve to encourage himself to be brave in the face of oppression.9 French literature also made its mark on The Family. Kong Xiangxia notes that such authors as Romain Rolland, Victor Hugo, and Emile Zola inspired Ba Jin by the forthright indignation they conveyed in their depiction of the evils of modern society.10 Ba Jin himself also credited Japanese writers, including Natsume Soseki and Arishima Takeo, as influences on his work.11 Well before he encountered European and Japanese literature, Ba Jin read widely in Chinese literature, and the influence of the great novel Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng) is particularly evident in The Family, as documented and analyzed by many scholars.12 Chen Qianli points out that both stories center on the theme of a conflict in values between patriarchs and young men and feature sub-plots in which love between two young people is sacrificed in the interest of mundane family considerations.13Another clear example of the influence of Dream on Ba Jin concerns the Gao family compound in The Family, which resembles Ba Jin’s childhood home up to a point. But Ba Jin’s childhood home had no huge garden like the one in the novel. The Gao family garden, at first an idyllic world where the cousins escape from the supervision of their elders and Juehui expresses his love for Mingfeng, closely resembles the Grand View Garden of Dream of the Red Chamber, where Dream’s hero Jia Baoyu lives happily with his female cousins. As in Dream, tragedy eventually comes to the Gao family’s garden – Mingfeng commits suicide there when she is told she must become the concubine of the evil Feng Leshan, head of the Confucian Society, and realizes that Juehui cannot save her from that horrible fate. Craig Shaw, author of a thorough study of The Family and its debts to Dream, concludes that “Ba Jin, consciously or unconsciously, saw in Honglou meng a model” of a work that combined romantic sentiment with social criticism, his aim in writing The Family.14 Another sort of influence on Ba Jin tends to be overlooked in the scholarly literature on his work: the influence of the intellectual world surrounding him in Chengdu in the early twentieth century. Unlike Li Jieren (see Chapter 5), Ba Jin did not emphasize his identity as a Chengdu native in his fiction. The Family’s depiction of the Gao family was intended to make it stand as representative of all elite Chinese families, and the city in which they lived representative of all Chinese cities seemingly untouched by modern attitudes about human equality. But, although its culture was certainly conservative in some ways and its economy only indirectly affected by the new industrial processes being introduced in eastern China, Chengdu was not at all mired in the past when Ba Jin was young.15 If it had been, it would have been difficult for Ba Jin to have acquired a copy of a Chinese edition of Kropotkin’s Appeal to Youth and to have joined an anarchist society. Chengdu’s elite community was not as attached to the old ways as it appears to be in Ba Jin’s fiction. In The Family and its sequels, Ba Jin subtly acknowledges the impact that Chengdu’s notorious anti-Confucian intellectual, Wu Yu (1872–1949), had on his views on Chinese culture.16 52

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Wu Yu, like Ba Jin, was the scion of a family of wealthy landowners. Although he was not a native of Chengdu, he moved there as a youth and developed a reputation as a classical scholar. In 1910, though, he had a bitter falling-out with his father. Accused by the leaders of the local educational community of unfilial conduct, Wu Yu responded by printing and distributing an attack on his father’s morals and behavior, an act that resulted in calls for his arrest. If the 1911 Revolution had not intervened and brought an end to Qing rule, Wu Yu might indeed have been punished for his lack of filial respect. Instead, he remained active in local politics and corresponded with the leaders of the New Culture movement, including Chen Duxiu.Wu Yu helped publicize Lu Xun’s story “Diary of a Madman” by praising it in an essay called “Cannibalistic Family Rituals” (Chiren de lijiao) published in the November 1, 1919, issue of New Youth (Lu Xun’s story had appeared in an earlier issue of the same journal). He lent his support to Lu Xun’s assessment of the inhumanity of the Confucian tradition by offering examples from the classical canon that seemed to justify outrageous conduct.17 In “On Filial Piety” (Shuo xiao), published in Chengdu in 1920 and then in a collection of his essays that was distributed nationwide, Wu Yu criticized the neo-Confucian orthodoxy that dominated scholarly circles and argued that its support for patriarchal families had turned Chinese society into “a great factory to produce submissive people.”18 The history of Wu Yu’s conflict with his father and his anti-Confucian views were widely known in Chengdu when Ba Jin was young. The Family was intended to illustrate Wu Yu’s central point about how the patriarchal family system (dajiazu zhidu) systematically broke the spirit of the young and subjected them to endless demands to regulate their conduct in the name of filiality and propriety. But Ba Jin carried his critique of Chinese culture much further than Wu Yu did. In Turbulent Stream, the Gao patriarch and his friend Feng Leshan, head of the Confucian Society, expect absolute obedience from the younger generation, justifying themselves by quoting pithy sayings that they associate with Confucius, but that often date from many centuries later. For example, in Spring, the sequel to The Family, Qin reports that Feng Leshan has visited the girls’ school she attends, where he told the assembled students that “lack of talent is a virtue in women” (nüren wucai bianshi de). This phrase was one of many that came to be associated with Confucian wisdom in the Qing period and early twentieth century, although there is no evidence that it had circulated before the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Wu Yu dedicated himself to trying to peel away what he saw as the pernicious influence of Song and Ming dynasty neo-Confucian thinkers on earlier Chinese philosophy, many aspects of which he saw as sound and valuable. Ba Jin, on the other hand, contributed to a tendency among 1920s and 1930s writers to associate everything they saw as bad in Chinese culture with the classical tradition as a whole. In The Family, Feng Leshan and the Confucian Society are made to symbolize old, oppressive Chinese culture in general. The disdain that Ba Jin felt for most aspects of elite Chengdu life is apparent in The Family and distinguishes him from older intellectuals such as Wu Yu, whose cultural critique focused more narrowly on certain strands of Chinese thought.Wu Yu was acquainted with Ba Jin’s uncles and grandfather and, like them, was fond of many of the cultural practices that are made to seem sinister, profligate, or ridiculous in The Family. Most obviously, Ba Jin’s depictions of Sichuan opera performances and the actors who portrayed female roles drip with disapproval, in contrast to the positive accounts of the new-style “spoken plays” (huaju) that Juehui and his brothers perform. The implied sexual relationships between the cross-dressing actors and some of the men in the Gao family are held up as a sign of the decadence of these hypocritical Confucian elders. In The Family, the actors themselves are equated with the women who use sex to attach themselves to powerful men – particularly Mistress Chen, the Gao patriarch’s vulgar and scheming concubine, who is said to have been a courtesan before entering the family. In Autumn, the 53

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final novel of the Turbulent Stream trilogy, however, Ba Jin attempts to evoke sympathy for such actors by providing a pathetic backstory for Zhang Bixiu, the protégé of one of the Gao uncles: he was raised in a “good” family, but was kidnapped away from his widowed mother and forced into a life of shame on the stage.19 Wu Yu, in contrast to Ba Jin, loved Sichuan opera and praised the beauty and talents of the famous cross-dressing actors in essays and poems published in local magazines in the 1910s. Like the fictional Gao uncles, he was not at all puritanical, nor would he have seen a taste for opera as in conflict with upright conduct, neo-Confucian or otherwise, as Ba Jin’s fiction would have it. Ba Jin’s rather simplistic depictions of women in The Family have attracted criticism. Literary scholar Jin Feng argues that Qin’s refusal to defy her mother’s wishes in order to act on her revolutionary beliefs is used to highlight the more revolutionary character of Juehui, and men in general. Qin cannot overcome her feminine emotions in service to a higher cause.20 The fate of Mingfeng, similarly, functions primarily to shed light on Juehui’s initial betrayal of her, his subsequent disgust with himself, and his growing resolution to break out of the family. The aunts and the patriarch’s concubine, Mistress Chen, are unrelievedly bad, forcing Juexin to move his wife, Ruijue, out of the family compound when she is about to give birth, causing her death. The justification Mistress Chen gives for this cruel act is a local belief that the afterlife of a recently deceased person (in this case the Gao patriarch) can be harmed by an attack of the “bloodglow” produced during childbirth. Ba Jin’s depiction of the episode, however, suggests to the reader that Mistress Chen may not really believe in this superstition – she just wants to use the power her relationship to the Gao patriarch gives her to put the younger generation in its place. The literary critic Rey Chow writes that Ba Jin’s depictions of female characters practicing family rituals was calculated to make such practices appear ridiculous.21 She cites in particular the scene near the end of The Family in which the Gao women conduct formal ceremonies of mourning for the deceased patriarch. His description of this event, she argues, assumes that all of the participants are merely going through the motions – the ritual means nothing to them emotionally or intellectually. The women wail on cue when the master of ceremonies announces the arrival of guests, but occasionally make mistakes and begin wailing at the wrong time.There are no tears, because they are following instructions, not genuinely sorrowful. Ba Jin presents family rituals such as this funeral, she writes, as “something of an exotic ethnographic find, whereupon an age-old custom receives the spotlight not for the significance it carries in its conventional context but rather for a displaced kind of effect – that of an absurd spectacle seen with fresh eyes.”22 As Chow suggests, Ba Jin does indeed seem to treat many family rituals and customary beliefs as “absurd spectacles” and “premodern barbarity.” But he is not consistent in his attack on family rituals. In contrast to the jarring scene of mourning for the patriarch at the end of The Family, in other parts of the trilogy Ba Jin implies that, when family members care about each other, family rituals can be very powerful emotionally. This is seen early in the novel in a joyous New Year dinner celebration involving four generations of the Gao family. Another signal that Ba Jin does not reject ritual itself is apparent in a recurrent theme throughout Turbulent Stream: the improper treatment of the bodies of deceased young women as a symbol of moral bankruptcy. Mingfeng’s dead body is simply made to disappear. Commenting on Mingfeng’s death, Mama Huang, the older woman servant who speaks as the voice of conscience in the novel, sighs over the decadent state into which the family has fallen. In Autumn, the final volume of the trilogy, Juexin’s long struggle to see that his young cousin Zhou Hui is given a proper burial by her cruel husband’s family, so that her ghost – and her living grandmother – can be at ease, is depicted as an honorable act, not as ridiculous superstition. As historian Norman Kutcher points out, funerals have long occupied a central place in Chinese cultural practice. Under Confucian 54

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precepts, however, the nature of the ceremony varied according to the status of the deceased.23 Ba Jin’s critique of funerals throughout Turbulent Stream is related to his main theme in The Family – the harm done to human relations by teachings that impose and justify great inequalities in status and power. As many critics have observed, for all of his iconoclasm, Ba Jin was deeply shaped by Chinese cultural values. This is apparent in the actions and thoughts of Gao Juehui. As was the case with Wu Yu, Juehui’s anger at his elders is fueled by a sense that, by behaving improperly themselves, the older males have betrayed the very values they demand from their sons and grandsons. Hypocrisy and self-gratification are the worst sins displayed in the Gao household; the patriarch’s funeral is the event where all of the hypocrisy and selfishness that Ba Jin saw in family rituals and relationships is put on display. In contrast, in Autumn, both the narrator and the revolutionary youth among the characters sympathize with the pain that Juexin feels when his sorrow for the loss of his cousin Hui cannot be expressed appropriately at her grave because she has been denied a proper burial. Ba Jin’s criticism of family rituals arises from their use as tools of oppression. When real respect and love is not present, as with the Gao women’s relationship with the patriarch, rituals designed to allow respect and love to be suitably expressed must fail. Shaped by his anarchist training, Ba Jin intended The Family as a critique of hierarchy and the beliefs, conventions, and practices that maintained it. The breadth of his critique of elite Chengdu culture, however, suggests that his personal tastes and ideas about what constituted progress were shaped by many aspects of the culture he experienced in Shanghai and Paris after he left Chengdu in 1923. Unlike contemporaries such as Li Jieren, Lao She, and Shen Congwen, he had little interest in local history and a certain antipathy for folk culture, as indicated in his depiction of Sichuan opera as disgusting and Chengdu customs as superstitious. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto, which he hoped would become the future world language, and shared a modernist delight in industry and production. In one essay from 1934, he expressed his views in a way that seems to echo the description of Shanghai in the first paragraph of Mao Dun’s Midnight (Ziye, 1933), which culminates with the English words “Light, Heat, Power” blazing out into the night: I love cities, I love machines, I love what they call material civilization. They are alive, hot, fast, powerful. I know that cities contain much that is evil, that machines cause workers to suffer, and that material civilization only offers a small minority of wealthy and powerful people the means to enjoy luxuries. But this should be blamed on our perverse social system (and so we should transform it). Let those people who curse the cities, who curse the machines, who curse material civilization go comfort themselves with their “spiritual civilization.” As for me, I say once again, I love cities, I love machines, I love material civilization.24 This enthusiasm for material progress and modern cities was not shared by all Chinese novelists of the 1930s and ’40s. Literature and film scholar Zhang Yingjin points out that in “the cultural imagination of modern China, the city repeatedly emerged as a source of contamination and depravation, as a place of sexual promiscuity and moral corruption, and as a dangerous trap for the young and innocent.”25 In The Family, Chengdu, the hometown of the Gao family, lacks all qualities of a modern city: it is primarily a conglomeration of closed and oppressive family compounds that are only beginning to be challenged by the new social spaces of the school and street, where revolutionary youth can demonstrate and demand progress. As for Shanghai, rather than a dangerous trap, it is held up as a liberated and liberating world, where people can develop their talents and express themselves without restraint and in company with like-minded 55

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comrades. Juehui’s aunts predict that Shanghai society will turn him into a playboy, but he is certain that it will save him from suffocating in the depths of family strife and help him forge a new revolutionary life. This seems confirmed in the sequel, Spring, when his letters home persuade his cousin Gao Shuying to follow him to Shanghai as she struggles to avoid what promises to be yet another awful arranged marriage. As noted above, Ba Jin’s later novels differ considerably from his 1920s and early 1930s work. Shanghai and the theme of the promise of the modern city receded after war with Japan began in 1937. For the most part, Ba Jin’s later fiction lacks the optimistic, hopeful spirit that rises above the tragedy running through The Family and Spring. One exception, however, concerns the fate of Gao Juexin. In The Family, he loses his wife in childbirth and sadly supports Juehui’s decision to depart for Shanghai, fully expecting never to see him again. Over the course of Spring and Autumn, his beloved son Hai’er dies, as do two of his favorite cousins, more young victims of patriarchy. His uncles and aunts break up the family estate, despite his desperate efforts to keep it together to honor his deceased grandfather’s wishes. In an essay about Autumn, Ba Jin revealed that he had intended to end the trilogy with Juexin’s suicide, which would have reflected his own eldest brother’s sad end. But, in response to pleas from his readers to save Juexin’s life, he rewrote the ending: Juexin moves out of the family compound, which has been sold to strangers, and establishes a small household. He marries a charming servant girl named Cuihuan – almost a second Mingfeng, caring and pretty, but more pragmatic and self-confident (strongly resembling, in this regard, Jia Baoyu’s maid Aroma in Dream of the Red Chamber).The future looks somewhat bright for Juexin, who ends up being a survivor. Thus, while Gao Juehui is the main protagonist of The Family, Gao Juexin is the central character of the Turbulent Stream trilogy as a whole. This shift from a focus on revolutionary youth to a focus on emotionally fragile and weak men struggling (and usually failing) to deal effectively with family demands and social pressure carried through into Ba Jin’s later novels Garden of Repose (1944) and Cold Nights. In his biography of Ba Jin, literary scholar Chen Sihe notes that Ba Jin never stopped calling himself “a child of the May Fourth Movement.”26 As a witness to and participant in the youth activism of that era, he created a novel, The Family, that is the most widely influential literary account of the movement and the ideas and passions that inspired it. His long career produced many more novels, stories, and essays, but The Family stands out as his most loved work and occupies a significant place in the history of modern Chinese literature.

Notes 1 Ba Jin published many autobiographical essays and one book-length memoir, Yi (Shanghai: Wenhua shenghuo, 1936); the latter has appeared in English translation: The Autobiography of Ba Jin, trans. Maylee Chai (Indianapolis: University of Indianapolis Press, 2008). Biographies of Ba Jin may be found in the list of further readings. 2 “Zhongguo xiandai wenxueguan lishi yange” [History of the National Museum of Modern Literature] Accessed April 4, 2017. A museum dedicated to Ba Jin himself has opened in his former residence in Shanghai, with an associated website that offers access to much scholarship on his life and writing. “Ba Jin wenxueguan shouye” [Homepage of the Museum of Ba Jin’s Literature], Accessed April 4, 2017. 3 David Der-wei Wang refers to Family as a “revolutionary bildungsroman.” See Wang, The Monster That Is History: History,Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 158. 4 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), quotes on pages 250 and 386. An equally condemnatory review of Ba Jin’s early work, especially The Family, may be found in Leo Ou-fan Lee’s article, “Literary Trends: The Road to Revolution 1927–1949,” in Merle


Ba Jin’s fiction and The Family Goldman and Leo Ou-fan Lee, eds., An Intellectual History of Modern China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 226–227. 5 Xiaobing Tang, Chinese Modern: The Heroic and the Quotidian (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 159. 6 Rey Chow, Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between East and West (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 99. 7 Ba Jin’s revisions of The Family are discussed in the following works: Craig Shaw, “Changes in The Family: Reflections on Ba Jin’s Revisions of Jia,” Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association (May 1999), vol. 34, 21–36; Taciana Fisac, “ ‘Anything at Variance with It Must Be Revised Accordingly’: Rewriting Modern Chinese Literature during the 1950s,” China Journal (January 2012), vol. 67, 131–148; and Jin Hongyu, Zhongguo xiandai changpian xiaoshuo mingzhu banben jiaoping [Critical Comparison of the Editions of Famous Modern Chinese Novels] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2004), chapter three. 8 Gloria Davies, Worrying About China:The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 50–51. 9 Olga Lang, Pa Chin and His Writings: ChineseYouth between the Two Revolutions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 243–245. 10 Kong Xiangxia, “Lun Faguo wenxue dui Ba Jin chuangzuo de yingxiang” [On the Influence of French Literature on Ba Jin’s Work], Zhejiang daxue xuebao (September 1997), vol. 11, no. 3, 77–92. 11 For a thorough discussion of literary influences on The Family, see Craig Shaw, “Ba Jin’s Dream: Sentiment and Social Criticism in Jia,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1993). He quotes Ba Jin’s own assessment of the influences on him on page 37. 12 On the influence of Dream of the Red Chamber on The Family, in addition to Craig Shaw’s “Ba Jin’s Dream,” see Gu Yeping, “Jiliu sanbuqu yu Honglou meng yitong lun” [Differences and Similarities between the Turbulent Stream Trilogy and Dream of the Red Chamber], in Wang Yao and Zhang Zhifang, eds., Ba Jin yanjiu lunji [Research on Ba Jin] (Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 1988), 160–181. 13 Chen Qianli, “Lun dui Minguo wenxue de duofang zhan’gai” [On the Various Contributions of Dream of the Red Chamber to Republic-era Literature], Wenxue yu wenhua (2016), no. 3, 36–47. 14 Craig Shaw, “Ba Jin’s Dream,” 121. 15 For a fuller discussion of this theme, see Kristin Stapleton, Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016), particularly chapters two and seven. 16 On Wu Yu’s appearance in The Family and its sequels, see Stapleton, “Generational and Cultural Fissures in the May Fourth Movement: Wu Yu (1872–1949) and the Politics of Family Reform,” in Kai-wing Chow, Tze-ki Hon, Hung-yok Ip and Don C. Price, eds., Beyond the May Fourth Paradigm: In Search of Chinese Modernity (Lanham, MD: Lexington Press, 2008), 131–148. 17 Wu Yu, “Chiren di lijiao,” in Zhao Qing and Zheng Cheng, eds., Wu Yu ji [Collected Works of Wu Yu] (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1985), 167–171. 18 Wu Yu, “Shuo xiao” [On Filial Piety], originally published in Xingqi ri [Sunday], a Chengdu literary journal, on January 4, 1920. Reprinted in Zhao and Zheng, eds., Wu Yu ji, 172–177. 19 Kristin Stapleton, Fact in Fiction, 114–115. 20 Jin Feng, The New Woman in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2004), 83–100. 21 An expanded version of the discussion in the next three paragraphs may be found in Kristin Stapleton, Fact and Fiction, 79–81. 22 Rey Chow, “Translator, Traitor: Translator, Mourner (or, Dreaming of Intercultural Equivalence),” in New Literary History (Summer 2008), vol. 39, no. 3, 565–580, quote on 566. 23 Norman Kutcher, “The Skein of Chinese Emotions History,” in Susan J. Matt and Peter N. Stearns, eds., Doing Emotions History (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 57–73. 24 Ba Jin, “Haizhuqiao” [Ocean Pearl Bridge], in Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, ed., Ba Jin sanwen jingbian [Select essays by Ba Jin] (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1991), 234–236. Originally published in Ba Jin’s essay collection Lütu suibi [Random Notes while Traveling] (Shanghai: Shenghuo shudian, 1934). 25 Yingjin Zhang, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configurations of Space, Time, and Gender (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 11. 26 Chen Sihe, Ren’ge de fazhan: Ba Jin zhuan [Development of Character: A Biography of Ba Jin] (Taipei: Yeqiang chubanshe, 1991), 39.


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Further readings Ba Jin. Ba Jin xuanji (Selected Works of Ba Jin). Vol. 1: Jia (The Family), Vol. 2: Chun (Spring), Vol. 3: Qiu (Autumn). Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1995. Chen Sihe. Ren’ge de fazhan: Ba Jin zhuan (Development of Character: A Biography of Ba Jin). Taipei: Yeqiang chubanshe, 1991. Lang, Olga. Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth between the Two Revolutions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967. Li Cunguang. Ba Jin yanjiu huimou (Retrospective on Ba Jin Research). Shanghai: Fudan University Press, 2016. Mao, Nathan K. Pa Chin. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. Pa Chin [Ba Jin]. Family. Translated by Sidney Shapiro. With an introduction by Olga Lang. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1989. Stapleton, Kristin. Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. Tan, Xingguo. Zoujin Ba Jin de shijie. Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 2003. Wang, Miaomiao. “Canonization and Ba Jin’s Work in Chinese and the US-American Scholarship.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 16.6 (2014), at iss6/15. Accessed April 26, 2017.



Life and career Lao She, pen name for Shu Qingchun (1899–1966), is one of the most widely read authors of modern Chinese fiction. He was born into a Manchu family in Beijing. His father, an imperial guard, was killed during the Boxer rebellion against foreign imperialists in 1900. His mother supported him by washing clothes for soldiers. He was the only one in the family who learnt to read and write, but being so poor, he often came home from school to find that there was nothing to eat.1 Knowing hardships and social injustices at first hand, he developed a strong sense of solidarity with the poor classes. He went to Beijing Normal school, which provided free tuition, and spent his free time at local teahouses listening to storytellers.2 After graduation in 1917, he got a job as a school principal. He took a keen interest in the New Culture Movement and read all the publications he could get hold of during the time of the May Fourth movement.3 He was promoted to a job at the Bureau of Education, but loathing the corruption and nepotism there, he left to become a teacher.4 He started taking English classes at the Christian Church sponsored by the London Missionary Society. He taught classes in Moral Cultivation and Music at the primary school run by the church, and he was baptized a Christian in 1922.5 After a position at Nankai Middle School in Tianjin, aiming to give children a modern education thus contributing to modernizing China, Lao She went to England in 1924. He taught Chinese for five years at the University of London School of Oriental Studies. He was deeply upset about British sinophobia,6 but he loved reading English fiction and devoured plays by Shakespeare and novels by Dickens, Conrad, Swift and Joyce. Back in China in 1930, after a trip to Singapore, he taught at universities in Jinan and Qingdao. Although earlier on he was reluctant to join the revolutionaries, he was vehemently patriotic and organized the Anti-Japanese United Front of All Workers of Literature and Art, in order to produce works to mobilize the masses in the war of resistance against Japan (1937–45). In 1946, he went to lecture in the United States. Back in China in 1949, he worked in several capacities with regard to culture and education in the new administration and as Chairman of the Beijing Federation of Writers and Artists. He received several awards, such as the “People’s Artist.” Having been beaten and humiliated by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, he committed suicide by drowning in 1966.


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Literary achievement Lao She wrote his first novels in London, inspired by Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers. The Philosophy of Lao Zhang (Lao Zhang de zhexue, 1926) is a satire of contemporary Chinese society, about a shop owner’s/school principal’s bullying of his customers/students. Zhao Ziyue (Zhao Ziyue, 1927), also a satire, is a critique of the new generation of students, while Mr. Ma and Son:Two Chinese in London (Er Ma, 1929) deals with British sinophobia as well as generational conflicts in a changing, modern society. His novels, which deal in a comic way with social injustices, corruption and double standards, were serialized in the influential Short Story Magazine (Xiaoshuo yuebao) in China, earning him a reputation as a writer before leaving England. The science-fiction novel The City of Cats (Maocheng ji, 1932–33) was a fierce satire directed against contemporary Chinese society and politics and the inability to resist imperialist aggression at the time. Camel Xiangzi (Luotuo Xiangzi), his masterpiece, which was first serialized in Cosmic Magazine (Yuzhou feng) in 1936–37, earned him a reputation in the United States in the 1940s. This work is discussed in the following section, along with an analysis of the literary techniques used in this and his earlier novels. The novel Divorce (Lihun, 1933) exposed corruption in the bureaucracy, reminiscent of Qing Exposé fiction. The Biography of Niu Tianci (Niu Tianci zhuan, 1934–35) mocks a petty-bourgeois upbringing. Apart from writing several other novels, Lao She also wrote a large number of short stories, of which Crescent Moon (Yueyar, 1935) is one of the most famous, telling the life story of a prostitute in jail in a first-person voice. Growing up in a poor illiterate family, he could portray the low- and middle-class characters more vividly than many other writers of the May Fourth generation of writers/reformists, writing from the position of the social elite. The outbreak of the war of resistance against Japan changed his choice of genres; he now wrote drum songs, folk songs, new-style poems and plays. Among his famous plays is Dragon Beard Ditch (Longxu gou, 1951), showing the improvements in the lives of poor people living by a canal in Beijing after 1949. Teahouse (Chaguan, 1957), considered his best play, shows the changes in Chinese society and politics in three scenes depicting life in Beijing in 1898, 1917 and 1945. His most celebrated novels composed after the war are the trilogy Four Generations Under One Roof (Sishi tongtang, 1946–51), portraying the harsh lives of three families during the Japanese occupation.

The masterpiece Camel Xiangzi Lao She got the idea to write Camel Xiangzi from a friend who told him about a rickshaw runner in Beijing who had been forced to sell his rickshaw three times, and another one who stole three camels when escaping from soldiers.7 The city of Beijing, in which Lao She grew up, is vividly depicted in the novel: the city streets and parks in different seasons and weather conditions, and during holidays and celebrations, involving social customs and festivities.This detailed description of the city goes beyond situating the story and rendering authenticity to the narrative; the fate of the main character, Xiangzi, is deeply connected with the socio-economic and natural environment of the city of Beijing. Camel Xiangzi is the story of a young country boy making a living as a rickshaw runner in Beijing. He is honest, works hard and has no bad habits. His major goal in life is to buy a rickshaw and become independent. At the end of Chapter 1, the narrator, just as in traditional Chinese fiction, adds a comment: “Wishes seldom come true, and Xiangzi’s were no exception.”8 Xiangzi’s first rickshaw is stolen by soldiers (while he steals three camels, giving him his nickname). When he has saved enough money to buy a new one, he is robbed by a corrupt police officer. He is seduced and tricked into marriage through the fake pregnancy of the 60

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cunning and hot-tempered “Tigress,” daughter of the boss at the rickshaw rental, who bullies and exploits him. Tigress becomes pregnant for real, but dies in childbirth along with the child. He sells their rickshaw to pay the funeral costs. Disillusioned with life, he starts to drink and visit whorehouses. On a final attempt to get back on track, he decides to marry the girl he loves, Fuzi, and work for the benevolent teacher Mr. Cao. But Fuzi has been sold to the whorehouse by her father, the drunken rickshaw runner, Er Qiangzi, and has already hung herself from a tree. Xiangzi falls into despair. He drinks, smokes, gambles, whores, cheats and fights with people.Too sick to pull a rickshaw, he makes a living carrying banners at funerals and protest marches. In the final chapter, Chapter 24, he betrays Ruan Ming to the police for 60 yuan. Ruan, who had tried to organize the rickshaw runners in protests, is paraded through the streets before a blood-thirsty crowd and executed, while Xiangzi is totally indifferent, a mere ghost of his former self.The plot may seem simple, but the author depicts multiple socio-economic and moral conflicts through a complex narrative framework, discussed below in the context of the several, and in my view, complementary readings of the work, leading up to my conclusions.

Social criticism in Camel Xiangzi Regarding the reading of the novel in its historical context (written in 1936–37), Thomas Moran sums it up well: Camel Xiangzi is often read as an allegory of Republican China. [. . .] The novel suggests that the Chinese people were bullied by imperialist powers, misled by the false promise of capitalist modernization, and betrayed by corrupt government, miscarried revolution, and their own disunity. Innumerable details in the novel contribute to the message that the poor were dehumanized by a system that only punished the virtues Xiangzi embodies.9 Already in 1902 Liang Qichao had proclaimed that fiction could play a significant role in the reformists endeavour of “saving China.”10 In his view, fiction could change morality, religion, politics, social customs, even people’s minds and “remould their characters.” Lu Xun and other writers within the New Culture Movement saw literature as a medium to achieve political, cultural and social change and even change people’s mentality: literature in the service of human life. Lao She was also deeply concerned for his country and shared the feelings of social responsibility among writers. Read as a national allegory, Lao She’s novel has been criticized, especially by Marxist critics, for not providing solutions to the national crisis. In the 1955 edition, the most “pessimistic” final chapter of the novel, Chapter 24, was removed prior to publication and Lao She “made amends” in the afterword: “I expressed my sympathy for the laboring people [. . .], but I gave them no future, no way out [. . .] at the time, I could only see the misery of society and not the hope of revolution.”11 Even if Lao She shared the mainstream view of the didactic function of literature, prevailing in China through the ages, along with the desire to “save China,” reducing Camel Xiangzi to simply being a “national allegory”, would be to disregard the author’s emphasis on ethical issues and his vivid portrayals of human nature. Camel Xiangzi is a complex and sophisticated work of art that has proved very resilient to an interpretation of its ideological message (the more difficult without the final Chapter 24). I suggest a reading involving several layers of meaning, expressed through several narrative modes and conflicting discourses, and in which traces of the literary devices of both classical Chinese tales and modern Western novels are evident. Let us first take a look at a reading based on socio-economic and political aspects. According to Jameson (viewing literary 61

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forms as cultural expressions of modes of production): “On the face of it, Camel Xiangzi is a novel about money.”12 He identifies two conflicting narrative paradigms: the pre-capitalist narrative paradigm, in which Xiangzi represents a “pre-capitalist attitude towards money as hoard or treasure” (Ibid., 69), evident in his obsession with the rickshaw versus the capitalist narrative paradigm, represented by Tigress; as a daughter of a businessman she understands the logic of capital and market. Xiangzi’s view, according to Jameson, is tied to the outer form of the novel, the Wheel of Fortune narrative, the alternation between the extremes of success and failure that organizes the classical tale. However, the classic tale and its readers’ “naïve and positive notion of success, in the form of good fortune” change when society is “reorganized by the logic of capitalism [. . .] only failure comes to seem authentic” (Ibid.). Hence, realistic fiction thrives “[. . .] in the contemplation of the moment of ultimate disaster, definitive misery, and psychic disintegration and demoralization.” (Ibid., 70) These are the characteristics of the naturalist novel, which, according to Jameson, are at work in Camel Xiangzi, reaching its peak in the final Chapter 24 (Ibid.). Jameson also claims that the outer form makes the reader side with Xiangzi and “hope against hope” that he will attain his goal and buy a rickshaw; on the other hand, the reader will also see Tigress’s point of view and realize the sense of it (running her father’s business is superior) (Ibid., 71). Thus the reader, according to Jameson, has “been maneuvered, against our will, into a situation in which we must affirm the petty-bourgeois wisdom on this, the wisdom of capital and the market.” (Ibid.) To this “paradox” is added the final words of the novel in Chapter 24, which according to Jameson constitute “Lao She’s own judgement on the nature of Xiangzi’s values:” Handsome, ambitious, dreamer of fine dreams, selfish, individualistic, sturdy, great Hsiang Tzu. No one knows how many funerals he marched in, and no one knows when or where he was able to get himself buried, the degenerate, selfish, unlucky offspring of society’s diseased womb, a ghost caught in Individualism’s blind alley.13 In Jameson’s view, this shows a deep unresolved ideological contradiction in the novel; in addition, the conflict between Xiangzi and his wife is constructed in such a way that it hides the fact that they are both individualists, according to Jameson, and we end up with an “ideological binary opposition which cannot be resolved in its own terms, but only by transcending both of its terms toward some new one (which might then properly be that of collective praxis)” (Ibid., 72). But Lao She does not provide that solution, which might show Lao She’s ideological stance of opposing both Individualism and Collectivism (Ibid.).The ideological conflict in the novel in this regard, in Jameson’s view, remains unresolved, and Lao She’s judgement of Xiangzi’s struggle thus remains unclear (Ibid., 71). Jameson’s analysis has valid points, but the novel’s narrative framework is reduced to an unresolved ideological conflict which Collectivism may seem the only answer to, simply because it is the antithesis of “Individualism.” Lao She evidently did not want to reduce the message of the novel simply to this binary conflict (at least not in the 1936 edition). The blood-thirsty crowd waiting for Ruan Ming recalls the execution scene in Lu Xun’s The True Story of Ah Q, as well as the crowd mentality in The City of Cats. The only scene in the novel when collective solidarity may seem an option is in Little Horses’s grandfather’s words: How far can a man alone leap? You’ve seen grasshoppers, haven’t you? Left alone, one of them can hop great distances. But if a child catches it and ties it with a string, it can’t even move. Yet a swarm of them can consume an entire crop in no time and no one can do a thing about it.14


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Yet this passage has also rendered completely opposite readings. Hu Jieqing (Lao She’s wife) writes: “It was just as [. . .] Little Horse’s grandfather said: [. . .] The only way out would have been for hundreds and thousands of Xiangzis to unite and struggle together, and this is precisely the social lesson of Xiangzi’s tradgedy.”15 Moran makes the opposite reading: “because the novel criticizes individualism, we anticipate a call for collective action, but instead we get the parable of the locusts [grasshoppers in Goldblatt’s translation] which suggests that mass revolution would be catastrophic.”16 The parable is open to different interpretations, and I shall return to the issue of the author’s “attitude” towards Collectivism, as expressed in the novel, in my conclusions. In addition, the novel contains further layers of meaning and embedded narrative modes, discussed below.

Camel Xiangzi and Heart of Darkness Let us turn to the naturalistic portrayal of Xiangzi’s gradual moral degeneration, which, according to Yoon Wah Wong, is the result of both the social and the natural environment, inspired by Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.17 Joseph Conrad depicted what he had witnessed as captain of a steamer on the Congo River: the atrocities committed by the imperialists colonizing Africa; their hypocrisy in claiming a “civilizing” endeavor to “benefit” the natives, while in fact using brute force to enslave African people in their pursuit of ivory. Wong locates a similar theme in the comparison between Camel Xiangzi and Heart of Darkness: that of the impact of nature and social environment on the protagonist.18 To support the argument, Wong cites Lao She’s statements about his interest in Conrad’s methods: Certain social circumstances or locale[s] may lead to certain action or events occur [-ring]. Man cannot escape the murderous hands of the environment just as the fly cannot escape the spider’s nest [web]. Whether such pessimism is acceptable is another matter. The method [Conrad’s] is worthy of emulation.19 Wong performs a parallel reading to show how Lao She uses a narrative discourse of cause and effect, connecting both the social and the natural environment with Xiangzi’s gradual moral degeneration. Indeed, there are detailed descriptions in the novel of the natural environment in Beijing, depicting seasons and the weather and their impact on people making a living through outdoor physical labor, like Xiangzi. These descriptions serve an important purpose, according to Wong, citing Lao She in his essay “A Great Creator of Setting and Character in Modern Time: Joseph Conrad, My Most Respected Writer” (1935): The power of the scene becomes more dominating when it is surrounding the man who failed. For Joseph Conrad,Thomas Hardy and other writers who use setting as an important element in their works, the “nature” is a villain. In their fictional works, the white men, traders, opportunists and adventurers who failed themselves, are unable to escape. . . . The evil spirit of the jungles and rivers get hold of them and let them rot like grasses.20 In my view, the storm in Chapter 18 is the ultimate example of this. The storm is described in great detail: its progress, its shifting colors (a feature in Conrad’s work as well). Just like Conrad, Lao She personifies nature and its objects, thus reinforcing the impression of nature as “a villain”. After the cold rain, Xiangzi falls ill and never completely regains his strength.These natural


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forces are also detrimental to his neighbors. But this view of nature as a mysterious, conscious force harming people, as in Conrad’s work, is contradicted by the narrator: After the rains, poets may sing of rain-pearled lotus flowers and double rainbows; among the poor families if the adults fell ill, the whole family would starve. One rainstorm might add a few more prostitutes and small thieves, a few more people ending up in jail; with the adults sick, their children recoursing to stealing or prostitution rather than starving! The rain falls on the rich and the poor alike, it falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. But actually, the rain is not just at all, because it falls onto a world where there is no justice.21 According to the narrator, nature is not the true “villain”, but social injustice is. Lao She’s novel portrays class conflict, and in that sense what happened to Xiangzi might happen to any poor worker being exploited in any society in the early stages of capitalist modernization. Lao She may have been inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with regards to the impact of the social and natural environments on the protagonist, but there are also differences. Heart of Darkness is a journey into the darkness, not just of the jungle but also into the darkness within men’s hearts. Kurtz, a man who is stated to have originally been an educated, moral person who set out on a “civilizing project,” turned into a monster in the jungle, capable of horrible atrocities against the “savages” he was presumed to “civilize”.22 The reader understands that there was a pre-existing beast hidden within Kurtz’s heart that is unleashed in a natural environment of physical hardship and danger, combined with a social environment in which there is nothing to restrain him: no laws, no social control, no one to hold him accountable. Xiangzi, on the other hand, possesses natural virtues such as honesty and has his moral standards. He works hard and lives an ascetic life; he seems to me to be basically a good man turned into a beast by the hardships he suffered in a sick and inhumane society, made worse by forces of nature. The narrator also interrupts the story to state that Xiangzi is not to blame; the offender is the society in which people are treated like animals and turned into animals: “Mankind had managed to rise above wild animals, only to arrive at the point where people banished their fellow-men right back into the animal kingdom. Xiangzi lived in a cultured city but, through no fault of his own, had himself become a two-legged beast.”23 Thus, in my opinion, Xiangzi is portrayed as a human being who goes through a process of de-humanization, while Kurtz in Conrad’s novel is a hypocrite, someone who “pretended” to be human, while in fact underneath, all along, he was a beast. Another important difference is that in Camel Xiangzi, as we shall see in the following, Xiangzi’s process of moral degeneration is portrayed through the technique of interior monologue. In Conrad’s novel, Kurtz’s thoughts are obscure and distant, we do not get to peek into “the horror” in his head through interior monologue, psycho-narration or first-person voice narration. Not even the omniscient thirdperson narrator wants to take on this filthy task; instead, it is Marlow, a character in the novel, who tells the story of Kurtz. Now let us turn to the characters in Camel Xiangzi and the use of interior monologue.

Camel Xiangzi and psychological realism The main reasons for being an outstanding work of art in modern Chinese fiction and in addition so popular among readers are the creation of realistic and memorable characters and the depiction of their inner lives. When Lao She portrays the harsh living circumstance of the poor population of Beijing in the 1930s, he depicts their thoughts and emotions in a realistic and 64

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deeper-going way. Growing up in a poor, illiterate family, he could write from their point of view. Hu Jieqing writes: Lao She’s neighbours were all poor people. He understood them and knew all about them.They worked at different jobs: some pulled rickshaws, others were coolies, scrapcollectors, artists, servants or peddlers [. . . .] In Chapter 16 of Camel Xiangzi, he describes at great length the tenement courtyard where Xiangzi and Tigress lived. [. . .] All these people were modelled on ones Lao She had known in his childhood.24 The heavy use of contemporary colloquial Peking dialect gives the characters additional credibility. He even uses slang words and expressions that were basically only used in oral form at the time.25 Put into writing, these expressions added to the impression of authenticity. In the novel, we also find traces of oral storytelling techniques used in traditional Chinese fiction; the omniscient third-person narrative voice frequently comments on events or passes judgements. The narrator both tells the story and create counter-narratives that undermine the main narrative by expressing conflicting viewpoints to those of the characters. For instance, in the eyes of the uneducated Xiangzi: “Mr. Cao had to be a sage, and whenever Xiangzi tried to imagine what the great man had been like, Mr. Cao was the model, whether Confucius liked it or not.”26 Here the narrator sees fit to intervene: Truth to be told, Mr. Cao was not particularly wise, just a man of modest abilities who did a bit of teaching and engaged in other work of that nature. He called himself a socialist, as well as an aesthete having been influenced by the socialist William Morris [. . . .] Seeming to realize that he lacked the talent to shake up the world, he contented himself with organizing his work and family around his ideals. [. . .] so long as his little family was happy and well run, society could do as it pleased.27 In Camel Xiangzi we also find influences from several Western novels by Dickens, Conrad, Joyce and others. Inspired by Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, he had written The Philosophy of Old Zhang, a satire in which the main character, Mr. Zhang, is a greedy and mean shop-owner/schoolmaster exploits his customers/students and bullies his wife. According to David Wang, Mr. Zhang’s behavior is so outrageous, absurd and hilarious that he is a “clown” in the novel, while at the same time, the reader pities his victims’ cruel fate. Thus there is in Wang’s view an oscillation between a melodrama and a farce.28 In Camel Xiangzi Lao She had decided to write more seriously and not rely mainly on humor for social criticism.29 But as Wang has noted, the description of some events and characters are exaggerated, as in the case of Tigress, a greedy, gluttonous, lazy and licentious woman who bullies an overly pathetic Xiangzi.30 Whether or not Tigress is exaggerated to the point of being a “clown” is something readers can judge for themselves, but the oscillation between melodramatic narrative discourse and farce is not the major organizing principle in this novel. Tigress is an indispensable part in the dynamics of the capitalist versus pre-capitalist narrative discourse. She and Xiangzi are the most memorable characters partly because Lao She lets the reader peep into their minds through the devise of inner monologue. The psychological realism in the naturalist depiction of Xiangzi’s mental transformation is largely achieved through the use of modern literary techniques. Jameson claimed that Camel Xiangzi is more of a pre-Western classical tale than a modern novel, since it lacks “the newer techniques of inner monologue or stream-of-consciousness.”31 Słupski and Lydia Liu have proved him wrong. However, a major problem is that these literary devices are not so obvious in translation, unless the translator deliberately reflects this trait. This is one reason why modern 65

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Chinese novels such as Camel Xiangzi have not been duly recognized by Western critics as part of the international modernist literary movement in the 1920s and ’30s. As Zbigniew Słupski points out, the story’s focus is not on action and events but rather on Xiangzi’s thoughts and emotions as a response to these events; the author “tries to penetrate the mind of his hero through the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ method.”32 In her brilliant study, Lydia Liu shows how Lao She captures Xiangzi’s inner thoughts through the “innovative use of psycho-narration and free indirect style,” inspired by European novels and adopted into the Peking dialect “as if mirroring the colloquial rhythm of Xiangzi’s thought-language.”33 Liu explains how the narrator first describes Xiangzi’s state of mind “as if observed from the outside (psycho-narration)” and then “switches to free indirect style that closely imitates the character’s language” (Ibid., 112), as in the following example (free, indirect style in italics by Liu): He stopped worrying and walked on slowly. He had nothing to fear as long as Heaven protected him. Where was he going? He didn’t think to ask any of the men and women who were already coming out to the fields. Keep going. It didn’t seem to matter much if he didn’t sell the camels right away. Get to the city first and then take care of it. He longed to see the city again.34 Blending psycho-narration and free indirect style results in the following impression: Although the actual words are spoken by the narrator in the third person, the point of view is exclusively Xiangzi’s [. . . .] It is almost as if the narrator, while speaking in his own voice (in the third person), temporarily suspends his own point of view in order to adopt that of the character [. . .] free indirect style breaks down the boundary between narrating voice and the characters interior monologue. This narrative style [. . .] allows free access to the character’s thoughts.35 Liu claims that, through the “absence of tense, person and other related grammatical markers, modern vernacular Chinese is able to switch narrative modes easily” (in comparison with IndoEuropean languages) (Ibid., 113): Chinese free indirect style retains more ambiguity in its relationship to both omniscient psycho-narration and quoted interior monologue than does its counterpart in other languages.The stylistic effect is that of an uninterrupted flow of narration, somewhat like a free direct discourse, leading to the perfect illusion of a transparent mind. (Ibid., 113) Lao She’s use of a third-person narrative voice which submerges into an interior monologue to depict the continuum of thoughts and emotions as they pass through Xiangzi’s mind was progressive in Chinese realistic fiction. In my view, this narrative technique is not reserved for the main protagonist but is used for several oppressive characters in the novel as well. And when portraying their inner thoughts, their moral characters are exposed. I shall give three examples (interior monologues in my italics). Interestingly, the military officer in the first example, when Fuzi comes home, does not even appear in person in this scene, but Fuzi’s return is explained by the narrator through a peep into the mind of this absent character: Er Qiangzi’s daughter Fuzi [who had previously been sold to the officer] came home. Fuzi’s “man” was a military officer. Wherever he was stationed, he set up a simple 66

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home. Spending a couple of hundred yuan on buying a young girl, next buying a big plank bed and a couple of chairs, he could thus enjoy his life. When the military unit relocated, he just dropped everything, leaving both the bed and the girl on the spot. Having spent a couple of hundred yuan like that, to live in this way for a year or so, is not in the least a loss suffered, just speak of the washing and mending, the cooking and other small chores, if one hired a servant, would one not have to spend some 8 or 10 yuan on food, boarding and wages? Marrying a young girl in this way, she’s both a servant and someone to sleep with, guaranteed to be free of diseases. Now, if she pleases, then tailoring her a dress with flower printed fabric only costs a couple of yuan; and if she doesn’t please, well, even at the point of being made to squat at home stark naked, there is nothing she can do about it. When he relocated, he wouldn’t be the least bit sorry about the plank bed and the two chairs, since she would be left to think of a way to make up for two months of unpaid rent, and even if she sold the bed and the rest of the stuff, well, it might not even suffice to cover the debt.36 In this passage, the author depicts the unscrupulous lifestyle of the officer and his thoughts on the matter, coming through at the point where the third person pronoun “he” disappears, along with the narrators voice. The Chinese language does not require a pronoun in each of the following lines, but by now, in my view, a “he” would no longer be the appropriate pronoun to add, since narration has turned into interior monologue, thus I add the pronoun “one” instead, as the English translation requires an agent in the sentence. (Translators tend to add several “he”s throughout this passage). The question in successive lines that he poses, obviously to himself, also states his rationale (the costs of servants, risks of whoring) for spending (what in his view is) a large sum of money on “marital” arrangements. His justifications for exploiting poor girls are aimed at convincing no one but himself. The impression of interior monologue continues even when the pronoun “he” returns, since the subsequent lines continue to depict his line of reasoning to himself as his justifications. The statement: “he wasn’t in the least bit sorry about the plank bed and the two chairs” clearly illustrates how his mind is completely devoid of pity for the abandoned girl; she doesn’t even enter his thoughts in this context, since only material objects are worthy of regret. By depicting this man’s subjective line of thought, his complete lack of empathy, most readers will come to dislike him, but at the same time, the absurdity in his line of reasoning has a slightly ironic effect. The reader is again “maneuvered” into a position to see the clown’s (Wang’s discussion on farcical discourse) rationale and point of view, just as in the case of the conflict between Xiangzi’s and Tigress’s views discussed by Jameson. But my three examples go beyond monetary issues; they also portray the entailed moral dilemmas involved and how the characters reflect on them. My second example is the scene in which Fuzi, forced by her drunkard father to sell her body to support her brothers, turns to Tigress for help to avoid this cruel fate; but Tigress instead offers to “help” Fuzi by creating a business investment of her own. Tigress lends her capital to set her up with a wardrobe and offers to rent her one of her two rooms to conduct business in: Every time Fuzi used the room, Tigress had made a condition: she had to give her twenty cents. Friends are friends, but business is business, because of Fuzi’s affairs, she would have to clean the room very neatly, this required not only work but also spending more money, indeed did one not have to spend money on buying a broom and a dustpan and what not? Two cents really could not be considered too much to ask for, it was only because of their friendship that it was possible to extend this favour. (Ibid., 143) Through this line of reasoning and the question she poses, we see that Tigress feels that she has to justify the profit gained from a friend’s misfortune, at least to herself. The reader gets to see 67

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her point of view but also realizes that there is no room in her mind for compassion. A final example: Fuzi’s father asks his daughter for money, which also entails a line of reasoning with certain moral concerns: Sometimes he hated his daughter, if she’d been a boy she would most certainly not have made such a nuisance of herself; this female fetus, why on earth did it have to be tossed in his lap! Sometimes he pitied his daughter, the daughter having to sell her body to feed her two brothers! Well, hating, or pitying for that matter, he saw no way out of it. And in the event of having been drinking, and being out of money, he didn’t hate at all, nor did he feel any pity, he went home to ask her for money. Times like that, he saw her as a money-making object, and him being her father, he was fully entitled and had every right to ask her for money. Times like that he still thought of keeping up appearances: Didn’t everybody look down on Fuzi or what, and being her father he couldn’t very well let her off the hook, he pressed her for money while at the same time loudly cursing, it seemed like the cursing was for everyone to hear – Er Qiangzi was not to blame, Fuzi was shameless by nature. (Ibid., 145–46) These three examples all concern abuse of the unfortunate Fuzi. Her three exploiters are all representatives of the capitalist narrative mode constituted as the perceived “opposite” of Xiangzi’s way of thinking (Jameson’s idea). Although they are all taking advantage of Fuzi’s poverty for their own monetary gain, each faces the moral dilemma of doing so in their own way. In their minds, they construct a line of reasoning that may seem to justify their actions, at least for themselves. The officer approaches the matter from what in his mind are purely “facts and reason,” appealing to economic “facts” (calculations of salary versus “benefits” etc.) and “common sense” (health safety). His sole focus on “objective” arguments alerts the reader to his lack of compassion, to what is actually his very subjective, one-sided line of reasoning and pure egoism. Tigress weighs loyalty in friendship against monetary gains and thus gives Fuzi a small discount on the room rent, a rent she tries to justify based on “actual costs” (as if she had to buy a new broom every time she cleaned the room) and her increased “work load” (cleaning the room). The discount makes her feel good about herself, being such a good loyal friend. Fuzi’s father, although he was the one who forced her into prostitution (and later sold her to the brothel), washes his hands of all guilt, arguing that immoral sexual behavior is an inborn female quality; the “true cause” of prostitution is not poverty but the “shameless” female nature. He even justifies taking her money by referring to filial piety: “being her father,” she should support him. The main thing that concerns him is his own moral appearance in the eyes of others (thus scolding her in public whilst taking her earnings). Through the technique of interior monologue used in my three examples, the reader is “maneuvered” by Lao She into a position where he/she is forced to see the matter from the oppressor’s point of view, the view of money within the capitalist narrative paradigm. However, for most readers, their lines of reasoning with regards to “facts,” “reason” and traditional “morals” to justify their actions and profiteering are so pathetic and outrageous that the effect is both appalling and hilarious at the same time. We find ourselves trapped in the minds of three of Lao She’s greedy “clowns” within the farcical discourse, portrayed by Lao She in his earlier novels (such as Mr. Zhang) and inspired by Dickens’s novels (as discussed by David Wang). But this time, the farcical discourse is created through the modern device of interior monologue, inspired by Joyce and other modernist writers. We get to peep into the heads of the oppressors and actually see “the horror” in their minds (as opposed to Kurtz in Conrad’s novel).


Lao She’s fiction and Camel Xiangzi

Thanks to our access to the naturalistic description of Xiangzi’s moral degeneration through the same device of interior monologue, we gain insight into how poor people such as Xiangzi are transformed, by the combination of a sick and inhumane social environment and the forces of nature, and morally degenerate. This discourse is reinforced by the narrator who, just as in traditional fiction, gives a moral judgement: this is “through no fault of his own.” Xiangzi’s interior monologue constructs a counter narrative to that of the interior monologue of the oppressors that makes us realize that these three people are also the product of a sick and inhumane society in the early stages of capitalist modernization as well as of the whims of natural forces (as in Conrad’s novels). Although we, like the narrator, clearly side with the victims, we cannot completely blame the abusers for their moral imperfections, since they were not “shameless by nature.” But then, an additional counter discourse turns up, turning everything upside down again for readers looking for that “single message” in the novel. These are Lao She’s final words in the novel in Chapter 24 and what appears to Jameson, as well as other readers, to be the authorial judgement on Xiangzi’s obsessive mindset. Xiangzi is now stated to be “selfish” and “individualistic” and thus doomed to fail. These are traits of his personality, so in that sense he is now held responsible for his own fate. So what are we to make of all these conflicting narrative discourses and voices, the different viewpoints expressed by the narrator and the author as well as the characters themselves through their interior monologues. In my view, what Lao She has created is a realistic portrayal of cultural, moral subjectivism. In his earlier novel Mr. Ma and His Son he had depicted cultural relativism, conflicting cultural and moral values between England and China, from his own viewpoint as a cosmopolitan observer of different customs and moral values. Now he has moved from the macro to the micro level, to the individual level, portraying moral subjectivism, not because he endorses it. He is perhaps pessimistic or cynical, but not a nihilist denying that truth values exist altogether. On the contrary, Lao She had strong views concerning personal morality, evident in all his works, and his sympathies are quite clear: compassion for the exploited and oppressed poor classes. Thanks to his own life experiences, he is able to express their thoughts through an interior monologue in authentic Peking colloquial language. By looking into each character’s mind and seeing moral dilemmas from each character’s point of view, and letting each character pass his/her own moral judgement on their own actions, we get a mimetic description of moral subjectivity. To sum up, this novel contains several layers of meaning, overt, realistic, as well as symbolic and hidden, expressed through a carefully constructed narrative framework with several competing and conflicting narrative discourses, in which the literary devices and narrative strategies of both classical Chinese tales and modern Western novels form a unique hybrid of cosmopolitan and vernacular tendencies and tensions that melt into an organic unity reflecting the author’s aesthetic vision and moral stance. In Camel Xiangzi, Lao She shows a perfect mastery of the narrative modes and discourses he had experimented with in his earlier novels, reinforcing them in a more sophisticated way through the use of the modern technique of interior monologue. The outcome is a realistic portrayal of moral subjectivism. His novel, in my view, does not explore the dialectics between individualism versus collectivism. On the contrary, as a cosmopolitan observer of human societies and human beings in different cultures and in different social strata of society, he was concerned with and explored the rationale for each character’s lack of personal morals, and justifications of their egoistic actions. These people are rarely evil to begin with, but each of their petty, egoistic and immoral actions added together amount to creating a sick and inhumane society, and this becomes a vicious circle. In describing problems and conflicts in human society, Lao She shows how nothing is black-and-white, and each person applies his


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own scale with regard to moral behavior. His novel probes deeply into the complexity of human life, human thoughts and emotions. He does not attempt to provide solutions for the problems in society, distrusting the effectiveness of “collective action” in this novel. If there is a message, he seems to show why he thinks that collective solidarity would not work in China at the time.

Notes 1 Hu Jieqing, “Preface,” in Lao She, Camel Xiangzi, trans. Xiaoqing Shi (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981), 3. 2 Ranbir Vohra, Lao She and the Chinese Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 5 and 10. 3 Tang Tao, ed., History of Modern Chinese Literature (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1998), 255. 4 Ranbir Vohra, Lao She and the Chinese Revolution, 10. 5 Anne V. Witchard, Lao She in London (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 30. 6 For an account of Lao She’s life in London, see Anne V.Witchard, Lao She in London. British sinophobia is also vividly portrayed in Lao She’s novel Mr. Ma and Son:Two Chinese in London (1929). 7 Lao She, “How I Came to Write the Novel Camel Xiangzi,” in Camel Xiangzi, trans. Xiaoqing Shi (Beijing: Foreign Languages P, 1981), 232. 8 Lao She, Rickshaw Boy: A Novel, trans. Howard Goldblatt (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), 13. 9 Thomas Moran, “The Reluctant Nihilism of Lao She’s Camel Xiangzi,” in Joshua Mostow, ed., The Columbia Companion to East Asian Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 453. 10 Liang Qichao, Collected Works of Liang Qichao (Liang Qichao wenji) (Beijing: Beijing yanshan chubanshe, 1997), 282. 11 Lao She, “Afterword,” in Camel Xiangzi, trans. Xiaoqing Shi, 230. 12 Fredric Jameson, “Literary Innovation and Modes of Production: A Commentary,” Modern Chinese Literature (1984), vol. 1, no. 1, 67. 13 Lao She, Rickshaw, trans. Jean M. James (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1979), 249, cited by Fredric Jameson, 71. 14 Lao She, Rickshaw Boy: A Novel, 276. 15 Hu Jieqing, “Preface,” 4. 16 Thomas Moran, “The Reluctant Nihilism of Lao She’s Camel Xiangzi,” 453. 17 Yoon Wah Wong, Post-Colonial Chinese Literatures in Singapore and Malaysia (Singapore: National Univ. of Singapore, 2002), 127–140. 18 Ibid., 136–137. 19 Lao She, “The Description of Scene,” in Complete Works (1945), 15.237, cited by Yoon Wah Wong, 135. 20 Lao She, “A Great Creator of Setting and Character in Modern Time: Joseph Conrad, My Most Respected Writer,” in Complete Works (1945), 15.305, cited by Yoon Wah Wong, 136. 21 Lao She, Camel Xiangzi (Luotuo Xiangzi) (Haikou: Nanhai chuban gongsi, 2016), 151. Translation by L. Rydholm. 22 Conrad’s novel has been criticized by Chinua Achebe for being racist due to the dehumanization of Africans in the novel, see Achebe, “An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, 4th ed., edited by Paul B. Armstrong (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 336–348. 23 Lao She, Rickshaw Boy: A Novel, 281. 24 Hu Jieqing, “Preface,” 3. 25 Lao She, “How I Came to Write the Novel Camel Xiangzi,” 235.There is even a dictionary of colloquial expressions in the Beijing dialect in Lao She’s works:Yang Yuxiu, ed., Words and Expressions in Lao She’s Works] (Lao She zuopin zhongde Beijinghua ciyu lieshi) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1984). 26 Lao She, Rickshaw Boy: A Novel, 77. 27 Ibid. 28 David Der-wei Wang, Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 113–120. 29 Lao She, “How I Came to Write the Novel Camel Xiangzi,” 234–235. 30 David Der-wei Wang, 144–156. Wang even speculates that Camel Xiangzi may be seen as a “macabre farce,” 144.


Lao She’s fiction and Camel Xiangzi 3 1 Fredric Jameson, “Literary Innovation and Modes of Production: A Commentary,” 70. 32 Zbigniew Słupski, The Evolution of a Modern Chinese Writer: An Analysis of Lao She’s Fiction with Biographical and Bibliographical Appendices (Prague: Publishing House of Czechoslovak Academy, 1966), 63–64. 33 Lydia He Liu, Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity – China, 1900– 1937 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 112. 34 Liu, 106, citing Lao She, Rickshaw, trans. Jean M. James, 25. 35 Lydia He Liu, Translingual Practice, 112. 36 Lao She, Camel Xiangzi (Luotuo Xiangzi), 140–141. Translation by L. Rydholm.

Further readings Chow, Rey. “Fateful Attachments: On Collecting, Fidelity, and Lao She.” In Rey Chow, ed., Entanglements: Or Transmedial Thinking About Capture. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012, 59–79. Hsia, Chih-tsing. “Lao She (1899–1966).” In C.T. Hsia, ed., A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press,1971, 165–188. Huang, Alexander C.Y. “Cosmopolitan and Its Discontents: The Dialectic between the Global and the Local in Lao She’s Fiction.” Modern Language Quarterly 69.1 (2008): 97–118. Jameson, Fredric. “Literary Innovation and Modes of Production: A Commentary.” Modern Chinese Literature 1.1 (1984): 67–77. Liu, Lydia H. Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity – China, 1900–1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995, 103–127. Moran, Thomas. “The Reluctant Nihilism of Lao She’s Rickshaw.” In Kirk A. Denton, ed., The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, 211–216. Słupski, Zbigniew. The Evolution of a Modern Chinese Writer: An Analysis of Lao She’s Fiction with Biographical and Bibliographical Appendices. Prague: Publishing House of Czechoslovak Academy, 1966. Vohra, Ranbir. Lao She and the Chinese Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974. Wang, David Der-wei. Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 157–200, 111–156. Witchard, Anne Veronica. Lao She in London. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.



Life and career Li Jieren was born in 1891 and died in 1962, living through a tumultuous era that witnessed massive social changes arising from the two regime-changing revolutions in 1911 and 1949. During his writing career, the literary revolution of the May Fourth New Culture Movement and his experience of cosmopolitanism of the post-WWI European literature left enduring imprints on his literary and creative minds. In 1919 Li joined the Young China Study Society (Shaonian Zhongguo xuehui) and participated in a work-study program in France. No sooner had the student movement of May Fourth in Beijing erupted than Li sailed for France where he spent five years between 1919 and 1924 in Paris and Montpellier studying French literature, making a living by writing and translating articles for periodicals in Shanghai and Chengdu. Notably, Li’s sojourn in France converged with the expatriate experiences of some of the great Western modernist writers – Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, to name just a few – who found in Paris after the First World War the literary capital and a fermenting ground of world literary trends. But the Sichuan student differed widely from the expatriate modernists. Li was preoccupied with “an altogether different world”1 in literary sensitivity, historical experience, and political mentality compared with his European contemporaries. While in France, Li was much less attracted to the avant-garde writers than to nineteenth-century French realist and naturalist authors. He devoted himself to reading and translating the realist and regional fictions by Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Alphonse Daudet, Edmond de Goncourt, Jules de Goncourt, and Marcel Prévost. Li found in those French authors inspirations for realistic character portraits, particularly nuanced portrayals of human desires and the female psyche under the patriarchy of Chinese society and Confucian moral governance. The erotic tradition and a regional flavor of French fiction broadened the horizon of the young Sichuanese student as seen from his translating Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856) and Salammbô (1862) and Maupassant’s Notre Coeur (1890) and Une Vie (1883).The intercultural experience permitted him to gaze critically back at his home place and later to transcribe more global literary sensibilities in his historical trilogy. It took a decade after his return to Chengdu that Li Jieren came to feel confident in undertaking his river novel series, a monumental project to depict micro-historic fictional stories of his hometown seen from an extended, longue durée perspective. The notion of the ‘river novel’ 72

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(dahe xiaoshuo), a Chinese derivative of the French term roman fleuve, connotes an open-ended sequence of massive social historical novels by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Marcel Proust, and other French authors whom Li had read during his stay in France. In a 14 June 1935 letter, Li expressed his commitment to create a sprawling and interlinking form of sequential novels “similar to the works of Balzac, Zola, or Dumas.”2 He had nurtured an ambition to compose multivolume and panoramic historical novels about Chengdu’s changes in social life and institutions, as well as the evolution of people’s mentalities. He intended to compose his fictional world as a total work that would bear witness to the writer’s lifetime.

Literary achievements Although he is a versatile and prolific writer, the pinnacle of Li Jieren’s literary achievement is undoubtedly his novelistic masterpiece Ripples on Dead Water (Sishui weilan), which inaugurates his monumental fiction series on the 1911 Republican Revolution in Sichuan. Focusing as it is on Chengdu’s regional culture and everydayness, Ripples on Dead Water announces the novelist’s ambition to convey his place-based narratives on the violent transitions of the revolution in Chengdu/Sichuan, his home city/province, written as local microhistory that can hardly be assimilated into the national macrohistory in either the Republican or the Communist regimes. The ideology of the times and the aesthetics of the novel never ceased to baffle the writer to such a serious extent that the trilogy eventually turned out to be Li’s unfinished opus magnum, repeatedly rewritten as he obsessively revisited and renegotiated the past to look into its abysmal depths and harrowing uncertainty. Ripples on Dead Water took the novelist no more than seven weeks to complete in 1935. After the creation of this novel,3 however, the two subsequent installments of his trilogy would be dragging on throughout his creative life with compulsive acts of rewriting: Before the Tempest (Baofeng yuqian, 1936, 1956) and The Great Wave (Dabo, 4 vols., 1937, 1958–1963).The writer’s wavering between conforming to the state’s revolutionary teleology and maintaining an independent outlook and individuality in literary creativity persistently stood in the way between the early success of his first major novel and the later works. It is as though Li had a premonition of the future that barred him from comprehending the past to finish the sequential historical fictions. The revolution became the black hole, a dark unknown vacuity with which the writer struggled to come to terms but could never see beyond. Considering how Li’s novel project was constantly rewritten in response to the changing political and aesthetic regimes, Ripples on Dead Water remained very much intact as a complete work in itself, an indelible stamp on the novelist’s totalizing river novel series. In 1935 Li secluded himself in a rented studio in Chengdu and finished the novel in one go. The outcome was a tightly woven vernacular narrative inscribing the mnemonic, geohistorical, and sociocultural texture of a place and the mundane lives of its inhabitants. It marked a crucial moment when the regional Sichuan author completely threw himself into the politics of memory writing and the poetics of place-making – as creative fiction-making modes with which he would engage himself in the rest of his life, in an individual endeavor to compete with the ruling regimes in retelling the stories and the peripheral spirits of his beloved place. A question that puzzles any reader of Li Jieren’s Ripples on Dead Water (Sishui weilan) is: Why do some of the outstanding characters created in his first novel never reappear in the later works as promised by the author’s lifelong historical fiction writing project? After going through the tightly threaded novel with a wealthy account of compelling human affairs and memorable characters, readers are left somewhat frustrated to see that Skewmouth Luo (Luo waizui), the 73

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Gowned Brother (paoge) leader, has fled the town at the end of the story without ever showing up in the trilogy to reclaim his historical role. Deng Yaogu (Baby Deng), the ambitious heroine who goes to the lengths of remarrying a Christian convert and landlord to make ends meet, loses much of her moral defiance and sexual allure in her comeback when the author rewrote the trilogy. Her son Jin Waizi, supposed to become a major player in the revolution, simply vanishes and so fails the reader’s anticipation of his rise to political significance. These puzzling points warrant an in-depth analysis of the masterpiece.

The masterpiece Ripples on Dead Water is composed of five chapters preceded by a prelude. The opening chapter (“In Heaven’s Turn”) maps out the sociocultural space between Chengdu and Tianhui (Heaven’s Turn), a rural town on its outskirts.4 The charming heroine, Deng Yaogu, stifled by boredom and poverty of small-town life, longs to move to the provincial capital Chengdu but ends up marrying Cai Xingshun, a simple-minded grocer in Tianhui. Deng (called Sister Cai after her marriage) has an affair with her cousin-in-law Skewmouth Luo (Cambuel Luo), the head of a secret society who captivates her as an adventurous hero and a passionate lover.Their illicit affair is picked up and develops in Chapter 3 (“The Story of Xingshun House”), in which Deng and Skewmouth feel no need to hide their amour. They even involve the cuckolded husband in their sexual relationships and the three small-town folks stay peacefully in a ménage-a-trois.The motif of moral degradation in the stagnant rural locale is augmented by the plot of gang crime, sex, swindle, and revenge. Back in Chapter 2 (“Confluence”), Gu Tiancheng, a small landholder who gets stranded in Tianhui on his way to Chengdu, falls into a double-crossing scheme of Skewmouth’s gang and loses all his money at the gambling table. The private human affairs in the rural underworld crisscross local historical events of the Boxer Rebellion in Chapter 4 (“Ripple on Stagnant Water”). In a bid for retaliation, Gu turns himself into a Christian convert and immediately becomes a powerful figure among his countrymen in the wake of the Boxer debacle. He succeeds in appealing to the Manchu provincial court and accuses Skewmouth and his secret society members for looting the foreign embassies in the riots. Skewmouth flees the town in the nick of time, but his lover Deng gets beaten up and arrested with her husband. The private human affairs take on allegorical dimensions. The rivalry between Skewmouth and Gu represent two major forces in the locality – secret societies versus the foreign missionaries and their Chinese associates – as opposing camps driving history forward at the critical juncture.The two mortal enemies soon become contending lovers, too, when Gu at the end falls under the charm of Deng. The final chapter (“Residual Murmurs”) marks a most outrageous ending in modern Chinese fiction, featuring the unruly woman making her opportunistic move and take advantage of the tumultuous time. With a practical reasoning to move socially upward, Deng dissolves her marriage from her imprisoned husband, and decides to marry Gu, who then has been well established in social status after the Boxer Rebellion.

Senses of place and memory A cursory reading of Ripples may easily make one take it as a banal novel populated by smalltown characters indulging in extramarital affairs, gang fights, wining, cheating, and whoring. A close explication of the text is called for to unlock Li Jieren’s distinctive method of fictionalizing history, which maintains parallel interactions between the intimate spheres of domestic and public places and the public sphere of political intrigues and events. The novel foregrounds everyday life as the arena in which contending social forces are played out, whereby human 74

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intrigues intermix with lovers’ romances, quotidian routines intersect with social actions, and the private destinies of townspeople are inadvertently and remotely linked to local events. Li’s scheme is to present a series of portrayals of rural town life through which to explore the social transition of local societies. Importantly, the novelist invents a spatial-narrative scheme to establish the locality as a metonym for the larger society and reflect its chaos and process of disintegration. His realistic mode of writing ventures beyond the simplistic commitments to objectivity and resemblance between word and object, and culminates in a uniquely subjective configuration of place and memory with its multifaceted, sensuous pasts, questioning any event-centered historiographical account that claims discursive authority over the people’s own experiences and senses of the place. A sense of place and its inextricable embodiments in human memories and perceptions provide the fundamental principles for deciphering the geo-historical meanings and humanistic values in Ripples on Dead Water. Perhaps nowhere has the idea of place been more of a central focus than in Li Jieren’s river novels. Few writers have ever marked out their native and narrative territories as strongly and densely as Li. The sense of place evoked in his novel is based on a mixing of real geographical sites and imaginary locations. Tianhui, the historically famed city but a peripheral town in modern China, serves as the center to structure the novel and relate to its historical spaces.5 Like a foreign traveler or a curious reader, one is guided by the dense narratives that flesh out rich geographical matrixes of the small-town space. For instance, in Chapter 4, the narrator arranges the characters to attend the country fair at the Bronze Goat Palace, a renowned local religious venue that gathers people from all walks of life in town. ‘Cognitive mapping’ here cannot fairly be taken as a theoretical construct – it should induce pragmatic and illuminating reading tactics for readers and students (who are instructed by their teachers in the classroom) to navigate and ‘map out’ (advised to draw a map of) the entire geographical world of Li’s novel. Not only are the geographically specific and public localities on a large scale important in the novel, so too are many of the intimate, closed, or individual places depicted as venues of meeting and confluence. Xingshun House is the exemplified semi-public place of gathering, and so are the teahouses, temples, gambling dens, and streets where people meet or clash, exchange information, spread rumors, make transactions, or undertake private schemes and plots. Features of geography and places are depicted in the novel as immobile motors that impact the characters and their actions. To make the border town legible in the fictional text, the narrator adopts a method of narrativizing at once topographically specific and spatially symbolic. Considering the beginning paragraph that delineates the networked landscapes of Tianhui Town: Setting off from the provincial capital, out the north gate of the city wall, the distance to the county of Xindu is generally put at forty li, though in fact it’s somewhat less.The road describes a winding filament across the level tapestry of cultivated land, and although it measures scarcely five feet across and has just two lines of setts, both paving the right-hand side, and although the mud after rain lies so deep that without new sandals you can scarcely move a step, and although in spring around graveweeping time this same mud turns to dust that billows from the heels of every passing traveler, nonetheless it’s what we call the Northern Sichuan Highway. It stretches as far as Guangyuan County on the provincial frontier, then on into Shaanxi, through Ningqiang Department and Hanzhong Prefecture and still farther on from there. This is no less than the original post route for communication with the northern capital. Moreover, since the western fork at Guangyuan passes out through the market town of Bikou on the border of Gansu Province and through the Gansu regions 75

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of Jiezhou and Wenxian, this is the obligatory route for all shipments into or out of the northwestern provinces. (3) In what way does the sense of place function in the novel? Li Jieren’s spatial-narrative lays out the geographical continuities of Tianhui, a market town that lies “midway along our forty li between Chengdu and Xindu” (4). The narrator not only underscores the in-betweenness of Tianhui along the northern highway in Sichuan Basin, but also emphasizes the connections and interlocking spatiography of the small town, situated on a highway leading northbound to the imperial capital. “This is the road over which, at the time of our story, the better part of all officials and scholars traveled back and forth to the imperial capital” (4). The opening passage unfolds the novel’s complex literary topography, working simultaneously on a multiplicity of vehicles and loci: passengers on carriages and mechanical carts, trains of mules and horses and camels laden with goods, versus viceroys and commissioners commuting on four-men sedan chairs between provincial posts and the imperial capital. Besides exploring the correlations of locations, the narrator exploits the binary opposites of space. Communal activities (like graveweeping) and local farm work along the highway are contrasted with extravagant lodgings and entertainments catering to the traveling bureaucrats and dignitaries. In addition, pre-modern courier services and official dispatch horses have been replaced by the telegram in recent years. Toward the end of the novel, speedy telegraphic dispatches carrying the imperial order to punish the church-sacking rioters change the fates of the heroine. In this sense, modern technology and communication simultaneously shrink the time-space of the countryside and expand the political sphere and extend its impact on the provincial town. Li Jieren’s naturalistic manner to organize the topographical features and travels recalls Zola’s famous novel, The Beast in Man (La bête humaine, 1890), which features the central roles of the train and rail travel as a symbol of technological modernity and the danger of human degradation. But Li focuses on the transitionality and mobility of the place from a microscopic perspective; nonetheless, the provincial writer underscores the coexistence of the locality and its connectivity, delineating the geographically bounded place that is going to be swept by the historical currents and their resonances. In the genesis of novelistic space, Li creates an intimately connected social world of Tianhui that is charged and responsive to the flows of time and history. Still, why has Li to set this first novel in the border town Tianhui but not in the provincial capital Chengdu? Readers may remember Flaubert’s narratology in Madame Bovary, in which he places a pretty and young heroine, Emma, in the countryside city of Rouen, and marries her to a plodding and dull doctor Charles Bovary. Beyond this similarity of narrativization that puts an imaginative woman against a scene of dull respectability, Li goes farther in dramatizing the pull between Tianhui and Chengdu on both spatial and psychological dimensions: for Deng Yaogu, the distance between Tianhui and Chengdu is as much a physical border as an imagined barrier and a moral hurdle for her to overcome. Deng’s experience of growing up in Tianhui recalls more her frustrated movement than the freedom to move. Born a peasant’s daughter, Deng has nursed a desire to go to see Chengdu through her mentor, Second Mistress Han, who talks about everything about the city, including its streets, houses, temples, parks, delicious snacks, fresh vegetables, commodities, and the appearances of its people. The heroine gradually reconstructs an overall picture of the city from Han’s piecemeal descriptions in her ‘mental mapping’: Piece by piece she assembled the entire metropolis as she received it from her teacher’s lips, and although she had never glimpsed so much as the crenellations of the 76

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parapets, to hear her talk you would have thought she knew a good deal more about the city than even her older brother, whose business often took him there in person. She knew the height and thickness of the city wall, and knew how to describe the crowds of people pressing both directions through the portals in that wall, of which she knew that there were four – north, south, east and west. She knew the distance was nine and three-tenths li from the north gate to the south, and that the west part of the city had a separate imperial garrison whose Manchu residents were very different to us Hans. (13) Notice the woman’s subjective imaging of Chengdu, the mental layout she draws before she can physically step into the territory. For Deng, Chengdu is her desired paradise, an imagined city of family wealth, imperial authority, military power, and individual opportunity. Here fictional geography reaches the deep recesses of human desires and creates effects of psycho-geography. Chengdu is presented to the heroine as teleological fragments and glimpses of her future good life and glamor. The subjective images, however, gloss over the realistic class segregations and complicated social relationships. The fictionalized spatial construct augments Deng’s idealization of the metropolis, growing and expanding as long as it remains a subjective projection. Deng fancies that “at the New Year there was Chengdu of the New Year to elaborate, and at the festivals there was Chengdu of the festivals” (13). Besides all the renowned festivities and establishments, she also admires “the awesome effect of the various officials and dignitaries emerging into public” (14). Also notice how the imagined urban stories mirror and anticipate the character’s later penetrations into the public spheres of Chengdu. In Chapter 4, Skewmouth Luo takes Deng to Chengdu to celebrate the New Year festival. They venture into the East Main Street (Dong dajie) for lantern viewing. It is on the bustling market street that Gu Tiancheng confronts Skewmouth. The two gangs nearly get into a fight “when knife-play broke out in the midst of the human press and nearly stained the thoroughfare with gore” (124); then official guards come in timely and scare away the crowds. In Li Jieren’s fictional remembrance, East Main is a lively nexus of comings and goings for townspeople and visitors from outside the city for exchanges of commodities from Suzhou and Guangdong (121–122). The spatial narrative features Chengdu’s night market as a livable social space as well as a vibrant locale for street brawls.The marketplace functions as a public venue for the socially marginal characters to stumble into the provincial capital patrolled by powerful yamen officials and military guards. It is through arranging the movements of people – their departures and arrivals, excursions and transgressions – that Li Jieren conveys the historical experiences of the city as his characters move between their separated little worlds within the nexus of Tianhui and Chengdu. Tianhui Town functions as a transitional space, a stopover, where people who are originally separated by spatial and social distance come together and interact. The small town becomes an untamed territory of sex, violence, and crime. Stuck in her frustrated stasis in Xingshun House in Tianhui, the heroine is able to cross the city border to Chengdu exactly after she engages an affair with Skewmouth. Her physical border-crossing is coupled with her move from one moral milieu to another. In Skewmouth’s company, Deng makes her first visit to the Bronze Goat Palace (Qingyang gong), a historic Taoist temple and famous landmark at the southwestern corner of Chengdu, where she brushes past the fine lady of the elite Hao family (whose members reappear as the major upper-class protagonists in Before the Tempest). The chance encounter satiates Deng’s long-cherished wish to see “how particular the important families were” (15). Chengdu is turned into an adventurous place of chance, risk, and attractiveness. Characters of divergent social types associated with separated social communities trespass each other’s boundaries in public venues. This spatial reconfiguration makes it possible for the individuals of segregated 77

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classes and opposing forces to interpenetrate the life spheres of one another in Li’s method of remapping social totality on the eve of the revolution. How to make the divided worlds interact and counteract in the novel’s social mapping, as signs of new social relationships and historical change? Consider Gu Tiancheng’s revenge narrative and his spatial trajectory. He passes through Tianhui where he is cheated and maltreated by Skewmouth. He confronts his foe in Chengdu, and as soon as he puts up a good fight with him in the public market, he loses his little daughter on East Main. Where does the girl end up? She is seized by a child trafficker and taken to a makeshift dwelling in Lower Lotus Pond, a lower-class habitat crammed with “the sorts of people that would build and live in such huts on public wasteland of the provincial capital” (150–151). The abductor soon sells her as a servant to the Hao Mansion, a high official family on Shuwa Street. By virtue of an illegal trafficking of the child, the two contradictory spaces of high and low – the gentry and the lower class – are interlinked together with their fates. What happens to Gu and how does he face his tragic loss? He goes to beg consolation from the pastor of the Christian church at Four Sages Temple Street (Sishengci jie). The Canadian Methodist mission, situated in a well-to-do northern Chengdu district, represents the intrusion of foreign powers. There Gu undergoes his Christian conversion, and realizes his revenge plan by taking advantage of the foreigner’s increasing encroachments on the provincial land. In June 1900 Gu hears about the Boxer uprising in Beijing. For fear that all foreigners and Christian converts are prone to the attacks of local rioters, Gu rushes to seek refuge near the Manchu neighborhoods, a separated inner city in the southwestern Chengdu. He is emotionally captivated by the vast gracious green space and picturesque charm in the walled city: And indeed, what he found on the other side of that single gated wall was like a separate world. In the outer city it was all buildings, it was all storefronts and paving stones and streets full of dark-eyed people and nowhere so much as a blade of grass. But you stepped into the garrison and everywhere you looked was trees – some trees that scraped the sky and others that grew so dense you couldn’t see beyond them. Front and back and left and right, everything was greenery. (207) What the character perceives inside the walled city is a sort of ‘suburban’ beauty and serenity of vast greenery and winding lanes. In Gu’s eyes, “the Manchu garrison was a world apart, a world of superlative leisure untouched by vulgarity, with every corner rich in poetry and every prospect like a painting” (207). Occupied by Manchu soldiers and military officers, this Manchu quarter of narrow alleys and low structures was left underdeveloped and dilapidated toward the fall of the imperial dynasty in 1911. Writing his novel in the 1930s, Li Jieren could have been reminiscing about these deserted lanes, evoking the sense of what Yi-fu Tuan calls ‘topophilia,’ effusing a profound attachment to and love for the place.6 Li’s sense of place-making, however, has more political-historical substance than the pleasure and affective bond that the word topophilia suggests: Li’s place-narrative incarnates the experiences and aspirations of a people with a history and meaning. Once Gu experiences an immediate rise in social position and political power in the trilogy (he soon becomes a key figure of the oppositional force in The Great Wave), readers then recognize that the anti-hero’s trespassing upon the Manchu area anticipates his future contention for political authority and foresees new sociopolitical relations. In short, the risky city adventures and dangerous liaisons of Deng and Gu are set to turn into the historical dynamics of mobility and revolution.


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Sounds of fury: noises, gossips, and rumors It is through human perceptions and feelings that the writer explores the visible and the aural dimensions of daily lives, which is crucial to our understanding of identity formation and placemaking. He experiments with the geopoetics of vision and sound that is central to the memory of past experiences. He tells multisensual stories to see and hear past communities so as to delve into the complexity of historical events and human experiences from the ground up. As in the following evocation of a marketplace, the narrator invites the reader to listen to a confused multitude of sounds and noises – to reimagine the past – even at the expense of dramatic actions: This is a flow of goods, a flood of money, a torment of mankind, and at the same time a rolling swell of sound. The sound is entirely human, and although the fowl squawk and the livestock bray, they do so in vain, because nothing can reach your ears above the voices of humanity.Voices crying the virtues of their wares and voices dickering over prices and hollering to clear the road and shouting in conversation and in joking and in making fun. As for disputes erupting over matters of no consequences, those come with the territory; the two sides raise the volume of their slurs until they can’t go any higher, while those trying to mediate can’t but raise their pacifications still higher than the fighting pair. It’s nothing but voices and more voices everywhere you turn, and you can scarcely differentiate the advertisements from the slurs, for your ears are filled with an unbroken thrum like an expance of mercury. Anyone unused to it who comes suddenly into its midst is liable to have his eardrums shocked into an hour or so of deafness. (50–51) The third-person, descriptive storytelling enacted through an omniscient, self-effacing narrator conveys an intimate voice like that of an insider tour guide. This narrator takes us to observe the sights and sounds down the market street where goods and money are circulated on local and translocal levels. Auditory sensations as indistinct vocal discussions and slurs, so richly and yet vaguely located, convey a strong sense of rural market activities with an affectionate attachment to the place. The matter-of-fact narration renders the synesthetic experiences of human voices, animal sounds, and rural vistas particularly well, as they evoke the spatial impressions of materiality and commodity culture in the daily lives of the various connected localities. “There are all kinds and colors of braid plaits, and there are embroidered panels for cuffs and skirts and the like,” for instance; and “there are Suzhou goods and Guangdong goods and cloth for dressmaking and imitation pearls” (50). In the memory narrative, the narrator renders the countryside an incoherent jumble of human speeches and oral expressions in a rural village loaded with so many material referents. The historical picture evoked points to a slowly changing social and material conditions of the place, and the sense of gradual transformation in the sphere of everydayness demonstrates Li Jieren’s politics of memory writing, a new way of looking at the past that is less event-centered than is place-oriented, based on detailed knowledge of the people’s habits and mentalities. Li’s idea of playing down the centrality of historical events in favor of the bland rhythm of social and everyday lives in long stretches of time is reminiscent of Fernand Braudel, the French historian and leader of the Annales School who uses the term the longue durée to designate the slow and imperceptible time of geography and social structures in human history. Braudel departed from a traditional event-based historiography and sought to understand deeper structures and lengthy


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rhythms of material and social life in a long-term perspective.7 Li seems to have shared a similar understanding of history in his art of fiction. Beneath the rapid flux of political events lie the slowly altering geographical and social conditions subsuming economic transfer, communication, transportation, and the movement of people and ideas, whose cumulative effects nonetheless shape the progress of society and history. In Li’s novelistic representation, the historical world is created out of human perceptions, or out of their perception of events. His stories convincingly ask us to recognize that the whole of history is largely a construct of human impressions, emotions, attitudes, and memories, which nonetheless take on profound historical meanings. Indeed, the realistic novel itself abounds in gossips and rumors that haunt the memories and anxieties of the rural subjects. It is the conspiracy talk, derived from miscellaneous and unreliable sources, all happening behind the curtain, that motivate the small-town figures to be actors or victims of historical events of far-reaching consequence. Notice the key moment of the romantic encounter between Deng and Skewmouth, when the man explains to the woman why local people have launched violent attacks on foreigners and Christian converts. The narrator has Skewmouth read to the heroine a long anti-Christian pamphlet about the widespread rumor and people’s accusation against the Christian priests for killing children and pregnant women: Secondly, there are reports from former converts and from patients who have taken treatment from the foreign devils8 that the medicines they use are decocted principally from certain parts of children’s bodies. There are men who have witnessed laboratories filled with human ears and eyes and hearts and kidneys and the five organs and six sacks of the body, all stored in glass and steeped in medicine to be taken out when needed and reduced to ointment over the mysterious fires. There are whole foetuses as well, some of several months and others fully formed, all gouged alive from their mothers’ wombs. These crimes – no less egregious than those of the White Lotus Sect – explain the miseries of pregnant women and the disappearances of children remarked in recent years. To speak only of the children, have people not witnessed the foreign devils’ fanatic zeal in rushing to scavenge any illegitimate brat they hear has been discarded, whether dead or alive or on the road or in a privy? . . .We see the children going in, we never see them coming out, and the walls are high and the compounds deep, and we get no view within. But if they aren’t refined into medicine, where are they being kept? (32–33) Skewmouth’s malicious stories, invested with gross distortions and blatant exaggerations of the cruelties of priests inflicted on local children and women, are meant to incite xenophobic hatred among the country folks. Paul Cohen notes that these gruesome antiforeign tales, widely circulated in rural China during in the late nineteenth century, were symptomatic of the populace’s panic about the foreigners’ intrusion in their land.9 Li Jieren emphasizes the private worlds of his protagonists, that is, their consumption of historical rumors at the height of their xenophobia emotions. Notice how Li reproduces the inflammatory anti-Christian texts by having the heroine ‘listen to’ her lover’s discourse, and be intrigued by the multiple ways of ‘witnessing’ the atrocities committed by the foreigners. Gossips and rumors are human sounds and speeches, though undocumented and unreported, that can snowball and grow to drive history forward. Li achieves his strategy of writing the emotive matrix of the place by placing the reader as directly as possible in the world of his protagonists to listen to the past and sense the sound of violence. Li Jieren also displays a deep distrust of comprehensible human action in response to historical happenings. There is a deep irony between what the hero and heroine would intend to react and what the deed they are unconsciously committed to. After listening to Skewmouth read the 80

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“two pages of print” to amplify the foreigners’ power, Deng doubts, “I just don’t see how come we’re so afraid of the foreign devils” (35). She praises Skewmouth as a “worldly man” who has “spent years on the waterways traveling and seeing thing,” and believes he should lead his people to mount resistance. The man’s vociferous charges of the Christians for their atrocious practices and sexual perversions only prove to be gross misrepresentations and falsehoods. Ironically, it is exactly after their prolonged conversation on the recent events that the couple begins their mutual admiration and flirtatious exchange. In other words, the historical ‘moment’ becomes the tipping point for their illicit romance, triggering their libidinous desire and licentious behavior. The man finds increasing sophistication of the heroine: “What did surprise him today was the spirit in that pair of eyes, which even ordinarily seemed marvelous” (35). Skewmouth has learned his lesson and would not again underestimate the woman. For Deng is no Emma in Madame Bovary; Emma is an addict and victim of her romantic fantasy. Deng is entrepreneurial in spirit, always looking for a chance for social climbing by seeking the right and powerful man. As history sets in to catch the characters unawares, they seem to be small actors on the political stage and are in most ways limited in their ability to control events. The author, however, interlaces the local agencies of individual protagonists and their ideas and behaviors into his historical place-writing. The Boxers’ violence in mid-1900 triumphed only briefly until foreign troops entered Beijing in the summer of 1900. As the narrator mockingly remarks, though the news about the attack on foreign embassies in Beijing “did raise a slight ripple such as a clear breeze raises on a pool” in the ancient city of Chengdu, “the hearts of the people in their various niches remained, like stagnant water deep beneath the surface, without the slightest agitation.” That is to say, “there was no movement great enough to penetrate the depths” (201).True, the characters mostly are at the mercy of the much more powerful historical currents that bear influence on their fates; but there is, nonetheless, “a certain amount of movement at the surface” enough to “stir a certain person back into the mix” (201). This person is Lu Maolin (Shaggy Forest Lu), a minor sidekick, who confronts us with his micro-story of revenge. He ultimately takes advantage of the event and changes the course of the big story. Like Gu Tiancheng, Lu has harbored vengeful feelings for Skemouth for losing his beloved women to him. Lu’s successful revenge is built on rumor and his wager on imbalanced information. Shortly after the Boxers sack the foreign embassies in Beijing, Skewmouth and his gang plan to follow and kill the missionaries in Sichuan. Lu has a chance encounter with Gu in a teahouse – as in Li Jieren’s historical world, random and insignificant human affairs often turn out to be crucial ones – where he encourages Gu to alarm his foreign guardians and yamen officials about the imminent attack from the secret society gang. The two former losers win their best bet this time when the foreign troops strike back in Beijing. The Sichuan government receives an imperial decree to protect foreigners in the city. The officials order to arrest Skewmouth, the ringleader of rioters, who escapes from the town for good.The series of local events suggests that time is the deceiver as well as the surpriser, as one fierce rival takes the principle turn of the Boxer fiasco to drive out another. In Li Jieren’s scheme, the grand political history has to be trivialized, personalized, and eroticized as long as it filters down to the fabrics of daily lives and the intimate human webs. This schism between the private and the collective poses the fundamental question of how to interpret the historicity of the place that the writer is probing.The ultimate cause for the rise of Deng and the downfall of Skewmouth has more to do with their individual desire, bias, blindness, love, and hatred than with their ideological and class backgrounds. It is in the midst of the Boxer event that Deng and Skewmouth have become madly engrossed in love with each other when they openly defy all social rules and moral standards. Skewmouth is idealized in the woman’s eyes: “no man in the world could match his valiance or chivalry or attentive understanding, and the scope of his abilities was still further beyond compare” (216). For Skewmouth, the woman 81

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is so adorable and captivating that it has left him “neither freedom nor desire to act on anything other than the dictates of her whim” (216). No doubt the bandit hero is obsessed with the woman. The woman thinks that the man would sacrifice himself to defend her life and honor under any circumstances. But they are all wrong. The characters are subject to their naturalistic instincts for carnal pleasure, beauty, wealth, and riches. Skewmouth ruthlessly leaves his beloved woman in the hands of his enemies. The heroine settles for a divorce and remarriage proposal with Gu Tiancheng in her instinctual ability to survive. Li demystifies the romantic tenor of the couple and the ideological caricature of the otherwise revolutionary characters, creating a vision that limits the agency of individual actors, or even diminish the hero to the level of a ‘human beast.’Whereas readers are inclined to see the man imprisoned within a destiny on which he can barely lay his hands, the author portrays an exceptional woman in modern Chinese fiction who does not subscribe to traditional morality and family, but can promptly pursue her sentimental and sexual relationships and achieve a rise in social status. The entangled micro-narratives of desire and revenge of the situated characters in Chengdu weave kaleidoscopic stories of a people in their relationships to the environment in its richly topographical, sociocultural, and historical textures. Li Jieren’s compelling stories of Chengdu and the lively mentalities of its urban commoners will be of much relevance to literary critics, cultural historians, and urban geographers interested in the city as the intersection of place, history, memory, community, and identity. ‘The past is a foreign country.’ David Lowenthal quotes L.P. Hartley’s opening proverbial phrase from The Go-Between (1953), meaning that there is a plethora of pasts constantly being redefined and remade to suit present intentions.10 If you walk through Chengdu today, you would gain a visual impression of the pace of the contemporary city’s urbanization amidst the composite images of demolition, reconstruction, preservation, tradition, culture, entertainment, and commodification. The literary city located in the fiction arouses an estranged feeling of déjà vu in the mind of the readers engaging in their pleasurable strolls and way-findings in the city. They can ruminate on the contrasts between the verbal reconstructions of historical Chengdu and the modern facelifts undergone in contemporary Chengdu. What makes Li Jieren’s fictional panorama still memorable today has less to do with the grand narrative of revolutionary utopianism than with the text being read as a powerful verbal heritage, a form of public memory of the vanished historical city with its topography, material culture, social fabric, and everyday practices. The trenchant sense of place and topophilia conveyed in the dense literary text lead to a deeper understanding of the peripheral city and the local people’s desires, anxieties, fears, disputes, and historical tribulations against the omnipresent threats of sovereign nationhood and global capitalism. Perhaps readers can go further and take the challenge to read Li’s whole trilogy and the rewrites too, to sense how the writer could maintain a sense of contingency and openness against the teleological view of history imposed after 1949, preserving his works as they are a public testimony to the local pasts. However, life is too short and the novels are too long – what are the ethical imperatives to retrieve lost cultural lives and save forgotten pasts from national history in the postmodern age? So goes the last line of the novel, “The times have changed!” Certainly, Ripples on Dead Water can be appreciated as a complete singular work in itself, which continues to inspire us about the politics of writing home and the meaning of belonging to a place.

Notes 1 Bret Sparling, “Translator’s Introduction,” in Li Jieren, ed., Ripple on Stagnant Water (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013), x. 2 Li Jieren Studies (Li Jieren yanjiu), ed. Society for the Study of Li Jieren (Li Jieren yanjiu xuehui) (Chengdu: Sichuan daxue chubanshe, 1996), 202.


Li Jieren’s fiction and Ripples on Dead Water 3 The Chinese original, Sishui weilan, was first published by the Chung Hwa Book Company (Zhonghua shuju) in Shanghai in 1936. The novel underwent only minor revisions when it was republished in 1955 by the Writers Publishing House (Zuojia chubanshe) in Beijing. The first English translation of the novel based on the 1955 revision was published in the Panda Books series as Ripples Across Stagnant Water (Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1990). A more recent translation is completed by Bret Sparling and Yin Chi, Ripple on Stagnant Water: A Novel of Sichuan in the Age of Treaty Ports (Portland, ME: Merwin Asia, 2014). 4 Li Jieren, Ripple on Stagnant Water, trans. Bret Sparling and Yin Chi. All references of page numbers are cited from this English translation. 5 ‘Tianhui’ means the ‘return of the Son of Heaven’ – a historic locale made famous as the place to which the Tang Emperor fled in the mid-eighth century to escape An Lushan’s revolt and from which he eventually made his ‘imperial return.’ 6 Yi-fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), xii. 7 Fernand Braudel, “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée,” (1958) trans. Sarah Matthews, in Jacques Revel and Lynn Hunt, eds., Histories: French Constructions of the Past (New York: The New Press, 1995), 115–145. 8 The term “maritime devils” is used in the translation for yang guizi to refer to ‘foreigners.’ I prefer to use ‘foreign devils’ as commonly adopted. 9 Paul A. Cohen, China and Christianity:The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Anti-Foreignism, 1860–1870 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 45–58. 10 David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), xvii.

Further readings Alter, Robert. Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Language of the Novel. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. Choy, Howard Y. F. Remapping the Past: Fictions of History in Deng’s China, 1979–1997. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Cohen, Paul. History in Three Keys:The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Li, Jieren. Comprehensive Works of Li Jieren (Li Jieren quanji). 17 vols. Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 2011. Lin, Qingxin. Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986–1999). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005. Moretti, Franco. Atlas of the European Novel 1800–1900. London:Verso, 1999. Ng, Kenny Kwok-kwan. The Lost Geopoetic Horizon of Li Jieren:The Crisis of Writing Chengdu in Revolutionary China. Leiden: Brill, 2015. Stapleton, Kristin. Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. Stuckey, G. Andrew. Old Stories Retold: Narrative and Vanishing Pasts in Modern China. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010.


6 FICTION OF LEFT-WING WRITERS Between ideological commitment and aesthetic dedication Nicoletta Pesaro Left-wing writers: an overview Chinese left-wing literature emerged in the late 1920s when the literary theories and associations that had flourished during the first decades of the 20th century received a political boost following the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 and the radicalization of the historical context. Both realism and romanticism – the main literary trends that had contributed to the birth of the New Literature – were a fertile platform for the development of a socially engaged view of literature. Inspired by this view of literature, a group of talented left-wing writers appeared on the literary scene, among whom the prominent ones include Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi,Ye Zi, Zhang Tianyi, Sha Ting, Xiao Hong, and Xiao Jun. These authors felt a strong urge to expose China’s deplorable socio-political conditions and people’s general state of poverty, inequality, and oppression. To a certain extent, they also shared the need to elicit a reaction from their readers. Despite their different philosophical and artistic approaches to the literary representation of the social crisis as well as of the individual conundrum, each of them may be considered a leftist writer, aiming to emancipate and modernize the Chinese people. Inspired and encouraged by their mentor – the authoritative and influential writer Lu Xun (1881–1936), they all joined the League of Left-Wing Writers, which was established in Shanghai in March 1930 by Lu Xun and six other founding members1 who shared his enlightened consciousness. These writers may be further divided into three distinct groups. The first group includes Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi, and Ye Zi, who were motivated by their early commitment to a romantic, almost utopian vision of reality and literature. Although soon convinced of the need for a revolutionary breakthrough, the tone and style of their fiction are imbued with a deep subjectivity, a tragic sense of life, and an idealistic impetus, which marked their short literary career. They also shared a sad personal fate, destined as they were to a premature and wretched death. The second group includes Zhang Tianyi, Sha Ting, and Xiao Jun, whose style and approach tend to be based on a more matter-of-fact view of life and on the use of a variety of realistic techniques to describe and to interpret reality. An altogether different case is that of the female author Xiao Hong, whose literary style and attitude towards reality are impossible to label under a well-defined category such as romanticism or realism. Among these writers, Xiao Hong’s 84

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psychological and lyric realism, Xiao Jun’s and Sha Ting’s detached and objective observation, and Zhang Tianyi’s satirical exposure of Chinese society stand out conspicuously. In terms of narratology, we may observe these distinctive features: (1) a highly subjective narrative mode, based on both a first- or third-person narrator strategy, where (even in the latter case, despite its extra-diegetic position) the narrator shares the same values and feelings as some of the characters, while rejecting those of others’ (this being the case with Rou Shi,Ye Zi, and Jiang Guangci); (2) a strictly objective third-person narration based on a cold and detached gaze/voice, seemingly without expressing a personal standpoint (Xiao Jun, Sha Ting); (3) the subtle, sometimes cruel humor of a critical observer on social mores, marked by a mild subjectivity, in Zhang Tianyi’s case; (4) the emotionally dense rendition of the self-denouncing horrors of reality, as provided by Xiao Hong, in whose works the subject is powerfully expressed in its objective conditions, a style reminiscent of Hu Feng’s concept of subjective realism.2 Their regional difference, another distinct feature observable among them, shapes the content and form of their works to a certain extent. While Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi, Ye Zi, and Zhang Tianyi’s works deal with the social degradation and the burden of an obsolete tradition in both the countryside and cities of central and southeastern China, Xiao Jun and Xiao Hong’s fiction represents the northeast, which was invaded by the Japanese army early on, and is thus permeated with tragic scenes and grave consequences of war. By contrast, Sha Ting depicts Sichuan’s rural communities and their distinctive cultural and social features. For this reason, he is also included among the Native Soil Fiction (xiangtu xiaoshuo) writers. From a historical point of view, due to their premature deaths, Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi, and Ye Zi’s fiction reflects the earlier phase of Chinese revolutionary or proletarian literature (puluo wenxue) in the late 1920s and early 1930s, caught up in the clash between romantic ideas of a better society, a sense of ill-contained indignation for social injustice, and a still overpowering subjectivity. This attitude of moral wrath and growing social awareness – not exempt from a certain degree of ingenuity – are peculiar to their most representative works: The Youthful Tramp (Shaonian piaobozhe, 1926) by Jiang Guangci, “A Slave Mother” (Wei nuli de muqin, 1930) by Rou Shi, and “Harvest” (Fengshou, 1933) by Ye Zi. These texts voice the same indignation against upper-class exploitation of peasants through three different characters: respectively, a youngster compelled to lead the life of a vagrant after his parents are hounded to death by the landowner; a mother “lent” by her husband to a rich couple as a “son-producer”; and a middleaged peasant whose family and crops are eventually devastated by flood, drought, and finally by the greedy despots of the village. Zhang Tianyi was a truly prolific author already in the late 1920s, but like Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun, and Sha Ting, his best works were published in a later phase, within a more defined political and historical context of military conflict and heavier politicization of literature. The early instinctive but generic rebellion of proletarian fiction against injustice – animated by a sincere adherence to a Marxist world view – is replaced in these later works by a more cognizant and concrete reading of reality, where China’s semi-colonial and brutalized condition is fully displayed and analyzed, showing a deeper awareness of the need to fight and overthrow the oppressive establishment. Among these left-wing voices, Xiao Hong stands out as the most refined and original one: her masterpiece The Field of Life and Death (Shengsi chang, 1935) is an epic of sorrow and violence, which places northeastern peasants – especially women – at the center of narration. Removing all authorial filters, she gives back the immediacy and naked essence of human existence in rural areas ravaged by poverty and invasion. War’s heavy moral and physical burden on poor peasantsoldiers and their heroic sacrifice are depicted in Xiao Jun’s novel Countryside in August (Bayue de xiangcun, 1935) as well as in Zhang Tianyi’s “Twenty-one Men” (Ershiyi ge ren, 1931). In 85

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the former work, Manchurian landscapes and customs emerge from behind the vivid narration of individual and collective everyday struggle in wartime China; in the latter, Zhang targets with scathing frankness the senseless violence of war and its gruesome life-death struggle. Zhang Tianyi’s most typical fiction, though, focuses more on petty government officials, and the narrowmindedness and hypocrisy of the upper and middle classes, and finds its ideal form in the short story. With a similar satirical approach, Sha Ting represents his homeland’s “small-town” culture.

The romantic rebellion: an ethic of suffering and sacrifice Despite his admiration for the heroic commitment of young martyrs, on many occasions Lu Xun warns his readers of the dangers implied by the self-sacrificing attitude of Chinese intellectuals. “I am mostly against the sacrifice of others. . . ”,3 he writes in a famous letter to his wife Xu Guangpin, but the human intimacy and gratefulness for the sacrifice of a lost friend expressed in his essay devoted to Rou Shi’s tragic death4 were later transformed in a eulogy of political sacrifice.5 As Qian Liqun points out, Lu Xun himself, in a riddle of contradictions, finally developed an intrinsic logic of sacrifice of the individual for the community.6 The young generation of left-wing writers shares a romantic passion for life and a tragic attraction for death, the border between love-passion and revolutionary passion being somehow blurred in their works. There is a nihilist impulse towards the heroic “gesture” that dominates their ideal, but their literary endeavor reveals a genuine compassion for peasants and workers, which nonetheless merges with a more traditional, dreadful sense of fate. Their pessimist vision thus contrasts with a more wishful trust in people’s possibility to revolt, oscillating between two needs: to express individual sensitivity and to foster collective awareness. While the former need is represented by full details that blend with the romantic love aspirations of youth, the latter tends towards abstraction and is often reduced to a rather generic and naïve form of ideologization. Another feature of these early left-wing writers is a strong autobiographical flavor, which they share with earlier and less politicized May Fourth writers. Jiang Guangci (1901–1930), born in Anhui province within a family of merchants, is one of the major exponents of early “proletarian literature,” being one of the first youth sent to the URSS to attend the Chinese class of the Oriental Communist University (also known as Far East University or Stalin School). After returning to China he became an active member of the Chinese Communist Party and enjoyed rapid and sweeping popularity as a revolutionary writer. His famous essay “Modern Chinese Society and Revolutionary Literature,”7 together with Guo Moruo’s articles of the same period, was instrumental in launching the new phase of May Fourth literature. Extremely popular in the late 1920s as the founder of the “revolutionary novel,” Jiang’s romantic figure inspired many youths. Unfortunately, he died of tuberculosis in 1931, a disease which was fully reflected in Jiang’s relationship with his wife Song Ruoyu, marked by a mixture of “love and sickness.”8 His debut novel, TheYouthful Tramp, represents the transition from the socially undistinguished “revenge pattern,” typical of the traditional Chinese martial arts (wuxia) novel, to an incipient awareness of class struggle and the need to channel personal wrath into a more rational political activism. Nevertheless, the tone of the story is extremely melodramatic and, ultimately, Jiang fails to transcend either the traditional cliché of individual revenge or the formulaic repetition of the talented scholar and beauty (caizijiaren) pattern of unhappy love: for the protagonist’s infatuation for the young daughter of a shopkeeper he is working for is harshly opposed by the father and ends with the mournful death of the girl. Although the hero finally helps the nationalistic student movement, joins workers in a factory, and eventually dies in battle during the Northern Expedition, his death does not carry a clear revolutionary or ideological meaning.9 86

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The story takes the form of long letter written by the protagonist to his mentor, the progressive writer Jia Wei. In the opening, the protagonist Wang Zhong provides a definition of the revolutionary writer: he should be characterized by “ardent feelings, rebellious spirit, innovative thought, and unconventionality.”10 This reminds one more of the Romantic Byronic hero than the communist activist of the Maoist literature in the later periods. The Youthful Tramp is a short Bildungsroman, in which the young protagonist goes through several hardships and trials (the violent death of his parents, sexual harassment by a travelling scholar, begging and stealing out of hunger, humiliation by his ruthless employers), until he learns the importance of fighting and sacrificing himself for his new political ideals. Along with the growing resentment due to his experiences of poverty and of exploitation at the hands of different people belonging to the upper class (the landlord, the scholar, and finally the shopkeeper in W. city),Wang Zhong gradually acquires a deeper social and patriotic awareness. However, his Bildung is not fully completed, for what prevails, in the end, is still his “wandering spirit” which prevents him from taking a concrete political stand, his rebellion being confined to the romantic aura of an individual beau geste. As in other fiction of the May Fourth period, this work displays an apparent metafictional intention: despite his sincere social compassion (tongqing) for peasants and workers and his personal commitment, Wang Zhong’s growing political zeal seems to go in the direction not so much of concrete social action as of its representation, his sacrifice only becoming meaningful when Jia Wei mentions it at the end of the novel, conferring on him the mark of literary memorability. A similar ethic of love and sacrifice is the Leitmotiv of the short story “On Yelu River” (Yelujiang shang, 1926), in which the heroic death of a Korean girl at the hands of the Japanese is related by her young fiancé who flew to China and then Russia after the Japanese invasion of North Korea, and his nationalistic and anti-Japanese sentiments are fundamentally inseparable from his mournful passion for the woman. The Bildung of young revolutionaries is also the theme of the short story “Two Brothers’ Night Talk” (Xiongdi yehua, 1926), which presents two brothers’ reunion in Shanghai and the elder brother’s conversion to communist ideals after an ardent conversation with the younger one. All works by Jiang keep a romantic and subjective approach alive: love entanglement is often a constitutive part of his plots, as if the young hero could not completely separate his political consciousness from a biological, emotional drive, although the final aim of this entanglement is naturally seen as a passage “from the domain of eros to that of polis”.11 Another socially engaged writer with a romantic sensibility was Ye Zi (1912–1939). Born in Henan province, he was the son of a small merchant who eventually took administrative charge of the local yamen. The whole family later became deeply involved in the revolution, as one of its members was among the founders of the local Communist Party. Ye Zi himself took an active role and joined the left-wing movement in the countryside. After working in Shanghai as a writer and a teacher under Lu Xun’s tutelage, he died in poverty of pneumonia at the age of twenty-seven. Early revolutionary uprisings in the countryside are a central theme in his works: particularly significant is the depiction of a small rural community disrupted by natural disasters and social injustice in the two short stories “Harvest” and “Fire” (Huo, 1933). Generational misunderstandings and the clash between traditional culture and the political movements emerging in the late 1920s unfold against the background of a tragic struggle for survival. In Ye Zi’s fiction we witness a theatrical mise en scène of the human lot which, in the peasants’ eyes, is not only subject to Heaven’s despotic and blind power like their families and crops, but also prey to rapacious local landlords. As in Mao Dun’s more famous novella Spring Silkworm (1932), only young generations seem to acknowledge the peasants’ right and possibility to revolt in order to subvert what their fathers superstitiously regarded as unbeatable godlike forces. Appearing as unfilial and 87

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good-for-nothing sons, they actually lead other villagers to realize the unacceptable injustice dominating their lives. “Harvest” is narrated through a sympathetic extra-diegetic narrator’s voice, but the main story is narrated through Old Yunpu’s mind: an honest and tenacious peasant whose family and fields are ravaged by misfortune and human greed. In order to buy some food for his family, starving after a rapid succession of floods and draughts, he is obliged to sell his tenyear-old daughter, and eventually to give all his harvested wheat to his creditors to pay his debts. Drawing on his own family experience, in these stories Ye Zi celebrates the peasants’ unshakable resistance against terrible odds. A romantic heroism is implicit in the description of their everyday struggle against a “wolf-hearted” Heaven, their unremitting labor and resilience being their only weapon.Ye Zi sees through their simpleminded acceptance of ming (fate) and sufferance, suggesting a revolutionary road to re-establishing social justice. However,Ye’s perception of social unrest and moral agency is still individually structured: Old Yunpu and Liqiu, his son, are vividly described in their intentions and beliefs as individual representatives of the peasant community – the idea of the crowd and of collective consciousness have not taken a clear shape yet. Rou Shi (1902–1930) was born into an educated family in the countryside near Ningbo (Zhejiang). As his father was involved in a small trade job, and because of their poor economic conditions, his education only began when he was ten. He eventually worked as a teacher at the primary and middle school level, but had the chance to meet Lu Xun in Beijing in 1925, and to attend his lectures. Back in his home village, he soon became involved in rebellious actions and in 1928 flew to Shanghai to engage in literary activities. It was then that his collaboration with Lu Xun started. Most of his works were published in those two years before he was arrested and executed by the Nationalist government in 1930. As in the case of Ye Zi and Jiang Guangci, Rou Shi’s early fiction is also imbued with romantic fervor and a passionate indignation against injustice. The short story “A Slave Mother” is one of his finest works, and his novel February (Er yue, 1929) is also an interesting example of this romantic, proto-proletarian literature. In Rou Shi’s vibrant representation of idealistic and fervent young revolutionaries, love has an important place, being considered both an obstacle and a roadmap for future political action. Despite his conviction that the old society needs to be overthrown, the writer’s stand is deeply influenced by an oversentimental and somewhat Nietzschean mood, typical of his time. One example of this pattern is the main character of Rou’s novel Death of the Old Times (Jiushidai zhi si, 1929), Zhu Shengli, whose life has been destroyed by his family’s poverty and its “cannibalistic” social practices. In a fit of rage after the suicide of his beloved, he declaims a poem of mournful madness: Red is dead, green is dead, light is dead, speed is dead; she is dead, you will also die, and I am dying; [. . .] and Buddha is also dead with her, the soul is dead, the air is dead; [. . .] the living are dead and the dead are dead; [. . .] everything has died with her.12 The tragic ending of the novel, with the lovers’ double suicide, follows in the tradition of the pessimistic view on love expressed in Chinese fiction. Rou Shi’s short story “A Slave Mother,” acclaimed by Romain Rolland as a good piece of socialist fiction soon after it was published,13 reflects the deep humanist attitude of these young intellectuals and their gloomy view of Chinese rural society. As Yang Yi pointed out, in this story Rou Shi’s descriptions deal more with the moral and spiritual degradation of human beings than their material conditions.14 The short story portrays the tragic figure of a woman “rented out” by her husband (according to the traditional practice of “renting one’s wife”) to a childless middle-aged scholar and his wife. From the beginning, the sharp words of the other characters allow us to grasp the tragedy of this simple woman (who is silent most of the time), transformed 88

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into a mere material resource for survival. Her husband tells her: “If we go on like this we will get to the point of selling the wok.What’s the point of letting you suffer along with me: we’d better think of a way of exploiting your body.”15 “It suffices that your belly fights to excel, in order to give birth to one or two [children], and everything will be okay” (p. 278), says the matchmaker, trying to persuade her that it is a good chance to leave her weak and poor husband and earn money for her family (she already has a five-year-old son). As David Wang observes, the woman is one of the many “sisters” of Xianglin’s wife;16 however, differently from Lu Xun’s memorable character, in Rou Shi’s story this “hungry woman” becomes nothing more than a body, a belly, a pure sign in the semantics of China’s sacrificed or – in Lu Xun’s words – cannibalized human beings. Utilized as a mere body, the woman is subjected to a twofold exploitation: as a member of the subaltern class she is kept in a hopeless condition of social inferiority; due to gender inequality, she has to sexually serve both her husband’s needs and those of the scholar – for whom she is but a “means of production” in Marxist terms, as well as the sources of sustenance for her eldest son’s survival, as the author suggests towards the end. She is the victim not only of traditional abuses perpetrated on poor peasants by the elites, but as a woman, she is also the victim of a long-standing sexist order. In this case, we do not witness any kind of (even generic) rebellion, as the young woman endures her economic and the physical/moral exploitation without ever trying to resist her sacrifice, a means to provide for her family by letting her body be used as a pawn for survival. In the sad ending of the short story, even her elder child, whom she abandoned in order to provide the rich couple with an heir, seems not to recognize her after she has been away for three years to take care of her “surrogate son”. As in the case of Ye Zi’s poor and resigned peasants, the woman’s only reaction to such a degrading lot is her ascribing it to her bitter fate, the ethic of sacrifice and sufferance overshadowing any sense of self-respect and human dignity. Survival is the main value here, the only respected one, as in the case of the desolate community of human beings depicted in Xiao Hong’s fiction (which will be analyzed in the last section of the chapter). This ethic of sacrifice, which is embedded and instinctively performed by Rou Shi’s humbler characters, reflects his own standpoint and moral commitment. In his most acclaimed novel February, the protagonist Xiao Jianqiu is tormented both by the issue of the salvation of his country and by his sentimental conundrum, as he is attracted to two women. As Lu Xun notes in his short preface to the novel, the keynote of the story is the great suffering that accompanies the characters and the society as a whole. While aware of the social and political conditions that brought China to this desperate situation, Rou Shi, like other early left-wing writers, was unable to translate this passionate impulse into a more practical and effective agenda, with himself becoming an object of sacrifice at the end of his short life, just like his characters. Although the quality of the Byronic hero – “a mourning but simultaneously defiant man”17 – can be found in these writers and their characters, an echo of Russian and early Soviet literature is also evident in their style and themes. Emotionally and intellectually tortured, the young protagonists of their works tend to display the neurotic fervor that distinguishes Dostoevskij’s most famous heroes, in dealing with both unfulfilled love affairs and a scorching impatience with society’s backwardness and oppressive structure. Traces of Gorki’s autobiographical novels can also be found in Jiang Guangci’s fiction.

Quotidian drama and comedy: a new approach to reality In their gloomy vision of the present, the early left-wing writers often adopted a dramatic, griefstricken attitude which, despite a generally sympathetic feeling towards their humble characters, 89

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almost denied them any agency. The main aim of these authors was to express a moral impulse stemming from their tragic recognition of the misery of Chinese society. However, their gaze was fundamentally detached from real life: except for what derives from their personal and family experience, their stories often sound abstract. A radical change in this attitude that pushed fiction towards a more realistic and concrete depiction of the historical framework and the condition of individuals is to be found in Zhang Tianyi (1906–1985), a popular fiction writer active from the late 1920s. Born in Nanjing, he first studied at an art school in Shanghai, but later moved to Beijing where he attended Peking University. Attracted by both Butterfly and Mandarin Duck Fiction and Lin Shu’s translations, he began his career by writing essays and short stories suffused with humor and bordering on crime fiction. Exposed to the New Literary Movement, Zhang soon changed his course by adopting a completely new and revolutionary style, tackling a range of problems, from the experience of war to ordinary life under the oppressive Nationalist government. Zhang’s realistic approach wholly reversed the tragic but idealistic representation of social injustice and the romantic trend summed up by the formula “love + revolution.” His sharp, satirical voice (complementary to Lao She’s good-tempered humor) exposed the concrete roots of social inequality, exploring the hypocrisy and ineptitude of human nature. He later became a well-known author of children’s fiction. One of the first examples of his new, cruder style is the short story “Twenty-one Men,” the title referring to the number of soldiers involved in a bloody mutiny during the warlords’ regime. “Nobody can take care of anyone,”18 says the first-person narrator in the midst of the battle, while his comrade-in-arms “gets a crack in the head and soon lies down, relaxing on a mud heap, and after a few spasms, like a slaughtered hen, falls asleep” (p. 46). The hardships and cruelty of a soldier’s life are directly presented without any intellectual filter, and in very crude language. What follows is an abrupt clash between soldiers, and the fight is depicted as a primitive struggle for survival. This short story, more than any other piece of fiction imbued with revolutionary zeal, shows war’s harsh reality of suffering and death. Zhang Tianyi is good at focusing on the narrating subject’s bodily sensations. The narrator himself realizes that he has been wounded: he feels pain somewhere in his body and blood dripping. The narration stops when the narrator faints and then restarts when he wakes up in a pool of blood. The whole scene is described as an amazingly truthful battlefield representation entirely based on the narrator’s sensory and radically internal focus. Stripped of any intellectually structured vision, war appears just as it is, filled with pain and the stench of corpses, pieces and fragments of bodies surrounding the survivors, the sound of gunshots still lingering in theirs ears. Another change in the style and content of Zhang’s fiction, which further developed his inclination for a non-mediated observation of society, was brought about by his stories on urban bureaucrats, small intellectuals, and petty bourgeois. Zhang’s satirical approach, which distinguishes him from the other left-wing writers, strikes the readers as refreshing for his adoption of the comic register in exposing a variety of social abuses and malpractices. One exquisite example is the short story “Bao and His Son” (Baoshi fuzi, 1934), the portrait of two generations in the semi-colonial, socially uneven Shanghai of the 1930s. Through a critical observation of the weaknesses and vices of human beings, the short story focuses on modern family and social conflicts, targeting the urban middle-class milieu and its tendency to mimic the Westernized lifestyle of the upper classes. Typical of Zhang’s fiction is his skillful portrayal of characters, a feature for which he is somewhat indebted to his mentor Lu Xun. Few simple sketches and scenes under his pen are enough to evoke a whole psychological and social world. In the abovementioned text, Old Bao 90

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is a middle-aged concierge who has to cope with the superficial Occidentalism of his foppish son. A conservative and rather weak widower, he only cares about his son’s education, hopelessly striving to maintain his dignity before his friends. Through the description of the unbridgeable cultural gap between the father’s traditionally sober lifestyle and his son Bao Guowei’s fantasies of luxury, Zhang manages to demonstrate how unbridgeable the economical gap is between the Chinese lower strata and high-ranking society – to which the youngster vainly aspires to belong – hinting at the asymmetrical relations between China and her colonizers. Like Lu Xun’s “Soap,” a foreign brand product stands at the core of Zhang’s metaphor: Bao Guowei is irresistibly drawn to a perfumed hair grease found in the bathroom of one of his rich schoolmates, but when his father buys him a similar (but inferior) product made in China, he angrily rejects it, marking both the limits of Chinese modernization and the incongruence of an unachievable social identity. At the end of the tragicomic story, not only is Bao Guowei expelled from his prestigious and expensive foreign school for beating a schoolmate, but his father, overwhelmed by the debts he has accumulated in order to support his education, eventually collapses in the street. This last scene ironically not only hints at traditional China’s collapse due to unfair competition from foreign powers, but also reveals her own inner contradictions, a metaphor of the fatal conclusion of the Darwinian struggle shrewdly depicted in Zhang Tianyi’s satirical fiction.

From Urban Shanghai to rural Sichuan: in search of “Localized Realism” Equally well versed in the satirical representation of characters and their social context is Sha Ting (1904–1992), born into a declining landlord’s family in Sichuan province. The young boy’s first connection to revolutionary thought and action was mediated through an uncle involved in rebellions organized by secret societies. In 1927, he joined the Communist Party, and in 1931, together with Ai Wu, also a Sichuan native, he began his activity as a left-wing writer, experiencing the political fervor of Shanghai’s literary circles. Nonetheless, his literary production acquired more depth and originality only when he went back to his province (after 1935). Here, following Lu Xun’s advice, he tried to “carefully choose from” and “deeply delve into”19 his real-life experience in order to find suitable subject matters for his fiction. According to Anderson, “Sha Ting discovers the nascent eruption of the crowd instinct,”20 but it is the unique intersection between his artistic talent and his homeland which shaped his peculiar style and his most significant fiction. Being a tireless observer of Sichuan rural tragedies, he is often listed among the “Sichuan writers,” and his works are labeled as part of the rural fiction tradition. Both he and Ai Wu consulted Lu Xun on what kind of material they should draw in writing fiction. Their conundrum was the result of the clash between early revolutionary fiction and reality: the romantic impulse of the author’s early commitment to leftism now had to be molded into a more concrete form of writing, stepping out of the writers’ narrow class environment.21 The answer to the nagging question of how to effectively contribute to the urgent political and social needs of the Chinese, and of how to overcome the flaws of previous left-wing fiction, characterized as too subjective and formulaic, was found by Sha Ting and Ai Wu in their “localized realism”: a faithful depiction of Sichuan rural customs and human types. Taking Sha Ting’s first novel, The Gold Diggers (Taojin ji, 1943), as an example, its main storyline consists of an objective narration of complicated social relations in a small provincial town (Beidouzhen), where a coterie of corrupted and greedy notables strives to take possession of a widow’s gold mine. Following the model of Mao Dun’s most famous novel Midnight (1931), Sha Ting successfully depicts the interaction between different social and economic forces in 91

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late 1930s rural Sichuan, through some representative individuals: Bai Jiangdan is a declining gentleman, while Lin Changme, the owner of a gold factory, represents the local connections between business and illegal secret societies (Gelaohui); the rich widow He and her weak son represent the landlord class. An almost epic struggle takes place between the strong and prudent landlady and the old gentleman who, despite his lack of money, manages to take advantage of his social position in town and his political connections. Supported by the city officials and with the help of the law, he finally obtains the right to exploit the gold mine, which is located where the tombs of He family’s ancestors lie. However, in the end, he does not have enough money to keep digging for gold, making the whole endeavor pointless. The customs and circles of local society are very finely depicted, as are the effects of historical events in the background, such as the economic crisis and the Sino-Japanese War. Sha Ting excels in constructing character profiles and dialogues, shedding light on a colorful gallery of human types: the roots of China’s social drama are to be found in the sinful existence of the middle and upper classes in the countryside, addicted as they are, at all levels, to an assortment of petty or great vices, such as drinking, smoking opium, gambling, extorting money from poor peasants, and manipulating the law for personal profits. As many scholars agree,22 it is through his well-chiseled characters that Sha Ting’s realistic style overcomes some limits of the previous representation of rural China. A special hallmark of his works is the re-creation of a peculiar chronotope: the fastidious reconstruction of a whole social and cultural world, not the generic Chinese countryside, but Sichuan’s rural town culture. In many of his short stories he depicts, with a detached though sarcastic flair, the typical microcosms of remote rural towns, a literary space where traditional Sichuan culture and modern anxiety blend and collide at the same time, shedding light on a range of social issues, such as war, banditry, economic bankruptcy, local corruption, and gender abuses. In “The House of the Fragrant Teahouse” (Zai Qixiangju chaguan li, 1940), as in many scenes of the novel The Gold Diggers, the local teahouse is the microcosm where people voice their aspirations and contradictions, both social and personal. As though on a small real-life stage, the two main characters, the ward chief and an arrogant member of the town gentry whose younger son has been arrested for desertion, act in the very short timeframe of the story, revealing the tug-of-war dynamics between local officials’ power and illegal economic forces. In another two stories, following Lu Xun’s “Nora discourse,”23 Sha Ting denounces the abuses inflicted on women, who are mercilessly judged and condemned by their own community. “In the Ancestral Hall” (Zai citang li, 1936) depicts a woman who is accused of betraying her husband and becomes an object of the neighbors’ cruel curiosity and their desire for exemplary punishment. The gloomy absurdity of the closing scene, with the “unfaithful” wife being “taken out of her bedroom in a coffin, a white handkerchief stuffed in her mouth,”24 is enhanced by the unreal silence of the previously garrulous onlookers, and reminds us of another story, Lu Ling’s novelette Hungry Guo Su’e (1943). In “An Autumn Evening” (Yi ge qiuye, 1944), a young prostitute, who has been publicly chastised by a jealous wife for belonging to such a shameful social category, receives unexpected support from an unwilling conscript. Although criticized at this time for his cold attitude and his apparent refusal to take sides, Sha Ting shows uncommon skill in capturing the specific historical background as well as the innermost instincts and psychology of human beings. In the late left-wing fiction, both Zhang Tianyi’s and Sha Ting’s approaches did not conform to any theoretical statement about proletarian classes, but tried, sometimes successfully, to plunge into the actual human cauldron of a composite society, where the causes of great inequalities and longstanding abuses are rooted in the interaction of both opposite and intersecting cultural forces. In addition, the realistic portrayal of the microcosms of Chinese urban (Zhang) and rural (Sha) landscapes is reinforced by a wise use of the colloquial style (Zhang) and the local dialect (Sha). 92

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War, nature, and gender in Xiao Hong and Xiao Jun’s fiction Few other modern Chinese writers have been able to represent the human condition with such a vibrant and touching mixture of subjectivity and realism as Xiao Hong (1911–1942). She was born into a landlord family in Hulan (Heilongjiang), but soon felt stifled by her clan’s rigidity and the lack of love from her father. A rebellious woman, who could not tolerate traditional restrictions, she escaped with a cousin but was eventually obliged to go back home. At the age of twenty, she escaped again to Harbin, and got pregnant by a man whom she refused to marry (because the wedding had been originally arranged by her family). It is in these hard times that she met the young writer Xiao Jun. After marrying him, they started a vagrant life in Canton, Qingdao, and Shanghai, eking out a living on the meager remunerations of their publications amidst personal conflicts and economic hardships. In 1935, with the help of Lu Xun, she published her first novel, which was hailed by the progressive intellectual circles of Shanghai as a patriotic masterpiece. After her relation with Xiao Jun deteriorated, she went to Japan for a short period, and returned to Shanghai on hearing of Lu Xun’s death. She later married her second husband, another northeastern writer (Duanmu Hongliang). She then went to Hong Kong where, during the 1942 bombing of the city, she died of a wrongly treated illness, almost alone, assisted in hospital only by a young friend. A prolific writer with a wide range of novels, short stories, poems, and essays, Xiao Hong drew abundant sources from her own life experiences and excelled in the depiction of female characters and their worlds. Xiao Hong’s stories are unique in their novel themes and subtle characterization as they touch upon a range of sensitive and rarely mentioned issues, such as neglected motherhood (“The Abandoned Child” and “On the Bridge”), social prejudices, misfit children (“Hands” and “Little Liu”), and abused female bodies (“The Death of Wang Asao”).25 The Field of Life and Death, praised by Lu Xun as conveying a “strength for life and a struggle against death,”26 presents a spectacle of horror and sorrow, dominated by a hopeless struggle for survival. The novel was initially acclaimed for its “political correctness,” as in its second part it recounts the resistance of humble peasants against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. However, Xiao Hong’s literary commitment and social awareness were far from being conditioned by any political orientation and ideology. Despite being an early member of the League of the Left-Wing Writers, she declared at a writers’ conference in 1933: “The writer does not belong to any class, he/she only belongs to the human race. Now as well as in the past, the source for a writer’s writing is the ignorance of human beings.”27 Not only are her creative spirit and thought nurtured by such an independent stance, but the structure of her works and her literary style also reveal some distinguishing features and a radically personal approach. In her novels, we do not find any full-blooded characters or clear and well-developed plot. What appear before the readers’ eyes are China’s northeastern peasants, especially women in fragmentary descriptions, sometimes lyrical, sometimes expressionistic, and the story usually unfolds through a chain of single episodes of everyday life. Rather than one single character, it is the sum of all characters that creates a collective but stirring human portrait of the peasants. Instead of a close-knit plot, her story usually presents a variety of scenes and narrative threads that constitute the historical scenery of 1930s China. At the same time, each of Xiao Hong’s finely carved figures remains vividly impressed in the readers’ memory as their vivid authenticity neatly transcends the historical and geographical borders of World War II China, and enters the universal theatre of the unbearable frailty of human life. Violence as an inescapable part of existence is one of the key themes in Xiao Hong’s descriptions of (wo)men’s everyday resistance against hunger, epidemic, sexual abuses, exhausting work in the fields, war, and even Nature itself. Everything seems dominated by a law of senseless 93

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violence. Suffering and discrimination due to social inequality also constitute a major theme in the novel. In Xiao Hong’s works, however, socio-political violence is just part of a universal landscape of suffering, shared by human beings and animals, down to the tiny insect, and not a vehicle for the expression of an ideological stance, as the nationalistic interpretation of her work often suggests. Nor is her narration of women’s miserable material and moral condition confined within an early feminist awareness. The crudeness and sincerity of her depiction of women’s destiny wrecked by unwanted pregnancies, brutal sexual relations, and obsolete social or family burdens, derive mainly from her inborn feeling of independence, spiritual freedom, rejection of any form of abuse, and her profound understanding of the consequences of poverty and unhappiness. What distresses Xiao Hong more than any physical pain or deprivation is the spiritual void haunting these women: “In the village they will never know, they will never experience the soul, only matter fills their life” (p. 68). The sudden drowning of a butterfly struck by an accidental blow from Old Mother Pockface has the same inevitability and casualness as the awful death of the young Yueying, whose body is ruthlessly consumed by an incurable illness. Fifty years before Mo Yan’s novels, this female writer, also born in North China, had already built a powerful connection between human beings and animals, finding in the latter’s existence the same tragic seeds of suffering as in the former’s. “In the countryside human beings and animals together are occupied in living, are occupied in dying” (83), comments the extra-diegetic narrator in The Field, while depicting the miserable life of Golden Bough, a young peasant from the village, whose girlish instinct for love is repaid with male viciousness and unwanted motherhood. The female characters in the novel are often compared to animals: Fifth Sister is like “a small lively pigeon”; Old Mother Pockface is a “female bear entering her cave,” while Old Mother Wang recounting the death of her little daughter, as in Xiangling Sao’s sad storytelling, resembles an owl to the eyes of the children listening to her (p. 45, p. 47). The description of the old mare taken to her last trip to the slaughterhouse by Mother Wang is a striking example of Xiao Hong’s universe of sorrow. Political matters, such as patriotism and national identity, are of course touched upon in Xiao Hong’s fiction, but her primary concern is to dismantle any kind of facile ideological commitment, for she was inclined more towards the depiction of human life as an existential rather than a political drama.This is clearly shown in her ethnographic novel Tales of the Hulan River (Hulan he zhuan, 1942), whose poetic style reminds one of the Beijing school writer Fei Ming, in terms of its delicate natural descriptions and the simple yet meaningful way of evoking the tragic cycle of life and death embedded in the reality of rural communities. The sensitivity of her approach contrasts with the “gallant” fiction of Xiao Jun (1907–1988). In the latter’s literary production, we find the same social and geographic environment, the warravaged northeast, and the same motivation to write, but the perspective and style are apparently different. Xiao Jun was Xiao Hong’s first husband and shared with her much of her troubled life and intense intellectual experiences, as they were both morally and practically supported by Lu Xun in the Slave Series project.28 Xiao Jun, born into a family of proletarian origin, joined the army early on and received his first education, publishing his first short story in 1928. His social environment and military experience provided him with a fresh and modern repertoire about workers and conscripts. He is considered as one of the first authentic proletarian writers. Like Jiang Guangci, Xiao Jun’s early fiction reflects a romantic spirit and an emotional flair very close to the Creation Society’s style. However, his life experience and the keen observation of the reality that surrounded him later inspired him to develop a sharp vision of social inequality. In his best-selling novel Countryside in August, he tells the story of a group of peasant-soldiers and their fight against the Japanese invaders and the government’s troops in their home territory. It is necessary and meaningful to compare and contrast Xiao Jun’s fiction with that of Xiao Hong 94

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on similar themes: Xiao Jun prefers strong colors to her subtle nuances; equally sensitive and inclined to portray the violence and injustice exerted against his countrymen, Xiao Jun nonetheless radically differs in his emphasizing a rhetoric of sacrifice and heroism, not eschewing a crude but bombastic depiction of murders and rapes. A faithful painter of the cruel everyday struggle for survival in times of war, Xiao Jun’s early romantic approach resurfaces in an only thinly disguised form in his later fiction, in the heroic representation of central male figures, such as commander Iron Eagle or Boil Tang – strong masculine prowess in war actions for the former, and sexual vitality, in the latter one. It suffices to compare the scene of Golden Bough’s passively submitting to her brutal lover, in The Field of Life and Death, with a similar episode of the love making between Li Qisao and Boil Tang in Xiao Jun’s novel. Both love scenes are described in terms of animal instinct and fight. However, while Xiao Hong adopts a de-familiarizing and seemingly emotionless narrative strategy, focusing on the female body taken as a prey, Xiao Jun’s representation of sex mainly shows the excitement of the sensual encounter between two bodies, as perceived by the male imagination.

Conclusion This overview of some representative left-wing Chinese writers attests to the variety and intersection of different styles and approaches in their literary creation which, despite the focus on the social issues that troubled China in the 1930s and 1940s, is primarily concerned with writers’ personal commitments and artistic explorations. Only a few years later, the rigid application of Mao’s guidelines as laid down in the Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Literature and Art was to displace this polyphonic creation and artistic pursuit. These writers’ quest touches upon the very core of the Chinese search for modernity from a social perspective, raising some questions which were to re-emerge in contemporary Chinese literature – such as the choice between a romanticized or mimetic reproduction of reality, the observation of human nature, and the clash between a minjian (popular) and qimeng (enlightened) vision of society. This inner contradiction of Lu Xun’s legacy, which haunted all left-wing writers, was definitely overcome by Xiao Hong. Although she inherits her mentor’s enlightened vision of literature, she adopts a popular stance,29 as she stands among rather than above her fictional characters. Cherishing Chinese popular culture in both its positive and negative aspects, she is the author of stories imbued with both a humanistic and social concern that brings out the best aspects of Chinese left-wing fiction.

Notes 1 See Lee, Leo-Oufan, “Literary Trends: The Road to Revolution,” in John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker, eds., The Cambridge History of China:Volume 13, Republican China 1912–1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 428–444. 2 See Kirk A. Denton, The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature: Hu Feng and Lu Ling (Stanford: Stanford University, 1998), 83. 3 Lu Xun, Letters from Two Places (Liang di shu), Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun Quanji), vol. XI (Beijing: Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, [1933] 1981), 16. 4 Lu Xun, “In Memoriam in Order to Forget,” in Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun Quanji), vol. IV, 479–490. 5 Gloria Davies, Lu Xun’s Revolution:Writing in a Time of Violence (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2013), 169. 6 Qian Liqun, Xinling de tanxun (Searching the Soul) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe,1988), 106–107. 7 Published in 1925 on Juewu (supplement of the Shanghai newspaper Minguo ribao). 8 David Der-wei Wang, The Monster that is History. History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in TwentiethCentury China (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2004), 107–108.


Nicoletta Pesaro 9 Charles Laughlin, “The Moon Coming Out from the Clouds: Jiang Guangci and Early Revolutionary Fiction in China,” in Tao Dongfeng et al., eds., Chinese Revolution and Chinese Literature (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2009), 35. 10 Jiang Guangci, “The Youthful Tramp,” in Selected Works (Jiang Guangci xuanji) (Beijing: Kaiming chubanshe, [1926] 2015), 3. 11 David Der-wei Wang, The Monster that is History, 91. 1 2 Rou Shi, Death of the Old Times (Jiu shidai zhi si), Selected Fiction of Rou Shi (Rou Shi xiaoshuo jingxuan) (Beijing: Quanguo baijia chubanshe, [1929] 2013), 393–394. 1 3 Yang Yi, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo shi) II vol. (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1988), 295. 1 4 Yang Yi, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 296. 15 Rou Shi, “A Slave Mother,” February (Er yue) (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe [1930] 2005), 271–295. 1 6 David Der-wei Wang, The Monster That is History, 118. 17 Vanessa Mangione, “Lord Byron’s Descendants,” in Franke Reitemeier, ed., Strangers, Migrants, Exiles: Negotiating Identity in Literature (Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2012), 16. 18 Zhang Tianyi, “Twenty-One Men,” in Selected works of Zhang Tianyi (Zhang Tianyi zuopin xuan) (Xiangtan: Xiangtan daxue chubanshe, [1931] 2009), 46. 19 Sha Ting and Ai Wu, “An Exchange of Letters on Subject Matter in Fiction,” in Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun Quanji), vol. 4 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, [1931] 1981), 366–369. 2 0 Marston Anderson, The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 193. 21 Sha Ting and Ai Wu, “An Exchange of Letters on Subject Matter in Fiction,”. 2 2 Marston Anderson, The Limits of Realism, 190;Yang Yi, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 461. 23 Lu Xun, “What Happens When Nora Leaves Home?” Complete Works of Lu Xun (Lu Xun Quanji), vol. 1, (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, [1924] 1981), 158–165. 24 Sha Ting, “In the Ancestral Hall,” in Small-Town Fiction (Xiangzheng xiaoshuo) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, [1936] 1992), 49. 25 Presented respectively in “Qi’er” (1933), “Qiao” (1936), “Xiao Liu” (1935), “Shou” (1936), and “Wang Asao de si” (1933). 26 Xiao Hong, The Field of Life and Death (Shengsi chang), Complete Works of Xiao Hong (Xiao Hong quanji), vol. I (Ha’erbin: Heilongjiang daxue chubanshe, [1935] 2011), 43. 27 Xiao Hong, “Present-Day Artistic and Literary aAtivity. Record of the July 7 Forum,” in Complete Works of Xiao Hong (Xiao Hong quanji), vol. IV (Ha’erbin: Heilongjiang daxue chubanshe, [1938] 2011), 460. 28 It was under Lu Xun’s encouragement that Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun and Ye Zi founded the Slave Society in 1935, and their works were published at their expenses within the Slave Series. 29 Chen Sihe, “A Popular Tragedy from an Enlightened Viewpoint: The Field of Life and Death,” in Zhang Haining, ed., An Impression of Xiao Hong – Research (Xiao Hong yingxiang. Yanjiu) (Ha’erbin: Heilongjian daxue chubanshe, 2011), 120–138.

Further readings Han, Xiaorong. Chinese Discourses on Peasants 1900–1949. New York: SUNY Press, 2012. Hsia, C. T. A History Modern Chinese Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, [1961] 1999. Liu, Lydia. “The Female Body and Nationalist Discourse: Manchuria in Xiao Hong’s Field of Life and Death.” In Angela Zito and Tani Barlow, eds. Body, Subject, and Power in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, 157–180. Sun, Yifeng. Fragmentation and Dramatic Moments: Zhang Tianyi and the Narrative Discourse of Upheaval in Modern China. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Tao Dongfeng,Yang Xiaobin, Rosemary Roberts, and Yang Ling, eds. Chinese Revolution and Chinese Literature. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2009. Yan Haiping. Chinese Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination, 1905–1948. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2006. Yan, Jiayan. A History of the Schools of Modern Chinese Fiction (Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo liupai shi). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1989.



Romanticism and the new people


Life and career Guo Moruo, the pen name of Guo Kaizhen, was born in 1892 in the Sichuanese town of Leshan, the son of a wealthy merchant family of Hakka origin. After receiving traditional schooling in his childhood and further pursuing his education in Jiading and Chengdu, he moved to Japan in early 1914 to specialize in medicine. It was during his Japanese years that, thanks to his proficiency in German, English, and Japanese, he first devoted himself to reading foreign literature and began his career as a writer and translator. By his own account, he began writing poetry in vernacular as early as 1916: his earliest poems were published in 1919 in the Shanghai literary supplement The Lamp of Learning (Xuedeng). In 1921, while in Tokyo, he co-founded the Creation Society, a literary association committed to the promotion of Romanticism, self-expression, “l’art pour l’art-ism,” and international literature. Among the founding members were other likeminded Chinese students and writers-to-be, such as Yu Dafu, Cheng Fangwu, and Tian Han. Shortly after his arrival in Japan, Guo also met a Japanese nurse, Satō Tomiko, who became his common-law wife despite a previous arranged marriage celebrated before his departure. The years following his return to China in 1922 marked the beginning of Guo’s conversion to Marxism, made official in 1924, and the growth of his long-lasting left-wing commitment. In 1926 he enthusiastically embarked on the Northern Expedition led by Chiang Kai-shek; just after joining the Communist Party, in 1927, he took part in the Nanchang Uprising against the Kuomintang. Following the failed rebellion and the Nationalist reaction, he fled once again to Japan in early 1928. He remained there for almost a decade, devoting himself mainly to autobiographic writing and to the study of paleography, history, and archaeology. Back in China at the outburst of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), Guo Moruo was put in charge of propaganda work for the United Front: from then on, his artistic activity was permanently influenced – or obscured, depending on one’s perspective – by his ardent political engagement. After the founding of the People’s Republic, Guo held several prestigious political and academic posts, becoming one of the most influential personalities of the New China and a close comrade of Mao Zedong’s. In particular, in 1949, he became the first President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a position he held for almost three decades until his death. However, at the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, not even his outstanding revolutionary pedigree was enough to spare him: criticism and personal attacks were launched against Guo and his family, 99

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leading to persecution by the Red Guards and even to the death of two of his sons. After his full rehabilitation in the early 1970s, Guo Moruo died in Beijing in 1978.

Literary achievements Few modern intellectuals can compete with Guo Moruo’s multifaceted production and extraordinary range of interests. In addition to his career as a scholar of Chinese antiquity and a prominent statesman and cultural leader, in the literary field he gained a solid reputation as a poet and playwright, but also as a prolific translator, novelist, and essayist. Moreover, his inclination – especially in the early part of his artistic career – to draw from, absorb, and reinterpret a plurality of sources, both native and imported, traditional and modern, offers countless points of departure for analyzing his writing from a comparative perspective. Guo’s first and most famed poetic collection, The Goddesses (Nüshen, 1921), is heavily indebted to the imported models absorbed while in Japan – such as Whitman, Tagore, German Romanticism and Expressionism – but also taps into the classical Chinese tradition in which he had been educated in his youth. Fallen Leaves (Luoye), published in 1926, is one of the earliest examples of an epistolary novel in modern Chinese literature, clearly inspired by the Werther and by the writer’s own life experience. Indeed, the novel is presented as a collection of letters written by a young Japanese girl to a Chinese student. Aside from its blatant use of Romantic models, the work reveals a series of themes that are typical of May Fourth literature, such as the impossibility of lasting love relationships, and the identification between the tragic fate of the individual and that of a whole generation. The war years witnessed Guo Moruo’s growing interest in historical drama involving traditional settings and characters revisited through the prism of patriotism. His most famous historical play, Qu Yuan (1942), attracted immediate attention after its grand premiere in Chongqing. The eponymous Warring States poet, who displays the traits of a Faust, a Hamlet, or a King Lear, is innovatively portrayed as a patriot and a tragic revolutionary hero. Such a representation is largely the fruit of Guo’s creativity, and is still standard today. One cannot stress enough Guo Moruo’s efforts as a cultural agent and intermediary. In 1919 he began translating Goethe’s Faust, an enterprise he never completed but which occupied him for three decades. His 1922 translation of The Sorrows of Young Werther caused considerable stir among young intellectuals, helping shape the Romantic imagination of the time. The significance of Guo Moruo’s contribution as a translator transcended the literary realm, particularly thanks to his partial translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, begun in 1923. Although by no means the first Chinese intellectual to show an interest in Nietzsche, Guo made Zarathustra accessible to a much larger audience through his interpretive translation. Moreover, his Chinese version of Kawakami Hajime’s Social Organization and Social Revolution (1924), an essay that had played a crucial role in his own conversion to Marxism, also fostered the development of a sharper leftwing consciousness in many young readers.

The masterpiece Just like his personal career, Guo Moruo’s literary output is extremely complex, wide-ranging, and multifaceted. Moreover, the artistic value of his literary achievements, or at least a part of them, has been an object of heated debate and even denigration up to the present day. Critic Achilles Fang’s biting aesthetic judgment is frequently cited: “[h]umorless sincerity, deathseriousness, even deadly dullness, – traits one seldom finds in traditional Chinese poetry – mark [Guo Moruo’s] poetry.”1 Some critics have also noted “the immaturity of his creative work” 100

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and the fact that “his later prominence in left-wing politics [. . .] kept his works in print longer than reader interest would have dictated.”2 As a matter of fact, Guo’s political engagement as a champion of Marxism, as well as the acclaim earned from critics acting solely on the basis of an ideological agenda, also tend to obscure the aesthetic aspects of his artistic expression. However, moving away from the equally inadequate perspectives of unfavorable criticism and hagiography, I feel naturally compelled to join those who identify The Goddesses as the peak of Guo’s inventiveness and talent, as a work that set the standard for a modern poetry of the “I,” bringing together a broad range of sources of inspiration. In terms of impact and iconicity, its significance as a turning point in Chinese literature is incontestable, and the pioneering role of its author acknowledged even by his detractors. Indeed, the collection was celebrated as the true beginning of modern Chinese poetry, and established Guo as one of the most influential modern poets in China. The Goddesses appeared in August 1921, but was mostly made up of verses already published in literary journals while Guo was a student in Japan: some of them had been composed as early as 1916, three years before the official outbreak of the May Fourth Movement. The collection comprises a poetic prologue followed by 56 poems, 4 of which are actually verse dramas.3 By making use of free metric forms and vernacular language, the poems reveal the heavy influence of imported models, but also tap into references to classical Chinese tradition, giving voice to a sentiment of powerful individualism, unrestrained vitality, and oneness with the cosmos. This range of elements creates a kaleidoscope of sources, themes, forms, and voices that Guo treats with great virtuosity, especially when it comes to the re-elaboration of preexisting models. Only two years after its publication, Wen Yiduo, a fellow poet with a radically different (and, it could be argued, much more sophisticated) aesthetic approach, and one who was otherwise quite critical of Guo’s Occidentalism, praised the collection as embodying the spirit not only of the present times, but of the whole twentieth century.4 In addition to being a typical product of the enthusiastic, dynamic Zeitgeist of the May Fourth era, in the artistic field The Goddesses “is synonymous with the New Poetry movement’s aspiration to the ‘new’ in form and subject.”5 In this sense, despite its aesthetic flaws and a certain degree of naivety, it set the course for the most dynamic poetry of the May Fourth era, lending its vigorous expressive force to new poets seeking a modern voice. The Goddesses was followed by a number of other poetic works, including the collection Starry Skies (Xingkong, 1923) and the 42-stanza-long poem The Vase (Ping, 1928). Although some of them received critical praise, none of Guo’s later collections was nearly as successful or influential as his first one. However, the flamboyant style of his early writing soon lost its glamor: the later period of his poetic creation was characterized by a gradual return to more traditional forms6 and more ideologically correct themes from a Marxist perspective.

Reconfiguring traditional into modern, native into foreign Taking exception to the second half of Fang’s above-mentioned statement, according to which “the emergence of [Guo Moruo] on the Chinese poetic scene [. . .] marked the end of tradition,”7 Lin points out that the poet “introduced a much-needed element, vitality, into the new verse, but he did not bring down the curtain on tradition;” on the contrary, “[t]raditionalism continued to play a meaningful part not only in [Guo’s] poetry but in the poetry that followed.”8 Nevertheless, in his creative work, the treatment of his native tradition is always an imaginative one, a constant renegotiation of models and themes in the light of aesthetic and cultural modernity. Despite some attempts at downplaying the relation between Guo Moruo’s output and other literatures,9 foreign models undoubtedly played an important role in shaping his eclectic 101

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artistic expression and in his re-interpretation of tradition. This comes as no surprise, since modern Chinese poetry feeds generously on imported resources to the point of appearing “unChinese,” and represents “such a radical departure from Classical Poetry that it looks ‘foreign’ to many Chinese readers even today.”10 As a pupil, Guo Moruo received a typical traditional schooling in the Chinese classics. His early interest in classical Chinese literature and philosophy never faded: it emerges extensively in his early poetry (including The Goddesses) and represents a lifelong source of aesthetic and thematic inspiration for his literary production and scholarly work. In the literary field, Guo grew particularly fond of the early poetry represented by the Songs of Chu (Chuci) and the Book of Odes (Shijing), as well as of Tang poetry. Moreover, he found gratification in the poetic style of such Daoist works as Zhuangzi and Laozi; a few years later, he would broaden his philosophical vistas through the reading of Confucian and Neo-Confucian thought. His encounter with Western literature, however, took place quite early on, through Lin Shu’s translations/adaptations: among these readings, Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe may have played a major role in the development of a sense of historicism that resurfaces in his later historical plays and scholarship.11 In 1913, while attending a modern high school in Chengdu, the young writer came in contact with an author who seems to have made a deep impression on him, namely Henry W. Longfellow. According to Guo, Longfellow’s “The Arrow and the Song” was somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Chinese lyrical tradition exemplified by the Book of Odes.12 As a matter of fact, a classical sensibility resurfaces in many of Guo Moruo’s most reflective and measured lyrics – his so-called “small wave” verse, as opposed to the “great waves” of his explosive and vigorous poems. “A Clear Morning” (Qingchao, 1920) is a typical example: “Over the pond a few young willows, / under the willows a long pavilion, / in the pavilion my son and I sit, / on the pond the sun and clouds are reflected”13 (148). Although within a more flexible metric organization, the poem shows indebtedness to classical poetry in its traditional imagery and motifs – the willows and the contemplation of spring – but also in its use of repetition and parallelism. It also shows Guo’s preference for stanzaic structures, a scheme that recurs even in most of his free verse compositions. As was naturally the case with foreign-educated Chinese students of the time, a genuine, full immersion in foreign literature only took place after Guo’s moving to Japan. There, as early as 1915, he had the opportunity to read Rabindranath Tagore in English or Japanese. The poet himself acknowledged the influence of the Bengali writer on the composition of The Goddesses, although it took some time for him to process it: Guo’s indebtedness towards Tagore’s composed lyrical style is clear in the contemplative verses written in 1919, such as “Parting” (Bieli) and “New Moon and White Clouds” (Xinyue yu baiyun), and more generally in the third section of the collection, variously inspired by Tagore’s Crescent Moon. On the thematic plane, Guo may also have drawn some inspiration from Tagore in the frequent mention of the sun as an object of praise and worship in many of his most energetic poems, and of the moon in other, more meditative verses. “Hymn to the Sun” (Taiyang lizan, 1921), with its eightfold invocation to the glowing body as a source of life and poetic inspiration, is only the most transparent example of the first category, “New Moon and White Clouds” of the second. Tagore also proved crucial to Guo’s development of a pantheistic conscience, which is perceivable throughout the collection. It is probably through the reading of Tagore that Guo started to explore other thinkers and texts expressing pantheistic views, such as Kabīr and the Upanisad, · but also the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. However, despite the admiration for Kabīr and Spinoza expressed in the poem “Three Pantheists” (San ge fanshenlunzhe, 1920), as well as in some essays, Guo’s pantheism presents no real religious implications. Rather, it serves as a poetic device; its philosophical roots should be sought in a broad native tradition that encompasses 102

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shamanistic elements, the Zhuangzi (whose author, unsurprisingly, is also addressed in the poem), and the combination of individualism and communion with the cosmos of the Neo-Confucian thinker Wang Yangming. The two literary figures that had the greatest impact on Guo Moruo’s poetics while in Japan, after the early phase dominated by Tagore, are Walt Whitman and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Whitman is invariably cited, together with Tagore himself and Henrik Ibsen, as a major source of formal and theoretical inspiration for many May Fourth intellectuals. In Guo’s case, this influence can be identified in the adoption of a number of formal features that had been introduced or revived by America’s bard, such as the use of free verse, the recurrent presence of the poetic “I,” the predilection for enumeration and repetition, and a general penchant for powerful, dissonant imagery, best embodied by his “Song of Myself.” At the theoretical level, in addition to their common democratic convictions (although Guo’s notion of democracy was rather hazy at the time), the two artists largely shared a vision of an epic pantheism and of an identification between the Self and nature. However, Guo’s own pantheistic views excluded the idea of an omnipresent God at work in the world, an idea repeatedly evoked by Whitman; rather, they involve a godless, natural All. If a God exists in such a worldview, he is but an expansion of the poet’s ego. Despite minor divergences, Whitman’s poetics proved crucial to the formation of Guo’s own aesthetics at the time, and continued to exert a conspicuous influence in later years.14 Guo Moruo’s encounter with Goethe, mainly through his reading (and translation) of Faust, was equally decisive: it marked a turning point that notably shaped the composition of many of the poems in the first part of The Goddesses, encouraging Guo to try his hand at writing poetic dramas. Goethe’s works triggered an adjustment of Guo’s earlier pantheism, urging him to give special prominence to the creative power of the individual, as well as to the role played by human action in the progress of society. In this sense, Guo may have found a new mode of self-expression and a new perspective by exploring “Faustian-Promethean strains”15 hitherto unknown in Chinese literature. The impact of Goethe’s masterpiece is especially noticeable in “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes” (Fenghuang niepan, 1920), but also permeates “The Rebirth of the Goddesses” (Nüshen zhi zaisheng, 1921): in the latter, the filiation is clearly marked by the insertion, by way of a prologue, of the Chorus mysticus from the closing section of the German Faust.16 I will provide below a more detailed analysis of the two poetic plays from the perspective of destruction and re-creation. While in Japan, Guo Moruo read the Bible – probably inspired by his Japanese wife, the daughter of a Protestant minister – but also became acquainted with Greco-Roman and other mythologies. Echoes of the “Song of Songs” can be found in “Venus” (1919), despite the Latin reference contained in the title: “I would compare your loving lips / to a wine cup. / An inexhaustible, sweet liquor / that would keep me constantly inebriated” (130). Guo naturally became acquainted with Arishima Takeo’s works, through which he became acquainted with the writings of many authors who would soon become his literary beacons – the most notable being Whitman, who enjoyed enormous popularity in Japan at the time. He also came in contact with such Japanese forms of fiction as the “I-novel” (shishōsetsu): the strong self-referentiality typical of this genre undoubtedly gave him – as well as his fellow Creationists, notably his then close friend Yu Dafu – a solid aesthetic point of reference.17 Guo Moruo also may have come into contact with the European avant-garde of Expressionism, Dadaism, and Futurism, either in their original forms or through Japanese reinterpretations. Expressionism, with its focus on subjectivity, subversion, and the centrality of emotional experience, found its natural place in the poet’s artistic stance and modes of expression. An interesting study has been carried out that stresses the emphasis on onomatopoeia and the combining of images and words that are found in some of Guo’s verses, e.g. “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes,” which may point at Dada as a source of inspiration.18 Futurist motifs and images are easier to 103

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detect, for example in the personification of the city in “Looking Afar from Fudetate Peak” (Bili shantou zhanwang, 1920): “Pulse of the great metropolis! / Surge of life! / Beating, panting, shrieking. . . / Spurting, flying, jumping. . . ” (68). However, the Futurist exaltation of the industrial metropolis is absent from Guo’s poetic horizon, as is the modernist binary opposition between city and nature. Moreover, his concept of power and destruction has a specific connotation that, although similarly aimed at radical rejuvenation, is far removed from the blatant, right-leaning belligerence of Italian Futurism. The osmotic symbiosis between diverse models and sources is a constant trait of Guo Moruo’s intellectual and artistic attitude. Even when confronted with the ubiquitous foreign suggestions in The Goddesses, it is important to note that “every occidental discovery is balanced in Guo Moruo by the reimmersion in the deepest current of Chinese national heritage.”19 The complexity of Guo’s intellectual universe stems precisely from this network of interliterary and intraliterary connections, woven together and reconfigured by the poet in a powerfully modern way.

The explosion of the Self The resurgence of individualism, even in its most extreme and unabashed forms, is undoubtedly one of the main features of new Chinese poetry. As a matter of fact, the emergence of a modern poetry devoted to lending voice to the artist’s Self is intimately connected to the critical endeavor undertaken by Hu Shi, the eminent activist for language reform and the engineer of the literary revolution that took place at the end of the 1910s. Hu began to draw attention to the renewal of poetry as early as 1917, when his first vernacular poems appeared in New Youth (Xin qingnian). His artistic efforts were collected in 1922 under the title Experiments (Changshi ji), and were accompanied by a series of seminal theoretical essays on the innovation of poetic language and thought. In particular, “On New Poetry” (Tan xinshi, 1919) marked a turning point in the way poetry was to be conceived of and created for many years to come. Hu’s concept of new poetry involved the discarding of classical Chinese language in favor of the vernacular, the adoption of free verse and even prose-like metric forms, the revitalization of ideas and images, and a renewed attention to clarity and conciseness. His programmatic vision ultimately favored – much in the same way as Imagism was doing in Europe and America – an artistic creation based on concreteness and individual experience, against traditional literary models that Hu and his followers saw as ossified, overly formalistic, lacking authenticity and hindering genuine self-expression. However, when it comes to the advocacy of spontaneity and subjectivity, it was not Hu Shi that left the deepest mark in the new poetry of the May Fourth era, but Guo Moruo. Furthermore, if we take 1916 as the composition date of the earliest poems that would later be gathered in The Goddesses, Guo seems to have incorporated such principles in his poetic creation about one year before Hu’s literary revolution. A celebration of unfettered self-expression and of the poet’s creative power, The Goddesses is the epitome of the Romantic subjectivity that was an essential feature of the May Fourth Movement. However, as widely discussed by his scholars, in Guo’s early poems the “I” has a cosmic significance and is embedded in a pantheistic vision that is unique to him. This sentiment is ubiquitous throughout the collection, but reaches its peak in “The Heavenly Hound” (Tiangou, 1920): “I am the Heavenly Hound!/ I swallow the moon,/ I swallow the sun,/ I swallow all the stars,/ I swallow the entire universe,/ I am I!/ I am the light of the moon,/ I am the light of the sun,/ I am the light of all the stars,/ I am the light of X-ray beams,/ I am the total Energy [in English in the original] of the entire universe!/ I race,/ I shout wildly,/ I burn,/ I burn like blazing fire,/ I shout wildly like the ocean,/ I race like electricity,/ I race,/ I race,/ I race,/ I peel my skin,/ I eat my flesh,/ I suck my blood,/ I gnaw my guts,/ I race on my nerves,/ I race on my spine,/ I race on my brains,/ I am I!/ My I is about to explode!” (54–55). 104

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The poet identifies with the Heavenly Dog of Chinese mythology, resonating with the legendary Norse wolves that cause the world to sink into darkness at Ragnarök. Here the poet’s pantheistic Self becomes the incarnation of cosmic energy and one with the universe, in an everlasting process of creation and destruction.20 The pounding rhythm of the poem, its free meter and explosive style perfectly epitomize the “great wave” verse that made him famous, and its powerful imagery taps into scientific knowledge “in an attempt to enrich and renew the current vocabulary of poetry.”21 A very similar rhythmic pattern and imagery, as well as the same persistent “I” at the beginning of each verse, can be found in “I am a Worshipper of Idols” (Wo shi ge ouxiang chongbaizhe, 1920). The poet bursts forth “I am a worshipper of idols!,” then goes on to itemize the objects of his worship – which include the sun, the mountain peaks, the ocean, life, death, light, darkness, the creative spirit, blood, the heart, bombs, grief, destruction, but also Suez and Panama, the Great Wall and the Pyramids – and ends with the verses “I worship destroyers of idols, worship myself! / I am also a destroyer of idols!” (99). By anaphorically using the pronoun “I,” the poet’s hyperbolic Self reviews the manifestations of both nature and humankind, from heavenly bodies to the products of human genius and creativity; and after shifting its gaze towards man and his violence, at the end it turns to itself once again, trapped in a solipsistic loop. Just as the I reaches the peak of its elevation it also reaches its terminal point: it subsequently collapses into self-referentiality, losing the ability to convey any message and – in “The Heavenly Hound” – finding an ultimate outlet only in an explosion.22 The use of free verse and the fondness for diverse references – science, nature, and mythology, to name just a few – but also the ubiquity of an amplified “I,” the catalogue technique, and the feeling of physical and spiritual oneness with the universe can be instantly traced back to Whitman, and especially to “Song of Myself ” and the second stanza of “So Long.” However, this prominent, all-encompassing Self is rooted not only in a Romantic and heroic subjectivity, but also in Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Übermensch. The German thinker had already been given prominence by other May Fourth intellectuals, notably Mao Dun and Lu Xun, who emphasized the role of the Overman in overturning traditional – i.e. Confucian – morality. In his early verse, Guo pushes this idea of a powerful individual to its extreme consequences, making it a cornerstone of his poetics. Although Guo’s interest for Nietzsche cooled in later years, the philosopher obtained an eminent place in his personal theoretical pantheon, as witnessed by the influential translation of Zarathustra.23 Nietzsche is even celebrated, together with Copernicus and Darwin, as one of the “bandits of doctrinal revolution” in “Hymn to the Bandits” (Feitu song, 1919), with the poet praising his iconoclasm and addressing him directly in these terms:“Nietzsche, you mad advocate of the philosophy of the Overman, you who have humiliated gods and smashed idols!” (114–115). The hypertrophic and unrestrained Self found in The Goddesses is also evocative of the “extension of the Self ” (Erweiterung des Ichs) theorized by Max Stirner, the father of anarchist individualism, who exerted a significant influence on many intellectuals of the time – especially Yu Dafu, who opened a 1923 article on Stirner with a discussion of this very concept24 – and was seen by some of them as a precursor to Nietzsche’s philosophy. The celebration of self-expression, artistic creativity, and individual freedom that permeates The Goddesses hit the modern Chinese literary scene with unrivalled momentum. The collection proved crucial to the formation of a new poetic conscience and voice: echoes of the same individualistic sentiment, the presentation of the poet as a hero, and even some metric features of Guo’s new-style verse can still be found, decades later, in an entirely different artistic and ideological context – e.g. in such “obscure” poems as “The Answer” (Huida, 1976) by Bei Dao.25 Despite immediately earning Guo Moruo a legion of admirers and imitators, however, the exacerbated self-absorption and overwhelming rhetoric of The Goddesses proved hardly sustainable 105

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in the long run. By the mid-1920s, most modern poets – including Guo himself – had already turned to other forms and sources of inspiration.

Destruction and rebirth The celebration of annihilation and destruction in such poems as “The Heavenly Dog” or “I am a Worshipper of Idols” is self-evident.26 In her discussion of the sublime in The Goddesses, Zheng goes as far as to declare that “[t]he sublime transfigured in Guo’s ‘new’ verse is a sublimity of the joys of destruction bordering on savagery.”27 Elsewhere, the depiction of such themes shows more positive, even cheerful traits. This is the case, for example, with the final stanza of “Victorious Death” (Shengli de si, 1920), dedicated to IRA fighter Terence MacSwiney, with its apostrophe: “O solemn death! O death in a golden blaze! O death triumphant! / O victorious death! / Impartial, selfless God of Death! I thank you!” (122). The Romantic idea of death as “true liberation” (128) longed for by the poet is also patent in “Death” (Si, 1919). However, it is in the poetic dramas “The Rebirth of the Goddesses” and “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes” that the celebration of destruction, and the subsequent call for the creation of a new world order, find their most accomplished poetic representation. In the former work, Guo revisits the myth of the goddess Nüwa mending the heavens at the time when the sky and the earth were in disruption, as related in several traditional sources. In his version of the myth, three anonymous goddesses, possibly symbols of the eternal feminine essence (ewig Weibliche) evoked in the motto from Faust, are put on the stage. Facing a turbulent world and an impending catastrophe, they disappear while announcing the advent of a new world, made of new light and warmth: “We will create a new sun, / We will no longer stay in these niches as statues!” (8). In the following verses, a bloody war between Zhuanxu and Gonggong – two mythical characters reminiscent of the warlords ravaging China at the time – leaves the world in ruins. The goddesses, now unseen and only heard, sing a song of welcome to the newly created sun, which has yet to rise. The voices of praise fade as the stage manager appears bowing to the audience: Everyone! You must have grown tired of sitting in this fetid, gloomy world! You must be thirsting for light! The poet who composed this play has put his pen down. In fact, he has fled beyond the sea to create a new light and warmth. Everyone, are you waiting for the appearance of a new-born sun? You better create one yourselves! Till we meet again under the new sun! (14) The chaotic old world has undergone utter obliteration: “New-made wine / cannot be contained in old skins” (8), sings the Third Goddess. However, a rebirth, embodied by the new sun and sustained by the poet’s creative endeavor, is only hinted at in the stage manager’s closing statement – not without a hint of irony – and left to the efforts of the audience.28 A more complex conceptualization of rebirth, following the demolition of the old order, is found in “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes,” perhaps the most accomplished poem in the collection, which tellingly opens its second section. Guo Moruo reimagines the myth of the phoenix, grafting the Near-Eastern bird that rise from its ashes onto the feng and huang of the Chinese tradition – respectively the male and female phoenix, whose appearance is associated with the advent of a righteous ruler. Through the representation of the cycle of death and rebirth, symbolized by the phoenixes, the poem captures the spirit of the May Fourth Movement and its yearning for a new life born out of the ashes of a collapsing world. In a solemn tone sustained 106

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by repetition and parallelism, the “Prelude” describes a bleak world where the death by fire of the phoenixes is imminent: “The night is now deep, / the wood is now lit, / the feng is tired of pecking, / the huang is tired of flapping, / their hour of death is near!” (35). The pitch of the poem is then elevated by the intense song of the feng:“Universe, o universe, / I curse you with all my strength: / you blood-soiled slaughterhouse! / You gloom-filled prison! / You grave where phantoms shriek! / You hell where demons frolic! / Why do you even exist?” (38). The song of the huang introduces a more gentle and nostalgic note, in the awareness that the incoming death will put an end to the freshness and sweetness of youth, but also to the worries and grief of this life. While the couple is consumed by the fire, a flock of other birds approaches to witness their demise, mocking them and hoping to inherit a piece of the world they have left behind. The poetic play closes in a climax ushered in by the carefully orchestrated “Song of rebirth,” in which the reborn phoenixes gleefully sing their own resurrection and the advent of a new world: a world dominated by the liberating force of fire – another incarnation of the pervasive image of the sun – and by the return to a pantheistic vision where “the One of the All is born again, / the All of the One is born again!” and “fire is you. / Fire is me. / Fire is him. / Fire is fire!” (43–44). As is the case in “The Rebirth of the Goddesses,” the political and revolutionary implications of this renewal are not developed or made explicit: such a change remains confined to the realm of a humanist idealism, tinged with utopian suggestions. In spite of a generally optimistic tone, the new world never seems to be fully realized, and the unambiguous certitudes of socialist realism are still nowhere to be found in The Goddesses. This said, one may see in this idea of renewal the seeds of the engagement that will dominate Guo’s later life and artistic production, starting with his conversion to Marxism in 1924. However, Guo’s political views were still blurry and hardly systematic at the time, and his enthusiasm still largely fashioned by Romantic models. His sympathy for certain left-wing principles is beyond doubt, but the famous claims expressed in the “Preface” (Xushi, 1921), namely “I am a proletarian” and “I want to be a Communist” (3), should not be overstated. Rather, it has been suggested that “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes” presents religious overtones, starting from the evocation of the concept of nirvana in the title. From this perspective, the regeneration brought about by May Fourth and allegorically staged by Guo may be seen as “not a mere historical event but a religious ritual, one that initiates the new youth into an ecstasy of total self-confidence and self-sacrifice.”29 In any case, the idea of rebirth is ever-present in The Goddesses: while it is not always formulated as explicitly as in the poetic plays discussed above, it is often hinted at in a number of ways. As already mentioned, one of Guo’s favorite semantic fields associated with renewal includes sun, fire, light, heat, and energy in their various forms. In “Sunrise” (Richu, 1920), the dark clouds gathering in the sky are “all driven away by Apollo’s mighty light” (62) while “the cockcrows all around play a song of triumph” (63). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the line “light and darkness are divided, as if cut with a knife” (62) is reminiscent of the beginning of the Genesis, which may reinforce the idea of (re-)creation and its religious associations. Moreover, in a game of internal reverberations, the song of the roosters – the only birds that refrained from mocking the dying feng and huang – also introduces the rebirth song of the phoenixes in “The Nirvana of the Phoenixes” by announcing “the light that died is born again. / [. . .] the universe that died is born again. / [. . .] the phoenixes that died are born again” (43). The exaltation of the creativity of man – and especially the poet – is also intimately connected with the idea of rebirth. In “The Pyramids” (Jinzita, 1920), for instance, the sun is symbolized by the pyramids themselves, which in turn roar: “Create! Create! Create with all your might! / The creative force of humankind can rival that of the gods! / If you do not believe us, then look at us, we glorious constructions!” (107).The Romantic celebration of human creative power is exemplified by the feverish monologue of Qu Yuan in the poetic play “The Tragedy 107

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at the Xiang River” (Xiang lei, 1920): “I follow the example of the spirit of creation, I create freely, freely express myself. I create magnificent mountains and grand oceans, I create the sun, the moon, the stars, I ride the wind, the clouds, the thunder, the rain, and though limited by my own body I break free, I can expand into the universe”30 (22). This speech seems to encapsulate the universe of The Goddesses and its aesthetic mainstays: the celebration of creation and free self-expression, the identification of the poet with a demiurge, the expansion of the Self, and a pantheistic vision expressed in a language that is strongly reminiscent of “The Heavenly Dog” – besides the hammering presence of the “I.” Echoes of Dr. Faust’s euphoric lines clearly resonate in the words of the poet that Guo Moruo admired most. It comes as no surprise that Guo somehow elected Qu Yuan as his alter ego, just as Goethe did with Faust:31 a characterization that would be finally accomplished 20 years later, in the 1942 historical play of the same name. The wealth of elements drawn from all disciplines and epochs, remolded by Guo Moruo’s talent to create a brand-new mythical universe, has earned The Goddesses the status of a masterpiece in modern Chinese literature. Because of its cross-cultural value, the collection should also be entitled to a first-rate place in the realm of world literature. Its role in the formation of a new aesthetic conscience and a new approach to poetic expression marks a milestone in the cultural history of China. Even though many of these forms and modes were more or less quickly abandoned, a world of artistic possibilities was opened that transcended both the continuation of tradition and the mere imitation of foreign models. From this perspective, The Goddesses paved the way for modern Chinese poetry and exerted an enduring influence for the decades to come.

Notes 1 Achilles Fang, “From Imagism to Whitmanism in Recent Chinese Poetry: A Search for Poetics That Failed,” in Horst Frenz and G. L. Anderson, eds., Indiana University Conference on Oriental-Western Literature Relations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955), 186. 2 Bonnie McDougall and Kam Louie, The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century (London: Hurst & Company, 1997), 42. 3 The edition of The Goddesses used in this contribution follows that contained in the first volume of Guo Moruo quanji (Complete Works of Guo Moruo), published in 1982 by Renmin wenxue chubanshe. 4 Wen Yiduo, Wen Yiduo quanji (Complete Works of Wen Yiduo), vol. 2 (Wuhan: Hubei renmin chubanshe, 1993), 110. 5 Yi Zheng, “The Romantic Transfiguration of a Sublime Poetics,” in Caroline Baillie et al., eds., Travelling Facts: The Social Construction, Distribution, and Accumulation of Knowledge (Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus, 2004), 112. 6 Lars Ellström, “Guo Moruo, Nüshen (The Goddesses), 1921,” in Lloyd Haft, ed., A Selective Guide to Chinese Literature 1900–1949, Volume III: The Poem (Leiden, New York, København and Köln: Brill, 1989), 108–114. 7 Achilles Fang, “From Imagism to Whitmanism,” 186. 8 Julia Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 198. 9 For instance, Hu Shi emphasized the supposed indigenous origins of the new genre, although his poetic thought had been essentially shaped by his education in the US and his immersion in Euro-American modernist poetry. See Kirk A. Denton, “Form and Reform: New Poetry and the Crescent Moon Society,” in Joshua Mostow, ed., The Columbia Companion to East Asian Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 366. On the attempt to obscure the interliterary and anticonformist aspects in Guo Moruo’s early poetry see also Wolfgang Kubin, “Creator! Destroyer! On the Self-Image of the Chinese Poet,” in Modern Chinese Literature (1996), vol. 9, no. 2, 252. 10 Michelle Yeh,“ ‘There Are No Camels in the Koran’:What Is Modern About Modern Chinese Poetry?” in Christopher Lupke, ed., New Perspectives on Contemporary Chinese Poetry (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 15. 11 Marián Gálik, “Kuo Mo-jo’s The Goddesses: Creative Confrontation with Tagore, Whitman and Goethe,” in Marián Gálik, ed., Milestones in Sino-Western Literary Confrontation (1898–1979) (Weisbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986), 45.


Imagining new Chinese in Guo Moruo’s poetry 12 Ibid., 44. 13 Guo Moruo, Guo Moruo quanji (Complete Works of Guo Moruo), vol. 1 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1982), 148. Further quotations from the Chinese text will be indicated by page numbers in brackets after the citation. All translations from the Chinese are my own. 14 See Liu Rongqiang, “Whitman’s Soul in China: Guo Moruo’s Poetry in the New Culture Movement,” in Ed Folsom, ed., Whitman East & West: New Contexts for Reading Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002), 172–186; Ou Hong, “Pantheistic Ideas in Guo Moruo’s The Goddesses and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass,” in Ed Folsom, ed., Whitman East & West, 187–196. 15 Marián Gálik, “Kuo Mo-jo’s The Goddesses,” 61. 16 Ibid., 59 ff. 17 See Christopher T. Keaveney, The Subversive Self in Modern Chinese Literature:The Creation Society’s Reinvention of the Japanese Shishōsetsu (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). 18 Kin Pong James Au, “The Influence of Dadaist Poetry Works on Chinese and Japanese Poems from the Late 1910s Till the Late 1920s,” The Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities Osaka, Japan 2014 – Conference Proceedings 2014 (Nagoya: IAFOR, 2014), 600–612. 19 Anna Bujatti, “The Spirit of the May Fourth Movement in The Goddesses of Guo Moruo,” in Marián Gálik, ed., Interliterary and Intraliterary Aspects of the May Fourth Movement 1919 in China (Bratislava:Veda, 1990), 104. 20 Marián Gálik, “Kuo Mo-jo’s The Goddesses,” 59. 21 Julia Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry, 209. 22 Richard Trappl, “ ‘Modernism’ and Foreign Influences on Chinese Poetry: Exemplified by the Early Guo Moruo and Gu Cheng,” in Marián Gálik, ed., Interliterary and Intraliterary Aspects of the May Fourth Movement 1919 in China, 89. A groundbreaking investigation into the low-to-high, inside-to-outside corporal dynamics of “The Heavenly Hound” is found in Mi Jialu (Mi Jiayan),“Zhangkuang yu zaohua de shenti: ziwo mosu yu Zhongguo xiandaixing – Guo Moruo shige ‘Tiangou’ zaijiedu” (The Insolent and Creating Body: Self-Fashioning and Chinese Modernity. A Reinterpretation of Guo Moruo’s Poem ‘The Heavenly Hound’), Jiangnan xueshu, vol. 35, no. 1, 13–21. For an intriguing reading of the obliteration of the Self as the sign of a longing for totality and a prelude to a conversion to collectivism, see Victor Vuilleumier, “Body, Soul, and Revolution: The Paradoxical Transfiguration of the Body in Modern Chinese Poetry,” in Tao Dongfeng et al., eds., Chinese Revolution and Chinese Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 57. 23 See Raoul David Findeisen, “The Burden of Culture: Glimpses at the Literary Reception of Nietzsche in China,” Asian and African Studies (1997), no. 6, 79–81. 24 Yu Dafu, Yu Dafu quanji (Complete Works of Yu Dafu), vol. 10 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang daxue chubanshe, 2006), 48–64. 25 Michel Hockx, “Introduction: The Making of Modern Chinese Poetry,” in The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican Period, trans. Herbert Batt and Sheldon Zitner (Montreal, Kingston, London and Chicago: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016), 17. 26 See Wolfgang Kubin, “Creator! Destroyer!” 252 ff., and Chu Zigang, “Lun Guo Moruo zaoqi shige zhong de siwang yishi” (On the Conscience of Death in Guo Moruo’ s Early Poetry), Zuojia zazhi (2012), no. 3, 32–33. 27 Yi Zheng, “The Romantic Transfiguration of a Sublime Poetics,” 113. 28 See Anna Bujatti, “Lo spirito del 4 Maggio nella ‘Rinascita delle dee’ di Guo Moruo” (The May Fourth Spirit in Guo Moruo’s ‘The Rebirth of the Goddesses’), Cina (1980), no. 16, 265–272. 29 David Der-wei Wang, “Chinese Literature from 1841 to 1937,” in Kang-i Sun Chang, ed., The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), vol. 2, 482. 30 Anna Bujatti, “The Spirit of the May Fourth Movement in The Goddesses of Guo Moruo,” 103. 31 Marián Gálik, “Kuo Mo-jo’s The Goddesses,” 66.

Further readings Chen, Xiaoming. From the May Fourth Movement to Communist Revolution. Guo Moruo and the Chinese Path to Communism. New York: SUNY Press, 2007. Gálik, Marián. “Kuo Mo-jo and His Development from Aesthetico-Impressionist to Proletarian Criticism.” In Gálik, ed., The Genesis of Modern Chinese Literary Criticism, 1917–1930. London: Curzon Press, 1980, 28–62.


Paolo Magagnin Lee, Leo Ou-fan. “Kuo Mo-jo.” In Lee, ed., The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973, 177–200. Mi, Jiayan. Self-Fashioning and Reflexive Modernity in Modern Chinese Poetry, 1919–1949. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2004. Průšek, Jaroslav. “Kuo Mo-jo.” In Průšek, ed., Three Sketches of Chinese Literature. Prague: Oriental Institute in Academia, 1969, 99–140. Roy, David Tod. Kuo Mo-jo.The Early Years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971. Shih, Shu-mei. “Psychoanalysis and Cosmopolitanism. The Work of Guo Moruo.” In Shih, ed., The Lure of the Modern. Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001, 96–109.


8 ROMANTICIZING NEW CHINESE IN POETRY Zhu Ziqing, Wen Yiduo, Xu Zhimo Frederik H. Green

While the short story, and in particular the pioneering examples of Lu Xun discussed in Chapter 1, undoubtedly played the foremost role in modernizing Chinese literature and in institutionalizing the new Chinese vernacular (baihua) as the language of the new literature, the role played by poetry in bringing about a “literary revolution” as was advocated by progressive reformers must not be neglected, especially because the task of modernizing Chinese poetry was arguably even more daunting than that of modernizing fiction. Classical Chinese poetry written in literary Chinese (wenyan) is above all defined by its strict prosodic rules that govern meter and rhyme. Mastery of these rules was for centuries not only a sign of cultural sophistication, but also an essential requirement for success in the civil service exams. As a result, classical poetry carried immense discursive significance in the formation and articulation of moral, aesthetic, and political beliefs. It was only during the New Culture Movement of the late 1910s and early 1920s, a progressive reformist movement aimed at rejuvenating and modernizing Chinese culture, that classical poetry’s usefulness as a tool for self-expression or social renewal began to be questioned by intellectuals in support of the literary revolution. All three poets discussed in this chapter had a profound impact on the development of a new Chinese poetry in the first part of the twentieth century. Zhu Ziqing (1898–1948) was a pioneer of free verse and advocate a new poetic language that expanded the horizon of poetic diction. As a student at Peking University, then the country’s center of progressive thought, Zhu remained closely aligned with the ideas of his mentors, such as Hu Shi’s advocacy of the “great liberation of poetic form” that called for poets to express their thoughts and feelings in free, vernacular verse and in the spirit of Tolstoyan humanism and modern individualism, exemplified by the writings of Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967). Wen Yiduo (1899–1946) shared Zhu Ziqing’s humanism and the belief in the transformative potential of socially progressive new poetry. However, Wen Yiduo’s intense interest in English romantic poetry and his training in aesthetic theories also led him to the advocacy of a more formalistic approach to new verse. Xu Zimo (1897–1931), finally, shared Wen Yiduo’s love of romantic poetry and his belief that the new poetry could benefit from more formal structures. While this did not imply a return to classical prosody and form, it was to be understood as a reaction to the unbridled free-form poetry of the early reformers. Together with Wen Yiduo and other like-minded intellectuals, Xu in the 1920s founded the Crescent Moon Society, a literary group that pursued spiritual renewal by way of aestheticism. Of all three poets, Xu Zhimo is undoubtedly the most 111

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“romantic,” not just because of his desire to freely express individual emotions by way of sensual imagery, a desire he shared with Zhu Ziqing and Wen Yiduo, but because of his idealism, his uncompromising pursuit of aestheticism, and his celebration of sublime love in his poetry and throughout his short life.

Life and career of Zhu Ziqing Born into a declining gentry family in Jiangsu province, Zhu Ziqing, like many of his peers, received an education that was partly traditional and partly modern. In 1916, Zhu entered Peking University where he eventually majored in philosophy, and where he met Zhou Zuoren, who had a lasting impact on Zhu’s literary development. Like Zhou, Zhu remained politically moderate, even as the May Fourth Movement of 1919 erupted in Beijing.The movement, however, instilled in Zhu a set of humanitarian ideals and anti-imperialist sentiments that also shaped much of his early verse. Unlike Wen Yiduo and Xu Zhimo, both of whom studied abroad after graduation, Zhu Ziqing remained in China and taught for several years at a number of modern schools in Zhejiang and Jiangsu province. In 1921, Zhu Ziqing joined the Literary Research Association, China’s first modern literary society that promoted the ideas of the New Culture Movement and that proposed that literature be placed in the service of humanity. Around that time, he also became an active promotor and practitioner of new poetry. With his friends and fellow writers Yu Pingbo (1900–1990),Ye Shengtao (1894–1988) and Liu Yanling (1894–1988), he founded the first Chinese literary society dedicated to new verse, the New Poetry Society (Xinshi she).1 Zhu’s activity as a new-style poet only lasted until around 1925. That year, Zhu began to teach at Tsinghua University where he became chair of the Chinese department in 1932.2 Though his complete works only include a few dozen new poems, his impact on the new poetry movement was considerable.3 Encouraged by Zhou Zuoren’s promotion of the short lyric (xiaoshi), a form of new poetry that was modeled on modern Japanese haiku and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Zhu in the early 1920s became one of the new form’s earliest advocates and practitioners.4 Furthermore, in his highly lyrical yet socially engaged prose proems, Zhu frequently expanded the stylistic and thematic boundaries of new Chinese poetry in the vernacular. Of equal importance to his role as a pioneer of new verse was Zhu’s work as a critic of modern poetry, as an educator and scholar, and as an editor. The poetry volume of the seminal Comprehensive Compendium to Modern Literature (Xinwenxue daxi shiji) from 1935 that included works by over fifty modern poets, for example, was edited and prefaced by him. Today, Zhu is best remembered as a writer of essays. In fact, Zhu was one of the key intellectuals who turned the essay into one of the most important literary genres of Republican-period China. During the Sino-Japanese war, Zhu relocated to Changsha and then to Kunming after Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Nankai University moved to the hinterland to form National Southwestern Associated University. In 1938, he became the chairman of the All-China Literature and Art Association for Resistance, a loose organization of patriotically minded intellectuals who wished to optimize the impact of artistic activity on the war effort to resist Japanese aggression.5

Achievements of Zhu Ziqing Zhu Ziqing is often credited for bringing the fledging new poetry to maturity.6 While Hu Shi and Zhou Zuoren have to be credited with pioneering the use of vernacular and free verse in Chinese poetry, their poems too often failed to be “poetic.” Michelle Yeh summarizes 112

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the challenge that modern poets were facing at that time: if modern Chinese poetry was to have neither fixed form nor classical syntax or poetic diction, how was it to be recognized as poetry?7 In 1922, Zhu Ziqing was one of eight co-editors and contributors to China’s first anthology of modern poetry, a collection entitled A Snowy Morning (Xuezhao) that consisted of a total of 187 new poems and that was to have a lasting impact on China’s new poetry movement.8 At the same time, Zhu was one of the editors and contributors to the first literary journal exclusively dedicated to the publication and discussion of modern poetry, the short lived Poetry Monthly (Shi yuekan). Established in 1922, it only published seven issues, yet despite its short print-run published close to 500 modern poems by nearly 100 new poets. It also carried works of theory and criticism, as well as translations of foreign poetry. In 1924, Zhu published his own collection of modern verse and prose essays entitled Tracks (Zongji) to great critical acclaim. Zhu Ziqing’s critical writings on the topic of modern poetry were equally influential, making him one of the leading interpreters of the new poetry.9 His critical essays were anthologized in 1947 in Talks on the New Poetry (Xinshi zahua). That year, Zhu Ziqing also oversaw the compilation of Wen Yiduo’s complete works. Today, Zhu Ziqing’s importance as a poet is overshadowed by his legacy as a writer of essays, many of which form an essential part of the Chinese curriculum of students all over the Chinese-speaking world.

The masterpieces of Zhu Ziqing A Snowy Morning was published in Shanghai in 1922 by the Commercial Press, one of China’s first modern publishing houses. Mainly because of its close association with the Literary Research Association, it had become the most important publisher of modern and progressive literature, textbooks, and translations of foreign literature. A Snowy Morning was received enthusiastically by critics and readers alike and went through several reprints. Because contributors were arranged by stroke order, the nineteen poems by Zhu Ziqing, whose last name had the fewest number of strokes among all eight contributors, headed the anthology. Zhu’s poems reflect the main stylistic and topical trends of the burgeoning new poetry movement and are evidence of his mastery of the new medium. The second poem in the selection entitled “Coal” (Mei), for example, responded to the call to expand the scope and themes for poetry on the one hand while, on the other hand, extoling progress and optimism, social justice and humanism, and infusing poetic language with new vitality. You slumber deep underground, So filthy, so dark! The people who look at you How they hate you, fear you! They say, “No one wants to be close to it. . .!” Then suddenly you start dancing from amidst in the Field of Fire, Out from your black naked figure, Burst flashes of glow and heat; Oh! Glow and heat everywhere, Dazzling and bright! They have forgotten what was before, Their mouths wide open in laughter, Singing songs in praise of you; 113

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Swaying their bodies, In tune with the rhythm of your dance.10 Written in the new vernacular, “Coal” breaks with traditional meter and adopts a free form, as did most poetry in the early days of the new poetry movement. In fact, the liberation from strict rhyming and metric conventions, which is such a defining feature of classical Chinese verse, was one of the prime concerns for new poets active in the early 1920s, and in this regard alone A Snowy Morning was exemplary. All 187 poems in A Snowy Morning were printed in the newly adopted Western way of printing poetry on the page, namely vertically line by line instead of as one continues body of text where line breaks were indicated by small circles, as was conventional with traditional poetry. Zhu’s poem, however, does not abandon meter entirely, and he attempts to maintain a roughly equal line length for corresponding lines. He further creates semblance of stanzas by indenting the first line of the three topical units in the poem. At the same time, Zhu makes conscious – at times excessive – use of modern Western punctuation, which visually added to the “modern-ness” of the poem, but which also helped accentuate stress and lend rhythm to the poem. Several other of Zhu’s poems in A Snowy Morning were similar in length, rhythm, topic, and poetic diction to “Coal,” such as “Small Grasses” (Xiaocao), where the beauty of small grasses is extolled as a new spring arrives or “Among My Fellow Men” (Renjian), a poem that describes two chance encounters that deeply move the lyrical “I,” one with a simple, warm-hearted peasant and one with a mother and child. Both the perceived purity of peasant life and the allegorical significance of motherly love within the concept of modern nationalism were frequent tropes in May Fourth literature. Another poem included in A Snowy Morning representative of the formalistic and prosodic concerns of the early stages of the new poetry movement is “Attachment” (Yilian), a short poem consisting of only three lines: Sitting in a third class carriage, Dimly recalling Shanghai in January, My heart sinks. 2/18/21, onboard the Shanghai-Hangzhou train The short lyric had been one of the most enthusiastically embraced genres of the new poetry movement. Zhou Zuoren had been among its most fervent promoters in China. He had been impressed by the way modern Japanese poets had infused haiku and tanka, two traditional verse forms, with new life when they had begun modernizing their language and literature during the late nineteenth century. Zhou had translated several of them into Chinese and published them in Poetry Monthly. In an introduction to the modern tanka of Takuboku Ishikawa (1886–1912), for example, he refers to them as “poems of life” whose content “emphasizes the expression of real life and does away with restrictive examples of the past, whereas the form is revolutionary in that it employs colloquial language and breaks with line restrictions, something new poets [in China] all too often dare not do.”11 Zhu Ziqing achieves all those objectives beautifully in “Attachment.” Ostensibly composed on board a train and written in the modern vernacular, the poem is not only intrinsically modern, but also grounded in real life. The emotion expressed in the poem appears like the scene viewed from a train window – fleeting, and disappearing in an instant. As such, the poem also conforms to Zhu Ziqing’s own critical demands for successful


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short lyric. “The use of [writing] short poetry,” Zhu writes in “On Short Verse and Long Verse” that appeared in Poetry Monthly in 1922, lies in [. . .] expressing the awareness of a single instant. Therefore, it should cherish conciseness and abstain from longwindedness. [. . .] Artistically, short poems should emphasize suggestion and flexibility of expression. The reader should feel as if countless scenes are eager to jump out.12 Zhu Ziqing’s best known poem, however, was not a short poem, but a long prose poem entitled “Destruction” (Huimie) that appeared in 1923 in Short Story Monthly (Xiaoshuo yuebao), another important progressive literary journal affiliated with the Literary Research Association. Consisting of a preface and a total of 246 lines, the poem was written after a visit to the scenic West Lake. “The three nights I spent at leisure on the lake left me feeling giddy, like a wisp of smoke or a floating cloud, my footing completely off balance,” Zhu writes in the preface. “At that moment, I felt greatly troubled by the temptations I had found myself entangled with and as a result was yearning for destruction.”13 What follows is a lyrical tour-de-force that pushes, in Michael Hockx’s words, the modern vernacular and the prosody of modern poetry to its grammatical and stylistic extremes.14 Sentences crammed with adjectives extend over several lines and the innovative use of rhyme, alliterations, parallelism, and repetition make reading “Destruction” a lyrical experience that at the time of publication certainly was unprecedented in modern Chinese literature. Rambling down the road Dejected and crestfallen That’s me! That’s me! Myriad colors, Spread out so close at hand: Here, so beautiful to see! There, so beautiful to hear! Smelling the thick fragrance, tasting the strong flavors; and all that my hand touches, and my body leans on, so smooth and lustrous, so soft and supple, Willingly!15 As the poem continues, the lyrical “I” extols elusive imagery, marvels in concrete descriptions of nature and delves into hallucinatory near-death experiences until, in the last lines, the poet concludes with a spiritual awakening. Struggling, Struggling, I am finally returning, the smoke and dust lift and I see the soil of my land! All images vanish, all radiance dissolves; casting off all restraints,


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I am returning to my old self! [. . .] My old self, ordinary and insignificant, now sees each step clearly and distinct, filled with great joy – All that is distant I can no more, and want no more take notice of. I won’t delay, Go! Go! Go!16 Zhu’s juxtaposition of concrete and abstract images, frank exploration of highly subjective emotions, and innovative use of the vernacular paired with clear historical allusions led Yu Pingbo, another important May Fourth poet and critic, to state: “When talking about its melodious and emotional style, the profound gloominess of its mood, and the heart-rendering grace of its tonality, there is only Qu Yuan’s ‘Encountering Sorrow’ that can compare,”17 alluding to the fact that the poem is both thoroughly modern in its innovative use of prosody while also firmly grounded in China’s own rich poetic tradition. Zhu’s lyrical exploration of nature and his meditative subjectivity also find expression in many of his famous essays. In “The Lotus Pond by Moonlight” (Hetang yuese, 1927) a pensive narrator finds spiritual respite on a nightly stroll on the campus of Tsinghua University, for “alone in the all-pervading moonlight, one could think about everything, or about nothing, and so believe oneself to be a free man.”18 His highly personal “The View from the Rear” (Beiying, 1925) is a sentimental recollection of Zhu’s father’s expression of parental love. Following extensive travels in continental Europe and an extended seven-month stay in London between 1931 and 1932, Zhu recorded his impressions in Notes from my Travels in Europe (Ouyou zaji, 1934) and Notes from London (Lundun zaji, 1943), two important examples of Republican-period travel essays. After around 1925, Zhu only occasionally reverted to writing modern verse. One of Zhu’s last pieces of writing, however, was a new-style poem. It was written in memory of his friend, fellow poet and critic Wen Yiduo, upon learning of Wen’s assassination in 1946 by KMT agents. Composed not long before Zhu’s own untimely death in 1948 that had been hastened by stomach ulcers aggravated by his refusal to accept relief food in an act of protest against Chiang Kai-shek’s postwar regime and its backing by the US government, the poem not only echoes the optimism and defiance of the May Fourth poets from three decades earlier, it also stands as proud evidence that the new poetic language and form these poets had set out to establish persisted and flourished, even – or especially – at a time when some of its creators suffered political suppression. You are a ball of fire, Lighting up the deepest abyss; Guiding the youth to find themselves From amidst their hopelessness. [. . .] You are a ball of fire, Blinding the demons; You are destroying yourself! But from your ashes a New China will burst forth!19 116

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Life and career of Wen Yiduo Born into a scholarly family in Hubei province,Wen Yiduo’s education, like that of Zhu Ziqing, was shaped by his exposure to the traditional Chinese canon as well as to modern Western arts and sciences. In 1912, Wen entered preparatory classes at Tsinghua University where he then matriculated in 1918.There, he became acquainted with the work of John Keats and other English romantic poets, but was also exposed to the ideas of the May Fourth Movement.20 These ostensibly conflicting intellectual impulses – idealism and the pursuit of beauty on the one hand and anti-imperialist patriotism and social activism on the other – were to remain his defining creative influences. In 1922, Wen embarked for further studies in the US, enrolling first at the Art Institute of Chicago and later Colorado College. Perceiving of art as the highest act of reason, a conviction Wen shared with Western romantic thinkers, he immersed himself in the study of art and aesthetic theories. Experiencing racial discrimination and witnessing what he perceived to be Western cultural imperialism while in America, he also developed an acute sense of patriotism and a desire to serve his country.21 These themes were frequently explored in his new poetry that he had begun composing around the time of the May Fourth Movement. Upon his return to China in 1925,Wen first taught at the newly established Art Institute of Beijing and a number of other progressive universities before accepting a professorship in Chinese literature at Tsinghua University in 1932, a position he continued to hold throughout the war years when Tsinghua relocated to Kunming. All throughout the late 1920s, Wen continued to shape the direction of modern Chinese verse, especially after becoming a core member of the Crescent Moon Society. Together with Xu Zhimo, he first edited Poetry Journal (Shikan), the new poetry section of The Morning Post Supplement (Chenbao fukan), and later the Crescent Moon Monthly (Xinyue yuekan), the group’s influential journal. Both publications also frequently carried his own new verse, yet it was in his role as the Crescent Moon Society’s main theoretician that he would have the most lasting impact on modern Chinese poetry. As a scholar of classical literature, Wen Yiduo was particularly drawn to the Book of Odes (Shijing) and the poet Qu Yuan. In 1944, Wen Yiduo joined the Democratic League (Minzhu tongmeng), a progressive party that promoted a “Third Way” as a political alternative to the KMT’s authoritarian nationalism or the CCP’s communism. In those years of political activism, Wen drew much inspiration from Qu Yuan’s valiant steadfastness, as an essay composed not long before his violent death at the hands of KMT agents in 1947 attests. “We should note that [. . .] there were two Qu Yuans,” he writes, quoting Maxim Gorky’s recommendation that a great artist needs to be viewed both as son of his time and as a historical figure participating in the struggle for the people’s liberation. “His time didn’t allow him to fight in other ways [. . .], but he did struggle and was a participator in the struggle for the people’s liberation [. . .]. If I am a worshipper of Qu Yuan, I worship him from this angle.”22

Achievements of Wen Yiduo If Zhu Ziqing needs to be seen as a pioneer whose innovative use of the vernacular in modern verse helped the new poetry gain maturity, Wen Yiduo is often credited with formalizing the new genre and laying the foundation of what has since been referred to as “national form.” At first reluctant to embrace the vernacular as a language for poetry, Wen Yiduo eventually embraced it enthusiastically around the time of the May Fourth Movement to give voice to his awakening romantic inclinations that were fueled by intense study of his poetic icons like 117

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John Keats and other English romantics, and pre-modern Chinese poets like late Tang poet Li Shangyin. He especially admired Li Shangyin’s poetry of sensuous imagism and intense feelings. Yet unlike some other May Fourth poets whose vernacular poems were typically composed in free verse with little regard for rhyme or meter and that too often imitated Western prosody or drew on exotic foreign subject matter, Wen Yiduo became increasingly convinced that the new poetry would greatly benefit from the introduction of formalist conventions and the observance of what he referred to as “original color” (bense).23 In two essays from 1923 in which Wen critically discussed Guo Moruo’s poetry collection The Goddesses (Nüshen, 1922), a highly expressive and experimental example of the new poetry that was discussed in the previous chapter, Wen admits that Guo’s collection masterfully embodies the spirit of the time, yet at the same time laments Guo’s excessive use of foreign diction and a disconnection from its national origin. He elaborated his ideal for the new poetry: “The new [Chinese] poem should not be a purely local poem, but it should retain some local color. It also should not be a purely foreign poem, but should absorb the best foreign qualities [. . . .]” This “marriage of East-West aesthetics” as he called it not only included the poem’s content, but the poem’s rhythm and form.24 In his influential essay “The Metric Structure of Poetry” (Shi de gelü, 1926), he elaborated on this idea by emphasizing the aesthetic value of form. Denouncing those new poets who “in the name of romanticism attack metric structure,” Wen not only hinted at the strict observance of meter by the English romantic poets he had studied so thoroughly, but also insinuated that there is a correlation between mastery of formal conventions and aesthetic value. “For the more courageous an artist,” Wen wrote by citing Han Yu, Goethe, and Schiller, “the more he enjoys dancing wearing foot shackles, the better the dance.”25 Wen hastened to explain that he was not advocating a return to the strict and inflexible formal conventions of traditional Chinese poetry, but instead proposed a new understanding of rhythmical symmetry and line balance that required a return to form and meter, for “without form (geshi) there will be no symmetry in rhythm (jie de yunchen) and without meter (yinchi) there will be no balance between lines (ju de junqi).”26 What exactly he meant by that he illustrated by citing the opening line from his most famous poem, and by his own account his most successful one in terms of form, “Dead Water” (Sishui, 1925). By including horizontal lines (the original was printed vertically), he marked the metrical feet as follows: Zhe shi | yigou | juewang de | sishui (This is | a ditch | of hopeless | [and] stagnant water) He then explained that from here on, each line in the poem “is composed by using three twocharacter feet and one three-characters foot,” yielding equal line length but allowing for flexibility in terms of stress and word choice.27 This technique subsequently became widely adopted by modern poets, not least by his friend and fellow poet of the Crescent Moon Society, Xu Zhimo, who wrote that “I believe that during the last five or six years the few of us who write poetry have been influenced by the author of ‘Dead Water.’ ”28

The masterpieces of Wen Yiduo Even before Wen Yiduo articulated his ideas regarding “national form,” his poetry frequently diverged from the unbridled free-form and overt westernization of imagery and symbolism then popular among the new poets. In his poem “Beauty and Love” (Mei yu ai) from his first collection of verse entitled Red Candle (Hongzhu, 1923), for example, Wen used lines of roughly equal length, and drew in part on classical Chinese poetic symbolism. The poem gives voice to Wen’s quest for beauty and sublime love that characterizes much of his early poetry. At the same time, its rich imagery and its evocation of color and sound 118

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recall both traditional Chinese verse as well as the verse of Keats whom the young Wen frequently cited. The window spits out soft lamplight – Two rows of yellow squares inlaid on the wall; The shadow of a pair of date trees, resembling a pile of snakes, At sixes and sevens spread out and sleeping under the wall. Oh! That large star! Companion of Chang E, the Chinese moon goddess – You obstruct my sight for no reason; The bird in my heart at once stopped its song of spring, Because it hears your silent heavenly music. [. . .]29 Wen’s quest for aesthetic perfection in poetry continued with unbridled vigor after his return from America, especially after joining the Crescent Moon Society in which he found a circle of like-minded who shared his romantic sensibilities and for whom aestheticism and poetics were an essential component of the renewal of Chinese society. In “The Metric Structure of Poetry,” Wen had clearly articulated his views regarding an ideal form of modern verse as constituting a tripartite aesthetic paradigm, namely one where the beauty of poetry is derived “not only from musical beauty (rhythm [yinjie]) and pictorial beauty (ornate diction [cizao]), but also architectural beauty (symmetry in rhythm [jie de yunchen] and balance between lines [ju de junqi]).30 This aestheticized vision of modern poetry found expression in his second collection of poems entitled Dead Water (1928) and especially in the oft-quoted and aforementioned masterpiece of the same name, though any attempt at capturing the symmetry that Wen referred to as ‘architectural beauty’ is invariably lost in translation, due to the multisyllabic nature of the English language. However, “Dead Water,” with its lines of equal length, its rhythm that is accentuated by alliterations and assonance, and its vivid and sensuous images not only embodies Wen’s aesthetic vision, it also gives voice to the other impulse that shaped Wen’s career, namely his patriotism and social activism. The hopeless and stagnant water is usually understood as an allegory for the political situation in China, which was rife with civil war at the time, and an expression of despair over the unfulfilled promises of the New Culture Movement and the Republican revolution.Yet even amidst that stagnant pool of dead water, there lingers the fresh green of a brighter spring. This is a ditch of hopeless and stagnant water, The cool breeze unable to raise a ripple. Better hurl in some more scrap copper and rusty iron, And sprinkle it with your left-over food. Yet maybe even that tarnished copper will turn emerald green, And the rust on the iron will bring forth peach blossoms; Let its grease weave a layer of silk muslin, And mold evaporate into rosy clouds. [. . .]31 119

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Yet in other poems, while remaining true to his poetic vision with regard to rhythm, diction, and symmetry, not even a trace of hope remained. In his long elegiac poem “Deserted Village” (Huangcun), stretching over fifty lines and prefaced by an actual newspaper clipping about a region devastated by war, Wen describes a village whose inhabitants have fled from an advancing army. Where have they all gone? How come That a toad squats on the rice steamer, white lotus blossoms in the water ladle? [. . .] This scene is strange, so cruel! Heaven! Such fine village could not keep them; This Peach-Blossom Spring, and no soul in sight!32 Even more mournful and pessimistic is his poem “Tiananmen” that was written in response to the March 18 Massacre of 1926 that killed forty-eight students and injured several hundred who had participated in an anti-warlord and anti-imperialist demonstration in Beijing. Assuming the voice of a scared rickshaw puller, the poem is hauntingly graphic and uncannily prophetic for events to take place in modern history. Oh brother! I was scared stiff today! My two legs are still trembling now. [. . .] You haven’t seen that black corpse, Brains spilled, trampled on, so frightening, Still waiving a white flag, still talking. . . [. . .] So for us rickshaw pullers it’s bad luck, For tomorrow morning Beijing will be filled with ghosts!33 The young Wen’s aestheticism had been inspired by Keats’s romantic sensibilities and the allusive imagery of Li Shangyin that had led him to find his own romantic voice in poetry.Yet his experiences abroad that had awoken his sense of patriotism and his witnessing of China’s civil wars and the frequent abuse of power by the authorities also grew in him another voice, one of defiant activism that would eventually turn him into a martyr. In his poem “Confession” (Kougong, 1926), he lyrically explored this coexistence of different voices and poetic impulses. I won’t deceive you, I am no poet. Even though what I love is the integrity of white rock Dark pines and the wide ocean, The evening glow on the back of a crow. Twilight woven with the wings of bats. [. . .] Remember, what feeds me is a pot of bitter tea! But, will you be afraid if I tell you that there is another me? One whose thoughts crawl in the garbage can like a fly.34


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Life and career of Xu Zhimo No other writer in China embodies the image of the romantic poet better than Xu Zhimo who was able to reconcile his ideals of individuality and love, his quest for freedom and unity with nature, and his pursuit of beauty in his enduring poetry and in life. Born into a prominent banking family in Zhejiang province, Xu, like Zhu Ziqing and Wen Yiduo, received an education that provided him with a solid grounding in classical literature, but also exposed him to Western learning. Upon graduating from a modern middle school in Hangzhou in 1915, he went on to study at the Shanghai Baptist College (later Hujiang University), Tianjin’s Beiyang University, and Peking University where he came under the patronage of Liang Qichao (1873–1929), one of China’s foremost reform-minded intellectuals, and of Hu Shi. In 1918, Xu left for the US where he received an MA in political science at Columbia University. He then sailed for England where he first enrolled at the London School of Economics, but later moved to Cambridge where, in the words of Kai-yu Hsu, the atmosphere of aristocratic idealism helped him cultivate his poetic sensitivity and he wholeheartedly immersed himself in Anglo-American literary culture. Xu Zhimo later recalled that “my eyes were opened by Cambridge, my appetite for knowledge was stimulated by Cambridge, my concept of self was nurtured by Cambridge.”35 Like Wen Yi-duo and other May Fourth poets, it was particularly British romantic poetry that inspired Xu Zhimo to explore, through his own verse, beauty and oneness with nature and to express his desire for self-affirming individualism and sublime love. But for Xu, this quest was not limited to poetic expression alone. After his return to China in 1922, he embraced a lifestyle that prioritized emotions over reason and flouted social conventions. He divorced Zhang Youyi, his first wife from an arranged marriage, and began to publicly pursue Lin Huiyin, who was already betrothed to the son of Liang Qichao. Another scandal ensued when he began to court Lu Xiaoman, a married socialite, forcing Xu to temporarily leave China and embark on a trip to Europe. Upon his return, however, the two got married in 1926. Xu held a number of teaching positions: at Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Central University in Nanjing. When in 1924, the Bengali poet and Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore toured China, Xu and Lin Huiyin acted as Tagore’s interpreters, and Xu later translated several of Tagore’s works. The title of Tagore’s poetry collection The Crescent Moon (1913), which had been translated into Chinese as Xinyue ji by Zheng Zhenduo (1898–1958), another pioneer of the New Poetry Movement, was then adopted as the name for a society that began over casual social gatherings in Xu Zhimo’s house of reform-minded writers and intellectuals.36 In 1927, after several of the group’s core members like Hu Shi, Wen Yiduo, Rao Mengkan, and Liang Shiqiu had relocated to Shanghai, the Crescent Moon Monthly and the Crescent Moon Bookstore were founded, giving new impetus to the group’s shared desire of advancing China’s spiritual rejuvenation through poetry. However, not long after Xu Zhimo, the group’s main champion, died in a plane crash in 1931, the Crescent Moon Society went into decline.

Achievements of Xu Zhimo While Wen Yiduo has been acknowledged – not least by Xu Zhimo himself – as the person who lay the theoretical foundation for a new national form in poetry, it was Xu Zhimo who, by way of his creative use of poetic form, his innovative receptiveness to Chinese and foreign influences, and his playful command of the new vernacular, created a body of work that not only helped popularize the new poetry among his contemporaries, but also has kept its appeal for readers in the Chinese speaking world to this day. Xu’s poetics were driven by the desire to renew and


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enrich Chinese society by way of aestheticism and lyricism. In a lecture he delivered at Tsinghua University in 1921 not long after his return from England, he gave voice to his belief in the transformative power of art by claiming that “aesthetic appreciation will prove a potent factor in [cultivating our self-consciousness] and a delicate sensibility for what is beautiful is by far more important and fruitful to life than a strong intellect and moral character.”37 He shared this kind of romantic idealism with Wen Yiduo, but Xu was far more determined to make it the mantra of his life and to persistently promote his aesthetic vision. It was Xu who had initiated Poetry Journal and was the driving force behind Crescent Moon Monthly and the Crescent Moon Bookstore. Like Wen Yiduo, Xu Zhimo felt that the new poetry would benefit from more stable prosodic patterns. In fact, as he wrote in the preface to the first issue of Poetry Journal, he firmly believed that not only was “poetry a tool to express mankind’s creativity,” but also that the liberation of spirit of the Chinese people would not be complete “without an adequate poetic expression.” He believed that “only through exquisite form would it be possible to express an exquisite spirit.”38 He elaborated on what he meant by exquisite form in an essay from the same year in which he emphasized the importance of rhyme and meter, stating that “only if we understand that the life of a poem rests on the logic of its internal rhythm can we grasp a poem’s real beauty.”39 In practice, Xu achieved this both by experimenting with meter of equal verse length and by creatively adapting Western meters and stanzaic patterns. Julia C. Lin has argued that in this way, Xu was able to achieve structural unity while maintaining flexibility.40 It was Xu’s instinctive approach to form rather than Wen Yiduo’s theoretical application that led to a more natural prosody.

The masterpieces of Xu Zhimo Xu Zhimo’s first poetry collection, Zhimo’s Poems (Zhimo de shi, 1925), was already deeply steeped in the romantic aesthetics that became Xu’s hallmark, even though it did not yet display the formalistic and prosodic maturity of his later work. Xu experimented with various forms of meter, including free verse, ballads, and sonnets, and with poems of equal line length that were sometimes referred to as “rectangular poems” (fangkuaishi).41 The first poem of the collection, “A Snowflake’s Delight” (Xuehua de kuaile) combines Xu’s use of sensuous imagery with a playful yet highly melodic colloquialism. If I were a snowflake Dancing in mid-air with grace My way I’d know without failing – Rising, soaring, sailing – Earth’s ground would be my bearing. I would not seek the cold and lonely dell Nor would I find the forlorn bottom of the fell And neither would I fall on empty streets, ’d there wailing – Rising, soaring, sailing – You see, my bearing’s not failing. In mid-air my graceful snowflake dance Spotting below me her quiet residence Her stroll in the garden I’d be awaiting – Rising, soaring, sailing – Ah, her body’s sweet plum-scent I’m inhaling. 122

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That moment I trust my snowflake shape And softly descend and moisten her cape And nearer to her wave-like bosom I’m drawing – Melting, fusing, thawing – Still closer to that gentle bosom I am drawing.42 Xu’s amorous entanglement with Lin Huiyin and his divorce of Zhang Youyi on the grounds of lack of mutual affection had already made headlines by the time Xu’s first poetry collection appeared, and poems lamenting the transience of romance or evoking vaguely erotic encounters only amplified Xu’s public image as a romantic poet. Julia C. Lin has argued that while Wen Yiduo’s poetry is essentially that of the earth – richly varied, luxuriantly sensuous, and staidly concrete – the poetic world of Xu is of the celestial realm, transluscent, ethereal, and abstract, claiming a spiritual kinship, among others, with Shelley, whom Xu deeply admired.43 This transluscent and ethereal nature, together with a desire for oneness with nature, is particularly evident in “A Snowflake’s Delight.” Most of the poems in A Night in Florence (Feilengcui de yiye, 1927), Xu’s second collection, were written during his period of exile that had become necessary because of the scandal caused by his courtship of Lu Xiaoman. It includes a number of travel poems in which Xu laments the separation from his lover or else describes natural scenes or the exotic localities he visits to metaphorically explore a certain emotion, like desolation, intense excitement, and hope. The title poem, “A Night in Florence,” a long prose poem with regular lines of mostly equal length, is one example. “Siberia,” which was written onboard the Trans-Siberian Railway, was another. The poem’s lyrical persona opens the poem by revealing previously held assumptions about Siberia being a hostile place of icy nothingness entirely devoid of hope before coming to a quite different realization in the second verse. Siberia: – I used to imagine that You were a place bereft of Heaven’s favor; Desolate, relentless, its harshness without equal. [. . .] For your people, this land is a frozen hell, Where no rosy clouds leave a trace of hope in the sky, Where one does not ask for loving kindness, for gentle affection. [. . .]

Yet today, as I face this foreign landscape – It is no wasteland, this Siberia between spring and summer, I do not see the solid ice of winter, its withered branches and shivering crows. [. . .] Look, drifting in the blue vastness of the sky the boats of immortals, – And what you see over there is not the glow of clouds, it is the smiles of the Gods, The enchantment of jade-like flowers in these spherical surroundings. . .44 Typical of Xu’s poems of this stage – though hard to capture in translation – is his mastery of internal rhyme and use of rhythm to accentuate scenes or emotions expressed in his verse. Equally hard to capture are his playful alliterations and assonances, but his vivid and sensuous images are discernable even in translation. Xu skillfully integrates occasional use of classical diction into his poem, thereby lending elegance and refinement to his vernacular prose. As in his 123

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first collection, we can also find examples of amorous poetic personifications in A Night in Florence, like his famous poem “Chance Encounter” (Ouran), in which the lyrical voice becomes a cloud in the sky that briefly meets a wave on a forlorn journey, epitomizing the transient nature of love and the solace found in nature. In Fierce Tiger (Menghu ji, 1931), Xu’s third collection, his experimentation with English meter and his own innovative use of the Chinese vernacular find their most successful and most critically acclaimed examples. The title of his collection was chosen in reference to William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” and many of Xu’s poems echo Blake’s and the later romantics’ use of quatrains and rhymed couplets and their poetic exploration of spiritual renewal, supreme imagination, and natural beauty. At the same time, scenes of parting and the ephemeral nature of all things are prevalent topics in Fierce Tiger, as in “The Last Days of Spring” (Canchun), a poem that consists of two rhymed quatrains where each line consists of the same number of characters and that laments the passing of spring. Taking leave is the topic in “Second Farewell to Cambridge” (Zaibie kangqiao), one of Xu Zhimo’s most famous poems. It consists of seven quatrains with alternate end rhymes, three of which are quoted here. Quietly I take my leave, Just as quietly as I came; Quietly I wave a farewell, To the glowing Western sky. The golden willows by the river’s bank, Like brides in the evening sun; Their splendid reflection shimmer in the waves And ripple through my heart. [. . .] Silently I take my leave, Just as silently as I came; I shake my sleeves, Not wanting to take away a piece of glowing sky.45 In a melancholic voice and with subtle and highly sensuous imagery, Xu captures the atmosphere of the place that had once nurtured his poetic sensitivity and where, by his own account, his eyes had been opened to the boundless potential for spiritual renewal offered by art. He had returned to Cambridge during his trip to Europe at the time of the scandal resulting from his courtship of Lu Xiaoman. Farewell poems form an important sub-genre in traditional Chinese poetry, and by writing his emotional farewell Xu not only expressed his genuine attachment to Cambridge, but also eternalized the city as one of the birthplaces of Chinese romantic poetry. In recent years, the banks of the Cam River have become a pilgrimage site for poetry-loving Chinese tourists, and in 2008, a memorial was set up for Xu in the backs of King’s College by the banks of the river. Xu Zhimo’s body of poetry is not devoid of poems with social concerns. His Fierce Tigers collection, for example, includes a poem entitled “Song of the Prisoners” (Fulu song), which is an indictment of warlordism and profiteering, while A Night in Florence includes two “battle songs” (Zhan’ge) that are critical of ruthless generals and sympathetic to the plight of soldiers. The first of them, ‘Commander-in-Chief ” (Dashui), was written in response to a newspaper article about 124

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wounded soldiers being buried alive. It was structured as a dialogue between two soldiers digging the grave. Most of Xu’s work, however, is apolitical or, in the eyes of leftist critics of the time, even escapist. In his poem “This Is a Cowardly World” (Zheshi yige nuoqie de shijie) from his first collection of verse, for example, the lyrical persona laments that because this world is full of cowardice, it tolerates no love, urging his lover to “abandon this world, and die for our love!”46 While Xu Zhimo is best remembered for his poetry, he also was an accomplished essayist and travel writer. Like many of his poems, his travel essays tended to eulogize and exoticize the places he visited. In “Snippets from Paris” (Bali de linzhao, 1927), for example, he wrote that those who have come to Paris surely no longer will cherish paradise. And those who have had a taste of Paris frankly say that they would not give a damn for hell anymore. All of Paris resembles a duck-down filled mattress, which comfortably cushions your whole body, and will soften even the hardest bones.47 He also wrote plays, fiction, and produced a copious body of translations that includes short stories by Katherine Mansfield, whom he had met in Cambridge, and romantic poetry by Christina Rossetti, William Blake, and Lord Byron.

Notes 1 Ma Liangchun and Li Futian, eds., Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Literature (Zhongguo wenxue dacidian) (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 1991), vol. 4, 2027. 2 The progressive Tsinghua University had been founded in 1911 after the US Congress voted to reassign some of the Qing court’s Boxer Rebellion indemnity payments. 3 Note that as with many other progressive May Fourth intellectuals who were invested in creating a new form of poetry like Hu Shi, Zhou Zuoren, Guo Morou or Yu Pingbo, Zhu Ziqing likewise continued to write traditional-style poetry. In fact, the number of Zhu’s poems written in the classical-style far exceeds that of his new-style poetry. 4 The Bengali poet Tagore enjoyed great popularity in China, not least because he had been the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. For the importance of the short lyric during the New Culture Movement, see Frederik Green, “Translating Poetic Modernity: Zhou Zuoren’s Interest in Modern Japanese Poetry,” Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese (JMLC) (2013), vol. vol.11, no. 1, 138–161. 5 Charles Laughlin, “The All-China Resistance Association of Writers and Artists” in Kirk A. Denton and Michel Hockx, eds., Literary Societies of Republican China (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008), 379–411. 6 Jiang Tao,“The Birth of the New Poetry and Its Dynamic Development,” (Xinshi de fasheng ji huoli de zhankai), in Hong Zicheng, ed., A Brief History of a Century of Chinese New Poetry (Bainian Zhongguo xinshi shilüe) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2010), 10. 7 Michelle Yeh, Modern Chinese Poetry: Theory and Practice Since 1917 (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1991), 22. 8 Zhu Ziqing et al., A Snowy Morning (Xuezhao) (Shanghai: Shangwu yingshuguan, 1922). 9 Pan Songde, Thirty Chinese Critics of Modern Poetry (Zhongguo xiandai shilun sanshi jia) (Taibei: Xiuwei zixun keji, 2009), 79–92. 10 Zhu Ziqing et al., A Snowy Morning,  2–3. All translations of poetry and prose are my own unless otherwise indicated. I have maintained the same punctuation and line breaks as used in the originals. 11 Quoted from Frederik Green, “Translating Poetic Modernity,” 154. 12 Quoted from Michael Hockx, A Snowy Morning. Eight Chinese Poets on the Road to Modernity (Leiden: CNWS, 1994), 99. 13 Zhu Ziqing, Selected Poems and Essays by Zhu Ziqing (Zhu Ziqing shiwen xuanji) (Beijing: Xinhua yinshua, 1955), 34. 14 Michael Hockx, A Snowy Morning, 127. 15 Zhu Ziqing, Selected Poems and Essays by Zhu Ziqing, 34–35.


Frederik H. Green 16 Ibid., 48. 17 Yu Pingbo, “On Reading ‘Destruction’ ” (Du ‘Huimie’), The Short Story Monthly (Xiaoshuo yuebao) (1923), vol. 14, no. 8. “Encountering Sorrow” (Lisao) by Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), a loyal minster wronged by court intrigues who eventually drowned himself, is one of the most important elegiac poems in the traditional Chinese poetic canon. Consisting of over 2000 Chinese characters, the highly allegorical poem recounts the poet’s spiritual and fantastical journey through mythical realms. 18 Quoted from David Pollard, The Chinese Essay (New York: Columba University Press, 2000), 216–224. 19 Cai Dengshan, In Search of the Soul of China’s Modern Men of Letters (Bainian jiyi: Zhongguo jinxiandai wenren xinling de tanxun) (Taibei:Youxiu zixun, 2016), 26. 20 Ma Liangchun and Li Futian, Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Literature, vol. 6, 4497. 21 Qian Liqun,Wen Rumin and Wu Fuhui, eds., Thirty Years of Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue sanshinian) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1998), 132–133. 22 Quoted from Wen Yiduo and Catherine Yi-Yu Cho Woo, eds., Wen Yiduo: Selected Poetry and Prose (Beijing: Panda Books, 1990), 88. 23 Ma Liangchun and Li Futian, Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Literature, 95. 24 Wen Yiduo, “The Local Color of ‘Goddess’” (Shennü zhi difang secai), in Wen Yiduo and Zhu Ziqing, eds., Complete Works of Wen Yiduo (Shanghai: Kaiming shudian, 1948), vol. 3, 195. 25 Wen Yiduo, “The Metric Structure of Poetry” (Shi de gelü) in Wen Yiduo and Zhu Ziqing, eds., Complete Works of Wen Yiduo (Wen Yiduo quanji) (Shanghai: Kaiming shudian, 1948), vol. 3, 246. 26 Wen and Zhu, eds., Complete Works of Wen Yiduo, vol.3, 248. 27 Ibid., 252. 28 Quoted from Julia C. Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 102. 29 Wen and Zhu, eds., Complete works of Wen Yiduo, vol. 3, 66–67. 30 Ibid., 249. 31 Ibid., 16. 32 Ibid., 24–26. Peach Blossom Spring is the name of a utopian settlement in a fable by Chinese poet Tao Yuanming (365–427). 33 Ibid., 27. 34 Ibid., 5. 35 See Kai-yu Hsu, trans. & ed. Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry: An Anthology (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1963), 67. 36 Lawrence Wang-chi Wong, “Lions and Tigers in Groups: The Crescent Moon School in Modern Chinese Literary History,” in Kirk A. Denton and Michel Hockx, eds., Literary Societies of Republican China, 279–312. 37 Quoted from Xu Zhimo, “Art and Life,” in Kirk A. Denton, ed., Modern Chinese Literary Thought:Writings on Literature, 1893–1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 179. 38 Xu Zhimo, “Preface to Shikan” (Shikan bianyan), in Xu Zhimo, ed., Complete Works of Xu Zhimo (Xu Zhimo quanji) (Shanghai: Xinhua shudian,1995), vol. 4, 53. 39 “Shikan takes a break” (Shikan fangjia), ibid., 58. 40 Julia C. Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry, 102–107. 41 Because of their rectangular shape on the page, critics sometimes also referred to them as ”dried toufu block poems.” As such, they evoked notions of architectural beauty that Wen Yiduo had theorized about. 42 Complete Works of Xu Zhimo, vol. 1, 7–8. 43 Julia C. Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry, 107. 44 Complete Works of Xu Zhimo, vol. 1, 160–262. 45 Ibid., 327. 46 Ibid., 18–20. 47 Complete Works of Xu Zhimo, vol. 4, 145–146.

Further readings Batt, Herbert and Sheldon Zitner, eds. and trans. The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican Period. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016. Hong Zicheng, ed. A Brief History of a Century of Chinese New Poetry (Bainian Zhongguo xinshi shilüe). Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2010.


Romanticizing new Chinese in poetry Kai-yu Hsu. Wen I-To. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980. ———, trans. and ed. Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1963. Lin, Juli C. Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972. Pan Songde. Thirty Chinese Critics of Modern Poetry (Zhongguo xiandai shilun sanshi jia). Taibei: Xiuwei zixun keji, 2009. ———. Modern Chinese Poetry:Theory and Practice Since 1917. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1991. Xu Zhimo. Xu Zhimo. Selected Poems. ed. and trans. Nicole Chiang. Cambridge: Oleander Press, 2012. Yeh Michelle, trans. and ed. Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1992.


9 YU DAFU’S ROMANTIC FICTION Youth consciousness in crisis Tong He

Life and career Yu Dafu (1896–1945) was born in Fuyang County, Zhejiang Province. At a young age, he read a wide range of classical Chinese literary works and received a traditional education. Then he began to write classical-style poetry and managed to have some of them published. In 1913, he went to Japan for further education along with his elder brother. After his brother returned to China, he remained there for almost ten years. He changed his major several times, first from medical science to law, and then to economics, but he never lost his interest in literature. During his study in Japan, he read a large number of foreign novels in Japanese, English, and German, which helped him acquire fluency in these three languages. Among overseas Chinese students in Japan, Yu Dafu shared similar views with Guo Moruo on how to rejuvenate Chinese literature, and keep it in line with the zeitgeist at the time. Along with other friends who supported their ideas, they founded Creation Society (Chuangzao she) in 1921. It was a writing community inspired by Western aesthetics of romanticism as well as the ideology of individualism. Drawing on his personal experience,Yu started writing short stories that were thematically concerned with the lives of Chinese students aboard and their emotional and psychological problems. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from Tokyo Imperial University,Yu returned to China in 1922. He firstly taught at different institutions of higher education across the country for some time. Later, he gave up teaching and worked as an editor for The Creation Quarterly (Chuangzao jikan), The Creation Monthly (Chuangzao yuekan), and other periodicals in Shanghai. Meanwhile, he published several critical essays on the novel and drama. During this period, he was continuously faced with financial difficulties. This personal predicament was reflected in his social concerns and criticism in his creative writings. The collection Cold Ashes (Hanhui ji) shows an increasing realist tendency in his works, as he became more engaged in social affairs by taking part in many literary activities. Apart from short stories,Yu also published his diaries, as he saw this genre as an essential part of literature. “Nine Diaries” (Riji jiuzhong) sold more copies than his most celebrated collection Sinking (Chenlun). It is a detailed account of his love story with Wang Yingxia, a famous beauty in Hangzhou. The couple got married with a big wedding in 1928, but ended their marriage with a nasty divorce 12 years later. In addition to his short stories, essays, and poems,Yu translated a great deal of literary works from Western literature into Chinese. 128

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When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, he became actively engaged in politics, participated in activities for national salvation and produced numerous anti-Japanese articles. In 1938, Yu went to Singapore at an invitation from Sin Chew Daily, and became a leading figure among the anti-Japanese activists there. He helped establish the South Sea Society (Nanyang xuehui) to improve the Chinese literary studies in Singapore. After Singapore was taken by the Japanese,Yu fled to Sumarta and lived under the pseudonym of Zhao Lian. Because of his fluent Japanese, he was forced to work as a translator for the Japanese army. Using this job as a cover,Yu secretly helped and protected many Chinese citizens and residents. Unfortunately, his real identity was discovered by the Japanese police, and in 1945, he was arrested and secretly executed.

Literary achievements Yu Dafu’s literary achievements rest chiefly on his short fictional works, though in his literary career, he produced several collections of refined essays, literary criticism, and literary theory. His better-known collections of stories include Sinking (1921), Cold Ashes (1927), and The Past (Guoqu Ji, 1927). His longer works such as Spring Tide (Chunchao, 1922), The Lost Sheep (Miyang, 1927), Late-flowering Cassia (Chiguihua, 1932), She Was a Weak Woman (Ta shi yige ruo nüzi, 1932), and Flight (Chuben, 1935) are also well known. Sinking marks Yu’s controversial debut in the literary world. It consists of a novella and two short stories: the title story, “The Silver-grey Death” (Yinhuise de si) and “Moving South” (Nanqian). The title story portrays the physical and emotional frustrations of a melancholic young student who always feels isolated and humiliated by his Japanese classmates. “The Silver-grey Death” narrates the death of a drunken widower who desires love from women but fails to get it. “Moving South” depicts the protagonist’s affair with a married woman and his traumatic experience of being manipulated by her. Overall, these stories are characterized by bold descriptions of sex and sexuality as well as erotic themes. In terms of language, they are enveloped by a depressed, sometimes decadent tone, which constituted the hallmark of Yu’s unique writing style. At first, most critics argued that the book was immoral for its overt writing of sex, but Zhou Zuoren defended Yu’s work in an article on Supplement to Morning News (Chenbao fukan), quoting Albert Mordell’s criteria of “immoral literature” in The Erotic Motive in Literature (1919) as the ground for his defense. Zhou praised the book as a piece of artistic work with a serious moral sense, and radically changed the public’s opinion on Yu’s writings. From then on, the book was regarded as the first collection of short stories written in vernacular Chinese (Baihua), and Yu Dafu was considered one of the founders of modern Chinese literature. With the collection Cold Ashes, the author’s focus turned from the bitterness of sex to the bitterness of reality. In this book, “Colored Rock by the River” (Caishiji), “Nights of Spring Fever” (Chunfeng chenzui de wanshang), “A Humble Sacrifice” (Baodian) are the best-known. “Colored Rock by the River” is a historical novel featuring the poet Huang Zhongze (1749– 1783) in the Qing Dynasty. Through the poet’s emotional sufferings, the author expresses his social critique of the darkness in his society which destroys the young talent’s ambition. “Nights of the Spring Fever” depicts the encounter between a down-and-out writer and a strong-willed factory girl, which exposes the sweat and toil of the common workers at the time and presents a true friendship between an intellectual and a worker. “A Humble Sacrifice” describes a tragic death of a rickshaw puller. The poor man’s biggest dream is to buy his own rickshaw to earn a better life, but the harsh reality dashes his dream to pieces. Through the first-person narrator’s account of his interactions with these workers, the author not only shows deep sympathy for the exploited working class, but also cherishes his great admiration for their kindness, honesty, and 129

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moral virtues. These stories also demonstrate Yu’s artistic improvement in characterization and plot construction and signify his entry into a new stage. The title story in the collection The Past marks the full maturity of Yu’s novel writing, and has been praised by many critics as his finest work with skillful narrative techniques. It tells of a short reunion between Li Baishi and Laosan who once had a crush on Li. Adopting Li’s point of view, the narrator “I” recounts his past days with Laosan’s family. The narrator falls in love with one of Laosan’s sisters. Out of an abnormal sexual desire for her, he endures her beating and scolding joyously, without knowing that Laosan was in love with him. After learning the truth, he wants to retrieve the lost love between them, but Laosan is now a widow, and turns down his courtship. In the end, the narrator leaves the city with a melancholy heart. The plot is rather simple, but within the limited narration, the author expands the story time to the past history of the characters, which to a great extent shows a distinctive technique of stream of consciousness. Instead of constructing the story in a clear storyline, this short story is more like a floating of emotions, revealing the emotional struggle of a sentimental narrator. In general, Yu Dafu’s major contribution to the development of modern Chinese literature lies in three aspects. First and foremost, he creates the genre of autobiographical fiction writing, along with the signature use of homodiegetic narrator.Yu was greatly influenced by the Japanese I-Novel, a kind of writing which draws its inspiration from naturalism but primarily focusing on self-exposure and self-representation. Thus, he tends to look inwardly, and examines himself through the lens of sexuality. Secondly, he creates the literary archetype of the superfluous man. In many of his fictional works, the protagonists are all marginalized intellectuals who manifest the common symptoms of hypochondria in the May Fourth era. They are devoted to genuine love but always meet with a dead-end, and fail to find their proper places in society. Echoing the characterization of superfluous men in Russian realist tradition and the fin-de-siècle mood in Western literature,Yu creates his version of superfluous men as an epitome of the new generation of Chinese intellectuals at the time, who experience hope, disillusionment as well as frustration. Thirdly, he explores and opens the path of romantic writing which is different from the path of realism advocated by his contemporary writers such as Lu Xun. As a whole, Yu Dafu’s insights into the Chinese youth consciousness in his time and his remarkable way to describe the youth consciousness in crisis under multiple pressures are major reasons for his significant literary achievements.

Sinking: youth consciousness in crisis Sinking narrates the story of a young Chinese student studying in Japan. It opens with a pastoral scene in the countryside where the protagonist is by himself, reading Wordsworth’s poems aloud. The melancholic young man feels lonely in school, so he often escapes to the secluded place to enjoy the company of nature. One day when he walks with three Japanese classmates, they encounter several Japanese girls. While others are flirting with the girls, he feels ashamed and fails to speak a single word to them. Furiously, he blames his awkward behavior on the prejudice and discrimination these students have for him, and writes in his diary a wish to have an Eve whose body and soul belong to him alone. Soon, upon leaving Tokyo for college, he becomes immensely sentimental about the city, and writes a few sad poems to his friends. At his newly rented house, the protagonist secretly falls in love with the landlord’s daughter and indulges in daily masturbation, for which he feels deeply ashamed of himself. Later, he peeps at the daughter having a shower and is discovered by the latter. Out of fear for being humiliated, he moves to a new accommodation in a more isolated place on a mountain. Just when he feels everything is back to normal as he enjoys the solace of nature and his books, he runs into a big 130

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fight with his brother. For the sake of rebellion as well as revenge, he changes his major so as to spite his brother. One day, while he is strolling around the nearby field, he overhears a couple having sex in the wild. Emotionally exited by the accidental encounter, the protagonist retreats to his bed, but the sleeping is unable to quell his sexual urge. So, he goes to the city, intending to seek emotional comfort in a brothel. While inside the brothel, he feels he receives unequal treatment from the waitress who treats him differently from Japanese guests. Half-drunk and half-disillusioned, he writes poems and sings them loudly to show his complaint. After he wakes up from his drunkenness, he pays the bill and gives the female waiter the last penny in his pocket. Now, penniless, he cannot make his way back, so he goes to the seashore in despair. Facing the direction where China lies, he slowly walks into the sea. Regarding the ending, it is uncertain whether the protagonist commits suicide or not, but the tenor of the novella is undoubtedly desperate and tragic. Thus, the title “Sinking” could be read as imparting multiple symbolic meanings. First, it may refer to the protagonist’s drowning in the sea. For this reason, some critics argue that the story is a suicidal tragedy. In a more meaningful way, it could be interpreted as a metaphor for the protagonist’s moral degeneracy in life and his failure to solve the multiple conflicts in the formation of his selfhood. In the preface to Sinking, Yu Dafu states that the title story depicts the psychology of a sick youth.1 The story could also be read as an anatomy of juvenile hypochondria brought about by multiple pressures and bitter experience in life. The bitterness he tries to represent is the conflict between body and soul, caused by the mood swings of adolescence. From this perspective, the story is not only about the personal experience of a melancholic youth, but also expresses a larger concern with the crisis fermenting among the young Chinese in their search for themselves. Situating the story in its context of the May Fourth era when pressures arose due to profound intellectual revolution, Yu’s story may be read as his response to the heated discussions centering on the formation of the new youth, which is permeated with crises, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

From new youth to sick youth Initially, the image of the new youth was created by enlightened Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century in contrast with that of the old, sick man of China.The late-Qing intellectual Yan Fu may be the first to use the epithet of sick man as a metaphor for China beset with external and internal crises.2 Lu Xun, through his relentless portrayals of men with physical or mental illnesses, pinpointed the sickness within the feudal society as well as traditional Confucian values. Regardless of the actual age, the image of a sick Chinese embodied the aging and deteriorating sociopolitical system of the country and was employed as a foil by some intellectuals in the formation of national consciousness. Against such a portrait of the senile China, the May Fourth revolutionaries laid the hope and responsibility of rejuvenating the country on the younger generation. Following the lead of Liang Qichao’s “juvenile China”3 and Li Dazhao’s “youthful China,”4 Chen Duxiu called for the making of the new youth. The primary task for these young Chinese was to carry out the intellectual revolution to modernize China, as he wrote on the opening issue of the periodical New Youth (Xin qingnian), “the strength of our country is weakening, the morals of our people are degenerating, and the learning of our scholars is distressing. . . . Our youth must take up the task of rejuvenating China.”5 Specifically, he set out six qualities6 to effect a fundamental change in the national consciousness of the Chinese youth. In the environment of the New Culture Movement, the new youth was a vanguard infused with a strong romantic individualism in the pursuit of science and democracy. At this point, to be a new youth was to make a total break from the traditional values and to embrace the ideas of liberty, equality, and individuality celebrated in the Western discourse.Yet in practice, 131

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the complexity of the traditional culture and the diversity in the concept of modernity made it impossible for the young Chinese to have a clean break from the past. Understandably, the force of cultural continuity played an unrecognized role in the formation of modern consciousness and selfhood.Thus, crises rose among young students and caught the attention of some sensitive writers in support of the New Culture Movement. Yu Dafu was one of them. He sensed that the new youth was sick, because a variety of crises were appearing in the youth consciousness, and went ahead to expose the internal conflicts and turmoil by means of creating memorable youth characters in his fictional works. In his depiction of the new youth, he focused more on the anxiety, uncertainty, and the disorientation of their newly established self. He approached the issue of youth consciousness in two major ways, as is shown in his characterization of the protagonist in his novella Sinking. On the one hand, although drawing the same inspiration from Western romanticism,Yu Dafu’s young men are different from the poised and robust archetype in the new youth narrative. Unlike Chen Duxiu’s reproduction of a Byronic hero on the Chinese soil, Yu Dafu’s young heroes always possess a quite narcissistic, melancholic, or sometimes decadent personality, showing another face of the new youth in the making.7 On the other hand,Yu’s image of the new youth remains, at the same time, quite traditional. For example, in the story, the protagonist’s great sentimentality at the train station of Tokyo echoes the classic scenes described in traditional Chinese poems on one’s departure. And the traditional intellectual’s lifestyle of being accompanied by women and wine to stimulate creative imagination finds strong resonance in Yu’s characterization. Denton is right to point out that “the story also enacts in spatial terms and through literary allusions the irresolvable modern tension between a radically alienated consciousness attempting to understand itself in social isolation and nostalgic longing to return to the comfort of a traditional community of like minds in a unified moral cosmos.”8 Therefore, by revealing the psychological development of the tragic end of an overseas Chinese student in Japan, Yu represents and delves deeply into this crisis from three aspects: juvenile hypochondria, the discovery of one’s body, and the anxiety over one’s national identity.

Hypochondria as symptoms of mental crisis The crisis first appears as a discrepancy in the young protagonist’s perception of himself, which gradually develops into a mental illness of hypochondria. Like a typical coming-of-age story, the young protagonist is concerned with his role in society as he interacts more deeply with the world. But, instead of focusing on the outside adventure in shaping one’s consciousness,Yu’s primary concern lies in the emotional and psychological turmoil experienced by the nameless youth. The story reveals a series of frustrations: the alienation and loneliness he feels in his relationship with his classmates, the uncertainty with his intention to study in Japan, the worries about his future when he gets back to China, the lack of male charm to develop a relationship with girls. Meanwhile, immersed in the vast romantic works from Western literature, he strongly identifies with the romantic heroes portrayed in those books. Imitating their love of nature, passionate personality, and strong rebellion against established norms and social conventions, he forms an idealist image of himself as a romantic hero. As a result, a discrepancy appears, for the protagonist is nothing but a frustrated youth due to his lack of capability as well as the charisma for becoming such a hero in real life. In fact, the protagonist’s love of nature is more like an escape from dealing with the discrepancy in his consciousness. Because of his failure in developing intimate relationship with girls around him, he resorts to nature, seeing nature as his desired female. This is clearly portrayed when he enjoys the natural scenery in an open field: 132

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This, then, is your refuge. When all the philistines envy you, sneer at you, and treat you like a fool, only Nature, only this eternally bright sun and azure sky, this late summer breeze, this early autumn air still remains your friend, still remains your mother and your beloved.With this, you have no further need to join the world of the shallow and flippant.You might as well spend the rest of your life in this simple countryside, in the bosom of Nature. (32)9 Unlike the philistines with whom he cannot find common ground, the sun, the sky, the breeze, and the air become his friends, the mother, and the beloved that the protagonist can identify with. Here, nature is an extension of his own self-awareness, and at the same time, a projection of his inner desire. In this sense, the love of nature acts as a source of consolation for the inadequacies of the young student, facilitating his self-imagined creation of a hero like those in romantic literature.What comes along within this self-expression is a cluster of strong feelings of melancholia and pity. The reason for these feelings is unknown, but it is important to show that expression on his face. For example, when the protagonist hears the approaching of a peasant, he soon changes his smile into a melancholy expression, “as if afraid to show his smile before strangers” (33). In the same vein, his favorite books such as Emerson’s Nature or Thoreau’s Excursions, and his love of romantic writers such as Wordsworth, Henie, and Gissing, become objects onto which he projects his self-awareness. As C.T. Hsia notes, “a Wertherian self-pity exaggerates alike the hero’s love for nature and the ache in his heart.”10 Opposite to this keenly identification with nature as well as romantic literatures, the distance between him and his classmates epitomizes his failure to identify with the social milieu in which he lives. For him, it is hard to think and to convince himself that he is one of them. This intentional distancing from the social world in turn generates more feelings of pity and loneliness that enhance the image of a sentimental hero. As the narration goes, “his emotional precocity had placed him at constant odds with his fellow men, and inevitably the wall separating him from them had gradually grown thicker and ticker” (31). Thus, the protagonist is torn between the two contrasting selves: one is the ideal self as a romantic hero at oneness with nature and literature, and the other one is the isolated self as a marginalized youth in need of women’s love and care. At the same time, the discrepancy in the self is revealed by the narrative distance between the narrator and the protagonist. Although the story is narrated from a third-person point of view, the narrator tends to use a judgmental eye in observing the protagonist’s behaviors.Taking the narrator’s standpoint, readers know more than the protagonist in the story. There are three important statements made by the narrator, signifying the gradual illness of the youth. The first one is the beginning sentence of the story, “lately he had been feeling pitifully lonesome” (31). This foretells the coming of hypochondria that develops from pitiful loneliness in the plot of the lonely character “he.” Following this statement, the rest of the opening section could be read as a supporting example for such a statement. Then, at the beginning of Section Two, the narrator makes clear that “his melancholy was getting worse with time” (34). This is the first stage of the development of the protagonist’s hypochondria, showing instances of the character’s inability to befriend with his classmates. The final stage is alluded to in the opening sentence of Section Six, “after he had moved to the mei grove, his hypochondria took a different turn” (47). This is a confirmation of the illness and, at the same time, a notice of the new symptoms from this sick youth.The statements altogether function as a diagnosis of the illness of the protagonist, along with the inspection of his psychological thoughts for causes and symptoms. Secondly, the protagonist expresses his real emotions through his diary and his confession in the manner of self-exposure. However, under this frankness of expressing one’s mind, careful readers could 133

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notice the protagonist’s habit of fantasizing himself as a victim, which makes his account of himself unreliable. For example, there’s an apparent narrative discrepancy at the scene when the protagonist is leaving Tokyo. At the station, the protagonist bids a pitiable farewell, crying with tears while mocking himself for crying without a reason. Since he doesn’t have a single sweetheart, brother, or close friend in the city, then for whom are his tears intended? But in the next few lines, the protagonist starts to write poems “intended for a friend in Tokyo” (39). The discrepancy between the protagonist’s point of view and the narrator’s point of view further renders the writing of hypochondria a self-diagnosis of one’s failure in constructing a unified, coherent self. As Ou-fan Lee states, behind the young student’s coming-of-age story lies “a maze of ambiguities between reality and appearance, between the self and visions of the self.”11 To some extent, many critics agree that Yu’s anatomy of the young protagonist’s hypochondria functions as a kind of writing therapy that provides its author a place to outpour his sufferings while studying in Japan. Guo Moruo speaks highly of Yu’s story for the author’s admirable sincerity, and because of his audacious self-exposure, it is firstly a fresh spring breeze, awakening countless youthful hearts, and secondly a storm as well as a shock to the hypocrisy of the old literati and pseudo-scholars.12 Similar to this critical stance, C. T. Hsia reads Yu’s story as an autobiographical account, recognizing the nameless hero as an authentic representation of Yu himself. Taking a rather conventional approach, Hsia interprets the story within the frame of psychological realism, drawing a conclusion that the story tends to be purely mawkish sentimentality.13 The two readings seem to have overlooked the importance of narrative distance between the narrator and the protagonist. In the opinion of Michael Egan, there’s an ironic effect in terms of the rhetoric of the story. The irony is achieved through the narrator’s constant distancing from the protagonist. Drawing from the narrative theory of Wayne Booth, he uses ample textual evidences to illustrate the difference among the author, the narrator and the protagonist. Accordingly, the sentimental hero appears laughable and lacks self-knowledge to the reader. By identifying the irony within Yu’s autobiography writing, Egan directs the critical attention to the story’s literariness, pointing out the universal appeal of such an essentially apolitical and individualistic text.14 However, my readings, particularly through the way in which Yu deals with hypochondria, recognizes the importance of the narrative distance between the narrator and the protagonist, but the purpose is not to form a rhetoric irony as Egan asserts, but for a representation of the discrepancy between the self in one’s own eyes and the self from others’ eyes. By writing a hypochondriac youth,Yu exposes the crisis in the young man’s consciousness in formulating a healthy personality.

Physical crisis in the body Secondly, the crisis lies in the discovery of the intertwined discursive practices on one’s body, mostly through the lens of sexuality.The young protagonist suffers from an uncontrollable sexual desire which leads to his daily masturbation, voyeurism, and internal conflict between the mind and the body. In spite of the protagonist’s harsh self-reproach, he is unable to control himself. Whenever he surrenders to his sexual addiction, he finds little pleasure in his deviant behaviors, but for most of the time, a profound bitterness, guilt, and regret. Many critics see this bitter view of sex as a common syndrome of a teenager in his puberty burdened with the national inferiority of being a humiliated Chinese in Japan. For instance, Kirk A. Denton views the bitterness being intertwined with “the protagonist’s continent blaming of his country’s weakness for his own sexual inadequacies.”15 Nevertheless, this view of adolescent frustration mixed with national humiliation has been questioned for its insufficiency to explain the motive behind the protagonist’s possible suicide at the end of the story. In the opinion of Ming Dong Gu, he 134

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suggests a Freudian interpretation of such bitterness, recognizing the frustrated youth as a Chinese Oedipus in exile. He holds that the story is structured on the central theme of a fragmented Oedipus complex, and the root cause of the protagonist’s tragedy lies in his complete unawareness of the hidden Oedipal conflict in his consciousness, which fuses all his personal problems with an emotional matrix composed of a series of related ideas like the beloved, mother-love, mother nature, and the motherland.Thus, the final scene of the youth trying to drown himself is his attempt to be reunited with the maternal matrix represented by the image of the ocean.16 It is a fascinating argument, but I wish to complement his reading by examining the role the body plays in causing the protagonist’s emotional and psychological crisis under dual pressures from Confucian tradition and Western modernity. The sexual frustrations make him aware of the discourse that has been imposed on his body which is the locus of different discursive forces. The primary one is the Confucian morality, and an opposing force comes from the Western discourse of romanticism, along with another significant one derived from modern medical pathobiology. At first, the emerging desire from his body is recognized as a natural phenomenon. “With all nature responding to the call of spring, he too felt more keenly the urge implanted in him by the progenitors of the human race.” (42) The protagonist thinks that his body is a part of nature, so that’s why he feels comfortable and complete when he is back with nature alone. Naturally, he feels the sexual impulse is normal, but when that impulse leads to his frequent masturbation, he feels guilty instead of pleasure for he thinks these actions are immoral. His inner thought goes as follows: He was ordinarily a very self-respecting and clean person, but when evil thoughts seized hold of him, numbing his intellect and paralyzing his conscience, he was no longer able to observe the admonition that “one must not harm one’s body under any circumstances, since it is inherited from one’s parents.” Every time he sinned he felt bitter remorse and vowed not to transgress again. (42) This is the moment when he starts to experience the discursive force of Confucian doctrine that has been inscribed on his body. The Confucian belief bonds his body to the larger context of the collective consciousness. That his body doesn’t belong to him, and that he should obey the moral codes that confine his desires and emotions. Unlike a naturalistic representation of his natural reaction, he views it as a sin and a stain, thus evaluating his body through a moralistic lens. The biological impulse is regarded as an evil thought which numbs his intellectual ability as well as paralyzes his conscience. According to traditional morality, the body is not a property of his own to exert his will for personal fulfillment, but an instrument in the service of Confucian biopolitical power as well as the continuity and honor of the family. Since Confucius states that self-respect and the integrity of one’s body constitutes the fundamental base of filiality, then what the protagonist does with his body clearly violates these set of rules, resulting in his sense of guilt and remorse. As a consequence, he sees his body dirty and morally degraded, and the natural actions out of his own will then is being judged as a transgression which should be banned forever. However, opposing this discursive force is another force imparted from Western literary works he reads. His sexual fantasy has an obvious Western imprint, as he craves for “an Eve from the Garden of Eden” (36), and these desired female images floating in his head are all naked madam, luring him with decadence (42). The seductive female coincides with the Western cultural imaginary. His surrender to these middle-aged Eves, mostly from the romantic literatures, once again shows his identification of himself as the romantic heroes, and also indicates a strong 135

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desire of an autonomy of selfhood.The hard struggle made by the protagonist is in fact a contention of two opposing forces between Confucian morality and Western individualism. Another piece of supporting evidence is that when the protagonist learns that the great Russian writer Gogol suffers the same habit as him, his fear of being intellectually unproductive due to the immoral actions has been greatly alleviated, showing his dependence on the Western discourse to enhance his knowledge of himself. In one critic’s words, “Yu’s characters can be read as emblems of modernity’s tensions between desires for an autonomous self and traditional desires for stability defined within a shared cultural meaning system.”17 Apart from the above two forces in defining and regulating the protagonist’s body, there is also the interplay of the medical discourse that affects his view of such sexual frustrations. In the first place, he regards these frustrations as the symptoms of hypochondria. Psychologically, his love turns quickly into hate whenever he fails in making social contacts with others, leading to his frequent statement of revenge inside his heart. To some extent, these frustrations not only reproduce the physical grounds for the sick protagonist to declare revenge, but also reinforce the reasons for self-reproach, justifying and enhancing the verbal actualization of the neurotic depression. Secondly, when the morning masturbation grows into a habit, the protagonist starts to worry about his psychical health as well as his intellectual ability as he goes to the library for medical help. When he learns from the medical books that masturbation is harmful to one’s psychical health, he uses the words “abuse” and “harmful” to describe his behavior. He sees his body in the unhealthy state from the medical gaze, and intends to remedy the abused part of his body. As a result, he adopts the medical approach to make up for the loss. He incorporates milk and raw eggs into his diet, and takes a bath every day. Consequently, troubled by the fear emerging from the medical discourse, and the guilt coming from the moral discourse, the protagonist feels his hypochondria worsened, forming his own image as a sick youth with prominent cheekbones, big bluish-gray circles around his eyes, and his pupils as expressionless as those of a dead fish. It is with conflicting emotions that the protagonist attempts to make sense of his sexuality through the discovery of his body under different discursive forces. In this way, the struggle between the mind and body of the melancholic youth haunts the young man’s efforts to construct one’s selfhood. Yu Dafu’s story reveals the awakening desire within one’s body, transcends the issue of a character’s sexuality, and delves into the cause for anxiety and frustration of a modern man’s existence in the world.The protagonist forms his self-consciousness through the discovery of his body. The discovery conforms to the modern conception of how one’s body is constructed by various discourses, and how the body becomes the locus of competing discursive forces.

Crisis in national identity The discourse of the body in Yu Dafu’s story shows that the crisis is both individual and national. The construction of oneself is closely related to the national consciousness, especially in the context of the overseas Chinese students. Although China is not a focus in the narrative, it remains as a subtext in fueling the protagonist’s crisis in constructing his national identity. The feeling is quite complicated. He is emotionally attached to the traditional image of a cultural China, but the image is broken by the present condition of a weak and debilitated China; he is fascinated by the Western concepts of individuality, but he remains doubtful about the benefits of modernity coming from the West. Implicitly, this crisis in the young man’s recognition of his national identity further points to the dilemma between tradition and the modernity. Within his emotional conflict, the crisis has been aggravated, leading to the tragic end of the young protagonist. 136

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The protagonist shows constant nostalgia for the cultural past of China, identifying himself with the traditional Chinese poet. In the first section, after he reads the first and third stanzas of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper,” he suddenly has an impulse to translate them into Chinese. Particularly, his translation of the third stanza is full of nostalgic feelings for the irretrievable past characteristic of the nostalgic theme and melancholic tone in classic Chinese poetry. What’s more, he skips the second stanza and focuses on the third one, which explains that his real intention of reading these naturalists’ works is to find the similar scenes that he can relate to his own cultural taste and aesthetics. After translating these stanzas, he immediately reproaches himself for this silly act, saying that “English poetry is English poetry and Chinese poetry is Chinese poetry; why bother to translate” (33). Obviously, for the young protagonist, both cultures are unique. When translating Wordsworth’s stanza into Chinese, the original poem becomes an insipid hymn and loses its essence and uniqueness. The same applies to Chinese poetry. Therefore, the young protagonist does not feel inferior for his own culture in his encounter with the Western literary works, and instead has a strong confidence in his cultural identity. Before he walks into the sea, he faces the direction in which China lies. This is a symbolic gesture for his emotional return to the ancient, remote, and misty motherland. This nostalgic attachment is further presented in the protagonist’s writing of classical-style poetry on the departing scene at the Tokyo train station and in the brothel. Echoing his Chinese poetic ancestors in the same condition, he conveys the similar mood in the traditional lines, “looking homeward across the misted sea, I too weep for my beloved country” (53). In the meantime, he feels ashamed all the time of being a Chinese student among his Japanese peers. Contrasting the old and weak China with modernized and powerful Japan, he feels a strong sense of inferiority and blames his poor motherland for all his problems and death. After the Sino-Japanese war, the defeated China sent its young students to Japan in order to bring back new knowledge and power. To learn from Japan which used to be a pupil of China was not something to be proud of for the young protagonist as well as the author.Yu Dafu himself once wrote: In youth, one always passes through a romantic lyrical period, when one is still a muted bird but wants nonetheless to open one’s throat and sing out, especially for people who are full of emotions. This lyrical period was spent in that sexually dissolute and militarily oppressive island nation. I saw my country sinking, while I myself suffered the humiliations of a foreigner. . . . Like a wife who had lost her husband, powerless, with no courage at all, bemoaning my fate, I let out a tragic cry. This was “Sinking”, which stirred up so much criticism.18 The image of his national identity is described as a powerless widow, which adds a new dimension in the interpretation of the sexual inadequacy of the protagonist. Being sexually unattractive is not a personal failure, but a consequence of national humiliation. The protagonist’s experience with Japanese girls makes him feel doubly humiliated because these women were already inferior to the Japanese male. And this sense of humiliation is further intensified by his encounter in the brothel.The protagonist goes to the brothel but feels mistreated by the waitress for she serves the Japanese man instead of him. He angrily thinks that even a prostitute dares to tread on his dignity, and as an emotional consolation, he vows to seek revenge, but ironically, he never takes any concrete action. The shame and humiliation make the young protagonist run away from identifying with his country, as he intentionally cuts himself from participating in the social circle of the Chinese students in school. In a lesser way, his intentional break from his 137

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elder brother could be interpreted as a break from the homeland.This conscious rejection of the motherland is what the critic has pointed out as “the self-imposed exile.”19 In conclusion, the young man’s tragic end is brought about by a heterogeneous interplay of multiple forces, national, social, personal, emotional, and spiritual. As a sharp and sensitive observer,Yu Dafu adequately notes a striking contrast between the idealized image of the new youth called for by the New Culture Movement and the weak, timid, and disoriented young Chinese in reality. The making of the new youth embodies an intellectual as well as political autonomy in the awakening of the young Chinese consciousness, but Yu Dafu’s writings uncovered the hidden dimension of a great crisis in the consciousness of the Chinese youth in his time. In many ways, the protagonist in his novella represents a large number of Chinese youth who attempted to recover the repressed humanity from tradition, but were thrown into emotional, psychological, and spiritual crisis due to their bitter encounter with stark reality. Through the examination of juvenile hypochondria, the discovery of the body, and the recognition of the national identity, Sinking probes deeply and artfully into the crisis in youth consciousness arising from the New Culture Movement. Its insight into the tragic experience of the protagonist contributes to a better understanding of the image of the new youth, while at the same time, it evokes reflections on the construction of selfhood in the May Fourth era.

Notes 1 Yu Dafu, Works of Yu Dafu (Yu Dafu wenji) (GuangZhou: Hua Cheng chubanshe, 1983), vol.7, 149. 2 Yan Fu, “On Strength,” (Yuanqiang) in Selected Works of Yan Fu (Yan Fu wenxuan) (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 2006), 24. 3 Liang Qichao, “On Juvenile China,” (Shaonian zhongguo shuo) in Collected Works from Ice-Drinking Study (Yinbingshi heji) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1989), vol. 5, 7. 4 Li Dazhao, “On Youth,” (Qingchun), in Works of Li Dazhao (Li Dazhao wenji) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1999), vol.1, 194. 5 For a more detailed description of consciousness in crisis, see chapter four of Lin Yü-Sheng’s book The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Antitraditionalism in the May Fourth Era (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 65. 6 Chen Duxiu, “A Letter to Youth,” (Jinggao qingnian) in Selected Works of Chen Duxiu (Chen Duxiu wenxuan) (Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 2009), 18. 7 The word “face” used here echoes Matei Calinescu’s identification of five features of modernism. It’s unclear whether Yu read the book or not, but his perception of modernity has a lot in common with Calinescu’s from Five Faces of Modernity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987), 151–157. 8 Denton Kirk A., “The Distant Shore: The National Theme in Yu Dafu’s Sinking,” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, and Reviews (1992), vol. 14, 117. 9 The English quotations are taken from The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 31–55. 10 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1961), 104. 11 Ou-fan Lee, The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 110. 12 Guo Moruo, “On Yu Dafu,” (Lun Yu Dafu), in Materials on the Creation Society (Chuangzaoshe ziliao) (Fuzhou: Fujian renmin chubanshe, 1985), 803. 13 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 105. 14 Michael Egan, “Yu Dafu and Transition to Modern Chinese Literature,” in Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), 321. 15 Denton Kirk A., “Romantic Sentiment and the Problem of the Subject: Yu Dafu,” in The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press), 149. 16 Ming Dong Gu, “A Chinese Oedipus in Exile,” Literature and Psychology (1993), vol. 39, no. 1, 1–25. 17 Denton Kirk A., The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature, 148.


Yu Dafu’s romantic fiction 18 Wang Zili and Chen Zishan, eds., Research Materials on Yu Dafu (Yu Dafu yanjiu ziliao) (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 1982), vol. 2, 217. 19 Denton Kirk A., “The Distant Shore: The National Theme in Yu Dafu’s Sinking,” 110.

Further readings Doležalova, Anna. Yu Ta-fu: Specific Traits of His Literary Creation. Bratislava: Publishing House of the Slovak Acdemy of Sciences, 1970. Egan, Michael. “Yu Dafu and the Transition to Modern Chinese Literature.” In Merle Goldman, ed., Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977, 309–324. Feuerwerker, Yi-tsi Mei. “Text, Intertext and Representation of the Writing Self in Lu Xun, Yu Dafu and Wang Meng.” In Ellen Widmer and David Der-wei Wang, eds. From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth-Century China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, 167–193. Keaveney, Christopher. The Subversive Self in Modern Chinese Literature: The Creation Society’s Reinvention of the Japanese Shishosetsu. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Lan, Feng. “From the De-based Literati to the Debased Intellectual: A Chinese Hypochondriac in Japan.” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 23.1 (Spring 2011): 105–132. Levan, Valerie. “The Confessant as Analysand in Yu Dafu’s Confessional Narratives.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 34 (2012): 31–56. Ming Dong Gu. “A Chinese Oedipus in Exile.” Literature and Psychology 39.1 (1993): 1–25. Shih, Shu-mei. “The Libidinal and the National: The Morality of Decadence in Yu Dafu, Teng Gu, and Others.” In Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern:Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001, 110–127.



Modernist aesthetics and sensibilities


When Auerbach was analyzing Virginia Woolf ’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse in his admired Mimesis, he certainly had no idea that there was a writer in China whose 1932 novel Bridge (Qiao) was being compared to Woolf ’s.The person who made this connection was Zhu Guangqian, a well-known literary critic in 1930s and 1940s China, and the writer was Fei Ming. In Zhu’s words, Fei Ming’s Bridge “leaves out all the superficial stuff and shallow logic, and goes directly to the depths of the heart, quite similar to Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, although these modern novelists are yet to be familiar to Mr. Fei Ming.”1 Often neglected and little understood, Fei Ming is very unique in the history of modern Chinese literature. By stubbornly being himself, taking the path that was distinctively his, Fei Ming nevertheless exhibits in his writing and experimentation a strong affinity with Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust and other modernist writers. Like Fei Ming, the poet Li Jinfa (the other writer discussed in this chapter) also has a strong affinity with Western modernism and especially with French Symbolism. Li, once called the “Baudelaire of the Orient,” introduced French Symbolism into modern Chinese poetry. Unlike Fei Ming, whose modernist sensibilities were independent of the modernist influence, Li Jinfa was intimately familiar with poems by Baudelaire and Verlaine. Li wrote all of his poems when he was studying in France and Berlin between 1920 and 1925. Jinfa (Golden Hair), the pen name our poet adopted in 1922, told a vivid story of his poetic muse. As the legend goes, Li, who had fallen ill and become delirious in Paris, saw a blonde goddess.Without doubt, Li Jinfa’s poetic inspiration came directly from the West.2

Fei Ming and Bridge (Qiao) Life and career Fei Ming (1901–1967), the pen name of Feng Wenbing, was born in Huangmei, Hubei Province, a place famous for its Buddhist tradition. Fei Ming’s special bond with Buddhism would later play a significant role in his writing and thinking. As a child, Fei Ming received a traditional education, which laid a solid foundation for his knowledge and appreciation of traditional Chinese literature. In 1922, he entered Beijing University to study English literature. The Western


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writers whom he most admired were Shakespeare, Cervantes, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Baudelaire. In 1925, Fei Ming’s first collection of stories, Tales of the Bamboo Grove (Zhulin de Gushi), was published, followed by two more: Peach Orchard (Taoyuan) in 1928 and Date (Zao) in 1931. As one can infer from these titles, Fei Ming’s earlier works “paint scenes of pastoral life, often viewed from the perspective of an innocent child, or simple country person, whose heart is portrayed as pure, uncluttered by worldly concerns and thus closest to the highest form of truth.”3 While all these features are still visible in Fei Ming’s 1932 novel Bridge (Qiao), the work is a masterpiece that promises much more. Bridge is first and foremost a modernist literary work that reflects Fei Ming’s unique fascination with “human consciousness.” Fei Ming started teaching at Beijing University in November 1931. In the early 1930s, Fei Ming was considered one of the most important Jingpai (Peking Style) writers.4 However, his literary career was disrupted by the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). During the war, Fei Ming had to return to his hometown, Huangmei, where he taught in the elementary and secondary schools. His only postwar work was After Mr. Neverwas Rides a Plane (Moxuyou Xiansheng zuo feiji yihou), which was serialized in The Literary Magazine from June 1947 through November 1948. While this work still contains some visible signatures of Fei Ming, including stylistic innovations and blending of genres, it is dramatically different from Fei Ming’s earlier works. Instead of being passionate about dreams and consciousness, the transformed Fei Ming is more preoccupied with reality and history.5

Literary achievements Liu Xiwei, a well-known Chinese literary critic in the 1930s and 40s, commented on the uniqueness of Fei Ming’s writing: Among modern Chinese writers one can rarely find someone like Fei Ming, who is so completely being himself. . . . Fei Ming is truly devoted to creation, and therefore his work has strong personal signatures. He is not interested in following the trend, and therefore he always has his forever place, which becomes a Peach Blossom Spring for a few kindred spirits to linger without any thoughts of leaving.6 In the history of modern Chinese literature, Fei Ming’s influence is felt in the works of two groups of writers. The first group consists of regionalist writers such as Shen Congwen and Wang Zengqi; the second includes modernist poets such as Bian Zhilin and He Qifang. In the recent years, scholars in Mainland China have attempted to reassess Fei Ming’s contribution to the lyric poetic tradition in modern Chinese fiction.7 Fei Ming’s self-conscious appropriation of classical poetry is apparent in his masterpiece Bridge, which may be seen as a parallel to the “lyrical novel” in the West. While such an appraisal is significant, it fails to distinguish Qiao from other poetic fiction written in modern China. In the following section, I present my own reading of the novel.

The masterpiece The meaning of Bridge (Qiao) Bridge starts as a love story, and then it becomes something else. The novel starts with a story within a story set on a distant ocean country. A 12-year-old boy was escorted to his uncle’s place 144

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to avoid the chaos following a fire in his village. A little girl from the neighborhood joined him, while her father was busy salvaging their furniture. The boy later walked back to the village alone to retrieve “a doll” that the little girl had left behind.The girl’s name, Asbas, was apparently foreign, and the word doll was rendered in English in Fei Ming’s text. The main story starts in the following chapter “Golden Silver Flower.” Our protagonist Xiao Lin, a 12-year-old boy, went outside of the city to play after school. He crossed the bridge, where he met Granny Shi and her 10-year-old granddaughter Qinzi, who would later become his fiancée. Xiao Lin gave Qinzi the golden silver flower that he picked from the tree. Their pure and innocent love touches the reader’s heart. Scholars have argued that the “green plum blossom and bamboo horse” (qingmei zhuma) motif might come from the influence of George Eliot, whose The Mill on the Floss was one of Fei Ming’s favorite books. Considering the foreign sounding of the frame story, one can probably agree with this claim.8 Bridge consists of two parts. According to Fei Ming, after completing two-thirds of Part I, he started writing Part II. The whole writing process started in 1925, and the story remained unfinished even when the book was published in 1932. Some readers joked that Fei Ming spent seven years building his bridge. But what intrigues me is that Fei Ming was eager to start writing Part II. So what is in the second part? Part II takes place ten years later, when Xiao Lin returns to his hometown after having studied in the North. There is a new protagonist Xizhu, Qinzi’s female cousin, who had been “a little thing” when Xiao Lin left, and was not even mentioned in Part I, but appears suddenly in Part II as a beautiful young woman. It sounds like a typical love triangle, but the focus of Bridge is certainly elsewhere. To really understand Bridge, one must understand what a bridge is in Fei Ming’s textual world. Xiao Lin first crossed the bridge at the beginning of the novel. He then met Granny Shi and Qinzi, and followed them to Qinzi’s home for dinner. The significance of these events was explained later when Xiao Lin went home and saw her sister washing clothes on the riverbank outside the city while waiting for him. Suddenly Xiao Lin realized that there were things in his heart he could no longer share with his sister, and those things were certainly the golden silver flower and Qinzi. Here we may say that the Bridge is like a passage that transforms Xiao Lin into this young man with his first taste of love and maturity. Xiao Lin crossed the bridge again in Part II in the chapter titled “Bridge.” Xiao Lin, Qinzi and Xizhu went on an outing to the Bazhang Pavilion. There was a wooden bridge on the way there, which could never be crossed in Xiao Lin’s memory. When thinking about this bridge, he always remembered being that frightened boy, who was too afraid to cross it. Xiao Lin asked Qinzi and Xizhu to cross the bridge first. Qinzi crossed first, and then Xizhu, who stopped in the middle, looked back at Xiao Lin and asked him what he was looking at: Honestly Xiao Lin himself doesn’t know what he is looking at. The image of the past seems to become more and more vague, and it seems to carry the current image of these two girls’ back further and further away, very much like a dream. The color is still the color of the bridge. When Xizhu looks back, it takes Xiao Lin’s breath away. “Under the Bridge the flow of water is like sobbing,” as if immediately one could hear the sound, smiling back at her. From that moment on, this bridge takes the middle as its other shore, where Xizhu is standing, her beautiful image perpetual there, and only the sky forms her background.9 If the first bridge transforms, this second bridge transcends. If the first crossing is about life experience, the second one is about dreams and sudden enlightenment. While the first crossing 145

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is linear, the second one is anything but linear. At that moment, past memory and present image merge into a dream. What Xiao Lin did was to paint that dream, to add the color and the sound to reach that epiphany. Evoking the line from a poem by Wen Tingyun (812–870), one of Fei Ming’s favorite poets from the late Tang Dynasty, “Under the Bridge the flow of water is like sobbing,” Xiao Lin painted a dream that crystallizes layers of time and space. We might still consider this bridge a passage, a passage from the real to a dream world, a world that is more real than the “real.” It still has things to do with the heart, but this time the heart is on its own quest, a search for the ultimate state of truth and beauty. In a way, all these descriptions about Xiao Lin, Qinzi and Xizhu’s outing to the Bazhang Pavilion are just a setup to bring the reader to that moment of sudden enlightenment. In his preface to Bridge, Fei Ming wrote that he once considered Tower as the title of the book. If we say Bridge is the passage from this shore to the other, Tower is certainly the passage from earth to sky, from this world to the next. Transcendence is at the core of this work, which marks Fei Ming unique in the history of modern Chinese literature. It also makes sense when one realizes that the title of the last chapter of Part I of Bridge is “Tombstone.” The chapter recounts Xiao Lin’s encounter with a tombstone in the wilderness. Just like Bridge and Tower, “Tombstone” may be read as a passage from life to death, from this world to the next. I think it was at that moment Fei Ming realized that what he really wanted to write was something beyond life, beyond death, something like a dream world, something about human imagination and human consciousness. I believe that prompted him to begin writing Part II.

Bridge and modern consciousness In a short piece written in 1936, Fei Ming compares Don Quixote with the Chinese classical novel Water Margin. In contrast to Jin Shengtan, a well-known critic in the Ming Dynasty, who praises the author of Water Margin for writing the book in his mind first before putting it on paper, Fei Ming praises Cervantes for starting his writing “without having a full book in his mind.” Fei Ming claims that if he had been given ten or twenty years to write a novel, he would definitely do what Cervantes had done.10 That was exactly what Fei Ming did in writing Bridge. The fact that Fei Ming would feel comfortable publishing the novel chapter by chapter in a serial form, even in different magazines, then moving on to the second part without completing the first, and finally publishing the unfinished novel in 1932 while writing more chapters afterwards shows us his singular understanding and appreciation of the uncertainty of writing as a process. I think this is also what Fei Ming means when he writes in his preface to Bridge that writing Bridge taught him how to write. What takes center stage in Part II of Bridge is Fei Ming’s fascination with the inner process of human imagination and human consciousness. He seems particularly interested in showing how the mind could be triggered by one word, one phrase, one line from a Tang poem, one image or event, and then by free association, imagination, intuition, even exaggeration to arrive at that dream world, to experience epiphanic ways of coming to the truth. Just like the chapter “Bridge,” many chapters in Part II consist of those moments of sudden enlightenment. The Chinese critic Wu Xiaodong argues that the key to understand Bridge is to understand that psychological and imaginary real that Fei Ming builds in his fictional world. He coins the term “Heart Image” to summarize that imaginary real, or we may say the dream world. Both “heart” and “image” are concepts with a long and rich tradition in Chinese culture. Wu Xiaodong’s discussion therefore focuses on the influence of Chinese literary tradition on Fei Ming’s dream world.11 While Wu’s observation is insightful, I would point out the Western and modernist nature of Fei Ming’s imaginary real. In the chapter “Tower,” Xiao Lin says, “I often observe 146

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my own thinking. It can be said to be very much like geometry, which brooks no vagueness and imprecision. I don’t feel the truth of life as a dream, but rather feel the truth and beauty of dream.”12 Geometry would never have occurred to any Chinese traditional man of letters when talking about their thinking and imagination. I think Fei Ming’s attempt at “scientifically” rendering the inner mechanism of human imagination and human consciousness makes him a kindred spirit of Western modernist writers. In 1927, Fei Ming wrote an essay titled “Telling of Dreams.” In that essay, Fei Ming cites Shakespeare several times, all in the original English. He quotes Hamlet and King Lear. When talking about what the dream means for him, he cites Shakespeare’s work as the best example. Because when Shakespeare starts writing, he does not know what he will accomplish. Then his words give birth to words, and sentences to sentences, just like an unfathomable dream. Here we again see Fei Ming emphasize the uncertainty of writing; we also realize Fei Ming’s understanding of dream world is mediated by his unique understanding of Shakespeare and other writers in the Western literary tradition. In “Telling of Dreams,” Fei Ming mentions far more writers from outside of China than from China.13 In her discussion of Fei Ming, Shu-Mei Shih coins the term “mutual mediation” to describe Fei Ming’s engagement with the Chinese and Western literary traditions. At Beijing University, Fei Ming was known for writing his English exams with a Chinese brush. Invoking this perfect image, Shih argues that Fei Ming was at home with both the traditional and the modern, with the East and the West. What impresses me in the image of Fei Ming’s “writing English with a Chinese brush” is the kind of ease and freedom that was rarely seen among the May Fourth writers.While the May Fourth writers had to fight hard to even start writing in the vernacular, the subsequent generation, Fei Ming’s, was able to overcome the alienation and precariousness in their attitude toward languages, be it classical Chinese, the vernacular or English.14 In a way, Fei Ming’s writing of Bridge synthesizes this ease and freedom both linguistically and stylistically. In my opinion, what distinguishes Fei Ming from his Chinese contemporaries is his abiding interest in subjective experience and human consciousness, which is inherently modernist. But in Fei Ming’s case it is shaped by Buddhism, Taoism, classical Chinese poetry and his own interpretation of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Eliot and Baudelaire. In the West, “the growth of the analysis of the subjective point of view is seen philosophically in Bergson and psychologically in Freud, but was most rigorously pursued in the subjective self-reliance of modernist art, which delineated this kind of psychology, and also traced the growing emancipation of the expressive or creative individual from socially accepted forms of belief (as in Joyce’s portrait of himself as Stephen Dedalus), . . . ”15 In a way, what Fei Ming really wants his reader to see is Xiao Lin’s psychology, his way of seeing things into that dream world, and his imaginative, intuitive “epiphanic” way of coming to the truth. In Bridge, especially Part II, Fei Ming uses a variety of techniques, not exactly stream of consciousness, to delineate how the mind and imagination of Xiao Lin (sometimes Qinzi) operate to reach that enlightenment. Unlike those Western modernists, Fei Ming is not interested in capturing how consciousness works minute by minute; he is more interested in one psychology that transcends reality to that dream world. In analyzing Virginia Woolf ’s To the Lighthouse, Auerbach points out the social and historical conditions that led to Western modernist writers’ emphasis on the “reflections of consciousness.” He writes: At the time of the first World War and after – in a Europe unsure of itself, overflowing with unsettled ideologies and ways of life, and pregnant with disaster – certain writers 147

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distinguished by instinct and insight find a method which dissolves reality into multiple and multivalent reflections of consciousness. That this method should have been developed at this time is not hard to understand.16 In other words, it was this clash of the most heterogeneous ways of life as the result of Western imperialism, (which began in the sixteenth century, continued through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century at an accelerating pace), that made those European modernist writers turn away from ever-dubious “important” exterior events and shift attention to everyday minor, random events, as well as the dreamlike wealth of the inner consciousness. In China, the emergence of modern consciousness and a sense of “interiority” was based on a very different historical experience.17 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Chinese intellectuals and writers encountered the clash of ideologies and ways of life, mainly between their own tradition and Western values. Instead of desperately trying to make sense of a world of multitude, as argued by Auerbach, Chinese intellectuals struggled to resist and/ or embrace the West, while fighting to transform their traditional society into a modern one. It is no surprise that modern Chinese fiction would start with accounts of disturbed psyches. Both Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” and Yu Dafu’s “Sinking” were elaborations of the troubled “interiority” that was never a topic for traditional Chinese literature. As the generation that came after the May Fourth writers, Fei Ming followed his own path in exploring human psychology.What we see in Xiao Lin’s observation, imagination, or lost in imagination all point to an artistic world that is uniquely Fei Ming’s. In many ways, the text that should be placed alongside Fei Ming’s Bridge is Lu Xun’s Wild Grass, a volume of prose poems that records the dreamlike wealth of Lu Xun’s subconscious world. While Lu Xun’s Wild Grass presents a selfdestructive old soul in its darkest and most precarious existential condition, Fei Ming’s Bridge features a young artist whose heart embarks on a quest for truth, and enlightenment. But for both writers, their fascination with human consciousness and the world led to the creation of masterpieces.

Li Jinfa and Light Rain (Weiyu) Life and career Li Jinfa (1900–1976), the pen name of Li Shuliang, was born into a Hakka family in Guangdong province. He studied in Hong Kong and Shanghai from 1917 to 1919, and then joined a group of students to study in France. While studying sculpture in Paris, Li Jinfa came under the strong influence of French Symbolist poets, especially Charles Baudelaire, whose Les Fleurs du Mal became his poetic inspiration. Between 1920 and 1924, Li wrote more than three hundred poems, which were published after his return to China in 1925: Light Rain (Weiyu, 1925); Sing for Happiness (Wei xinfu er ge, 1926); Guest Visitor and Hard Time (Shike yu xiongnian, 1927). Known as China’s first Symbolist poet, Li Jinfa created a poetic world that confounded his readers with its grotesque images and unusual associations. Li taught art in Hangzhou and Guangzhou after his return to China. He produced only one more volume, Exoticism (Yiguo qingdiao), a collection of poems, essays and fiction, published in 1942. In the late 1940s, he became a diplomat for the Nationalist Government. After 1949, Li Jinfa immigrated to the United States, raising chickens on a farm in New Jersey. In 1964, he published his last literary work, a volume of essays titled Idle Jottings (Piaoling xianbi). He died in New York in 1976.


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Literary achievement The publication of Li Jinfa’s first collection of poetry Light Rain in 1925 caused a great stir on China’s literary scene. While some praised Li’s contribution for creating a new sensibility for modern Chinese poetry, others were shocked by his use of bizarre, grotesque images and obscure meanings. Most of Li’s contemporary critics such as Su Xuelin considered incomprehensibility and obscurity a hallmark of his poem. While they credited Li Jinfa for introducing French Symbolist poetry into China, they also blamed him for doing injustice to French Symbolists, citing his inadequate knowledge of French and Chinese.18 Li’s work was admired in Taiwan in the 1960s following the emergence of Taiwan modernist poetry. Taiwanese poet Ya Xian interviewed Li in the 1970s. In Mainland China, after having been totally forgotten for three decades, Li’s reputation revived in the early 1980s when Chinese writers and intellectuals became greatly interested in Western literary tradition after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The masterpiece A Reading of “Woman Forsaken” “Woman Forsaken” (Qifu), the first poem of Light Rain, is the most anthologized of Li Jinfa’s poems: Long hair hangs down disheveled before my eyes, Blocking the shaming stares The rapid flow of fresh blood, the slumber of dried bones Dark night and insects arrive slowly with conspiring steps Over the corner of the low wall And yelp into my chaste ears Like the howling wind in the wilderness That makes all the nomads shiver.19 The theme of “the abandoned Woman” was nothing new in Chinese poetic tradition, but to evoke images such as “the rapid flow of fresh blood” and “the slumber of dried bones” must have been shocking to the readers of the 1920s. In a typical traditional Chinese poem, the abandoned woman yearns for her absent lover. Everything that surrounds her, things in her boudoir, or in the courtyard, points to her sorrow and loneliness. Autumn would be the typical season for such sentiment, which reminds her and the reader of the brevity of youth, beauty and of life itself.20 In this case, we can hardly sense any trace of a lover. What captures the reader at the beginning of the poem is a tense and hostile relationship between the abandoned woman and the world. Her only buffer against that hostility is her long and unruly hair. More disturbing and powerful images are evoked: dark night and conspiring insects, howling wind, and the frightened and shivering nomads. The abandoned woman we see here is an outcast who had to fight the disdainful stares and accusations in her hopelessness and helplessness. In the second stanza, the reader encounters more colorful images: the empty vale, the flitting bee, the sorrow that hangs down the cliff, the mountain spring and the red leaves. For Zhu Ziqing, a popular essayist and critic of the 1930s, all these images are like “beads of various colors and sizes,” which the reader must string together. He argues that what Li Jinfa wants to


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express is not meaning, but sensations and emotions. In other words, the reader is not invited by the poet to pursue the meaning of every word, every image, but to experience the atmosphere constructed by these symbols. According to Zhu Ziqing, this is the technique of the French Symbolists.21 A shift of perspective occurs at the beginning of the third stanza. While the first two stanzas are narrated from the first-person perspective, the rest of the poem is narrated in the third person. If the reader is compelled to identify with the victimized woman in the first two stanzas, in the third and fourth stanzas he or she is positioned to view the abandoned woman from a distance and to see how ennui of time brought to her a sense of melancholy, decadence and lifelessness. The reader encounters more colorful but obscure images: the flame of the setting sun, ashes in the chimney, vagrant crows and rocks in a tumbling sea. Again, the reader has to string these beads together, while experiencing a poetic world that does not yield a single message so much as a network of associations. Li Jinfa’s poem ends on a rather strong note: wearing a ragged skirt, wandering by the graves, the abandoned woman refuses to adorn the world. With these destructive energies and symbols, Li Jinfa’s abandoned woman continues to fight the world, offering no tears or compromises. Li Jinfa’s “abandoned woman” could not be more different from the beautiful and lonely women of traditional Chinese poetry. His approach to the theme attests more to the influence of his poetic muse, Baudelaire, considering the sense of darkness and decadence conveyed by Li’s abandoned woman. But compared to Baudelaire’s promiscuous and scandalous woman, Li Jinfa’s “abandoned woman” is rather morally upright. One way to decipher Li Jinfa’s “Woman Forsaken” is to read the first poem in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, “Benediction.” “Benediction” is autobiographical.22 I would suggest that Li Jinfa’s “Woman Forsaken” is also autobiographical. In the Chinese poetic tradition, a poem on the abandoned woman very likely involves female impersonation by the literati poet.23 Li’s piece was written when he was a lonely, isolated and marginalized student in Paris. Li later recalled living in poverty and reading “humanist and leftist” works that stimulated his interest in “decadent works.”24 Just like “Benediction,” “Woman Forsaken” gives us a first glance of the poet, and lays the foundation for a breathtaking poetic world.

Light Rain and Baudelaire Baudelaire’s influence on Li Jinfa’s Light Rain was immense. The title alone is reminiscent of Baudelaire’s “Mists and Rains” and “Overcast Sky.” It also reminds us of the beginning of Baudelaire’s famous poem “Spleen:” The rainy moon of all the world is weary, And from its urn a gloomy cold pours down.25 Li Jinfa’s contribution to modern Chinese poetry is in many ways Baudelairean. He introduced into modern Chinese poetry a new vocabulary, and a new set of images that came from the Baudelairean fascination with the ugly, the repulsive and the morbid. As we all know, Li Jinfa’s poetry shocked his reader with its abundant images of the grotesque, such as corpses, skeletons, bloody lakes, dried bones and pale shadows. Another popular poem from Light Rain is “Night Song” (Ye zhi ge): “We stroll on dead grass, / Sadness and anger entangle our legs. / Pink memories / Decayed animals by the road, emitting stench.26 Again, here the images of death and ugliness, the emotion and sensation evoked by these images were all alien to the Chinese poetic tradition.


Modern consciousness and symbolist poetry

Scholars have made some interesting comparisons of the dominant images used by Guo Mo-ruo in Goddess (1921) and by Li Jinfa in Light Rain (1925): Image/frequency: cold night, Guo (5) and Li (38); death, Guo (4) and Li (8); Dead corpse/decayed bones, Guo (2) and Li (19); graves, Guo (3) and Li (7); Wild wind/fallen leaves, Guo (1) and Li (10); wasteland, Guo (0) and Li (7); Waning moon, Guo (1) and Li (9); setting sun, Guo (1) and Li (10); Vestigeous blood/stained blood, Guo (0) and Li (5); dirty mud, Guo (1) and Li (15); Sun, Guo (55) and Li (10); sunrise, Guo (9) and Li (2); ocean/waves, Guo (14) and Li (0); burning fire, Guo (27) and Li (0); burning blood, Guo (5) and Li (0); Bright moon/clear breeze, Guo (5) and Li (1); white clouds/flowing water, Guo (10) And Li (1), and murmuring spring, Guo (3) and Li (1)27 If Guo Mo-ruo’s Goddess symbolizes this ever-creative energy, infused with explosive passion, the narrative of the sun, the light, the fire, and the dawn, Li Jinfa’s Woman Forsaken stands at the other pole. She is dark and morbid, drained of energy, and sings the song of icy coldness, ruin and pain. Placing these two poets side by side, one cannot help but be impressed by the force of change that transformed and modernized traditional Chinese poetry.28

Some other Chinese symbolists Besides Li Jinfa, other Chinese poets who also have strong affinity with French Symbolism include Wang Duqing, Mu Mutian and Liang Zongdai. Wang Duqing (1898–1940) was born to an ancient family of scholar-officials in Xi’an. He received a traditional education, and began writing poetry at age eight or nine. He then acquired a modern education, and went to study science in Japan. In the early 1920s, Wang traveled widely in Europe, visiting Florence, Rome, Madrid,Venice, Pompeii, and lived briefly in Lyon, London and Berlin. He spent most of his European sojourn in Paris, where he lived, according to his autobiography, like a “romantic and decadent.”29 After returning to China in 1925, Wang published eight volumes of poetry between 1926 and 1932, including Before the Image of Holy Mother (Shenmuxiangqian, 1927); Venice (Weinishi, 1928); Egyptians (Aijiren, 1929). Wang joined the Creation Society in 1926, and became chief editor of the Creation Monthly. Wang’s most popular poem “I come out of a Café” (Wo cong café-zhong chulai) best embodies his pursuit for “pure poetry.” “I came out of a café, / intoxicated fatigue / weighing on my body / I did not know / where to turn, to find / my temporary home. / Ah, cold and silent streets, / dusk, light rain.”30 Wang once commented on this poem, pointing out that its uneven lines and rhymes befit the mood of the intoxicated poet. Wang associates “pure poetry” with Baudelaire, and states that Chinese Symbolists must learn from Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud, to be poets of “art for art’s sake.” Wang’s another well-known poem “Mourning for Rome” (Diao Luoma) juxtaposes Rome with his own hometown, Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. The long poem is sprinkled with foreign words from various languages: foreign names, foreign places, while also having allusions to the Chinese classical anthology, Songs of the South (Chu ci) and other collections of traditional poetry. Mu Mutian (1900–1971) was another important member of the Creation Society whose poetry was inspired by French Symbolism. Mu was from a wealthy Manchu family in North China. He encountered French Symbolism when studying Mathematics in Japan in the 1920s.


Gang Zhou

He was so fascinated with French Symbolists that he switched his major to study French literature at Tokyo Imperial University. After returning to China, his first volume of poetry, Traveler’s Heart (Lu xin) was published in 1927 by the Creation Society. Like Wang Duqing, Mu Mutian also calls for “pure poetry.” In his important 1935 article “What is Symbolism,” Mu proposes that poetry must avoid philosophizing and conceptualizing; it must suggest but not state. He also places the translated Baudelaire’s sonnet “Correspondences” at the very center of his article. For him, Correspondences, the primary characteristic of Symbolist poetics, means complex correspondences between the manifestations of nature and the human soul.31 His most famous poem “Pale Bell” (Cangbaide zhongsheng) best represents Mu’s poetic view: Pale bell sounds decay misty Disperse exquisite desolate hazy in the valley —Withered grass  thousands  ten-thousands of layers Listen forever fantastic ancient bell Listen  thousand sounds  ten-thousand sounds32 Using “pale,” a visual image, to describe the ancient bell-sounds, Mu’s title of the poem provides a brilliant example of Synesthesia. While using no punctuation throughout the entire poem, Mu uses blank spaces to separate words and phrases, suggesting silences amid sounds. In the first stanza, the central image of the poem, ancient bell (guzhong), was tolling in the valley (guzhong, its homophone). The repetition of words, phrases and the multiple of numbers all sound like forever echoes singing in the valley. In the following five stanzas, Mu Mutian evokes the other four senses to create a delicate world of Correspondences. Different from Wang Duqing and Mu Mutian, Liang Zongdai (1903–1983) was trained in France and particularly known for his apprenticeship with Paul Valery. Liang studied French in Geneva and Paris, studied German in Heidelberg, and Italian in Florence. He also knew English well, as he translated Shakespeare’s sonnets. Following Paul Valery, Liang passionately proposes that poetry is a “pure poem, and that pure poetry is nothing but a ‘poeticization of the soul as it is.’ ”33 What makes Liang Zongdai’s poetics unique is his juxtaposition of French Symbolism with traditional Chinese poetics, which makes him a pioneer in the early days of the Comparative Literature in modern China. In 1934, Liang Zongdai published a collection of essays entitled Symbolism (Xiangzheng zhuyi), arguably the first serious theoretical engagement with French Symbolist poetry by a Chinese poet. In these articles, Liang likens Symbolism to xing, as evinced in the Classic of Poetry (Shijing).34 Referring to the definition in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, “Xing rouses . . . that which rouses the affections depends on something subtle for the sake of reflective consideration,”35 Liang points out that by something minute, xing intimates the subtle relationship between two things which may look irrelevant to each other on the surface yet can be mutually implicated. Feeling can be generated by “referring to something minute and subtle that evokes the associative consideration of the other.”36 For him, such a resonance between the poetic mind and things in the cosmos reminds us of the Baudelairean Correspondences.


Modern consciousness and symbolist poetry

Notes 1 See Zhu Guangqian, “Bridge,” (Qiao), Literature Magazine (July 1937), vol. 1, no. 3, 183–189. 2 See Chen Houcheng, The Smile on the Lips of the Death of God: A Biography of Li Jinfa (Taipei:Yeqiang chubanshe, 1994). 3 See Li-hua Ying, The A to Z of Modern Chinese Literature (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010), 42. 4 For discussions on Jingpai writers, see Susan Daruvala, Zhou Zuoren and an Alternative Chinese Response to Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2000); Shu-Mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China: 1917–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). 5 For discussions on Fei Ming’s postwar work, see Carolyn Fitzgerald, Fragmenting Modernisms: Chinese Wartime Literature, Art, and Film, 1937–49 (Leiden: Brill, 2013). For discussions on Fei Ming’s transformation after 1949, see Liu Jianmei’s chapter on Fei Ming in her Zhuangzi and Modern Chinese Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 126–142. 6 Liu Xiwei, “Record of Drawing Dreams – Mr. He Qifang’s Work,” in Chen Zhenguo, ed., Research Materials of Feng Wenbing (Fuzhou: Huaxia wenyi chubanshe, 1991), 207. 7 See Ge Fei’s “The Meaning of Fei Ming,” Wenyi lilun yanjiu (2001), vol. 1. 8 See Shu-Mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern:Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China: 1917–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 193. 9 See Fei Ming, Bridge (Qiao) (Shanghai: Kaiming Shudian, 1932), 301. 10 See Fei Ming, Selected Writings of Feng Wenbing (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1985), 359–360. 11 See Wu Xiaodong, “Mind Concept and Heart Image: Poetics of Fei Ming’s Novel Bridge,” Wenxue pinglun (2001), vol. 2, 133–141. 12 In his essay “Fei Ming’s Poetics of Representation: Dream, Fantasy, Illusion, and Alayavijnana,” Haoming Liu also focuses on this paragraph. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (Fall 2001), vol. 13, no. 2, 30–71. 13 See Fei Ming, Selected Writings of Feng Wenbing, 319–325. 14 For May Fourth writers’ attitude towards the vernacular and other languages, see Gang Zhou, Placing the Modern Chinese Vernacular in Transnational Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). 15 See Christopher Butler, Modernism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 55. 16 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 551. 17 For discussions on “multiple modernities,” see Zhang Longxi’s “Literary Modernity in Perspective,” in Yingjin Zhang, ed., A Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2016), 41–53. 18 See Zhao Jiabi, ed., Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi (Compendium of Modern Chinese Literature). 10 vols (Shanghai: liangyou tushu gongsi, 1935). 19 Michelle Yeh’s English translation with my minor revision, see Michelle Yeh, Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1992), 18. 20 See Zong-Qi Cai, How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology (New York: Columbia University Press), 144. 21 Zhu Ziqing’s comment well captures Li Jinfa’s bold and innovative use of images and symbols, which of course comes from Li’s Western muses. We might want to look at Baudelaire’s famous poem “Correspondences” here: Nature is a temple in which living pillars Sometimes give voice to confused words; Man passes there through forests of symbols Which look at him with understanding eyes. ------With power to expand into infinity, Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin, That sing the ecstasy of the soul and the senses 22 See, Baudelaire’s “Benediction,” in Charles Baudelaire, ed., Flowers of Evil, trans. Cyril Scott (Lexington, KY: Wildside Press, 2016), 7–9.


Gang Zhou 2 3 See Zong-Qi Cai, How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, 2. 24 See Gloria Bien, Baudelaire in China: A Study in Literary Reception (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2013), 128. 25 See Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil, 52. 26 My translation. For other translations, see Hsu Kai-Yu, ed., Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962), 175. 27 See Song Yongyi, “Li Jinfa: Survival Through Praise and Blame of History,” in Zeng Xiaoyi, ed., To the World Literature:The Influence of Foreign Literature Upon Modern Chinese Writers (Changsha: Hunan wenyi chubanshe, 1985), 395. Cited from Mi Jiayan, Self-Fashioning and Reflexive Modernity in Modern Chinese Poetry (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004), 145. 28 Ibid., 85–88, see Mi Jiayan’s chapter on Li Jinfa, “The Decadent Body: Toward a Negative Ethics of Mourning in Li Jinfa,” in his Self-Fashioning and Reflexive Modernity in Modern Chinese Poetry, 85–144. 29 Wang Duqing, “My Life in Europe,” (Wo zai Ouzhoude shenghuo), 2nd ed. (Shanghai: Daguang shuju, 1936). 30 My translation. For other translations, see Hsu Kai-Yu, Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry, 194. 31 Mu Mutian, “What Is Symbolism” (Shenme shi Xiangzhengzhuyi) in Chen Dun and Liu Xiangyu, eds., Selections of Mu Mutian Literary Criticism (Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press, 2000). 32 My translation. For other translations, see Hsu Kai-Yu, Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry, 188. 33 Liang Zongdai, “Symbolism,” (Xiangzheng zhuyi) in Poetry and Truth (Shi yu zhen) (Beijing: Zhongyang bianyi chubanshe, 2006), 87. 34 Also see David Der-wei Wang, “Chinese Literary Thought in Modern Times: Three Encounters,” in Carlos Rojas and Andrea Bachner, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 597–617. 35 Liu Xie, The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wenxin diaolong) (Taipei: Heluo tushu chubanshe, 1976), 240. 36 Liang Zongdai, “Symbolism,” (Xiangzheng zhuyi) in Poetry and Truth (Shi yu zhen), 71.

Further readings Baudelaire, Charles. The Flowers of Evil. Translated by Cyril Scott. A Baudelaire Book, 2016. Butler, Christopher. Modernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2010. Chen Houcheng, The Smile on the Lips of the Death of God: A Biography of Li Jinfa.Yeqiang chubanshe, 1994. Fei Ming. Bridge (Qiao). Kaiming Shudian, 1932. ———. Selected Writings of Feng Wenbing. Beijing renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1985. Li Jinfa. Light Rain (Weiyu). Beijing xinchao she, 1925. Shih, Shu-Mei. The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China: 1917–1937. University of California Press, 2001. Wu Xiaodong. “Mind Concept and Heart Image: Poetics of Fei Ming’s Novel Bridge.” Literary Review (Wenxue pinglun) 2 (2001): 30–71.


11 THE POETRY OF DAI WANGSHU Where tradition meets modernism Yaohua Shi

Life and career Born on March 5, 1905, Dai Wangshu is one of the most celebrated Chinese poets of the twentieth century. “Wangshu” is his most frequently used pen name and derives from a couplet in Lisao by the Chu bard Qu Yuan, “I sent Wang Shu ahead to ride before me; The Wind God went behind me as my outrider.”1 Dai is often described as a modernist, yet his pen name, by which he is almost universally known, suggests a complex relationship with Chinese tradition. Dai grew up in a moderately prosperous and cultured family. His father was a bank employee; his mother knew many vernacular stories and operatic arias by heart. The year of Dai’s birth coincided with the end of the millennium-old civil service examination system. Dai attended prestigious modern-style elementary and high schools in Hangzhou. Their conservative curricula, however, included heavy doses of traditional Chinese culture. It was in high school that Dai met and began to collaborate with his close friends Du Heng and Shi Zhecun. In 1922, the “three musketeers” started a literary group Orchid Society and a year later a magazine Friends of Orchids. Like “Wangshu,” the word “orchid” is richly evocative. The tradition of using orchids to signify all things pure and noble also harks back to Qu Yuan. Over time, when men became sworn brothers, they were said to exchange “orchid registers” or genealogy records. The name “Orchid Society,” therefore, connotes a close-knit literary confraternity. The title of the magazine, on the other hand, is in the style of the early twentieth-century Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies fiction. Dai dabbled in old-style poetry. His surviving ci-poem “Strolling down the Imperial Way” (Yujiexing) is exquisite and sentimental. Dai also tried his hand at writing short stories and published them in Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies magazines. However, unlike most typical Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies fiction, Dai’s stories, “Debt” (Zhai), “Child Street Performer” (Maiyitongzi), and “Motherly Love” (Mu’ai), focus on the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. Dai’s left-leaning tendencies continued in college. Shanghai University, which Dai and Shi both attended, was a product of the short-lived alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists. Deng Zhongxia, its provost, Qu Qiubai, dean of the school of humanities, and Chen Wangdao, chair of the Chinese department, were all Communists. Chen was the first Chinese translator of the Communist Manifesto. Dai majored in Chinese but audited Sociology classes, which seems to have reinforced his leftist sympathies. It is likely that Dai started writing newstyle poetry in college.2 155

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In 1925, students at Shanghai University protested against the May 30th Massacre of striking workers. As a result, the school was shut down. Dai then enrolled in the intensive yearlong French course at the Jesuit Université l’Aurore in Shanghai. The instruction relied heavily on memorization and extensive reading of canonical nineteenth-century Romantic texts, especially those by Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, and Alfred de Musset. According to his close friend Shi Zhecun, Dai studied French Romantic writers in class but “hid Verlaine and Baudelaire under his pillow.” Dai eventually rejected Romanticism in favor of Symbolism, particularly late Symbolist poets such as Remy de Gourmont and Francis Jammes. It was also at l’Aurore that Dai joined the Communist Youth League and started another literary magazine Jade Necklace Trimonthly (Yingluo xunkan) with Du Heng, Shi Zhecun, and the Taiwanese writer Liu Na’ou. Three of Dai’s earliest published poems, “Leaving Home with Tears in My Eyes” (Ninglei chumen), “Wanderer’s Night Song” (Liulangren de yege), and “Know How” (Kezhi) first appeared in the trimonthly, as did his translations of “Le ciel est par-dessus le toit” (The sky’s above the roof) and “Il pleure dans mon coeur” (It rains in my heart) by Verlaine. Dai also published a detailed critique of a selection of French poems translated into Chinese by a scholar named Li Sichun. Dai was twenty-three. His college years were formative both politically and artistically. His original poetic works in Jade Necklace are unmistakably modern in form, if not always in content and mood. Tellingly, even as he embarked on his career as a modern poet at l’Aurore, he adopted a pen name associated with Qu Yuan, one of the towering figures in ancient Chinese verse. In the wake of Chiang Kai-shek’s anti-Communist purges in April 1927 the three friends left l’Aurore, but soon regrouped in Songjiang outside Shanghai where Shi’s parents lived. In Songjiang, Dai, Shi, and Du busied themselves translating foreign literature. Several months later Dai went to Beijing ostensibly to see if he could finish his studies there.While in Beijing, he became friends with Feng Xuefeng, a dedicated Communist. It was at Feng’s suggestion that Dai began to translate Soviet literature and Marxist literary theory. It was also through Feng Xuefeng that Dai Wangshu and Du Heng joined the League of Left-wing Writers in March 1930. However, neither Dai Wangshu nor Du Heng became a dogmatic follower of the League. In fact, during the heated debate on the Third Category of men in 1932, Du Heng was to break away acrimoniously from the League. Having already left Shanghai, Dai supported his friend from Europe. Dai Wangshu arrived in France in November 1932. According to some accounts, Dai went to France partly to satisfy his fiancée’s desire for her future husband to acquire a foreign degree. During his two and a half years in Europe, Dai audited a few classes at the Sorbonne and at the Institut Franco-Chinois in Lyons but was otherwise disinterested in academics, preferring instead to explore the literary and artistic riches of the French capital on his own. He met established literary figures like André Malraux and André Breton and was fascinated with the apparent solidarity among French left-wing intellectuals, which he contrasted with the infighting among the League of Left-wing writers in China. In dire financial needs, he spent much of his time doing translation work secured for him by his fiancée’s older brother, Shi Zhecun, in Shanghai. Dai also studied Spanish at the Berlitz language school in Paris. His interest in Spanish literature took him to Spain in 1934. He traveled around the country, visited various monuments, including those connected to Cervantes, and browsed in bookstores and libraries in Madrid. Dai was later to translate Don Quixote into Chinese. Sources contradict on whether he finished the translation or not. Failing to make any progress toward an academic degree, Dai was expelled by the Institut Franco-Chinois and returned to China in 1935. Soon afterwards his fiancée broke off their engagement, having fallen in love with another man. Although he suffered a big setback in his personal life, Dai achieved success with two literary magazines he helped edit, Modern Poetry (Xiandai shifeng) and New Poetry (Xin shi). Modern 156

The poetry of Dai Wangshu

Poetry was a quarterly started by Shi Zhecun. The first issue attracted contributions from many modernist poets of the day such as Xu Chi, Ji Xian, and Jin Kemu besides Dai Wangshu and Shi Zhecun. A thousand copies of the issue quickly sold out. With New Poetry, Dai sought to bring together poets from the Crescent School and the Late Crescent School in the North and modernists in the South. Bian Zhilin, who wrote a preface to Dai’s poems decades later, was on the editorial committee. Ten issues of the magazine appeared between October 1936 and July 1937. After Japan occupied Shanghai, Dai moved to Hong Kong where he eked out a living editing a literary supplement for a local newspaper. During his eight years in the British colony, Dai was active in the local literary scene. With Ai Qing, he co-edited a poetry magazine Acme (Dingdian). Only one issue was published. Dai contributed his translations of eight Spanish poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and Vicente Aleixandre. In 1942, a year after Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, Dai was arrested for his anti-Japanese propaganda writings. In 1945, Dai returned to Shanghai but was soon wanted by the Nationalist government for subversive activities and sought refuge in Hong Kong in 1948. The following year he went to Beijing to take up translation work only to die of asthma on February 28, 1950, at the age of forty-five.

“Rain Lane” poet Famously known as the “Rain Lane Poet,” Dai Wangshu’s name is inextricably linked to the poem that made him instantly famous after it came out in 1928. Without a doubt, “Rain Lane” is one of the best-known poetic works of modern Chinese literature. Indeed, to many people in China, it is synonymous with modern Chinese poetry, if not modern Chinese literature itself. No other modern Chinese poem has achieved the same recognition except perhaps “Bidding Farewell to Cambridge Again” by Xu Zhimo. “Rain Lane” appeared in Fiction Monthly (Xiaoshuo yuebao). Its editor Ye Shengtao proclaimed the poem epoch-making at the time of its publication.3 In his letter to Dai Wangshu, fellow poet Zhu Xiang compared its perfection to Tang poetry.4 Many later critics have likewise lavished praises on the poem. The success of “Rain Lane” rests primarily on its prosody and imagery. One only has to read the original aloud to get a sense of its musicality: Cheng zhe youzhi san, duzi (Holding an oil-paper umbrella, alone) Panghuang zai youchang, youchang (Lingering in the long, long) You jiliao de yuxiang (And lonely rainy lane,) Wo xiwang feng zhe (I hope to encounter) Yi ge dingxiang yiyang de (A lilac-like girl) Jie zhe chouyuan de guniang (Laden with sorrow.) One notices how starting in the second line the final “ang” weaves in and out of the rest of the stanza. “Pang,” “huang,” “chang,” “xiang,” “wang,” “xiang,” “yang,” and “niang” – all belong to the so-called jiang-yang rhyme category.The first two lines consist of seven characters, each with a caesura after the fifth character. The third line, without a caesura, consists of six characters and is semantically closely linked to the last character of the second line. Syntactically, the first three lines form a unit. The use of a comma instead of a full stop moves the reader along. The long, long, short line pattern reverses itself in the second half of the stanza. The fourth, fifth, and sixth lines consist of five, seven, and seven characters respectively and form another unit. The play between regular and irregular line breaks, the use of mid-line pauses or caesuras, and the open nasal finals create a haunting cadence and a meandering rhythmic pattern that perfectly match the searching, longing mood of the poem. 157

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Repetition and variation characterize the rest of the poem as well. Words and phrases recur in subtly varied forms. The number of characters per line also never stays the same until the end when the first stanza is repeated almost verbatim. The whole poem has a lilting quality that makes it immediately memorable. The liberal use of internal rather than end rhymes, although the latter appear as well, gives the poem a free, modern feeling. Perhaps this is what Ye Shengtao had in mind when he declared that the poem had opened a new era for the prosody of New Poetry. “Rain Lane” is certainly novel in form and likely shows the influence of Verlaine, who frequently repeats sounds and plays with meter and cadence.The poet Ai Qing, for instance, saw a resemblance in the poem’s “floating rhymes” to Verlaine’s use of nasal vowels in his “Chanson d’automne” (Autumn song): (Long wails) Les sanglots longs Des violons (Of violins) (Of autumn) De l’automne Blessent mon coeur (Pierce my heart) (With a languorous) D’une langueur Monotone. (Monotone.) Some critics have echoed and elaborated on Ai Qing’s intriguing assertion, singling out the interweaving (or floating) internal and end rhymes in the first stanza: “longs,” “violins,” “mon.” One critic goes so far as to suggest that the similarity between the nasal vowels in “Rain Lane” – “ang” – and “Chanson d’automne” – “on” – is more than coincidental.5 Dai knew “Chanson d’automne.” It is one of the six poems by Verlaine that Dai translated into Chinese.6 However, all but the last one “Un grand sommeil noir” (A vast black slumber), translated in the 1940s, were rendered in the style of classical Chinese poetry, unlike “Rain Lane.” The assertion that the jiangyang rhymes in “Rain Lane” imitate the vowels in “Chanson d’automne” also strains credibility. It is curious that Ai Qing did not look for parallels in Dai’s translation of “Chanson d’automne,” a more direct and logical place to seek evidence of influence. In Dai’s Chinese version the opening stanza reads: Qingqiu shijie, Qiqi yanyan Qinyun sheng chang; Yu yin niao niao, Tuitang dandiao, Zong duan renchang.

(Les sanglots longs) (Des violons) (De l’automne) (Blessent mon coeur) (D’une langueur) (Monotone)

The beginning of the first three lines involves a series of aveolo-palatal consonants, “qing,” “qiu,” “qi,” “qin.” Starting with the third line the scheme “floats” from opening to end rhymes. The eminent poet and essayist, Zhu Ziqing, did not see “interspersed rhymes” (shuyun) as entirely new, but suggested that their increased use was stimulated by Western poetry.7 It is likely that Dai’s translation of “Chanson d’automne” served as a practice run before he applied floating rhymes in “Rain Lane.” If the form of “Rain Lane” is novel, its imagery is thoroughly traditional. The association of lilacs with melancholy, in particular, is a familiar trope in classical Chinese poetry. It occurs in the works of the Tang poet Li Shangyin and the Southern Tang poet Li Jing.The contemporary poet Yu Guangzhong dismisses “Rain Lane” as “a second, third-rate minor piece.” In his view, only 158

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an unimaginative poet would resort to a pile of “weak and depressing” adjectives; the real test of a poet’s power lies in his use of verbs and nouns.Yu charges that the only substantive image in the poem is the oil-paper umbrella.8 One may dismiss Yu’s judgment as overly simplistic, but the opinion of Bian Zhilin, is harder to ignore. Bian had worked with Dai Wangshu on the editorial committee of New Poetry in the 1930s. In his preface to the Poems of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu shiji) published in 1981, Bian recalls how they took the same cargo ship from Hong Kong to Tanggu in 1949 and how Dai passed away less than a year later. Putting his personal feelings aside, Bian attempts to evaluate Dai Wangshu’s work objectively. According to Bian, “Rain Lane,” like Dai Wangshu’s other early works, marks a shift from Western poetry toward Chinese tradition. Having won a strong foothold for vernacular poetry in modern literature, poets could turn to classical poetry for inspiration without any reservations by the late 1920s. To Bian Zhilin, “Rain Lane” is “an expansion or ‘dilution’ ” of the famous line by Li Jing, “in vain the lilacs gather the melancholy in the rain” (ding xiang kong jie yu zhong chou). However, “the trite imagery and hackneyed diction make the success of the poem seem . . . facile and superficial.” Bian points out that Dai himself didn’t think too highly of “Rain Lane.”When he published Drafts (Wangshu cao), the second selection of his poetry in 1933, he chose not to include “Rain Lane.” Bian’s reference to Dai’s own view is confirmed by Du Heng, who wrote the preface to Drafts at the poet’s request before he left for Europe. Du is an even more privileged source than Bian.When Dai wrote “Rain Lane” in the summer of 1927, both Dai and Du were guests at Shi Zhecun’s parents’ house in Songjiang. The three friends were like-minded young writers. Du recalls their obsession with traditional rules of prosody. Dai had also spent the previous two years studying French, reading the works of Paul Verlaine, Remy de Gourmont, Paul Fort, and Francis Jammes. According to Du, the metric innovations of these Symbolist poets freed Dai from traditional prosodic requirements. Du contrasts Dai with earlier Chinese practitioners of Symbolist poetry and criticizes their obscurantism. Du does not name names, but one is reminded of Li Jinfa and Qian Zhongshu’s parody of Cao Yuanlang’s poem “Mélange Adultère” in Fortress Besieged.9 Compared with Li’s “Woman Abandoned,” “Rain Lane” is transparency itself. There is no attempt at synaesthesia, the mixing of senses or sensory correspondences à la Baudelaire, Rimbaud, or Verlaine. In the second stanza of “Rain Lane,” color, smell, and emotion are kept separate in parallel constructions instead of being yoked together, “lilac-like color, / lilac-like fragrance, / lilac-like sorrow.” Du cites a friend in Beijing who describes Dai’s poems as Symbolist in form but traditional in content. Even though he calls the characterization a simplification, Du essentially endorses the view. The accessibility of “Rain Lane” accounts for its enduring popularity. Du asserts that neither Dai nor his friends thought the poem was special.Ye Shengtao’s praise caught them by surprise. Dai was flattered, but soon changed course and moved away from overly relying on musical and formal patterns. Du remembers Dai excitedly showing him a new poem, “My Memory,” a couple of months later, telling him that it was his “masterpiece.”

Other major works Dai published four collections of verse during his lifetime. His total output numbers ninetytwo poems. The first collection, entitled My Memory, includes twenty-six poems written before 1929. “My Memory” is also the title of the last section of the collection; the other two are “Old Treasure Bags” and “Rain Lane.” Many poems in “Old Treasure Bags” show signs of imitation. “Old” elements can be found in some of the poems’ traditional-style titles as well as some of the phrasings. More recent influences range from French Romanticism through British Decadence to the native Crescent Moon School. The poet Ai Qing finds much “self-indulgent sighing and 159

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lamenting” in the poems.10 A typical example is the last stanza of “Listening to the Sparrow in Cold Wind” (Hanfeng zhong wen quesheng): Sing, my sympathetic sparrow, Sing away my fragrant dream; Blow, you cruel wind, Blow away my insignificant life.11 The poem “In the Gloaming” (Xiyang xia) is no less bleak. The opening reads: Clouds spread brocade over the dusky sky, Streams flow gold in the setting sun; My lanky shadow drifts on the ground, Like a lonely specter under an ancient tree. Although the speaker manages to “dissipate sorrow” and “dissipate joy” at the end, the poem is suffused with helplessness. Completed only a few months after “Rain Lane,” “My Memory” is one of Dai’s favorite poems and radically different from the far more famous “Rain Lane.” Instead of rhymes, the poem resorts to extended series of parallel constructions. For example, the beginning reads: My memory is faithful to me, More faithful than my best friend. It exists in a lit cigarette, It exits in the lily-patterned barrel of a pen, It exits in an old powder compact, It exits in the dewberries on a crumbling wall, It exists in a half-finished bottle of wine, In torn-up poems of days past, pressed petals of flowers, In the bleak light of the lamp, the stillness of the water, In every soulful or soulless thing, It exists everywhere, like me in this world. The poem is characterized by an incessant rhythmic pattern. Long series of parallels alternate with short ones. Stretches of verse intersperse with prose: “zai yi qie you linghun meiyou linghun de dongxi shang, / ta daochu cunzai zhe, xiang wo zai zhe shijie yiyang” (In every soulful or soulless thing, / It exists everywhere, like me in this world), “ta de baifang shi bu yiding de, / zai renhe shijian, zai renhe difang” (Its visitations are unexpected; / At any time, in any place). The poem is clearly modeled on Jammes’s “La salle à manger” (the dining room) not only in its repetition of key phrases but also in the trope of the faithfulness of memory. A quick look at the beginning of “La sale à manger” reveals Dai’s debt to Jammes: Il y a une armoire à peine luisante qui a entendu les voix de mes grand-tantes, qui a entendu la voix de mon grand-père, qui a entendu la voix de mon père.

(There is an armoire, barely polished) (which has heard the voices of my great-aunts) (which has heard the voice of my grandfather.) (which has heard the voice of my father)


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A ces souvenirs l’armoire est fidèle. (The armoire is faithful to these memories.) On a tort de croire qu’elle ne sait que se taire, (It is a mistake to think it only knows how to be silent) car je cause avec elle. (because I talk to it.) Dai had translated this and other poems by Jammes. There is no doubt that Dai not only knew the poem but also borrowed its technique. Critical reception of “My Memory” has generally been positive. Zhu Ziqing praises its “subtlety” and “suggestiveness.”12 Ai Qing finds its use of modern colloquial language refreshing.13 Bian Zhilin is of the opinion that the daily language in the poem is flexible and well suited to modern life. However, he also points out that Dai’s new approach carries inherent risks. Commenting on Dai’s subsequent work as a whole, Bian writes that the result is sometimes too diffuse, the combination of classical Chinese and Westernized syntax awkward, and the boundary between verse and prose blurry.14 While one can find examples of these pitfalls in Dai’s poetry, they are not obvious in “My Memory.” Again,Yu Guangzhong is less than impressed. Besides its form,Yu faults the poem for lacking philosophical depth. Indeed,Yu may have a point.The poem reads like a rumination on memory, but it would be a stretch to describe it as thought-provoking. Using a gendered metaphor, Yu disparages the poem as decadent, “smacking of rouge and powder.”15 “Severed Finger,” the last poem in My Memory is worth noting if for no other reason than its somewhat macabre subject. The finger in question belonged to a martyr. Ai Qing finds the subject much more to his liking than Dai’s sentimental works. Bian Zhilin praises its originality and command of language, calling it well paced, sensitive, and precise. According to some sources, the poem was inspired by the arrest and execution of a communist. A comrade of his escaped and brought his severed finger to Dai Wangshu. Others dismiss the account as fiction.16 Gregory Lee, author of a monograph on Dai, argues against a realist reading of “Severed Finger:” “The poem, for all its initial apparent realism, attempts to evoke, suggest and finally to create an aura of mystery rather than describe and explain. Such Symbolist qualities, together with the ‘violations’ of the poetic norms, would tend to declare the poem as Modernist” (Ibid.). Certainly, the poem is full of enigmatic, fantastical elements and contradictions. Midway into the poem, one is clearly in surrealist territory: This is the severed finger of a martyred friend. It is wretchedly pale, and withered, like my friend. Often haunting me, and very distinct Is the scene when he gave the finger to me. “Keep this memento of ludicrous and pitiful love, for me, In this wrecked life, it can only increase my misfortune.” His words were deliberate and calm, like a sigh. And his eyes seemed to brim with tears, although there was a smile on his face. Of his “ludicrous and pitiful love” I do not know. I only know he was arrested in a worker’s home. Then he must have been tortured, then put in a wretched jail, Then sentenced to death, the death sentence that awaits us all. The speaker goes on to repeat that he knows nothing of the martyr’s “ludicrous and pitiful love.” It is unclear if the object of his friend’s love is personal or political. Even when he was drunk, he never once spoke about it, leading the speaker to surmise only that it must have been something


Yaohua Shi

very sorrowful. That is perhaps why “He kept it hidden, he wanted it to be forgotten, along with the severed finger.” The second half of the poem contains a series of paradoxes on the part of the martyr and the speaker. The martyr wants the world to both remember and forget. Describing his love as “ludicrous and pitiful” implies belittling and distancing, if not total repudiation. Then why does the martyr reproach the world toward the end of the poem for being “cowardly”? The contradictions turn the finger into an almost empty signifier. Likewise, the speaker’s response to the “lovely” blood-red ink stain on the finger is oddly incongruous with the hero’s fate.The finger brings the speaker “slight but persistent sorrow,” yet he “treasures” it, for what purpose one wonders. Whenever he “feels depressed about something trivial,” he will bring out the glass jar. Like most modernist poems, “Severed Finger” resists an easy, straightforward interpretation. In 1932, after My Memory went out of print, Shi Zhecun, editor of the monthly Les Contemporarains (Xiandai), planned to reprint it along with Dai’s recent poems. Dai, however, excluded all eighteen poems from “Old Treasure Bag” and “Rain Lane” in the first collection, keeping only the last section “My Memory.” Along with the new works, the second collection entitled Drafts (Wangshu cao) included forty-one poems. Most of them had appeared in periodicals before. Drafts was published in August 1933 after the poet had left for France. In November of the previous year, Shi extracted seventeen theorems on poetry from Dai’s notebooks and published them in Les Contemporarains. Among other things, Dai argues for a purist conception of poetry characterizing musical and painterly qualities as extra-poetic. Drafts reflects Dai’s new thinking on poetry. Loneliness, nostalgia, and melancholy, however, recur as themes in some of the poems in Drafts. Some critics see a progression from a derivative, neo-Symbolist to a more assertive, modernist style in Drafts. “Impressions” (Yinxiang), for instance, resembles Maeterlinck’s Serres chaudes (Hothouses) in its use of enumeration and juxtaposition.17 “Day of sacrifice” (Jiri) echoes themes and ideas from Dai’s earlier poems. Like “Severed Finger,”“Day of Sacrifice” commemorates a deceased friend. The language is also similarly simple and plain. However, it is much less grotesque and enigmatic than “Severed Finger.” It is also less fragmented and more specific. By contrast, “Sleeplessness” (Bumei) in the second part of the collection is more elusive. They are no longer concerned with loneliness and nostalgia but explore sub- or semiconsciousness. “Sleeplessness” in particular is packed with complex rhetorical devices. The first line, “Amid the silent sound waves,” contains an apparent oxymoron and sets the background for the rest of the poem. This is followed by an anthropomorphism in the following three lines: “Every charming image / In the dizzy brain, / Takes a moment’s stroll.” The poem goes on to elaborate on the images teeming in the poet’s fevered state of mind, incorporating not only anthropomorphisms but also synaesthesia. Like soldiers during an inspection, images form “peach-colored” ranks; the color association seems automatic and involuntary. The movement of the images is likened to the shifting shadows of flowers under a moon traversing the sky. The menacing military trope is conjoined with the traditionally romantic ones of the moon and flowers. By suggesting that the jumbled images are the result of a dream, the third stanza in effect normalizes them. The end of the poem echoes the oxymoron of deafening silence introduced at the beginning: “Let the highest silent sound waves / Come and rupture the fragile ear-drums.” Together they suggest a pre- and post-dream state and frame the center of the poem. They set the hermeneutic boundaries for the poem and rationalize it. Gregory Lee summarizes “Sleeplessness” as enigmatic without being obscurantist, in contrast with Li Jinfa’s experiments (182 and 217). The third collection of Dai’s verse Poems of Wangshu (Wangshu shigao) was published in 1937. It combined My Memory and Drafts plus four new poems, his theorems on poetry, and translations of six French poems. Of the four new poems “Before an ancient temple” (Gu shenci qian) 162

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is regarded by some critics as one of his most polished Symbolist works. Others find it puzzling. There is also disagreement over its dating.18 The poem’s imagery of a roc flying vast distances is recognizably from Zhuangzi’s Wandering Beyond (Xiaoyao you), but its mood is far from carefree. Dai’s roc metamorphoses from a water spider whereas Zhuangzi’s roc begins its life as a whalelike creature. The starting and end point of their journeys are also different. Dai’s poem begins in the confined space before an ancient temple. Zhuangzi’s essay begins in the northern sea.The poem is entitled “Before an Ancient Temple,” yet apart from a single explicit reference at the beginning of the poem, there is no further mention of it. What is one to make of the significance of the temple? Whereas Zhuangzi’s roc keeps journeying forward, its counterpart in Dai’s poem returns to the speaker’s “heart” and “lies dormant there in sorrow.” Instead of exhilaration the poem ends in despair. The first stanza associates the flight of the water spider/roc with the speaker’s thoughts. The retreat in the last stanza suggests the difficulty of breaking free from tradition symbolized by the ancient temple. “Smile” (Weixiao) is one of the shortest and most carefully composed poems by Dai Wangshu. One critic compares its three stanzas to Hegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis:19 Light mists waft from the distant mountains, Water spiders linger over the still water; Speak. Do not hold back; do not hold back. People smile, Their hearts turn into flowers. People smile, Numerous faces turn cloudy. Become a garland of love pledge, Become a pillar for weary travelers. Whether one can shoehorn the poem into Hegelian dialecticism is an open question. To begin with, the tripartite division of the poem does not line up neatly with Hegel’s triad. The first stanza might conceivably form a conceit. However, if one were pressed to find a thesis and antithesis, they are in the second stanza. Rather than extend the proposition of unfettered expression broached at the beginning of the poem, the conclusion reaffirms it. If anything, the logic seems binary. The last stanza conveys equilibrium and balance between the two, which comports with the title “Smile” suggesting measured merriment. Dai’s last book of poetry Years of Catastrophe (Zainan de suiyue) appeared in 1948. It consists of twenty-five poems written between 1932 and 1947 including some that are overtly patriotic. A good example is “New Year’s Blessing” (Yuandan zhufu) written on New Year’s day 1939: The New Year brings us new hope. Bless our land! Blood-stained land, charred, cracked land, So that even more resilient lives will grow. The New Year brings us new strength. Bless our people! Miserable, courageous people, Misery will bring freedom and liberation. 163

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An occasional poem, “New Year’s Blessing” is uncharacteristically declamatory and direct. It is the least self-consciously poetic of Dai’s works. Equally patriotic but more elaborate is the poem “With My Mutilated Hand” (Wo yong cansun de shouzhang). Its impact derives from a striking, surreal image of a mutilated hand caressing the far corners of the equally mutilated country: With my mutilated hand, I touch and feel this vast land: This corner has turned to ashes, This corner is now blood and mud; This stretch of lake must be my former home. As the poem progresses, the hand roams over the snowy peaks of the Changbai Mountain in Manchuria, the muddy water of the Yellow River, the rice paddies of the Yangtze delta, the lychee trees of Guangdong, the “bitter waters of the boatless South China Sea” until the mutilated hand and the mutilated land become indistinguishable from each other. When the hand reaches the still intact part of the country, the mood changes drastically. The speaker’s touching becomes increasingly eroticized: “Over there, with my mutilated hand I caress lightly / as if caressing a lover’s soft tresses, a breast in a baby’s hands.” Instead of couching his feelings for the “motherland” in conventional filial terms, the speaker proclaims his love as if to a fertile young woman, to whom he clings with all his strength in hopes of national regeneration because only there can the Chinese cease to “live like beasts and die like ants.” Written in 1942 during the Sino-Japanese War, the poem forms a stark contrast with “Severed Finger.” Though mutilated, the hand seeks to heal, comfort, and restore the country that is itself being dismembered. The martyr with the severed finger is self-pitying and self-absorbed. “Severed Finger” is inward-looking and claustrophobic whereas “With My Mutilated Hand” is outward-looking and expansive.What unites the two poems is their surrealism. Both the disembodied hand roaming across the country (or the map) and the speaking severed finger place the poems beyond run-of-the-mill realism. “Written on a Prison Wall” (Yu zhong ti bi), a poem composed in 1942 while Dai was held in a Japanese jail, is another work that is deceptively realistic and autobiographical. It revolves around the imagined death of the speaker and China’s victory over Japan. The flights of fancy provide the sources of the poem’s pathos, stoicism, and optimism – the affective power of the address to the speaker’s friends or apostrophe: If I die here, Friends, do not feel sad. I’ll live forever In your hearts. The speaker’s only wish is that his friends will remember “one of them.” The second half of the poem is predicated on the speaker’s certainty of China’s victory. He longs for the country’s liberation and is willing to die for it. Still alive, he imagines what will happen after his death: When you return, Dig up his mutilated body from the earth. Raise his soul With your victory cheers, And deposit his bones on a mountain peak. 164

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Naturalizing modernism through translation Known primarily as a poet, Dai was in fact also a prolific translator throughout his life. As a struggling writer and student in Shanghai and France, he supported himself mainly through translation, but translation was more than a livelihood for Dai. It was part and parcel of his creative process and a direct means of poetic appropriation. In 1983, Hunan People’s Publishing House in China issued a three-volume anthology of Dai Wangshu’s translations of poetry edited by Shi Zhecun. Shi begins his preface by asserting an inseparable link between Dai the translator of European poetry and Dai the practitioner of New Poetry. This is a claim that Shi repeats in his 1988 introduction to the complete poetic works of Dai Wangshu. Shi Zhecun divides his friend’s career into three phases. In Shi’s view, Dai’s early works were influenced by classical Chinese poetry. It was not until he immersed himself in modern European poetry that he started to break away from tradition. Dai began by translating the British Decadent poet Ernest Dowson and the French Romantic Victor Hugo. At Feng Xuefeng’s suggestion, he also translated Soviet poetry. In his middle phase Dai became partial to French Symbolists, particularly Paul Fort and Francis Jammes. In his late phase Dai translated mainly Spanish anti-Fascist poetry. Shi finds influence of the above-mentioned European poets in Dai’s own works from these phases.20 Translation, therefore, played a formative or even transformative role in his development as a poet. It was through translation that he absorbed what he needed to grow as a poet, according to Shi. Dai the translator made Dai the modernist possible. Shi’s contention is illuminating insofar as it points out the central importance of translation in Dai’s creative process. His conclusion, however, may create the impression that much of Dai’s poetry is derivative. Translation is never a passive, one-way process as Walter Benjamin argues in his classic essay “The Task of the Translator.” On the contrary, it is an active, even aggressive reworking of the original. For example, Dai audaciously renders five of Verlaine’s poems in the style of classical Chinese verse. This choice may seem anachronistic and arbitrary. It also violates Benjamin’s injunction against domesticating the original. Benjamin concurs with Rudolf Pannwitz that it is a mistake to “turn Hindi, Greek and English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English.”21 Rather than allow the source language to affect the target language as Pannwitz and Benjamin advocate, Dai naturalizes the original. On the other hand, Benjamin contends that the original and the translation are both interdependent and independent. The original serves as a point of departure for the translation, which ultimately takes on a life of its own. Dai is attracted to Symbolism because its musicality and imagery remind him of traditional Chinese poetry. Whether this constitutes a misreading of Symbolism or not, Dai’s “mis-translation” of Verlaine is highly productive. Through translating “Chanson d’automne,” Dai makes Verlaine’s technique his own and successfully incorporates it in “Rain Lane.” Thus translation serves an instrumental purpose for Dai. “Rain Lane” can be read as an extended translation of “Chanson d’automne.” It completes the circle of appropriation and adaptation. As a translator, Dai’s relationship to European modernist poetry is highly practical. Dai translated French, Spanish, and Soviet fiction and Marxist literary theory without composing works of his own in either genre. With poetry, however, translation invariably leads to appropriation. This is another way to interpret Shi Zhecun’s comments. Translation is more than the transfer or transmission of form and content; it could be understood as transformative creation. As a translator, Dai is never a passive, transparent medium. On the contrary, his interest in French and Spanish poetry is selective and personal.22 As a student at l’Aurore he was initially fascinated with Baudelaire and Verlaine, but soon gravitated toward Gourmont, Fort, and Jammes. In the 1940s, Dai resumed translating Baudelaire and Verlaine including selections of Fleurs du Mal. As mentioned earlier, Du Heng set himself and Dai apart from 165

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their Symbolist predecessors. Indeed, one will never mistake “Rain Lane” for one of Li Jinfa’s works. Even Dai’s most macabre poem “Severed Finger” contains little that is truly shocking or offensive to middle-class sensibilities (epater la bourgeoisie!). Unlike Dai Wangshu, Li Jinfa makes little attempt to domesticate French Symbolism, insisting instead on its foreignness and difference from the Chinese poetic tradition. Many critics have pointed out that Li’s poems read like translations. Ironically, in the end Li Jinfa’s Symbolism comes across as more deferential and derivative than Dai Wangshu’s intertexual, adaptive version. Dai’s experiments have endured. His practice of translation as transformation disrupts the unity and purity of the original and rewrites European modernism. His poems are rarely facsimile copies of French and Spanish master texts but are rather products of cultural difference and hybridity, like much modern Chinese poetry in general.

Notes 1 The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets, trans. David Hawkes (London: Penguin Books, 1985), 73. Wang Shu is the moon’s charioteer. 2 According to his friend Du Heng, Dai began to write new-style poetry in the years between 1922 and 1924. 3 Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet: A Biography of Dai Wangshu (Yuxiang shiren: Dai Wangshu zhuan) (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe, 2003), 49. 4 Collection of Zhu Xiang’s Letters, Volume 2 (Zhu Xiang shuxin erji) (Hefei: Anhui renmin chubanshe, 1987), 186–187. 5 Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 58. 6 For a discussion of Dai’s translations of Verlaine’s poems, see Peng Jianhua, “Dai Wangshu’s Translations and Criticism of Verlaine,” (Lun Dai Wangshu dui Wei’erlun de fanyi yu piping) Bulletin of Changsha University of Technology (Changsha ligong daxue xuebao) (2014), vol. 29 no. 3, 61–94. As noted earlier, two of the poems appeared in Jade Necklace Trimonthly in 1926. Dai’s version of “Chanson d’automne” was not published until 1943, fifteen years after “Rain Lane” appeared in print, but the translation may have been completed in 1926. Dai himself noted that it was an old translation. “Chanson d’automne” was included in Li Sichun’s selection of French poems, the subject of Dai’s critical review. 7 Quoted in Zheng Zekui and Wang Wenbin, A Critical Biography of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu pingzhuan) (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe), 32–33. 8 Quoted in Bei Ta, Rain Lane, 52. 9 Qian Zhongshu, Fortress Besieged (New York: New Directions, 2004), 72. 10 Ai Qing, Collected Poems of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu shiji) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1981), 1. 11 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations of the cited poems are mine. 12 Quoted in Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 55. 13 Ibid. 14 Bian Zhilin, Collection of Dai Wangshu’s Poetry (Dai Wangshu shiji) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe), 6. 15 Quoted in Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 55. 16 See Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 68. In his interview with Gregory Lee, Shi Zhecun asserts the poem was not based on a real event, see Gregory Lee, Dai Wangshu, 178. 17 Gregory Lee, Dai Wangshu, 182. 18 See Bei Ta, Rain Lane, 150. 19 Chen Xuguang, quoted in Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 127. 20 Shi, introduction, Complete Poems of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu shi quanbian) (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe, 1989). 21 Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 1 1913–1926, eds., Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 261–262. 22 Other critics have made the same point. See for instance, Bei Ta, Rain Lane Poet, 22, Zheng Zekui and Wang Wenbin, A Critical Biography, of Dai Wangshu, 28.


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Further readings Chen, Bingyin. A Critical Biography of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu pingzhuan). Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 1993. Lee, Gregory. “Western Influences in the Poetry of Dai Wangshu.” Modern Chinese Literature 3.1/2 (1987): 7–32. Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Shanghai Modern.The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Mi, Jiayan. Self-Fashioning and Reflexive Modernity in Modern Chinese Poetry. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2004. Shih, Shu-mei. The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2001. Yeh Michelle. Modern Chinese Poetry:Theory and Practice since 1917. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1991. Zheng Zekui and Wenbin Wang. A Critical Biography of Dai Wangshu (Dai Wangshu pingzhuan). Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1987.


12 THE NEW SENSATIONISTS Shi Zhecun, Mu Shiying, Liu Na’ou Christopher Rosenmeier

Introduction The three writers under consideration here – Shi Zhecun (1905–2003), Mu Shiying (1912– 1940), and Liu Na’ou (1905–1940) – were the foremost modernist authors in the Republican period. Collectively labelled “New Sensationists” (xinganjuepai), they were mainly active in Shanghai in the early 1930s, and their most famous works reflect the speed, chaos, and intensity of the metropolis.1 They wrote about dance halls, neon lights, and looming madness alongside modern lifestyles, gender roles, and social problems.The city becomes a dizzying mix of sensory impressions and diametric opposites, enticing and modern but also callous, corrupt, and dehumanizing. Their works experimented with new literary forms, themes, and narrative techniques in order to capture the sights and sounds of the city as well as the sense of alienation and fatigue stemming from an inability to keep up with the pace of change. The New Sensationist writers were mostly opposed to the prevailing trends in contemporary Chinese literature. They resisted the increasing politicization of art encouraged by the prominent League of Left-Wing Writers (1930–1936), and they saw themselves as an avant-garde that rejected the tenets of realism and social engagement promoted by the cultural elite at the time. The short story representing the modernity and sexuality of Republican Shanghai is these authors’ most well-known genre of writing. Among their short stories, Shi Zhecun’s “One Evening in the Rainy Season” (Meiyu zhi xi, 1929) and Mu Shiying’s “Five in a Nightclub” (Yezonghui li de wugeren, 1932) are two representative ones, which will be discussed later. But such short stories do not reflect the entirety of these writers’ oeuvres. Shi Zhecun was interested in traditional Chinese literature as well as modern psychology, and these interests feature prominently in his works, spanning broadly from gothic horror to careful explorations of the repressed yearnings of petty bourgeois characters. Mu Shiying’s early writings also range more widely, with his early works focusing on the fury, violence, and sexual frustration of thugs and bandits. The epithet of “New Sensationism” to designate the group of writers should be noted with a word of caution. Rather than forming a clearly self-identified group, the writers discussed here were lumped together by their critics. The term originally denoted a group of Japanese writers (shinkankaku ha) who were inspired during the 1920s by Western modernist art movements, such as Futurism, Expressionism, and Dadaism.2 Key members included Kawabata Yasunari, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968, and Yokomitsu Riichi. In 1931, the Marxist 168

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critic Lou Shiyi used “New Sensationism” in a harsh critique of Shi Zhecun’s short stories, arguing that they were influenced by the Japanese movement and that this aesthetic has a heavy note of the “Erotic” and the “Grotesque.”3 Lou concludes that Shi’s fiction was “the literature of those who live by reaping the interests of capitalism.”4 Shi objected to the label, arguing in 1933 that he wrote “psychological fiction” influenced by Freud.5 Despite Shi Zhecun’s attempts to distance himself from New Sensationism, it remains widely used today. Regardless of the term’s origin as a critical label, it is useful as a way to gather these writers as a group. They were quite different in many ways, but there are still notable similarities in their works and they worked closely with each other for several years.

Formation and history The origins of the New Sensationist group can be traced back to the late 1920s at Aurora University (Zhendan daxue) in Shanghai.6 The main members were Shi Zhecun, Dai Wangshu, Su Wen (also known as Du Heng), Liu Na’ou, and Feng Xuefeng. The group edited the minor literary journals Pearl Necklace Trimonthly (Yingluo xunkan) and Trackless Train (Wugui lieche) to publish their own works and translations.7 After Trackless Train was shut down by government censors in 1929, some of them started a new journal, La Nouvelle Littérature (Xin wenyi) which saw eight issues published before it too was closed by government censors. They also ran a publishing house, the Frontline Bookstore (Diyi xian shudian), later renamed Froth Bookstore (Shuimo shudian), which issued their creative writing and translations. The funding for these endeavours was provided by Liu Na’ou who was born into a wealthy family in Taiwan in 1905. Liu spoke fluent Japanese and in 1920 he was sent to high school and college in Japan.8 Upon graduation, he went to Shanghai in 1926 where he studied French at Aurora University. Following a visit to Japan in the late 1920s, Liu Na’ou returned with several works by modernist Japanese authors which he then translated and published. Liu also introduced the French modernist writer Paul Morand who had influenced the Japanese New Sensationists. Liu Na’ou only published a single short story collection, Scène (Dushi fengjingxian) in 1930. In his later works, he shifted his focus to film, writing screenplays and editing a film journal, Modern Cinema (Xiandai dianying). Shi Zhecun was born in Hangzhou and grew up in Songjiang near Shanghai. He too started studying French at Aurora University in 1926. He learned English as well and translated several works from their English originals, including Arthur Schnitzler’s Frau Berta Garlan in 1929.9 Schnitzler’s novels had a considerable influence on Shi’s literary work alongside the work of Havelock Ellis, Edgar Allan Poe, and others.10 Born and raised in Shanghai, Mu Shiying became affiliated with the group when he published his first short story, “Our World” (Zanmen de shijie), in the February 1930 issue of La Nouvelle Littérature. He was still only 17 and a student at Kwang Hua University.11 Shi Zhecun introduced the young author in an editorial comment: Mu Shiying is a name that is unfamiliar to readers. He is a new author who can make the “great authors” who merely flaunt their undeserved reputations feel ashamed.With respect to Ideologie, “Our World” is admittedly somewhat lacking, but in artistic terms it is very successful. This is a young author of whom we can have great expectations.12 Mu Shiying’s political views were found wanting, and this was perhaps Feng Xuefeng’s leftist influence, but this quote also demonstrates how the group rejected the mainstream literary establishment of the time – the “great authors” with their “undeserved reputations”.This constituted an attack on the New Culture Movement writers who by 1930 were well-known figures. 169

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Shi Zhecun confirmed this to Leo Ou-fan Lee many years later, explaining that the young writers saw themselves as an avant-garde group who was “revolutionary and aesthetic rebels on an international ‘front line’ ”.13 At the time, cultural discussions were increasingly dominated by political ideology and the League of Left-Wing Writers’ calls for proletarian literature, but the New Sensationist group stood out in its refusal to bow to such demands. Indeed, leftist critics were generally quite negative about their writing. In 1932, Qu Qiubai wrote a scathing critique of Mu’s short story “The Man Who Was Made a Plaything” (Bei dangzuo xiaoqianpin de nanzi, 1931), claiming that he was a traitor to the leftist cause.14 According to another League reviewer the same year, the main problem with Mu Shiying’s writing was that he failed to “discuss the upright struggle of the proletarian classes.”15 Mu Shiying responded to such criticism in the preface to his next short story collection, Public Cemetery (Gongmu, 1933): I am unwilling, as so many are today, to adorn my true face with some protective pigment, or to pass my days in hypocrisy shouting hypocritical slogans, or to manipulate the psychology of the masses, engaging in political manoeuvring, selfpropaganda, and the like to maintain a position once held in the past or to enhance my personal prestige. I consider this to be base and narrow-minded behaviour, and I won’t do it.16 Much like Shi Zhecun, Mu Shiying opposed the politicized cultural milieu with its “hypocritical slogans” as well as the more famous authors trying to “maintain a position once held in the past.”This denunciation of his leftist critics ensured him the enmity of the League of Left-Wing Writers. By this time, Mu Shiying was already a minor celebrity in literary circles. He was considered quite a dandy – strikingly handsome and a frequent visitor of the dance halls he wrote about. In 1934, he even married a dance hall hostess, Qiu Peipei, causing a bit of a stir. Mu was not a prolific writer, but he did publish several collections of short stories: North Pole, South Pole (Nanbeiji, 1932, expanded edition in 1933), Public Cemetery, and Statue of a Platinum Woman (Baijin de nüti suxiang, 1934).17 In the late 1930s he produced less fiction, and like Liu Na’ou, becoming quite interested in the techniques and possibilities of cinema.

Les Contemporains and independent literature In 1931, the Froth Bookstore closed and the group disbanded. Liu Na’ou returned to Japan for a while, and Shi Zhecun went back to Songjiang where he took up teaching.18 Shortly afterwards, however, Shi was offered the post of managing editor of a new literary journal, mainly because he was neither affiliated with the Guomindang nor with the League of Left-Wing Writers.19 Shi accepted the offer, and the new journal published its first issue in May 1932. This was Les Contemporains (Xiandai). With its dual titles in Chinese and French and the inaugural cover displaying cubist artwork, the journal conveyed a strong sense of cosmopolitanism. It featured modern poetry, fiction, essays, articles, and many translations of foreign literature.20 The articles often covered various Western literary movements, but there were also book reviews, biographies, and reproductions of modern art.The journal aimed to keep educated urban readers abreast with the latest trends and developments in contemporary culture in China and across the world. Les Contemporains was a success and it placed Shi Zhecun in an important position on the Shanghai cultural scene. He managed to garner broad support for the journal and tried to keep it outside the fray of political discussions. In the editor’s statement in the first issue, Shi declared 170

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that it would be independent of politics and factionalism and that manuscripts would be chosen for publication “solely according to the subjective criteria of the editor, and these criteria naturally rest on the intrinsic worth of the literary product itself.”21 Since political journals tended to get banned fairly quickly, many of China’s most important writers and poets of the time published in Les Contemporains, both League writers and independents, including Mao Dun, Ba Jin,Yu Dafu, Shen Congwen, Zhang Tianyi, and Lao She. The journal also became a major vehicle to showcase the works of the New Sensationist writers and their friends, and it enabled Shi Zhecun to cultivate modernist Chinese literature. Mu Shiying contributed quite a few pieces, and it also carried the poetry of the main exponents of symbolist and modernist poetry in China at the time – Dai Wangshu, Mu Mutian, Bian Zhilin, He Qifang, and others. Despite the desire to stay independent, Les Contemporains became embroiled in the intensifying literary debates on the proper role of literature in society. This accelerated after Su Wen joined Shi Zhecun as co-editor.22 In 1932, Su Wen and Hu Qiuyuan claimed to be writers of “the third category” (di san zhong ren) or “free men” (ziyou ren), a label indicating their independence of political affiliations. But in the polarized atmosphere of the time, a claim of independence was necessarily a political stance in and of itself, and the League critic Zhou Yang called Su Wen a “dog” of the ruling classes.23 The debacle over the “third category” dispute was more than the publishers could handle, and compounded by financial trouble, Shi Zhecun and Su Wen had to resign as editors after the publication of the November 1934 issue. After two more issues with new editors at the helm, the journal closed irrevocably.24 The threat from Japan and politics were the dominant issues of the day, and there was less tolerance for highbrow cosmopolitan endeavours such as Les Contemporains. Shi Zhecun’s next literary journal, Literary Food Vignettes (Wenfan xiaopin), closed after a few issues. Still, the New Sensationist writers kept in touch. Dai Wangshu even married Mu Shiying’s sister in 1936 after his relationship with Shi Zhecun’s sister fell through.25 Following the Japanese invasion of China proper in 1937, the literary scene changed dramatically. Shi Zhecun moved to Kunming and took up teaching at Yunnan University. Mu Shiying moved to Hong Kong in 1938 where he lived for a while with several other writers before returning to Shanghai the following year where he then edited a newspaper for the Wang Jingwei government. He and Liu Na’ou started collaborating with the Japanese, even going to Japan to participate in a literary conference. In 1940, they were both killed in independent assassinations.26 Shi Zhecun never wrote fiction again. He focused on translation work in the 1940s and 1950s and eventually pursued an academic career in classical scholarship.

Shi Zhecun’s fiction The majority of Shi Zhecun’s creative writing was produced over the decade from 1926 to 1936. His oeuvre spans quite broadly from quiet contemplative pieces focusing on memory and nostalgia to surreal works featuring madness, absurdity, sexuality, and death. He even made a deliberate effort to make sure that his different short story collections each displayed a different aspect of his authorship.27 Yet there are two threads that can be traced throughout his earliest works. First, it was his interest in psychoanalysis, and as a result, several studies see Shi Zhecun principally as a Freudian author.28 Looking back at his writing in 1983, he wrote that he indeed felt that it was his interest in “psychoanalytic methods” that was the connecting link between his various writings.29 Second, Shi Zhecun’s writing shows a consistent awareness of and experimentation with narrative technique, switching between various narrative modes and styles, including interior monologue, stream of consciousness, free indirect discourse, unreliable 171

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narrators, and the like. He was interested in the craft of writing and experimented with various techniques. Shi Zhecun’s earliest short stories were written as a teenager and submitted to popular literature journals like Saturday (Libailiu). He later disavowed them as plagiarism, claiming that his first works worthy of consideration were those in the short story collection Spring Festival Lamp (Shangyuan deng) published by Froth Bookstore in 1929. Most of these works are set in the countryside and many of them deal with nostalgia, memory, and fetishism of various sorts. His next short story collection, The General’s Head (Jiangjun di tou) from 1932, was far more provocative. One of the short stories, “Shi Xiu,” recasts a chapter from the famous Ming dynasty novel Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), using much of the language from the original text, but reproducing it into a first-person narrative.30 Shi’s altered version is shockingly violent and brutal, and the original novel’s tale of righteous justice meted out to a cheating wife and her lover is turned into a gruesome slaughter, in which the narrator takes sadistic, sexual pleasure in seeing a woman he desired being cut to pieces. Other short stories in the collection are similarly based on myths or legends, and they also feature violence, absurdity, and sexual lust. As a whole, the collection appears to be a deliberate rejection of realism, delving into the darker sides of human nature and imagination. Shi Zhecun published two short story collections in 1933: One Evening in the Rainy Season (Meiyu zhi xi) and Exemplary Conduct of Virtuous Women (Shan nüren xingpin). The two are practically diametric opposites. The former features tales of neurasthenia, delusions, madness, and displaced desire, often with a touch of gothic horror, while the latter collection features petty bourgeois women and couples who are mostly dealing with mundane matters and various issues in their lives. Shi Zhecun’s last short story collection came out in 1936, after the closing of Les Contemporains, and features several tales vaguely based on traditional “storyteller’s scripts” (huaben). They are generally more subdued in tone than his earlier works and they made less of an impact. Shi Zhecun’s most famous short story is “One Evening in the Rainy Season,” the title story of the collection mentioned above.31 It was originally published in 1929, and compared with the other works included, it is fairly gentle. The narrator is an office worker in Shanghai, and he starts by explaining matter-of-factly that he quite enjoys strolling home in the rain rather than taking the bus.With this, he presents himself to the audience as a typical flâneur who enjoys taking leisurely strolls through the city, taking in the sights and sounds of Shanghai while remaining ultimately detached from the bustle of urban life. On his way home one evening, walking along North Sichuan Road, he sees a young woman getting off a trolley bus. He watches from a distance as she gets soaked by the rain while trying in vain to hail a rickshaw in the empty streets. I had an umbrella, and like a brave medieval warrior I could have used my umbrella as a shield, warding off the attacking spears of the rain, but instead the top half of the young woman’s body was periodically drenched. Her thin black silk dress was little use against the rain and merely emphasized her soft, shapely arms. She repeatedly turned and stood sideways to avoid the drizzle attacking her breasts. But, I wondered, didn’t it matter that her arms and shoulders were exposed to the rainwater, letting her dress cling to her skin?32 Envisaging himself as a noble knight while gazing upon her wet body, it is already clear that the narrator’s thoughts are slipping into fantasy and sexual desire. More than an hour passes while the narrator is observing the woman and speculating on what she might be thinking. One idea follows another as he is considering whether or not to help her. 172

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Finally, he imagines that she is beckoning him over, so he summons the courage to approach her and offers to accompany her with his umbrella. While they are walking, various fantasies and delusions intrude, again in a stream-of-consciousness manner, as he is wondering what she might be thinking or who she is. He thinks she might be his first girlfriend from school many years ago, and soon after she reminds him of a Japanese painting and classical poetry. Only when the rain stops does he seem to return to the present: It seemed as if the form of the young woman beside me had already been released from the confines of my mind. Only now did I realize night had fallen completely, and the sound of rain was no longer to be heard on the umbrella.33 The girl declines to be accompanied any further. So they part company on the street and the narrator takes a rickshaw home, wishing that the rain might have continued a little longer. His fantasies and delusions seem to linger for a while, and when his wife opens the door for him at home, he briefly imagines that she is the woman in the rain, or perhaps a woman they passed on the street. Yet this delusion quickly vanishes. The female characters are not interchangeable, and the short story ends with a return to everyday normality and the narrator pretending that he ate with a friend in town. The focus of this short story is entirely on the narrator’s thoughts and delusions. The rain circumscribes the narrator’s dream world and after the rain stops, he slowly awakens to the world of mundane reality. The absence of rationality is also associated with the narrator’s being in a state of suspension during his commute between fixed locations: his office and his home. These places are anchored in real space with colleagues and family around him, yet between these familiar spaces, the urban protagonist is a detached voyeur, treating the city as a spectacle for his enjoyment. Ultimately, it seems to be Shanghai itself which is the source of the narrator’s delusions, fantasies, and displaced desire. This short story is so reminiscent of Dai Wangshu’s symbolist poem “Rain Alley” (Yu xiang, 1927) that it is tempting to speculate that Shi must have had it in mind when composing his own story. As in the poem, the male narrator is a Shanghai resident who gazes upon an unknown beautiful woman in the rain. His sexual gaze likewise blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, revealing the confusion of his eroticized psyche. And almost inevitably, the woman vanishes in the rain without a trace. The short story touches upon another common trope in New Sensationist fiction: the elusive woman.The narrator is endlessly wondering about her identity and her thoughts, but in the end, he learns almost nothing about her.The woman remains enigmatic and unattainable. But in Shi’s rendition, she is not in and of herself a femme fatale who sets out to seduce him. On the contrary, the woman is configured through a lens of irrational male fantasy and desire, with the male gaze projecting its illusions onto the female character. “Yaksha” (Yecha) from 1933 provides another example of this process, as well as providing an example of Shi Zhecun’s gothic short stories in One Evening in the Rainy Season. The narrator goes to a German hospital in Shanghai to visit his friend Bian who is recovering from a nervous collapse. Bian tells the narrator – starting a story in a story – that he recently visited the countryside to arrange the funeral for a grandparent. In this idyllic setting, he saw visions of an otherworldly woman dressed entirely in white in a boat on a lake. After reading a local history, he came to believe that this woman might have been a yaksha, a mythical creature who had terrorized the area in the past. One night he saw her again and ran outside to follow her, imagining that he was re-enacting a traditional zhiguai tale in which mortals encountered ghosts. After reaching her lair, he strangled her and only then came to his senses, realizing that she was some 173

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poor innocent woman. He rushed back to Shanghai in a terrified fervour of guilt and anxiety, finally collapsing when he saw the narrator’s cousin who resembled the woman in white from before. While this short story is not set in Shanghai, it does echo “An Evening in the Rainy Season” in certain ways. Bian is very much a modern urbanite who considers himself healthy, strong, and impervious to silly superstitions, but once in the countryside his rationality falls apart and he is overtaken by delusions and madness. Several short stories in the collection see other supposedly rational and modern well-educated men succumbing to nervous distress and panic, often influenced by literature, tradition, or local myth. “Madam Butterfly” (Hudie furen) can serve as an example of the short stories found in Exemplary Conduct of Virtuous Women. It focuses on the slowly deteriorating relationship of a young couple. The husband is an entomologist whose career is devoted to the study of butterflies – a traditional symbol of love – and he spends his time classifying dead specimens and resorting to foreign books to name even native Chinese species. Unlike him, his wife is far more vivacious, outgoing, and lively. Failing to understand her, he reproaches her for her frivolous pursuits: shopping, visiting beauty salons, going to the cinema, and the like. She, on the other hand, wishes that he would spend more time with her. Despite both husband and wife having the best of intentions, they fail to connect (illustrated through parallel dialogue in which they talk past each other) and gradually grow apart. The short story ends with the husband realizing that his wife is having an affair with the handsome young sports professor on campus who enjoys swimming, dancing, and partaking in all the pleasures of modern life. Much like the other examples of Shi Zhecun’s work, this short story is about a man failing to comprehend women, but it is gentler and more subdued, without their erotic fantasies, neurasthenia, and delusions. Another short story about relationships is “Water Shield Soup” (Chun geng) which features a husband who promises his wife to do the cooking one evening but comes to feel embarrassed about his inability to do this. A few short stories in Exemplary Conduct of Virtuous Women are told from the female perspective, and they are often about stirring sexual awakenings that ultimately do not come to pass. “Spring Sunshine” (Chun yang) is about a well-off young widow who travels to Shanghai to take care of a financial matter at the bank. Strolling about the city on a sunny day and seeing young couples holding hands, she starts to think that she might have a more exciting life with romance and passion.34 As opposed to “One Evening in the Rainy Season”, this short story sees warm sunlight bringing about reveries. As the good weather ends, her dreams of a renewed life vanish and she leaves the city counting her money. These examples showcase several recurring elements in Shi Zhecun’s fiction. That which is safe, well known, and reassuring is juxtaposed with that which is mysterious, incomprehensible, and threatening – often through a change of setting or weather. This repeated juxtaposition establishes a recurrent binary pattern which aligns certain symbolic concepts and mental states. In simple schematic form, this alignment can be depicted as follows: rational known conscious modern restrained home

irrational unknown repressed traditional uninhibited abroad

This divide recurs throughout Shi Zhecun’s stories in terms of sexual roles and gender relations. The protagonist of “Yaksha” loses his grip on sanity and restraint as he crosses into 174

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the irrational in the countryside while pursuing an imaginary woman. Likewise, the inhibited woman travels from her home in the countryside to the alluring unknown of the city. For both, the crossing into the unknown brings the protagonists in contact with their repressed yearnings and desires. In most cases, crossing back to “normality” and restraint is traumatic, resulting in nervous fears or tantalizing illusions. Yet the simple dividing line above is perhaps not the most appropriate graphic representation. In Shi’s short stories, the world of the unknown is not an external reality but rather a mental construction emerging from the unconscious. Perhaps, it should be viewed as a fictive space within rational modernity, which challenges the characters’ conception of the world. In Shi’s work, it is the very modernity and rationality of the modern mind that seems to bring about the dreams and worries that undermine it. Modern rationality invariably crumbles of its own accord and thereby notions of progress and modernity become questionable constructs that contain the seeds of their own collapse.

The fiction of Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou The short stories by Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou are similar enough that they might be discussed together. In most of their works, the plot seems less important than a sensory mood achieved through a staccato narrative style. They use all varieties of sensory impressions – colours, temperatures, sounds, and smells – to describe the jumbled sensations of the metropolis.The discontinuities in the text are meant to reflect the disjointed and chaotic urban experience. The 1932 short story “Five in a Nightclub” is one of Mu’s more well known works and it can serve as an example. The narrative switches between five principal characters as they separately make their way to the Empress nightclub. The following quote shows how the narrative style is the main focus and takes precedence over plot progression: The world of a Saturday night is a cartoon globe spinning on the axis of jazz – just as quick, just as crazed; gravity loses its pull and buildings are launched skyward. On Saturday night reason is out of season. On Saturday night even judges are tempted to lead lives of crime. On Saturday night God goes to Hell. Men out on dates completely forget the civil code against seduction. Every woman out on a date tells her man that she is not yet eighteen, all the while laughing inside over how easy he is to dupe. The driver’s eyes stray from the pedestrians on the road to admire his lover’s scenic contours; hands move forward to probe. On Saturday night a self-respecting man steals; a simpleton’s head fills with intrigue; a Godfearing Christian lies; old men drink rejuvenating tonics; experienced women apply kissproof lipstick.35 The plot in “Five in a Nightclub” mostly unfolds over the course of a single day: Saturday, 6 April 1932. It features five different characters, and the narrative shifts between them until they converge in a nightclub to drown and forget their sorrows: an investor lost his fortune, a woman tries to face the stark reality that men now see her as past her prime, a man has been jilted, a scholar questions the relevance of his work, and a city clerk has been fired. At the nightclub, they meet a band member, who learns that his wife has died in childbirth during the course of the evening. Still, he is forced to smile and play music in the club as the guests dance, laugh, and pretend to enjoy themselves. The short story ends with the investor killing himself and the four others attending his funeral a few days later. 175

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The relationships between the characters are callous, hypocritical, and insincere. They are all presenting various façades, laughing and deceiving themselves, trying to keep up with the times, peppering their speech with English phrases. As in many of Mu’s other short stories, Shanghai is presented as titillating and exhilarating, while also being exhausting, dehumanizing, and cruel. The five characters are not so much individuals as representatives of different aspects of the city. Compared with Shi Zhecun’s intricate character portrayals or, say, the writings of Western modernists such as James Joyce, the various people in Mu’s short stories tend to have little psychological depth. Instead, they are often stereotypes akin to those in popular literature, like the femme fatale, the dandy, or the infatuated gullible male, yet this superficiality is also somehow symptomatic of their modern lives. It seems to be the city and the constant demands it places on the people in it that force them into predetermined roles, keeping up appearances. Both Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou frequently use the femme fatale stereotype as a symbol of the new sexual mores in modern Shanghai. Mu Shiying’s short story “The Man Who Was Made a Plaything” can be used as an illustration.36 The narrator is a university student in Shanghai who falls desperately in love with an alluring beauty despite his complete awareness that she is deceitful and dangerous. She professes to love him as well, but nevertheless, she is constantly flirting with other men and this in turn drives the narrator to despair. She informs him that the others are merely playthings to her, like chocolates to be chewed and spat out.37 After much jealousy and misery, the narrator realizes that he too has merely been her plaything. The femmes fatales of Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou’s fiction were indebted to Hollywood’s glamorous screen icons, frequently mentioned in their works. As confident New Women, flappers, or femme fatale vixens, these women are well-known stereotypes also found in pulp fiction, romances, calendar posters, and advertising. Likewise, sexuality is often highlighted as synonymous with the modernity of Shanghai. In one short story, “Platinum Statue of a Female Nude” (Baijin de nüti suoxiang), Mu even uses Shanghai’s harbour as a metaphor for the female sex.38 Similar to Mu Shiying, Liu Na’ou’s short stories also take place in Shanghai’s nightclubs or other places signifying modernity, e.g. the race track or canidrome, and they frequently deal with naïve men, sometimes foreigners, who are jilted, duped, and dumped by bewitching modern women. His staccato style of writing is laden with metaphor and juxtaposed images: Everything in this “Tango Palace” is in melodious motion – male and female bodies, multicolored lights, shining wine goblets, red, green liquid and slender fingers, garnet lips, burning eyes. In the center is a smooth and shiny floor reflecting tables and chairs around it and the scene of people mixed together, making one feel as if one had entered a magic palace, where one’s mind and spirit are both under the control of magical powers. Amidst all this the most delicate and nimble are the movements of those waiters clad in white. Vivaciously, like butterflies among flowers, they fly from here to there, then from there to another place, without a trace of rudeness.39 The prose of Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou is striking with its predominant use of sharp visual imagery. The text aims to dazzle the reader with a barrage of sensory input that mirrors the chaos of the city. To both writers, narrative style was more important than plot. The montage or “camera eye” technique of switching from item to item to set the scene was adopted from the Japanese New Sensationists and the French writer Paul Morand.40 Like the shop fronts, posters, and neon signs on Nanjing Road, modernity is here represented in striking images. As Leo Ou-fan Lee remarks, this narrative style was indebted to the visuality and speed of the cinema.41 Relying on the readers’ knowledge of billboards and neon ads, Liu and Mu count on visual


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cues to achieve their effects. The use of imagery carries from the billboards and dance halls to women and sexuality. Mu Shiying’s writing changed considerably over the course of his short career. His earliest short stories, some written while he was still a teenager, were quite different from the modernist works which made him famous.These initial works tend to feature impoverished male protagonists who rage against society and modern life, but they are not proletarian visionaries or victims of social injustice. On the contrary, they are mostly misguided thugs and bandits who revel in random violence while representing themselves as righteous heroes. They often cast themselves as characters out of Water Margin, demonstrating their inability to comprehend modern society and their entanglement in an imaginary vision of the past. In Mu Shiying’s first short story, “Our World,” the narrator recounts how he became a pirate, eventually joining a gang of outlaws who board a large passenger ship.42 The narrator is constantly furious about social issues, but most of his anger stems from his sexual frustration and lust for modern women who are out of his reach. After taking over the ship, he rapes an innocent woman and throws her husband overboard in a rite of initiation. He describes this violence with disturbing glee, and this narrative style makes for a remarkably unpleasant narrator. These early works also demonstrate Mu’s ability to capture lower-class slang and vulgar language in a way that had not been seen before in Chinese literature. Several other works in Mu’s first short story collection, North Pole, South Pole, are equally disconcerting, and they show that Mu was already quite mature as a writer of fiction.

Conclusion New Sensationist fiction portrays the splitting forces of urban modernity – in subject matter as well as style of writing. But unlike the League of Left-Wing Writers, these authors did not moralize, nor did they offer solutions, political critiques, or noble ideals in their work. On the contrary, the New Sensationists adopted an avant-garde stance based on a dual rejection of political ideology and realist narrative modes.Their independence enabled them to create works that were distinctly different from the other literature being written at the time. In their modernist works, the New Sensationists attempted to renew the language and form of narrative representation. By mixing tropes and stereotypes from popular literature, traditional fiction, legend, and myth, they present intertextual hybrids that often cross back and forth between different genres and styles, deliberately undermining their own narrative coherence. Rather than seeking verisimilitude, such short stories deliberately highlight their own status as artifice and fiction. Through jarring language, juxtaposed imagery, and streams-of-consciousness, New Sensationist works set out to mirror the dizzying nature of modern Shanghai. The city becomes a contested site of clashing opposites, exemplified in the oft-quoted opening and closing lines of Mu Shiying’s short story “Shanghai Foxtrot” (Shanghai de hubuwu, 1932): “Shanghai. A Heaven built on Hell.”43 More broadly, it is modernity itself that comes under attack. In Mu Shiying and Liu Na’ou’s work, modern life is exhausting and dehumanizing, while in Shi Zhecun’s rendition, the rational, educated outlook is always on the verge of collapse into fantasy, delusions, and madness. Modernity is thrilling, but it also invariably contains a darker side that is repressed, denied, or hidden behind gay outward facades. The New Sensationist writers revelled in the depiction of sexuality. As Yingjin Zhang notes, “eroticism took the place of love in the majority of new perceptionist writings.”44 Sex was the essential modern drive and symptomatic of urban dissolution. Like the other New Sensationist writers, Shi Zhecun also used the idea of fleeting sexual encounters as representing Shanghai’s


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urban modernity, but he brought a new psychological depth to his characters, utilizing the full Freudian armament of unconscious desires with repression and displacement. His soul-searching characters are generally more rounded and engaging than those of Liu Na’ou and Mu Shiying. Furthermore, he expanded the scope of his writings to include modern sexuality in other ways than urban encounters. Many of his short stories have historical settings, playing on ideas of popular myth and fiction. The New Sensationist group played an important role in the literary field at the time. Shi Zhecun in particular stands out for his many translations of foreign literature and his work as the editor of Les Contemporains. Due to political exigencies, the New Sensationist writers were ignored or forgotten for several decades, but Shi Zhecun and Mu Shiying are fairly well-known writers today, and awareness of their work has improved in recent years alongside the rise in nostalgia for the glamour of Republican Shanghai. More recently, studies have explored how the New Sensationist writers had an impact on later Chinese literature, e.g.Wang Zengqi and Fei Ming as well as popular literature during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).45 The New Sensationist works are endowed with a lasting impact as well as real literary value in their own right.

Notes 1 There is unfortunately little agreement on how to render xinganjuepai in English. Alternatives include “New Sensibilities School,” “Neo-Sensationism,” “New Perceptionism,” and several others. 2 “Shinkankaku school,” in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, vol. 7, ed. Gen Itasaka et al. (Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1983), 116. 3 Lou Shiyi, “The New Sensationism of Shi Zhecun – On Reading ‘In the Paris cinema’ and ‘Demon’s Way,’ ” (Shi Zhecun de xinganjue zhuyi: du ‘Zai Bali daxi yuan’ yu ‘Modao’ zhi hou), in Ying Guojing, ed., Selections of Modern Chinese Authors: Shi Zhecun (Zhongguo xiandai zuojia xuanji: Shi Zhecun) (Hong Kong: Sanlian shudian youxian gongsi, 1988), 306. 4 Ibid., 305. 5 Shi Zhecun, “The Course of My Creative Career,” (Wo de chuangzuo shenghuo zhi licheng) in The Works of Shi Zhecun: Ten Years of Creative Writing (Shi Zhecun wenji: Shi nian chuangzuo ji) (Shanghai: Huadong shifan daxue chubanshe, 1996), 803–804. 6 Shi Zhecun, “Two Years at Aurora University,” (Zhendan er nian) in Tang Wenyi and Liu Pin, eds., Random Thoughts on Past Events (Wangshi suixiang) (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 2000), 185–196. 7 Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 246. 8 Huang Xuelei, Shanghai Filmmaking: Crossing Borders, Connecting to the Globe, 1922–1938 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 133. 9 Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern, 359. 10 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 148, 177. 11 Li Jin, “Chronicle of Mu Shiying’s Life,” (Mu Shiying nianpu jianbian) Journal of Research on Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan) (2005), no. 6, 240. 12 Quoted in ibid., 240. 13 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, 134. 14 Qu Qiubai (pseud. Sima Jin), “For or against the God of wealth” (Caishen haishi fan caishen), Beidou (1932), vol. 2, nos. 3–4. 489–500. 15 Shu Yue quoted in Christopher Rosenmeier, “The Subversion of Modernity and Socialism in Mu Shiying’s Early Fiction,” Frontiers of Literary Studies in China (2013), vol. 7, no. 1, 17. 16 Mu Shiying quoted in ibid., 18. 17 Li Jin, “Mu Shiying nianpu jianbian,” 243–253. 18 Ying Guojing, “A chronology of Shi Zhecun’s life” (Shi Zhecun nianbiao) in Ying Guojing, ed., Zhongguo xiandai zuojia xuanji: Shi Zhecun (Selections of modern Chinese authors: Shi Zhecun) (Hong Kong: Sanlian shudian youxian gongsi, 1988), 314. 19 Shi Zhecun, “Xiandai zayi” (Some thoughts on Xiandai), in Wangshi suixiang, 65.


The new sensationists 20 Complete lists of tables of content from all issues of Les Contemporains can be found in Zhongguo xiandai wenxue qikan hui lu huibian (Compilation of tables of contents of journals in modern Chinese literature), vol. 1, ed. Tang Yuan et al. (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 1988), 1329 ff. 21 Shi Zhecun, “Some Thoughts on Xiandai,” 66. 22 Ibid., 99. 23 Wang-chi Wong, Politics and Literature in Shanghai: The Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, 1930–1936 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 131. 24 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, 149. 25 Li Jin, “Chronicle of Mu Shiying’s Life,” 260. 26 Ibid., 267. 27 Christopher Rosenmeier, “Women Stereotypes in Shi Zhecun’s Short Stories,” Modern China (2011), vol. 37, no. 1, 12. 28 Wu Lichang, Preface in Shi Zhecun, Shi Zhecun: Psychological Fiction (Xinli xiaoshuo: Shi Zhecun) (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1992), 2. 29 Shi Zhecun, Preface in Selections of Modern Chinese Authors: Shi Zhecun, 2. 30 William Schaefer, “Kumarajiva’s Foreign Tongue: Shi Zhecun’s Modernist Historical Fiction,” Modern Chinese Literature (1998), vol. 10, nos. 1 & 2. 31 Shi Zhecun, “One Evening in the Rainy Season,” in Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, 2nd edition, trans. Gregory B. Lee (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 116–124. 32 Ibid., 119. 33 Ibid., 123–124. 34 Shi Zhecun, “Spring Sunshine” (Chun yang) in Shi Zhecun, ed., “The Works of Shi Zhecun: Ten Years of Creative Writing.” 432–445. 35 Mu Shiying, “Five in a Nightclub,” in Andrew David Field, ed., Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist, trans. Randolph Trumbull (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014), 42. 36 Mu Shiying, “The Man Who Was Made a Plaything,” (Bei dangzuo xiaoqianpin de nanzi) in Yue Qi, ed., Zhongguo xin ganjue pai shengshou: Mu Shiying xiaoshuo quanji (The Chinese Master of New Sensationism: The Complete Fiction of Mu Shiying) (Beijing: Zhongguo wenlian chuban gongsi, 1996), 151–176. 37 Ibid., 153. 38 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, 216. 39 Translated in Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern, 288. From Liu Na’ou, “Youxi,” (Games). 40 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, 199. 41 Leo Ou-fan Lee, “The Urban Milieu of Shanghai Cinema, 1930–1940,” in Yingjin Zhang, ed., Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922–1943 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 81. 42 Mu Shiying, “Zanmen de shijie” (Our world) in The Chinese Master of New Sensationism: The Complete Fiction of Mu Shiying (Zhongguo xin ganjue pai shengshou: Mu Shiying xiaoshuo quanji), 17–29. 43 Mu Shiying, “Shanghai Fox-trot,” in Andrew David Field, ed., Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist, trans. Andrew David Field (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014), 105. 44 Yingjin Zhang, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configuration of Space, Time, & Gender (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 176. 45 See Carolyn FitzGerald, Fragmenting Modernisms: Chinese Wartime Literature, Art, and Film, 1937–49 (Leiden: Brill, 2013) and Christopher Rosenmeier, On the Margins of Modernism: Xu Xu, Wumingshi, and Popular Chinese Literature in the 1940s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017).

Further readings Braester, Yomi. “Shanghai’s Economy of Spectacle: The Shanghai Race Club in Liu Na’ou and Mu Shiying’s Stories.” Modern Chinese Literature 9.1 (1995): 39–58. Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Shanghai Modern:The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930 – 1945. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014. Peng, Hsiao-yen. Dandyism and Transcultural Modernity: The Dandy, the Flaneur, and the Translator in 1930s Shanghai,Tokyo, and Paris. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010. Riep, Steven L. “Chinese Modernism: The New Sensationists.” In Kirk A. Denton, ed., The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.


Christopher Rosenmeier Rosenmeier, Christopher. “Women Stereotypes in Shi Zhecun’s Short Stories.” Modern China 37.1 (2011): 44–68. ———. “The Subversion of Modernity and Socialism in Mu Shiying’s Early Fiction.” Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 7.1 (2013): 1–22. Schaefer, William. “Kumarajiva’s Foreign Tongue: Shi Zhecun’s Modernist Historical Fiction.” Modern Chinese Literature 10.1 and 2 (1998): 25–69. Shi Zhecun. One Rainy Evening. Translated by Wang Ying et al. Beijing: Panda Books, 1994. Shih, Shu-mei. The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917 – 1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Zhang,Yingjin. The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configuration of Space, Time, & Gender. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.



Old and new Chinese on stage and screen

13 EARLY MODERN DRAMA Hong Shen, Ouyang Yuqian, Xia Yan Xiaowen Xu

Early modern Chinese theatre is mainly defined by the emergence, formation, and maturity of Chinese spoken drama (huaju) from the 1900s to 1940s.1 The theatre’s great power to change society was first noticed by late Qing reformers such as Liang Qichao (1873–1929) and subsequently fully engaged by leading intellectuals in the New Cultural Movement in the 1910s and 1920s. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Chinese spoken drama challenges as well as incorporates the Chinese traditional drama, introduces as well as localizes counterpart Western and Japanese genres, and at the same time roots itself deeply into the social, historical, and cultural soils in modern China. Xia Yan (1900–1995), a major spoken-drama playwright who survived most of his contemporary Chinese dramatists in this dramatic period in modern Chinese theatre, bequeaths the honor of “the three founders of Chinese spoken drama” to his friends Tian Han (1898–1968), Hong Shen (1894–1955), and Ouyang Yuqian (1889–1962).2 Tian Han’s contribution to modern Chinese spoken drama is discussed in Chapter 19 by Ning Ma, and therefore I will devote this chapter to the life and works of Hong Shen and Ouyang Yuqian. Xia Yan’s own career as a playwright started a few years later than the three founders, but his decisive role in developing realism in modern Chinese spoken drama is not unimportant. Besides, Hong, Ouyang, and Xia’s joint work in the Shanghai Theatre Association (Shanghai xiju xieshe) in the 1920s set the key tone for Chinese spoken drama for the next 30 years. In their common cause to shape and promote the spoken drama at historical moments of national crisis, they still display artistic individuality because of their own life experience and psychological identity. Hong Shen literally named the spoken drama as huaju in 1928. He introduced the American theatre tradition to stage direction and performance. Borrowing the expressionist techniques from Eugene O’Neill in his early works, in his later works he gave more considerations to local Chinese audience and paid closer attention to contemporary political activities. Ouyang Yuqian’s skills in scripting and staging popular spoken drama were closely related to his mastery of traditional Chinese drama’s aesthetics and techniques. Xia Yan’s wide readings in Marxism, his political ideology, and his subsequent proletariat concerns all made him a significant shaping force in the Chinese spoken drama ever since the 1930s.

Hong Shen Hong Shen, also known as Hong Da, used two personal names, Qianzhai and Qianzai, and a sobriquet Bojun in his career as a playwright, director, critic, and actor in early Chinese spoken 183

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drama. He was born in a well-to-do family and sent to the United States to study ceramic engineering at Ohio State University on a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship in 1916. His father, an official involved in a political assassination case, was executed in 1919, and this changed his career. He decided to stay away from both public offices and the so-called upper class, and devote himself to drama so as to expose and attack the evil in the upper class.3 He studied drama under the supervision of Professor George Pierce Baker at Harvard University and systematically grasped all techniques necessary to produce a modern drama on American stages. He returned to China in 1922, and in 1923 Ouyang Yuqian introduced him to Shanghai Theatre Association. There, as a playwright, director, and leading actor, he produced a nine-act spoken drama Yama Zhao (Zhao Yanwang), in which he experiments with expressionist skills that he learned from Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. At the same time he also worked for the new-born Chinese film industry and in 1922 wrote the first screen script in China, Mr. Shen Tu (Shentu shi). His close cooperation with the left-wing and communist intellectuals in the 1930s finally affected his ideology. He joined the China Leftist Drama Troupe Alliance (Zhongguo zuoyi jutuan lianmeng) in 1930 and wrote The Trilogy of the Countryside (Nongcun sabu qu), i.e., Wukui Bridge (1930), Fragrant Rice (1931), and The Black Dragon Pond (1932), for which he was praised by leftist critics for a tendency toward “realism,” a well-made play structure, and a sincere concern for the victims of social injustice.4 Before and during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945) Hong was active in promoting National Defense Plays (Guofang xiju) in order to arouse the Chinese people’s nationalism, and many plays written by him during this time are packed with patriotism and nationalism. After 1945 he taught drama in several universities. When the People’s Republic of China was established by the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP) in 1949, he eventually started to serve in public offices until he died of lung cancer in Beijing in 1955. Hong Shen not only named modern Chinese spoken drama, but literally defined its production system by introducing the important role of stage director. He also brought gender-appropriate casting to the precedent genres such as “amateur plays” (aimei ju) and “civilized drama” (wenming xi) in the 1920s. When writing and directing his own script Yama Zhao in 1922/23, he completed the written script before performance, established the rehearsal system, standardized actors’ performance, and confirmed the irreplaceable importance of a director’s authority.5 He convinced both the troupe and the audience the necessity of gender-appropriate casting by contrasting the performances of Hu Shih’s One Thing That Matters for a Life (Zhongshen dashi) by gender-appropriate casting and Ouyang Yuqian’s Shrew (Pofu) by all-male actors.6 Yama Zhao is Hong Shen’s first play after he came back to China from the United States and bears evident traces of modern American theatre tradition as represented by Eugene O’Neill. It tells how Zhao Da, a peasant soldier who acquired a nickname “Yama Zhao” for his ferocity in the battlefields during the Warlord Era in the 1920s, was infuriated by his senior officer’s corruption, and then committed crimes of robbery and murder. He ran into a forest to avoid his arrest and lost his mind by hallucinations there. Zhao Da was finally shot dead and his fellow soldier Old Li took away his spoils before burying him in the forest. The first and the last acts contain lively dialogues and actual actions, but the rest seven acts are all Zhao Da’s monologues in his hallucinatory dialogues with his own haunting memories. The elements of “episodic structures, ‘stream of consciousness,’ and psychological drama” in the play resemble Emperor Jones, a play written by Eugene O’Neill in 1920.7 Hong Shen nevertheless defends himself in an imagined conversation with O’Neill he wrote in 1933, arguing that Yama Zhao is after all his own creation because the play conveys a special message intended for the Chinese society in the 1920s and because the characterization as well as the historical and social settings in the play are therefore all unique and original.8 The title protagonist is certainly not an African American who is driven crazy by his own hallucination, but evidently Hong echoes O’Neill’s certain scenes in Emperor 184

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Jones in order to reveal Zhao Da’s past to the audience. Exactly like O’Neill’s Jones, Hong Shen’s Zhao Da walks in circles in the forest and gradually loses his mind when being haunted by the soldiers’ drumming. What makes Zhao Da’s hallucination different from Jones’s is that it is composed of Zhao’s downfall from a poor but innocent peasant to a murderer as he became a soldier fighting for the warlords in the 1920s. As Old Li concludes in the last act, Zhao Da is neither purely good nor completely evil, instead he is but a victim of the evil war. The plights of Chinese peasants and the social trauma left by civil wars are thus exposed in Zhao Da’s characterization. The play established Hong Shen’s significant status as a Chinese expressionist playwright exposing war crimes, but it was not successful in its debut. Even with Hong Shen himself playing the titular protagonist Zhao Da, the play failed to attract an adequate number of local Chinese audience in 1923. Yama Zhao did not achieve an immediate popularity due to Hong Shen’s lack of attention to the local Chinese audience. He learned his lesson and in the following year revised his approach to the Chinese stage when directing a Chinese adaptation of Lady Windermere’s Fan, an English play by Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). The production displayed a perfect balance between modern Western theatre conventions and “localized Chinese mise-en-scéne”9 because Hong Shen meticulously catered to the Chinese audience’s aesthetic tastes in his production. Considering the fact that the Chinese audience for the spoken drama in Shanghai in the 1920s consisted mainly of the urban middle class, he localized the title, setting, time, and even characters’ names of the English play for the sake of the audience’s interest. The moral message from Lady Windermere’s Fan was anyway kept intact in this Chinese version entitled Young Mistress’ Fan (Shaonainai de shanzi). Furthermore, Hong Shen required his actors to perform in a natural and realist manner and strictly follow his adapted script and his director’s instruction.10 The production’s sensational success boosted Hong Shen’s confidence in spoken drama, and his artistic style subsequently started a shift from expressionism toward realism. Among all his works, Wukui Bridge is the best example to illustrate Hong Shen’s “negotiation between oppositional ideologies and between art and politics.”11 Written in 1930 as the opening play of Hong’s The Trilogy of the Countryside, this one-act play describes the conflict between two oppositional groups in the rural China in the early twentieth century. Wukui Bridge was originally built and owned by the Zhou family to commemorate their ancestors’ success in the imperial civil service examinations. Connecting important passes among several small villages, it anyway blocks larger boats from travelling freely along the river, thus it is a symbol of the feudal past to be challenged by the modern age. The clash between the poor peasants suffering from a long drought and the rich gentleman Mr. Zhou broke out when the former needed to smash the bridge to channel in a pumping boat and the latter tried every means to preserve it for his own interests. The bridge was finally demolished by the villagers and a way of life was created for the village people. The irreconcilable oppositions between Mr. Zhou and the villagers provide an ideal class struggle framework for the playwright, and the multilevel meanings involved in such oppositions supply actors with a space to perform and audiences a space to perceive. Hong Shen’s mastery of Western dramatic structure can be seen in the one-act presentation of introduction, development, climax, and a short conclusion of major conflicts in plot; and his concern for social problems in the rural China in early twentieth century is behind his realist representation of the poor villagers and the rich gentry. Not only are the dialogues written in line with the characters’ social status, but their actions are also presented with a logical development of the plot. Mr. Zhou who stands for the rich gentry appears to be a civilized gentleman and talks gently in a persuasive manner, claiming the importance to preserve the bridge for the sake of his own ancestors, in the name of his benevolence toward the villagers, and because of its symbolic power to resist the Western influence that is disguised in the form of the pumping 185

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technique. His hypocrisy, however, is laid bare by the actor’s performance. For example, while he talks gently in fine words to the village girl Zhufeng, he unwittingly reveals his sensual desire for her body. He takes advantage of the corrupted officials and makes them stand with him. Framed in such an acting, his last burst of violence is naturally presented. All his previous efforts to cover up his true self-interest were wasted when his goal to preserve the bridge at the cost of the peasantry’s harvest was ultimately exposed. In contrast, Li Quansheng, the leading peasant, shows more honesty in his character, his speech, and his behavior. Simple and outspoken, he is a man of action and speaks up only for his fellow villagers. Mr. Zhou’s eloquence, like the bridge his gentry family has decorated generation after generation, takes much space of stage, but whenever Li abruptly cuts off Zhou’s long speech with brief statement of fact, Zhou’s bubble of words collapses.The clash of language styles by the two typical characters goes along with the collision of the two oppositional groups they respectively stand for. Short as the play is, the penetrating power of Li and his group leaves dramatic effect on the audience. As he gradually formed his own realist theory of drama in his long career, Hong Shen is almost universally acknowledged as a “founding father of a realist theater most useful for political propaganda.”12 Wukui Bridge materializes that “realist” drama by conveniently adopting the theme of class struggle between the rich and the poor. It also summarizes his efforts to incorporate Western drama conventions into local Chinese spoken drama. Ideologically, Hong Shen portrays in this play how poor peasants struggle against rich feudal gentry in the rural area in order to survive a drought, and aesthetically he successfully writes a play that contains “structuring dramatic conflicts between various characters in a ‘well-made play.’ ”13

Ouyang Yuqian Ouyang Yuqian, originally named Ouyang Liyuan, had a sobriquet Nanjie. His grandfather was Ouyang Zhonghu (1849–1911), a famous late Qing Confucian scholar whose disciples include late Qing politicians and thinkers such as Tan Sitong (1865–1898) and Tang Caichang (1867– 1900).With a solid background in classical Chinese literature and classical Chinese drama, Ouyang Yuqian left for Japan at the age of 13 to study business and literature in Meiji University and Waseda University. In 1907 he joined the Spring Willow Society (Chunliu she), a Chinese student organization dedicated to promoting new drama, and started his long career as a stage actor. His passion for drama stayed with him after he returned to China in 1910. He combined his new interest in the new drama with his old hobby of performing traditional Beijing Opera. On one hand he actively played in the civilized plays; on the other hand he sought for strict training in playing female roles in Beijing Opera. As a professional Beijing Opera actor he was soon considered equal to Mr. Mei Lanfang (1894–1961).14 Feeling an urgency to reform traditional Chinese drama, he also started one project of drama education after another from 1919. He established Nantong Actors’ School in 1919, joined Shanghai Theatre Association in 1922, took an active part in Tian Han’s Southern China Society (Nanguo she), and in 1929 went to Guangdong Province to establish more arts schools. He also extended his interest into the film industry in 1926. Ouyang stayed in Guangxi Province most of the time during the War of Resistance against Japan, but he continued his efforts to reform traditional local operas with a political purpose to evoke nationalism. After 1949, his education projects in modern Chinese drama culminated in his role as the founding President of Central Academy of Drama in 1950. He officially joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1955 before his death in 1962. Ouyang Yuqian’s role in the formation and development of modern Chinese drama is closely related to his deep roots in classical Chinese literature and traditional Chinese drama. Unlike most of his contemporary dramatists under the influence of the New Cultural Movement, he 186

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took a more liberal attitude toward traditional Chinese drama. He embraced the new drama, and at the same time he justified and welcomed the continuation of some good conventions in traditional drama. As such, he invested his knowledge of the old into the new, and vice versa. His experience in film industry also enriched his techniques in writing, directing, and performing the new Chinese spoken drama. Among the three playwrights discussed in this chapter, he might be the most popular to common audience because of his firsthand experience in both the old and new forms of arts. In addition to his artistic efforts to combine the old and the new, he adapted materials for drama from classical Chinese literature. Also, his concern for the problems of Chinese women’s status saturated his production of some of the best modern Chinese spoken drama in the first half of the twentieth century. Ouyang Yuqian’s combination of the old and the new and his attention to Chinese women’s social status can be found in his drama Pan Jinlian (1927). It was originally written as a modern spoken drama, but debuted as a Beijing opera. In the play Ouyang subverted the clichéd image of Pan Jinlian as a femme fatale, redefined her tragedy in terms of social injustice and sexual inequality in pre-modern China, and resultantly created a new individualistic heroine who rebels against the evil society and relentlessly pursues true love. Unlike the lustful female protagonist who murders her husband in order to keep an adultery with a rich merchant as described in the classical novels The Water Margin and The Plum in the Golden Vase, Pan Jinlian in Ouyang’s fiveact play is portrayed as a victim by her former master Zhang, a target of a lustful Ximen Qing, and a hopeless woman in unremitted love for her brother-in-law Wu Song. Act One introduces the background story via people’s gossip and Zhang’s conspiracy with Madam Wang to regain Jinlian. Act Two shows how Jinlian, depressed by her status and resenting Ximen’s seduction, scorns and teases Ximen. In Act Three Jinlian reveals her true love for Wu Song but is ignored by him. Act Four is set in a small inn where Wu Song is told the reason for his brother’s death, and this knowledge leads to the climax in the next and last act where Jinlian professes her love to Wu Song and then is killed by him. The play’s neatly arranged structure and detailed written instructions for acting show Ouyang’s mastery of stage performance and his familiarity of audience’s expected response to the acting. Also, the narrative focus in the five acts evidently shifts from an external reproach of Jinlian to an understanding and at times sympathetic perspective on Jinlian’s inner mind. With the minor characters’ gossips and dialogues, Jinlian’s past as a victim is revealed to the audience. Jinlian’s murder of her husband is thus partially retold as well. Jinlian’s true thoughts, however, are openly expressed in her own words, both to Wu Song and to the audience. In contrast with Wu Song who is only given partial knowledge from time to time, the audience sees all. A dramatic irony is thus created and the audience is therefore swayed by the play to a possibly sympathetic position to Jinlian’s perverted love and tragic death in the end. With Ouyang’s own preface to remind his contemporary audience that there are still many greedy master Zhangs, his social critique of women’s status is evident. Ouyang’s acceptance of Western drama conventions is also shown in Pan Jinlian’s passionate declaration of her love for Wu Song. Her last words before her death are often quoted in critics’ identification of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé’s influence on Ouyang’s own writing. Besides, as Chen Ke comments, Ouyang Yuqian’s skills in performing female roles in Beijing Opera might also play a role in this successful exploration into a female character’s mind with such a subtlety and depth of perception.15 Ouyang Yuqian’s mastery of stage settings also characterizes his social comedies. Behind the Screen (Pingfeng hou, 1929) is a one-act comedy full of ironies against the moral hypocrisy of the wealthy class. The young wealthy Kang Zhengming seduced a female student and she bore him a son named Wugou and a daughter named Mingyu. Kang later abandoned her in order to marry a general’s daughter. He even changed his name to Kang Fuchi and became Chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Morality in the upper class. The female student was driven 187

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to the south with Mingyu and became a singing girl, taking a new name Yiqing. Wugou grew up with his father and often visited Mingyu for fun, without knowing that she is in fact his own biological sister. All the dramatic irony is revealed to the audience when Kang Zhengming the past seducer, eagerly pushing down the screen with an intention to uncover his son’s moral blemish, found himself in direct confrontation with Yiqing, who now accused him of being the evil root for all her tragedy. Shortly before the climax a minor character comments that the screen holds “all the morality of thousands of years.” The exaggerated statement immediately acquires another layer of irony with Kang Zhengming’s revisit to his own immoral past with the collapse of the screen. The usage of the screen is not only symbolic in the drama’s narrative, but plays an instrumental role on staging an ironic effect on the audience. In terms of plot, Ouyang makes use of his knowledge of such traditional Chinese drama as The Lute and The Wise Judge’s Decision16 as well as Western comedy conventions as seen in English comedies such as The School for Scandals by Richard Sheridan (1751–1816).17 The characters in the play, however, are all based on what Ouyang himself observed in Shanghai in 1928, and the play is thus a satirical exposure of real social problems. Even the characters’ names are given an edge of irony.The male protagonists’ two names, Zhengming (authentic name) and Fuchi (preservation) all signify what he is not, and his son Wugou (spotless) doubtlessly displays his very spot of moral blemish. The female protagonist’s name,Yiqing (remembering love), sounds nostalgic and yet forms an ironic contrast with her true resentment against the male protagonist, who seduced her under a false name, betrayed her to preserve his own future, and deprived her of her son. There is no love for her to remember, only a memory of a past to be reclaimed. Exposing what is behind the screen is ironically revealing all that ugly reality that has so far been covered under good names. Ouyang Yuqian stayed in the southwestern provinces in China during the 1940s, and his deep concern for national crisis in the War of Resistance against Japan found its expression in his production of historical plays. His attention to social reality and his focus on women’s roles in making history continued to shape his modern spoken drama such as the five-act play Li Xiucheng, the Loyal Prince (Zhongwang Li Xiucheng, 1941) and the three-act play The Peach Blossom Fan, a play that he had worked on from 1937 to 1957.18 Both were successful productions in the 1940s and exemplified Ouyang’s artistic achievements as a playwright. Li Xiucheng (1823–1864), one of the major leaders in Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), is a convenient topic for modern Chinese spoken drama in the 1930s and 1940s because of his military talents and his tragic death. Previous to Ouyang’s play,Yang Hansheng (1902–1993)’s historical play The Death of Li Xiucheng (Li Xiucheng zhi si, 1937) already elaborated on Li Xiucheng’s death in order to promote a united spirit of nationalism against the Japanese invasion. When Ouyang picked up the topic in 1941, he was more concerned with the political division between the Kuomintang and the CCP. Accordingly, he writes more about how corruption and distrust within the Rebellion led to Li Xiucheng’s death. He engaged his skills that he had acquired from both the traditional Chinese drama and the new film industry in the production of this modern spoken historical play to call for a real union between the Kuomintang and the CCP in the War of Resistance against Japan. In 1941 the play was debuted in Guilin, a provincial town with a population of 60,000, and was an immediate sensational success that it was on stage 23 times during the 14 days without a break.The political message is too evident to be ignored by the Kuomintang authority and later the play was severely censored.19 Ouyang Yuqian’s The Peach Blossom Fan is more complicated compared with his Li Xiucheng the Loyal Prince. In 1937 Ouyang first adapted this play into Beijing Opera script from the classical dramatic romance (chuanqi ju) with the same title by Kong Shangren (1648–1718). Kong’s play is much longer and more traditional in form, and Ouyang crystalizes the play to a shorter version more suitable for performance on modern stage. He also changes some characterizations 188

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in the play so as to foreground the theme of patriotism and nationalism. Ouyang’s constant concern for women’s role in social and national issues is also represented in his adaptation. Different from the talented and devoted singing girl in Kong’s script, the female protagonist Li Xiangjun in Ouyang’s play is portrayed as a passionate woman with a clearly defined sense of patriotism. Though he keeps the plot from Kong’s play, he shifts the focus on Li Xiangjun’s characterization. The evidently modernized theme of nationalism is also of contemporary significance. To Ouyang, historical plays should consist of more performance than historical records, and they are indeed more relevant to present than to the past. In The Peach Blossom Fan he tried to keep a balance between artistic presentation of real life on stage and political agenda that needs to be realized in art. Unfortunately the latter takes an upper hand in the 1957 final version of the play. Li Xiangjun’s death in the last act is presented with a perfect performative staging that intends to be a political reproach against her lover Hou Fangyu, so that even Ouyang Qian’s master skills of staging could not save it from lacking sincerity. The individualistic charms of a female character that Ibsen’s plays inspired from the 1920s to 1930s faded with the necessity to bend art toward political missions in the 1950s.

Xia Yan Xia Yan was born as Shen Naixi and also widely known by his studio name Duanxuan. Of the three dramatists discussed in this chapter, he joined the CCP the earliest. Born in a poor gentry’s family to a mother who was fond of traditional Chinese drama and a father who passed away early, Shen Naixi nevertheless kept his memory of them in his own pen name Xia Yan, the two Chinese characters of which signifying his parents’ names respectively.20 He had personally experienced hardships and social injustices in his early youth and thus was determined to devote himself to social activities against such injustices.21 Diligent and intelligent as the top student in a vocational school, he was active during the May Fourth period and won a scholarship to study in Japan in 1920. His political activities forced him to return to China in 1927, by which time he was already a CCP member and had read some Russian and Soviet Union literatures. He was the first Chinese translator of Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother. He was the founding member of Shanghai Art Drama Society (Shanghai yishu jushe) in 1929 and of the China Leftist Drama Troupe Alliance in 1930. He was also actively involved in the film industry under a pseudonym Huang Zibu in 1932. His own career as a modern spoken drama playwright did not start until 1935. From the beginning of his playwright career, his political ideology has dominated his art of writing. He selects people from the lower class such as the urban poor or the suppressed courtesan as the protagonists in his plays At the Corner of the City (1935) and Saijinhua (1936); he borrows a touch of radical lyricism from his readings in Russian and Soviet literatures and adds it to his plays The Fascist Germ (Faxisi xijun, 1942) and Fragrant Flowers on the Horizon (Tianya fangcao, 1945); and he adeptly appropriates stage and film techniques in his experiments in the new art of modern Chinese spoken drama. Started late, he anyway became one of the most popular playwrights warmly received both by his audience and his critics. After 1949, Xia Yan was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Culture in the government, but soon suffered severe political persecutions and was imprisoned during the Great Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). He was rehabilitated in 1978 and published his memoir Leisurely Searching for My Past Dreams (Lanxun jiumeng lu, 1984) before he passed away at the age of 95 in 1995. Under the Eaves of Shanghai (1937), also known as Reunion, is the fourth play by Xia Yan, and yet the playwright himself considers it his first good one written in the realist style.22 Written at the critical moment before the Japanese invasion, the play presents a neatly structured slice of 189

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everyday life of the urban poor in Shanghai with a dramatic realism that is “worth study from our next generation of playwrights.”23 Set at one location and in one day, the three acts of the play display the life of five common families living in a small lane in Shanghai in the 1930s. At the center of the plot is Lin Zhicheng and his common-law spouse Yang Caiyu, who is also his best friend Kuang Fu’s wife. Ten years ago Kuang Fu asked Lin to take care of Yang Caiyu and his daughter Baozhen before he was sent to prison for his communism belief and then no further news was heard from him until now. The other four families are the Zhao family, of which the husband is as optimistic as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and the wife worrying and complaining about every meal of the family; the Huang family, of which the unemployed husband and his young wife try their best to conceal their miserable living condition from their old peasant father who comes to visit them for their newly born baby; a lonely old man nicknamed Li Ling Bei (Li Ling Tomb Tablet, thus named after his frequent singing of one verse from the traditional Chinese drama with the same title) hopelessly waiting for his son who had died of war long time ago; and a young woman Shi Xiaobao who was abandoned by her sailor husband and then constantly bullied by a hooligan Little Tianjing’er. Xia Yan borrows the montage technique in filmmaking and installs the five family’s life on the stage at the same time. Act One takes place in the morning, Act Two in the afternoon, and Act Three, the evening. All major characters and their tensions are carefully and naturally laid out in the first act, and the dramatic conflicts are all resolved in the last act: Kuang Fu left after reconciling with his wife and his best friend; Senior Mr. Huang returned to his rural home after knowing his son’s difficult financial situation; and all the residents’ life seems to be restored to its regular status in the depressive rainy season, except for the final scene when every character joins the kids’ choir, singing “we are all brave little kids.” Ideologically speaking, Xia Yan fully realizes his goal in writing a realist play about everyday life of the so-called insignificant people so as to reflect the tempo of the time and to alert the audience to a coming new age.24 The five families in the play all live a hard life at the time, suffering from miserable experiences such as unemployment, separation from their beloved, bullies from hooligans, and most commonly, stress and despair in a society that is full of injustices. Each character tries to struggle with the plights in his or her own way: Lin Zhicheng and Yang Caiyu manage to provide a stable life for Baozhen, the child and their hope for a future; Mr. Zhao with his all-positive optimism comforts his family and his neighbors; Mr. Huang covers his unemployment by borrowing money from neighbors to make his father’s visit in Shanghai comfortable; Li Ling Bei lives in his own illusions about his lost son and persists in his hopeless hope; and Shi Xiaobao offers her kindness to most of her neighbors, though they knowingly show contempt toward her infidelity to her sailor husband. Life is as gloomy as the rainy season, providing no feasible and foreseeable hope for a better future.The hardly maintained monotony of struggling in a tedious and hopeless life is broken by the return of Kuang Fu, a revolutionary who used to fight for the urban poor and now is himself depressed by his past failures. His presence forces Lin Zhicheng to face his guilty conscience, reminds Yang Caiyu of their youthful love, and brings paternal love to Baozhen. Then one by one the monotony of the other families’ seeming stability is broken in a chain effect and all the characters start to interact with each other: in dialogues that gradually reveal what is underneath the surface composure and in actions that allow actors and actresses to perform what is going on inside their minds. For example, Lin Zhicheng’s loss of composure at seeing Kuang Fu is not shown in his words but displayed in his panic to futilely pour water for Kuang Fu from an empty bottle; and similarly Kuang Fu’s frustration and sorrow at the common marriage between Lin Zhicheng and Yang Caiyu is revealed by his inability to speak complete sentences upon hearing the news: he is so shocked that he could only repeat the fragments of words that he hears from Lin Zhicheng. 190

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The brevity of speech enriches the lyrical force of the acting and provides a further space that is occasionally filled in by children’s innocent singing and Mr. Zhao’s encouraging words, both pointing to a future hope. Aesthetically the play wins applauses for its multisection structure and symbolic reference to the mood of a rainy season. Its seemingly plain style also reminds the audience of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).25 The five families live separately in their own miseries, and from time to time are brought together by one incident. It could be a stranger’s appearance like Kuang Fu’s return, or Mr. Huang’s conversation with Shi Xiaobao regarding her loans to him, or Baozhen’s helping the kids from the Zhao family with their school work, or Mr. Zhao’s encouraging words to Lin Zhicheng about keeping hope for a better life, or even the lonely old man Li Ling Bei’s frequent inquiry to Lin Zhicheng about military news.The vertical independence of each family’s problems and the horizontal connection among all the characters are thus presented on the stage within a frame of rainy season, and the few bright moments shine through the intersectional frame through happy memories by Kuang Fu and Yang Caiyu, the children’s innocent and courageous songs, and Senior Mr. Huang’s affections for his newly born grandson with a force as enlightening and relieving as the short break of sunshine into the rainy season. The close correlation between the season and the theme of depression and despair also shows the lyrical force that is typical of Xia Yan’s writing. Hu Xingliang argues that the image of rainy season used in Under the Eaves of Shanghai demonstrates that Xia Yan tries to dissolve the Western impact on modern spoken drama with a return to the pre-modern Chinese aesthetics of externalization of the internal.26 Xia Yan’s resemblance to Anton Chekhov is also noticed by many critics, particularly in his strength of restraint in exhibiting the tension between powerful emotions in succinct words and actions. For example, it seems that Xia Yan tries to avoid any dramatic confrontations of the characters involved in the complicated and parallel plot: the expected climax caused by Kuang Fu’s reunion with his wife is revealed to the audience first in neighbor’s gossips, and then buffed by Kuang Fu’s reunion with Lin Zhicheng. At the end of the first act, Yang Caiyu comes to the stage with a bewildered expression at her neighbors’ strange behaviours, unaware of the fact that Kuang Fu is waiting for her at her home. However, the audience is already fully prepared for their reunion. Then at beginning of the second act, the dramatic climax is naturally muted to a scene where Yang Caiyu weeping in front of silent Kuang Fu, an aftermath scene of the missed dramatic climax that paradoxically tells more about the effect of such a reunion. Similar emotional moments in the play, like Kuang Fu’s reunion with his daughter and the Huang couple’s affections for each other, are all displayed with such powerfully lyrical restraint. Its effect on the audience is lasting and profound. Besides, Xia Yan gives each character a speaking style appropriate to themselves and this also makes the play realist in its performance. His choice of such a writing style as abiding by his selectin of the urban poor for his play’s characters outshines some of his contemporary playwrights who are more inclined to use a sublime and literary style in their plays. Xia Yan is certainly more of a realist in his writing of Under the Eaves of Shanghai. Xia Yan’s realist presentation of everyday life in Under the Eaves of Shanghai also finds its way into his creation of women characters in the play.Women’s life is of special focus in this play and arouses further debate even today. The four female adults in the play are portrayed with detailed verisimilitude as well as representative characteristics of their own kinds. Yang Caiyu, a new woman who bravely left her own family in order to marry Kuang Fu out of love many years ago, is now a housewife who takes care of her daughter’s snack money and her spouse’s laundry. However, even though she has to stay home due to the society’s unequal treatment to men and women, her independent will to live a life significant and helpful to the needed remains the same. It is her caring encouragement that revives Kuang Fu’s revolutionary ambition and inspires 191

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Lin Zhicheng to start a new life of actions. Mrs. Zhao is a typical housewife with curiosity in everybody’s life, and yet she is also kind and helpful to the Huang family. Mrs. Huang is a typical loving wife and mother, even though she is vexed by the family’s financial plight. The most piteous female character is Shi Xiaobao, who, though bullied by the local hooligan, still yearns for warm feelings from her neighbors. Having said that, we have to admit that in the tug of war of art and politics, Xia Yan finally gives the political voice a priority and thus decides to give a bright ending to the play: the young girl Baozhen, resembling her father in her social concern for the poor and her mother in her bravery to do what she believes right to do, becomes the symbol of a utopian future for the neighborhood, for Shanghai, and for China.

Coda Hong Shen, Ouyang Yuqian, and Xia Yan all actively held up the mission of the New Cultural Movement and helped shape the modern Chinese drama from the 1910s to 1940s. All the three playwrights have been exposed to both traditional Chinese drama and non-Chinese drama conventions such as those from Japan, America, Europe, and Russia. They started from different positions toward realism in modern Chinese drama, and converged in the 1930s leftist movements in modern spoken drama. All nevertheless kept their own individuality in their playwriting, which might reflect the true May Fourth Movements’ mission to call for subjectivity in social, historical, and political relations.

Notes 1 Siyuan Liu, “Modern Chinese Theatre to 1949,” in Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., Siyuan Liu, and Erin B. Mee, eds., Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900–2000 (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 75. 2 Xia Yan, “In Memory of Comrade Tian Han,” (Daonian Tian Han tongzhi) Harvest (Shouhuo) 1979, 4. 3 Chen Meiying and Song Baozhen, A Biography of Hong Shen (Hong Shen zhuan) (Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, 1996), 39. 4 Chen Baichen and Dong Jian, eds., A Draft History of Modern Chinese Drama (Zhongguo xiandai xiju shigao) (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1988), vol. 1, 206–208. 5 Ge Yihong, ed., A Survey History of Chinese Drama (Zhongguo huaju tongshi) (Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, 1990), 62–63. 6 Tian Benxiang, A Survey History of Chinese Drama Art (Zhongguo huaju yishu tongshi) (Datong: Shanxi jiaoyu chubanshe, 2008), vol. 1, 135. 7 Chen Xiaomei, “Mapping a ‘New’ Dramatic Canon: Rewriting the Legacy of Hong Shen,” in Peng Hsiao-yen and Isabelle Rabut, eds., Modern China and the West:Translation and Cultural Mediation (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 227. 8 Hong Shen, “O’Neill and Hong Shen: An Imaginary Conversation (Ouni’er yu Hong Shen: yidu xiangxiang de duihua),” in Zhou Jingbo ed., Dramatic Life: Prefaces and Postscripts to Modern Chinese Drama (Beijing: Communication University of China Press, 2003), 11–12. 9 Siyuan Liu, “Modern Chinese Theatre to 1949,” 87. 10 Tian Benxiang, A Survey History of Chinese Drama Art, 138. 11 Chen Xiaomei, “Mapping a ‘New’ Dramatic Canon: Rewriting the Legacy of Hong Shen,” 230. 12 Ibid., 229. 13 Ibid., 230. 14 Chen Baichen and Dong Jian, A Draft History of Modern Chinese Drama, 68. 15 Chen Ke, A Critical Biography of Ouyang Yuqian (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2012), 147. 16 Bonnie S. McDougall and Kam Louie, The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 163. 17 Hu Decai and Zhang Chengchuan, “The Charms of the Screen: On Ouyang Yuqian’s Borrowing from European Comedies (Pingfeng de meili: Ouyang Yuqian de pingfenghou jiqi dui houzhoushitai xiju de jiejian),” Hanzhou shifan xuebao (1993), 1, 52–57. 18 Chen Ke, A Critical Biography of Ouyang Yuqian, 207.


Early modern drama 1 9 Chen Baichen and Dong Jian, A Draft History of Modern Chinese Drama, 79. 20 Chen Jian and Chen Kang, A Biography of Xia Yan (Xia Yan zhuan) (Beijng: Beijing shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1998), 9. 21 Xia Yan, “The Paths That I Have Treaded (Zouguolae de lu),” Harvest (Shouhuo) (1958), 3. 22 Xia Yan, “Postcript,” Under the Eaves of Shanghai (Shanghai wuyan xia) (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1957). 23 Li Jianwu, “On Under the Eaves of Shanghai,” The People’s Daily (January 26), 1957. 24 Xia Yan, “On the Writing of Under the Eaves of Shanghai,” Scripts (Juben) (1957), 4. 25 Tian Benxiang, A Survey History of Chinese Drama Art, 321. 26 Hu Xingliang, Chinese Spoken Drama and Chinese Operas (Zhongguo huaju yu zhongguo xiqu) (Beijing: Xuelin chubanshe, 2000), 264–265.

Further readings Chen, Baichen and Dong Jian, eds. A Draft History of Modern Chinese Drama (Zhongguo xiandai xiju shigao). 2 vols. Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1988. Chen, Xiaomei. Acting the Right Part: Political Theatre and Popular Drama in Contemporary China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002. ———, ed. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. He, Chengzhou. Henrik Ibsen and Modern Chinese Drama. Oslo: Unipub Forlag, 2004. Liu, Siyuan, ed. Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre. London and New York: Routledge, 2016. Luo, Liang. The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China:Tian Han and the Intersection of Performance and Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. McDougall, Bonnie S. Fictional Authors, Imaginary Audiences: Modern Chinese Literature in the Twentieth Century. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2003. Peng, Hsiao-yen and Isabelle Rabut, eds. Modern China and the West Translation and Cultural Mediation. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012.



Life and career Generally considered China’s most important playwright of “spoken drama” (huaju) of the twentieth century, Cao Yu (1910–1996) has exerted a strong influence on modern Chinese theater. Born as Wan Jiabao, Cao Yu grew up in a bureaucratic family in the coastal metropolitan city of Tianjin. His father Wan Dezun was a senior officer in the army and then worked for some time as a secretary for Li Yuanhong (1864–1928), a powerful warlord who was briefly the President of the Republic of China. Despite the prestige and affluence of the family and its powerful connections, however, Cao Yin’s childhood was by no means happy. Wan Dezun was a man of a hot temper, who frequently rebuked his children. Bearing the brunt of the impetuous father’s verbal abuse was often Cao Yu’s older half-brother, and the continuously strained father-son relationship was probably partially responsible for the young man’s premature death in his thirties. Wan Dezun married three times, and Cao Yu was his son by his second wife, who died a few days after the boy’s birth. Soon afterward Wan Dezun married his third wife, Cao Yu’s mother’s twin sister. Cao Yu’s father and stepmother were both opium addicts. As Cao Yu reminisced his boyhood many years later, on many days, even when Cao Yu was back home from school around four o’clock in the afternoon, his parents were still sleeping, having spent the entire previous night smoking opium together.1 In Cao Yu’s memory, the Wans’ big house, with the entire family and multiple servants living in it, was as silent and still as the inside of a tomb. His experience of the suffocating setting in the household apparently had a significant impact on his theatric works, especially Thunderstorm. There was, however, a brighter side of Cao Yu’s boyhood. Among the servants in the household there was a nanny from the countryside with the family name of Duan, who was a good storyteller. On many an evening, it was the nanny’s stories that sent the boy to sleep. She told about the life in her village and the hardships for her family, and her stories opened up a different world for Cao Yu beyond his affluent but dull household. Apart from the nanny, Cao Yu’s best friends in the household were books in his father’s library, which provided a haven for the boy from the otherwise unpleasant domestic environment. He was an avid reader of works of traditional Chinese fiction – especially Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng) and Journey to the West (Xiyou ji) – as well as translations of Western literary works such as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. As an important positive result of the privileged 194

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status of his family, Cao Yu received the best formal education, available at the time. He attended Nankai Middle School, the best middle school in Tianjin, from 1922 to 1928. Cao Yu’s boyhood coincided with the infancy of spoken drama in China as a newly imported theatric genre from abroad. During the years around the May Fourth movement, the influence of Western drama was increasingly felt in major Chinese cities, including Tianjin. Initially called “new drama” or “new theater” before the name “spoken drama” became accepted by the public,2 Western drama was widely considered more progressive than the traditional genres in indigenous Chinese drama. Hu Shi, for instance, extolled the advocacy of humanism and individualism in Henrik Ibsen’s plays. Supported by leading scholars such as Hu Shi, the popular spoken drama became part of the New Literature Movement. Unsurprisingly, in its fledging years, spoken drama heavily depended on translations and adaptations of Western plays. Between 1918 and 1921 alone, thirty-three foreign plays were translated into Chinese, including Hu Shi’s translation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which appeared in the magazine New Youth in 1918. As a boy, Cao Yu found himself under a strong influence of this changing cultural and literary milieu. Having read many works in Chinese fiction and drama at the family library and watched traditional Chinese theatric performances several times with his stepmother, Cao Yu became a lover of spoken drama as a student at Nankai Middle School. As a member of the New Drama Club of the school, he participated in the performances of several plays, including Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and A Doll’s House, in which he played the role of the protagonist Nora. His performances in the New Drama Club further enhanced his interest in spoken drama and deepened his understanding of the new theatric genre. Many years later, Cao Yu considered his experience in the club, which he dubbed “my initiator,” of crucial importance for his future career as dramatist.3 During his years at Nankai Middle School, Cao Yu read avidly many Western plays, and one of his favorite books was an English edition of The Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen, which he received from a teacher at the school as a present. Cao Yu’s college education did not have a smooth start. Under the influence from his father, Cao Yu had a long-standing interest in medicine. He wished to attend Xiehe Medical School, but he was rejected twice. Following a brief flirtation with political science at Nankai University, he eventually entered the Department of Western Languages and Literatures of Tsinghua University in Beijing (called Beiping at the time) in 1928. Just as in the case of Lu Xun, Cao Yu’s failure to pursue a medical career proved greatly felicitous for modern Chinese literature.

Literary achievements From his experience of dramatic performance as a student, Cao Yu developed a strong desire to write plays himself. That desire felt like “an evasive mirage” or “a light-green tender sprout that stubbornly extended its body from a crack of the rock.”4 Driven by that desire, Cao Yu’s long playwright career started with Thunderstorm (Leiyu). The basic plotline and some of the characters were conceived when he was nineteen years old, as a student of political science at Nankai University. The actual composition, however, did not start until after his arrival at Tsinghua University. It was completed in 1932, Cao Yu’s junior year at Tsinghua. The young author was not eager to have his maiden work published, but he presented the manuscript to Zhang Jinyi, his former fellow student at Nankai Middle School and now a member of the editorial board of Literature Quarterly (Wenxue jikan), an influential journal at the time. Zhang Jinyi shared the manuscript with his fellow member of the editorial board Ba Jin, who was already a famous novelist at the time. With Ba Jin’s enthusiastic support, Thunderstorm was published in Literature Quarterly in 1934 and became an instant success. The next year, it was staged by students of Fudan University under the direction of Hong Shen and Ouyang Yuqian, both established 195

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dramatists by that time. In 1936, the Traveling Dramatic Troupe took Thunderstorm on a tour, winning remarkable popularity for the play and an enormous reputation for the playwright. Following Thunderstorm, Cao Yu’s Sunrise (Ri chu) was published in 1936, when he was teaching at Hebei Women Teachers College in Tianjin, and The Wild (Yuanye) in 1937, when he was teaching at the National Academy of Drama in Nanjing. Sunrise presents a snapshot of the filths in a large city. The focal point of the play is Chen Bailu, a pretty, innocent, but vain courtesan who is victimized by different types of men around her – including a lecherous banker, a deceitful underworld magnate, and a complacent and pretentious intellectual with a doctorate degree from a Western university – and eventually forced to commit suicide. The portrayal of Chen Bailu may have been inspired by Cao Yu’s personal observation of a “social butterfly” in a hotel in Tianjin and may also have received an impetus from the real-life story of Ruan Lingyu, a famous actress in Shanghai who had killed herself under malicious slanders. An even closer prototype for the character, however, was a certain Miss Wang that Cao Yu was personally acquainted with.5 Indeed, just as Cao Yu stated, Chen Bailu may have many “shadows” in real life but she is not a replica of any of them.6 Instead, she is a composite figure of all the insulted and injured women in the lower strata of the playwright’s contemporary society. In The Wild, Cao Yu for the first time set the action not in a city but in a rural area. After his escape from prison, Qiu Hu arrives at the house of the Jiao family, trying to seek revenge on Jiao Yanwang, or Yama Jiao.Years ago,Yama Jiao, a military officer-turned local tyrant, seized the Qiu family’s land, buried Qiu Hu’s father alive, sold Qiu Hu’s younger sister to a brothel where she was tortured to death, broke Qiu Hu’s leg and sent him to prison, and forced Qiu Hu’s fiancée Hua Jinzi to marry his son Jiao Daxing. Now, as Qiu Hu finds out, Yama Jiao is dead, survived by his blind widow, his son Daxing, and his baby grandson. Despite his fierce inner struggle, Widow Jiao’s conciliatory gestures as well as his former lover Jinzi’s objections, Qiu Hu vents his hatred for Yama Jiao on the latter’s offspring. He kills Daxing – an innocent man with whom he was once on friendly terms – and tricks the blind old woman into killing her own grandson. Haunted by fear and perhaps remorse after taking his revenge, Qiu Hu, taking Jinzi with him, becomes a fugitive in the forest, where he turns deranged and experiences a series of hallucinations. In the end, with the police approaching, Qiu Hu urges Jinzi to escape and try to find his “brethren” for her better future before he takes his own life. In its intense externalization of Qiu Hu’s psyche and inner conflict, The Wild has often been compared to Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.7 An indigenous source of influence, however, may be seen in the figures from traditional Chinese fiction such as the bandit heroes in the sixteenth-century novel Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan). Like his “brethren” in the novel, Qiu Hu, victimized by the social environment, takes justice into his own hand. Focusing on Qiu Hu’s violent revenge and its tragic consequence, the play demonstrates a profound quandary of the oppressed and bullied peasant, and presents a nuanced picture of the class conflicts in rural China. With Metamorphosis (Tuibian), published in 1940, Cao Yu’s career as a playwright took another turn. For the first time, his work became closely related to the current affairs. Using a wartime hospital as its setting, Metamorphosis glorifies patriotism in the heat of China’s antiJapan war and promulgates reform at a time corruption was running rampant. Under a corrupt administration, the hospital is helplessly incompetent and ineffectual. A government inspector, Liang Gongyang, arrives, but none of the people at the hospital, including Dr. Ding, the most dedicated and principled member of the medical staff, believe that Mr. Liang will be able to make any difference. The inspector, however, quickly proves them wrong. Following an investigation, he promptly replaces the corrupt officials with honest and competent people. That, however, does not solve all the problems in the daily operation of the hospital until Inspector Liang’s second visit. In the final act of the play, the hospital reaches an ideal state of efficiency 196

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and morale, as the wounded soldiers, including Dr. Ding’s seventeen-year-old son, have received successful treatment and become sufficiently recuperated to return to the front. Metamorphosis was a very popular play during the years of the war and after. While it is about the change of a wartime hospital, it is perhaps not far-fetched to consider it a parable for a “metamorphosis” of China, presented with an apparent optimism about the future of the country. That hypothesis is consistent with Cao Yu’s own statement that his creation of Inspector Liang was inspired by his meeting with Xu Teli, a Communist veteran who spoke at a rally about the outcome of the war and the future of the nation.8 In October 1941, Cao Yu’s Peking Man (Beijing ren) had its premiere in Chongqing, China’s wartime provisionary capital. The play is about the life of the Zeng family in Beijing during the early 1930s, a family that has declined from its past prestige and prominence. The feeble and decrepit old man Zeng Hao relies almost exclusively on the devoted care of Sufang, an honest young woman whom Wenqing, Zhao Hao’s son, loves deeply, while Wenqing is shackled in an unhappy marriage to his domineering wife Siyi. Also living in the household are Wenqing’s sister Wencai and her husband Jiang Tai. Wenqing’s seventeen-year-old son Zeng Ting and his eighteen-year-old wife Ruizhen, another pair of victims of an arranged marriage, are secretly planning a divorce. In the meantime, living as the Zengs’ tenants are Yuan Rengan, an anthropologist, his daughter Yuan Yuan, and his colleague nicknamed Peking Man for his physical resemblance to the archaic primitive man of that name. Additionally, the cast of the play includes Nanny Chen, the Zengs’ servant of the past who returns for a visit and serves as a reminiscence of the family’s lost power and wealth. Now the Zengs live in poverty and desolation, and Wenqing, a product of the obsolete Confucian education like his father, cannot find any job. Meanwhile, the family is under the siege of debtors, and even Zeng Hao’s lacquered coffin, of which the old man has taken meticulous care for his eventual use of it, is taken away as a substitute for repayment. In the end, Wenqing kills himself in despair by swallowing opium, while Ruizhen and Sufang leave the household looking for a new way of life. The play presents the degeneration of the Zeng family against the drastic change of the social environment in the early twentieth-century China. While those who cling to the old system meet their demises, symbolized by the coffin, others who are willing to make adaptations, such as Ruizhen and Sufang, are able to survive and possibly prosper.The title of the play, Peking Man, is clearly a pun, evoking both the luxury and extravagance of the imperial capital and the materialistic primitivism that the ape-man excavated near the city is often associated with. Among Cao Yu’s plays, Peking Man is arguably the one with the most salient bond to the playwright’s own life experience. According to Cao Yu himself, one of the prototypes of the Zeng family was a certain Yu family in Beijing that he had lived with temporarily. Another prototype could be Cao Yu’s own family. Zeng Wenqing, for instance, may be a composite figure based on the young masters of the Yu family and Cao Yu’s own older half-brother. And the scene in which Zeng Hao kneels down on the floor begging his son Wenqing to give up opium smoking is actually a recapture of a similar episode between Cao Yu’s father and his half-brother.9 In terms of intertextual influence on the play, it has been said that Peking Man reveals Cao Yu’s “acquisition of a Chekhovian artistry.”10 While that may be true, an indigenous influence from Chinese fiction – especially the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng) and Ba Jin’s famous novel Family (Jia), may be just equally discernible. Indeed, Cao Yu’s corpus includes Family (Jia), a play published in 1942. It was adapted from Ba Jin’s novel of the same name. Cao Yu’s later works include Bridge (Qiao, 1944), Bright Skies (Minglang de tian, 1954), and the historical play The Gall and the Sword (Dan jian pian, 1960) coauthored with Mei Qian and Yu Shizhi. However, after the late 1940s Cao Yu was not as productive as he had been before, nor did he ever reach the same level of artistry as he had with 197

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his early works. As a result, Cao Yu is known primarily for his “trilogy,” namely, Thunderstorm, Sunrise, and The Wild. Among these three plays, Thunderstorm, his maiden work, has probably remained the most staged and most studied among all his plays.

The masterpiece A synopsis of  Thunderstorm Act I of Thunderstorm starts with Lu Gui and his daughter Sifeng, both servants in the Zhou household, having a conversation in the drawing room. Lu Gui divulges to Sifeng of the clandestine affair between Zhou Fanyi, wife of the old master of the household Zhou Puyuan, and her stepson Zhou Ping. That shocks Sifeng, who is having a romantic relationship with Zhou Ping herself. Lu Gui also informs Sifeng of the imminent visit by Sifeng’s mother at the invitation by Fanyi. Soon Fanyi, a physically sickly but strong-willed woman, enters the scene. She learns from Sifeng that Zhou Puyuan, a wealthy mine owner, has been back home from the mine. Subsequently, all the other members of the household make their debuts one after another. Following the exits of Lu Gui and Sifeng, Zhou Chong, Fanyi’s seventeen-year-old son, is back home from playing tennis. He confides to his mother his growing sentiments for Sifeng, much to Fanyi’s astonishment. Now Zhou Ping enters the drawing room, showing discomfort at the sight of his stepmother and former lover. Finally, Zhou Puyuan joins the rest of his family, irefully reporting the news of the strike at his mine. He wants Fanyi to take the liquid medicine supposedly intended to cure her “mental illness,” but Fanyi refuses. The father then orders his two sons to kneel down in front of her entreating her to obey, till she finally relents. The drawing room continues to serve as the setting for Act II. Zhou Ping secretly meets Sifeng and tells her of his plan to leave his stifling home for a job at his father’s mine. Sifeng pleads not to be left behind but Zhou Ping refuses to take her along. The two lovers arrange another rendezvous at Sifeng’s house in the evening. After Sifeng’s exit, Fanyi enters. She has a heated argument with Zhou Ping over the latter’s decision to leave home permanently, which she believes is for the purpose to get rid of her. They leave the room separately. Sifeng’s mother Mrs. Lu arrives, and the décor and furniture in the room look surprisingly familiar to her, which makes her feel uneasy. Sifeng shows her mother a young woman’s photo on the dressing table, and Mrs. Lu recognizes it to be a photo of herself from many years ago. Now she realizes that she is in the house of Zhou Puyuan. Thirty years ago, she, named Shiping then, was Zhou Puyuan’s servant and bore two sons for him, the younger one being born after her survival of an attempted suicide and before her marriage to Lu Gui. Fan Yi returns to the drawing room for her appointment with Mrs. Lu. She asks Mrs. Lu to take Sifeng away from the Zhou household, ostensibly for the purpose of terminating her son Zhou Chong’s growing love for a low-class girl but actually to dismiss Sifeng as her rival for Zhou Ping’s love. Zhou Puyuan enters the drawing room, and Fanyi leaves furiously at his remarks on her illness, leaving Zhou Puyuan with Mrs. Lu. Mrs. Lu eventually reveals her identity as Shiping. She rejects Zhou Puyuan’s offer of money to atone for his past sins, but informs him that their second son, now named Lu Dahai, is working at his mine. As a representative of the striking miners, Lu Dahai arrives at the Zhou house to confront Zhou Puyuan and ends up having a physical clash with Zhou Ping, neither of them having any knowledge of their blood relationship. The setting for Act III shifts to the Lu house. In the evening, after a heated argument with his stepfather Lu Gui, Lu Dahai leaves with his mother to talk to a potential buyer of their furniture. Zhou Chong arrives for a visit to Sifeng, apologizing for her dismissal and offering the Lu family a sum of money as compensation. In an emotional moment, Zhou Chong tells Sifeng of his 198

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dream, in which he and Sifeng travel together to a remote land, an ideal world of joy, harmony, and equality.The return of the impetuous Lu Dahai brings the romantic dreamer back to reality, as Dahai rudely orders Zhou Chong to leave with the threat of breaking his legs. As his conciliatory effort has failed, Zhou Chong leaves and returns to the Zhou family mansion. Mrs. Lu returns home. Mistakenly assuming that Sifeng is in love with Zhou Chong, she warns Sifeng to stay away from the Zhou people. Around midnight, Zhou Ping arrives at Sifeng’s window. Sifeng pleads with him to leave, but he gets in her room by jumping over the window. Dahai returns home and knocks at Sifeng’s door, looking for bed planks. Zhou Ping tries to escape through the window, but the window has been locked from outside by Fanyi, who has secretly followed Zhou Ping to the Lu house. Dahai enters the room, and Shiping, now realizing what has happened between Zhou Ping and Sifeng, desperately restrains Dahai from harming Zhou Ping, who manages to escape. Sifeng also runs off into the dark raining night. At the beginning of Act IV, members of the Zhou family – Zhou Chong, Zhou Ping, and Fanyi – return to the Zhou Mansion separately after midnight. Zhou Ping plans to leave for the mine before daybreak. He has another argument with Fanyi, who tries for the last time to dissuade him from leaving and admits to having witnessed Zhou Ping’s rendezvous with Sifeng. Lu Gui, who has arrived at the Zhou family mansion without being noticed, has eavesdropped their conversation and blackmails Fanyi into promising reemploying him and his daughter. In the meantime, Dahai, in search of Sifeng, also arrives. Encountering Zhou Ping, Dahai threatens to kill him with his pistol. As Zhou Ping pledges that he will return to marry Sifeng, Dahai relents and relinquishes his weapon to Zhou Ping. Sifeng enters the room, followed by Shiping. Shiping tries to take Sifeng away, but Sifeng, reluctantly, confides to her mother that she has become pregnant by Zhou Ping. Realizing that it is already too late to prevent the incest between the half-siblings, Shiping urges them to go as far as possible and never to return. In the meantime, Fanyi entices Zhou Chong to prevent Zhou Ping and Sifeng from leaving, but Zhou Chong refuses to do so. Hearing the hubbub in the drawing room, Zhou Puyuan comes down from upstairs. Unwittingly, he reveals that Mrs. Lu is the same person as Shiping who was once assumed dead, and orders Zhou Ping to acknowledge his birth mother. That reveals the nature of the relationship between Zhou Ping and Sifeng to all. Overcome by shame and agony, Sifeng runs into the yard and is electrocuted by a dangling powerline. Zhou Chong dashed out trying to save her, and is killed as well. Meanwhile, Zhou Ping shoots himself to death with the pistol left by Dahai. When Thunderstorm was published in 1934, it contained a prologue and an epilogue in addition to the four acts. Both the prologue and epilogue are set on a day ten years after the action in the play proper, and the locale is the former Zhou family mansion, which has now become a hospital operated by Catholic nuns. Fanyi and Shiping are now inpatients here for their mental problems. In the prologue, Zhou Puyuan pays a visit to the two women, and the epilogue is a continuation of the hospital scene in the prologue. In a controversial move, both the prologue and epilogue have often been omitted in reprints of the script, stage productions, and foreign language translations of the play.

A critical analysis of  Thunderstorm Thunderstorm depicts the entangled relationships among the eight characters, members of two families that belong respectively to the upper and lower echelons of the early twentieth-century Chinese society. As the title of the play suggests, the accumulation of energy throughout the plotline finally leads to the eruption of a “thunderstorm,” marked by multiple tragic deaths. As Thunderstorm was written at a time when Western dramatists were being introduced to China 199

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with enthusiasm and Western plays staged frequently in Chinese cities, an influence from the Western drama is easily discernible here. The stepmother-stepson incest between Fanyi and Zhou Ping bears a resemblance to what happens in Euripides’ Hippolytus and later in Racine’s Phėdre, in which Hippolytus rejects the advances from his stepmother and is subsequently killed by the latter’s plot of revenge. The character of Fanyi, to some extent, may also be reminiscent of Euripides’ Medea, the betrayed wife who turns dreadfully vengeful. The affair between Zhou Ping and Lu Sifeng, which is exposed toward the end of the play to be another incestuous relationship involving Zhou Ping, parallels part of the plot in Ibsen’s Ghosts, in which Oswald falls in love with the maid Regina, who turns out to be his late father’s illegitimate daughter and thus his half-sister. Among Ibsen’s plays, another possible source of influence on Thunderstorm might be A Doll’s House, a play Cao Yu was thoroughly familiar with. The defiant heroine Nora could have provided inspirations for the creation of the character of Fanyi.11 Cao Yu’s own attitude toward the discussion of the Western influence on Thunderstorm is interesting. While on several occasions he acknowledges his indebtedness to Western dramatists, especially Ibsen, he categorically denies any conscious imitation of any of their works. “I am just myself,” as he proclaims. “While I indeed read a few plays and participated in a few productions over the past few decades, I can’t recall intentionally imitating anyone at any point.”12 One does not need to be surprised by this seeming contradiction on Cao Yu’s part. While there is undeniable evidence for a Western influence in Thunderstorm, that influence does not manifest itself in a simple act of imitation but in a complex process of assimilation and recreation. Western plays – those by Euripides, Ibsen, and others – did not impact Cao Yu’s composition of Thunderstorm as individual and separate works. Instead, they became fused into the general literary milieu of the time, or an intertext, that informed the plot and characterization in Cao Yu’s play. Cao Yu has good reason to defend himself as not being “an ungrateful servant who weaved an ugly jacket with the gold threads stolen from his master and denied the master’s ownership of the threads in fading color,”13 for the “gold threads” that were woven into Thunderstorm did not belong exclusively to any individual masters but to the treasure hoard of dramatic literature of the world. By writing Thunderstorm, Cao Yu became not only another inheritor of but also an important contributor to that treasure hoard. What is Thunderstorm about? This is a question much more challenging than it may appear to be. Like any good literary work, the play certainly accommodates multiple interpretations. Cao Yu’s own reading of his masterpiece is, first of all, aesthetic: “I love Thunderstorm in the same way I am delighted by the sight of a buoyant boy jumping in the sunshine on a warm spring day, or in the same way I am pleased by the occasional croaking of a frog by a rippling pond.”14 As for a thematic interpretation, however, the playwright seems much less committed. In his preface to the 1956 English edition of Thunderstorm, Cao Yu offers to read the play as a work of social criticism: As a matter of fact, Thunderstorm is a drama taken from life as it was. Those bitter dark days are gone for ever [sic] and the play remains only for its historical realism. Every time I recall this, a wave of gladness lifts my heart because my fondest dream at the time when I wrote Thunderstorm is realized today.15 This statement, written seven years after the victory of the Communist revolution in 1949, suggests an interpretation of the play that conforms perfectly to the political agenda of the Communist Party. Indeed, in his 1936 preface to the play, Cao Yu already embraced the view by some critics that the play “exposes the evils in a Chinese upper-class family.”16 He reveals in the same preface that, toward the end of the composition of the play, there seemed to be “a flow of 200

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surging emotion that urged me forward, making me vent my suppressed fury and defame the Chinese family and society.”17 During one of his emotional outbursts, he even smashed some of his valuable mementoes, including a porcelain statue of Bodhisattva Guanyin, a much-cherished gift from his mother.18 Also in the 1936 preface, however, Cao Yu firmly repudiates the view that Thunderstorm is a play about social issues, as he declares unequivocally that “I was not consciously trying to rectify, satirize, or castigate anything.” Instead, he believes that the play “demonstrates a kind of ‘ruthlessness’ between Heaven and Earth,” “the ‘ruthlessness’ or ‘brutality’ of the struggle manipulated by a governing force behind it.” He continues to explain: This governing force was revered as “God” by Hebrew prophets, and was called “Fate” by Greek dramatists. People in the modern times have forsaken these abstruse notions and called it simply “Law of Nature.” I have never been able to find a proper appellation for it or give it a truthful description, because it is too large and too complex. What my emotions compelled me to present was my imagination of this aspect of the universe.19 In light of this declaration, it may be fair to say that the exposure of “the evils in a Chinese upper-class family” in Thunderstorm is not so much conducted from a social perspective as presented in much larger and more metaphysical terms, namely, the meaning of human life and the quandary of human civilization. Running throughout the play are the conflicts between intractable human passions and the ruthless rules of civilization that tend to tame and suppress those passions. It is these conflicts that feed the accumulation of energy in the dramatic action, which eventually leads to the violent “thunderstorm.” Indeed, it is possible to consider the Zhou family mansion an iconic locale for these conflicts. Zhou Puyuan is the dictator of the rules, which have made his family – as he chooses to believe – “one of the most satisfying and well-behaved families possible.”20 The tyrannical way in which he imposes his will upon the other members of his family is most vividly seen when he forces his wife Fanyi to drink the liquid medicine. As Fanyi refuses to do so, he makes both his sons, Zhou Ping and Zhou Chong, kneel down in front of her requesting her to obey their father’s mandate. He wants his wife to take the medicine not so much for the sake of her health as for setting an example of abiding by the rules for the children. Overwhelmed, the resentful Fanyi eventually relents and does what she has been told to. By setting and implementing the rules, Zhou Puyuan attempts to put his house in a certain kind of order. In that sense, the president of the mining company may be considered an agent of the civilized world. Zhou Puyuan is, of course, a hypocrite. He appears to be a model citizen and model family man in the little world he creates. In Zhou Ping’s eye, his father is “almost a flawless character – except for a certain amount of obstinacy and coldness.”21 Hidden in the depths of Zhou Puyuan’s mind is the memory of his own days of wild passions, when he seduced the maid servant Shiping and fathered two sons with her. Even many years later, he still reserves a special place in his memory for the woman he ruthlessly abandoned, as he orders to keep much of the furniture and décor of the drawing room arranged the same way as in Shiping’s days. As he believed Shiping was dead, he could afford to think of her over a safe distance. Shiping’s sudden arrival, however, brings back to Zhou Puyuan his dissolute past. When Shiping informs her former lover that “She led a rather irregular life,”22 referring to her own past, the word “irregular” (bu shou guiju in the Chinese original, which literally means “not abiding by the rules”) applies perhaps more properly to the life of the young master Zhou Puyuan. With Shiping now standing before him, that safe distance is removed for Zhou Puyuan, who realizes that his “irregular” past has become a threat to his current family, which he believes to be almost perfectly “regularized.” 201

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Zhou Puyuan’s current family, as he does not become fully aware until late in the play, is everything but “regularized.” Under the rumor about the drawing room being haunted is Fanyi’s incestuous relationship with Zhou Ping. Incest is, of course, a taboo in many civilizations, which has found numerous literary expressions ever since Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. In the case of Fanyi and Zhou Ping, who have no blood relationship, the hypothesis that the fear of incest arises from an instinctual aversion for the possibly adverse genetic effect of inbreeding apparently does not apply.23 Nor does it have anything to do with the communal need to promote exogamy as a means of expanding the civilization.24 It is, however, a horrible taboo in the Zhou household nevertheless, because it subverts the established order of the family and disrupts the ethical ties among its members. “It was you who made me what I am, half stepmother, half mistress,” as Fanyi puts it while complaining against her former lover Zhou Ping.25 In the Chinese civilization, where “rectification of names” – “The ruler should be treated as ruler, the minister as minister; the father should be treated as father, and the son as son”26 – is believed to be the foundation for social order and harmony, the incest taboo assumes augmented weight. That explains the profound mental and psychologic repercussions of the incest on both parties involved in it, Fanyi and Zhou Ping. For Fanyi, it is certainly a major cause for her to often behave impulsively, which gives Zhou Puyuan the reason to believe that she is mentally ill. Entrapped in a loveless marriage, Fanyi finds herself unable to sever her emotional bond to her stepson; in the meantime, she may also consider the incest her secret and solely potent weapon of revenge against her tyrannical husband. On the other side, as his initial passion for Fanyi fades away, Zhou Ping feels increasingly guilty and tries desperately to end the relationship with her. His newfound love for Sifeng, which supposedly should facilitate his extrication from the incest with his stepmother, actually leads him into another incestuous relationship, this time with his half-sister. For either of them, there seems to be no way to get out of the swamp of forbidden love. While Thunderstorm is not a play about incest or the incest taboo per se, the incestuous lovers’ impasse is a powerful trope for the constantly futile efforts of the humans to regulate their emotional lives. Zhou Puyuan and Shiping, the parents of Zhou Ping and Lu Dahai, have both left Wuxi for the north for the same purpose of distancing from the memory of their union that ended in tragedy over twenty years ago. Ironically, their attempts to bury that past end up reenacting it. As a result of Shiping’s visit, the world of the past collides with that of the present, and in an astonishing way the present is exposed to be just a déjà vu of the past. As both young masters, Zhou Ping and Zhou Chong, fall in love with the maid Sifeng, they seem to be reliving their father’s life many years ago. Just like their father in his young days, they are driven by an unbridled passion that shatters class boundaries. Again as in the situation with their father, who abandons Shiping for the sake of a socially more “appropriate” match, the flames of their passions are to be extinguished soon – in Zhou Ping’s case by the incest taboo and in Zhou Chong’s case by the humility expected of a younger brother. The men of two generations find themselves on a cycling orbit, from which there seems to be no exit. This strong sense of futility is constantly heightened by the recurrent motif of failed departure. Repeatedly, the Zhou family mansion is described, by different characters, as an unbearably suffocating place, in both literal and figurative senses. Different characters mention at different times an imminent move into a new house, a move that never takes place, thus remaining an unrealized ideal for the stifled Zhou people. Along that line, Zhou Puyuan’s order to keep the windows closed assumes a symbolic meaning; so does Fanyi’s midnight act to lock Sifeng’s window from outside to block Zhou Ping’s way out from his secret rendezvous. While Zhou Ping has been planning to leave home for his father’s mine, he is never able to take his departure. As both Fanyi and Sifeng want to be taken along, he rejects the requests from them both. Later, when he decides to leave with Sifeng, Shiping, now aware of the incestuous nature of their 202

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relationship, does not allow them to go. Finally, upon hearing of her daughter’s pregnancy by her son, Shiping relents and urges them to “go as far as you can and never come back.”27 The agonized and astonished mother knows clearly that her sinful children can only survive out of the jurisdiction of cultural rules, but neither of them can leave the house, as each is completely overwhelmed by the sense of shame and guilt, itself a cultural product. Demonstrated by what they do finally, the only possible exit for them is by the route to death. Death claims another casualty in Zhou Chong, the most innocent character in the play. Kind and generous by nature, Zhou Chong has seen enough of the filth and falsehood in his household. Unlike Zhou Ping, however, the more romantic Zhou Chong does not have a practical plan to leave for a specific destination but dreams of traveling to an idealized world: “. . . We can fly, fly to a place that is truly clean and happy, a place, where there is no conflict, no hypocrisy, no inequality.”28 Obviously, that place can exist only in his imagination and cannot be found in the world of human civilization. In the end he is electrocuted while trying to rescue Sifeng, but his death is treated more than just an accident in the play, for it is apparently portended by his dreamed spiritual journey of leaving the mundane world. Nearly all members of the younger generation in the play find themselves unable to leave the “civilized” world until they are taken away by death. The only exception is Lu Dahai. As a rough and tough worker he has been on the periphery of the cultured world to begin with, and as such he does not have to “get out.” The fates of the members of the older generation are hardly better, as shown in the prologue and epilogue. Both Shiping and Fanyi are to remain inmates in the Zhou family mansion, now transformed, very meaningfully, into a mental hospital. It is virtually a prison house, of which Zhou Puyuan, the dictator of rules, appears to be the warden and a prisoner himself as well. Thus the play presents a group of people who, in Cao Yu’s own words, “roll madly in the fire pit of passions like eels, struggling desperately to rescue themselves, without knowing that they are falling into an unfathomable chasm.”“They are also like a feeble horse entrapped in a swamp: the more it struggles to get out of it, the deeper it sinks into the swamp of death.” Readers and audiences of the play, however, cannot afford to look down from a divine height at “these miserably wriggling creatures on earth,” as the playwright suggests.29 They cannot escape the awareness that being entrapped in their own civilization are not just the characters in the play but also they themselves. By the effect of catharsis, they can always feel the awe-inspiring power of the thunderstorm – in the depths of their minds.

Notes 1 Cao Yu, An Account in My Own Words (Cao Yu zishu) (Beijing: Jinghua chubanshe, 2005), 4. 2 John Y.H. Hu, Ts’ao Yu (New York: Tawyne, 1972), 16. 3 Cao Yu, An Account in My Own Words, 15. 4 Ibid., 45. 5 Tian Benxiang, A Biography of Cay Yu (Cao Yu zhuan) (Beijing: Dongfang chubanshe, 2009). 6 Ibid. 7 See, for instance, David Y. Chen, “Two Chinese Adaptations of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones,” Modern Drama (February 1967), vol. IX, 341–359; John Y.H. Hu, Ts’ao Yu, 59. 8 Cao Yu, An Account in My Own Words, 116. 9 Ibid., 128. 10 John Y.H. Hu, Ts’ao Yu, 96. 11 See Lo Qiansha, “Cao Yu’s Indebtedness to and Transcendence over Ibsen,”(Cao Yu dui Yibusheng de jiejian he Chaoyue) in Young Literary Personages (Qingnian wenxuejia) (2016), vol. 18, 10–12. 12 Cao Yu, “Preface to Thunderstorm,” in his Thunderstorm (Leiyu) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1997), 178. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 179.


Liangyan Ge 15 Ts’ao Yu, Thunderstorm, trans. Wang Tso-liang and A.C. Barnes (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 1978), ii. 16 Cao Yu, “Leiyu xu,” 180. 17 Ibid. 18 John Y.H. Hu, Ts’ao Yu, 22. 19 Cao Yu, “Preface to Thunderstorm,” 180. 20 Ts’ao Yu, Thunderstorm, 41. 21 Ibid., 31. 22 Ibid., 68. 23 This aversion is often cited as an explanation of the incest taboo. See, for example, Arthur P. Wolf and William H. Durham, eds., Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). 24 A theory on the origin of the incest taboo proposed b Claude Lévi-Strauss. See Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, revised edition, trans. James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 492–496. 25 Ts’ao Yu, Thunderstorm, 51. 26 Confucian Analects, trans. James Legge (New York: Dover Publications, 1971), 254. Translation modified. 27 Ts’ao Yu, Thunderstorm, 142. 28 Ibid., 101. 29 Cao Yu, “Preface to Thunderstorm,” 181.

Further readings Bao Guozhi, ed. Leiyu yu Cao Yu (Thunderstorm and Cao Yu). Tianjin: Tianjin guji chubanshe, 2014. Chen, Xiaomei. “Performing the Nation: Chinese Drama and Theater.” In The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, 437–445. Hu Shuhe. A critical biography of Cao Yu (Cao Yu pingzhuan). Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1994. Li Yang. Cao Yu from a Modernistic Perspective (Xiandaixing shiye zhong de Cao Yu). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2004. Li Yuru and Qian Yijiao. Listening to the Thunderstorm (Qingting Leiyu). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 2000. Noble, Jonathan. “Cao Yu and Thunderstorm.” In Kirk A. Denton, ed., The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, 205–210. Robinson, Lewis. “On the Sources and Motives behind Ts’so Yu’s Thunderstorm: A Qualitative Analysis.” Tamkang Review 16.2 (1985): 177–192. Tian Benxiang and Liu Yijun. Cao Yu. Beijing: Zhongguo huaqiao chubanshe, 1997. Wan, Ning. “Desire and Desperation: An Analysis of the Female Characters in Cao Yu’s Play The Thunderstorm.” Chinese Studies in History 20.2 (1986–1987): 75–90. Zhao Huiping. Appreciation of Cao Yu’s dramas (Cao Yu xiju xinshang). Nanning: Guangxi jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989.



Attractive shadows The last phase of the nineteenth-century China was in a state of dramatic political instability, caused both by foreign aggression and internal troubles. The fall of the Qing dynasty seemed more and more likely, and the presence of the foreign (people, goods, ideas) on the imperial soil aroused conflicting reactions: shame and pride, the desire to emulate and the desire to rekindle “traditional” culture(s), as well as the evidence of the necessity of rapid modernization, at least in the technical field. Stretched between these overlapping poles, cinema as a technical development and as a new form of entertainment appeared very quickly as a formidable way to get to know the West, as well as a medium to be appropriated by local standards. Early movies made by the Lumière Company were travelling to China, and it was easy to understand the clamor made by the depiction of contemporary Europe. La sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon (August and Louis Lumière, 1895), for example, is a manifestation of a scientific accomplishment of the West (a movie) and at the same time is showing where this new object was made (the camera factory): spectators could see men and women coming out of a modern (soon to be Fordist) industry, some of them riding bicycles. In The Last Emperor (1987) Bertolucci poetizes the seduction of the newly imported (foreign) innovation of locomotion. Audiences could be in awe of the epitome of the industrialization of Europe via an astonishing product of this progress, the movie projector. This scientific curiosity is displayed as an attraction: movies are shown in theatres, tea houses, expositions, and slowly contribute to the shaping of the fast-growing eastern metropolis via the building of ad hoc modern cinema theatres. The local public showed a desire to appropriate the representational device, linking it to the shadow puppetry that they used to appreciate. The debate is still ongoing to clarify how much the cultural appreciation of puppet theatre has been a source of inspiration for the adoption of the term yingxi first, and dianying later. The former merges the “shadow (ying)” with the “spectacle (xi),” and the latter is a word that conjures ideas of electricity (therefore modernity) and the theatrical/traditional visual apparatus. As Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh states, the first film magazine used the title The Motion Picture Review;1 yet, in an article published in the very same review, she cautions readers in remembering that “Central to these dominant historiographical discourses lies the yingxi concept and its literal English translation ‘shadow play.’ ” Scholars of Chinese film history, in both China and the West, have adopted the ideas of yingxi and its translated twin “shadow play” to frame the reception of cinema in late 205

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Qing and early Republican years. Almost without exception, they write that given that yingxi is the earliest Chinese term for motion pictures, there exists a tie between shadow puppetry, opera and early cinema. But she argues that “little evidence has been produced to link yingxi (motion pictures) with shadow puppetry, or Peking opera in terms of production, exhibition and reception,” advocating therefore a new approach, namely “by super-imposing the core image of early cinema yingxi with yinghua, I call attention to the import of film experiences in lesser-known locales, such as Hong Kong and Guangzhou.”2 Other than relocating its origin to a familiar, reassuring visual practice, another strategy to take possession of the medium, and free it from Western influence (in the struggle of the negation of a local modernity), is to relate the camera to local and/or traditional subjects: the familiar, the local, the repertoire, and the mirror. This process is very well described in the movie Shadow Magic (Xiyangjing, Ann Hu, 2000), an historical melodrama that describes first the stupor of the public, and later the acceptance that comes only when people start to see themselves at the end of the beam of light. Only then is the foreign spectacle adopted by the local public, when, in other words, they become the protagonists of the show and not merely spectators. Opera is the immediate and obvious reference for modern cinematographers: Dingjun Mountain (Dingjun shan, 1905, with the Peking opera star Tan Xinpei as its central character) is allegedly (yet to be factually proven) the first local movie, and it is relevant that regardless of it depicting real events, or a post-facto interpretation of them, the eye of the camera (or of its biographer) is defined as attracted by the costumed, stylized, and familiar visual universe of the theatre. In proposing a different translation for yingxi, “shadow opera,” Berry and Farquhar underscore how “opera film,” between documentary – filmed theatre – and what we would today call “performance” (projected images, live orchestra, multimedia art), with their stock of characters and formal strategies, will become the trademark of Chinese cinematographic representations.3 Nonetheless, the first remaining Chinese film is a contemporary drama, Laborer’s Love (Laogong zhi aiqing, 1922) probably (as Zhang Zhen astutely notes)4 survived by chance and not because of its peculiarity or status, yet still relevant for a close analysis. Laborer’s Love is a simple story of a carpenter who doesn’t have the social status to marry the impoverished doctor’s daughter he’s in love with, but, thanks to his cleverness, accomplishes the mission of improving the doctor’s business and earns the hand of the girl. Love and freedom, crossing social boundaries, class contradictions, and the central importance of money in human relationships – these thematic elements make this short movie relevant because they would become recurrent themes in Chinese movies of the time – and beyond. Moreover, the movie already displays some specifically cinematographic techniques: subjective shots and superimposed images shift the perception from the theatrical style of shooting just from the front (as if watching a performance) to a movie-unique experience. The subjective gaze here is particularly relevant: we literally see through the eyes of the protagonist, who uses the doctor’s thick glasses by mistake and cannot see clearly anymore. The film reproduces this blurred vision, introducing a specific technique of cinema and a central theoretical point in many discussions on cinema. To stick to this peculiar subjective sequence, and following Tom Gunning’s seminal definition, here we are in a “movie of attraction.”5 Gunning defines the operative category of cinema of attraction using ideas from Serguei Eisenstein, but the latter defines theatre and its effects, while the former appropriates it to underscore how cinema of origin was not (yet) dominated by the desire of fiction and narrative that will categorize it in its future development – and that is taking its revenge today, with IMAX 3D for example – but rather focusing on the “astonishment” provoked by the spectacular visual element. Symbolically, in Laborer’s Love an art is born, and exhibits its stammering but already astounding special effects to the public. 206

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Special effects: the martial art film and the fantasy film are popular genres during the 1920s. There are only a few frames left today of The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple (Huoshao honglian si, 1928), but contemporary cinema still quotes them with longing and regrets (see for example The Master or Shifu, 2015). After all, Red Lotus is the matrix of the burgeoning genre of martial art historical (or chivalric) movie (wuxiapian), the Chinese film genre par excellence (with the “opera film”). Red Lotus is also the symbol of the new, “fiery” art that can arouse public debate via a physical response.6 These films exploit both the bravura of their stunts as well as the rudimentary, Méliès-style special effects: flying heroes and heroines, monsters and ghosts, palms shooting rays of energy, fantastic transmutations, and grand architectures. The wuxiapian is a fusion of – as mentioned before – martial art bravura and historical epic, which shows empresses and concubines, kings and soldiers retell and re-create national/imperial history for a newborn republic.

Stars are born This newly born, struggling republic (or at least its leaders) appears less and less keen on dwelling in the “superstitions” of the past. Cinema gradually aligns with the different currents of intellectual battles that struggle to find ways to reinforce an objectively weakened and feeble country and in the meantime try not to lose the link with its long history and its heritage. What we call – and it’s obviously largely arguable – the road to “modernity” becomes a key mode of representation: psychological/family/social drama (wenyi pian) is the most influential and important genre in the ’20s and ’30s, partly because the KMT censorship against the fantastic, superstitious, and “reactionary” becomes more and more effective, especially with the launch of “New Life” Movement by Chiang Kai-shek himself in 1934; and partly because the war with Japan is entering a dramatic stage, Communist party intellectuals and ideas infiltrate the art world, and the public is demanding realistic and committed movies that voice the sufferings of the people and their hope for a drastic revolution. Overlapping with the official KMT directives towards a Confucian re-foundation of the Republic, the “leftist cinema” struggles to find its own legitimacy between commercial drives and totalitarian censorship. The intervention of screenwriters like Xia Yan and Tian Han is pivotal in the breeding of “cinema engagé.” The first half of the 1930s witnessed a battle fought on the silver screen and on the newspaper, where the advocates of “hard film” (yingxing dianying) argue for the necessity of a social awareness in art that refuses aesthetic and political compromise, an art that has the mission of changing society via critical representations.They were opposed by the partisans of the “soft film” (ruanxing dianying), which, on the contrary, believed in art for art’s sake, an aesthetic endorsement of cinema far from any political preoccupations, “ice-cream for the eyes,” a quest for pleasure and refinement. In the ’30s, we can legitimately talk about an industry: different companies were shaping a new landscape for film production modelled after its loved and hated rival – Hollywood. Studios proliferated (being regularly destroyed by Japanese bombings), professional categories were created (notably the figure of the director acquires its legitimacy), a star system was articulated across various media. Stars like Ruan Lingyu, Hu Die, Li Lili, Wang Renmei, Jin Yan, and Zhao Dan appeared on the pages of magazines and on advertising posters, contributing to the creation of modern public opinion, enflaming scandals, and shaping the “new” urbanite subject. Shooting techniques were changing as well: technical advancement could bring more fluidity and facilitate the movement of the camera; cameras performed better and better and could guarantee longer shots, and were more and more suitable for external shooting, enhancing the liberation from the theatrical cangue. The advent of sound was unescapable, even if it took longer and it was more problematic than in the West because of questions related to the extreme 207

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richness of Chinese dialects and/or languages, as well as economic difficulties for the studios to keep up with Western technical progress. From 1930 to1936, talkies were produced with silent movies, and hybrid forms lived ephemeral, yet fascinating lives: films with few sequences with synchronized sound – often songs – were alternating intertitles in the outdated fashion of silent movies. Despite all these technical and formal advances, local production strived to find its audience.

America and realism It is amply documented that in China (and in the Far East in general), the public was eager to see Western movies, particularly Hollywood films, in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Citing an American study published in 1938, Laikwan Pang reports that in 1936 “among all films shown in China, only 12 percent of them were local productions, yet American films comprised more than 80 percent, and Soviet movies represented a mere 2.4 percent.”7 Popular taste was enthusiastic about and modelled by Hollywood production, often claiming disdain for local creations, dismissing them as vulgar, technically inferior, and less daring. Sympathetic with the Maoist revolution, later scholars harshly criticized the dominance of Hollywood movies and their supposed brainwashing effects on the public. Regis Bergeron, for example, condemns all American films available in China, claiming that they serve as a means to colonize the imagination of the Chinese people and to divert revolutionary production into light entertainment. Bergeron notes, not without disdain, that China had not only produced its own versions of Laurel and Hardy, but also versions of Charlie Chaplin – especially regarding the latter, arguably without the disruptive energy and the harsh critique of the status quo typical of Chaplin.8 If on the one hand, popular taste tended to indulge in treacherous Occidentalism,9 on the other hand, filmmakers were more ambivalent. During the 1920s and ’30s, the Soviet model was popular among intellectuals in China owing to translations of Soviet theories, the screening of movies directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Dziga Vertov, and a much-celebrated séance introducing the Battleship Potemkin in 1926 (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925).We need to note that this screening was not public, but limited to a select list of cinematographers and intellectuals. While the impact of the Battleship Potemkin’s visual force was arguably remarkable to a few politically committed artist and journalists, yet the practice of Eisenstein-like montage was nevertheless seldom utilized in a context where, in the first place, left-wing parties were repressed and censored and, secondly, cinema had to depend heavily on public recognition to survive. Chinese cinema was struggling between commercial and political models. These categories, even if imprecise and overlapping, were discussed at that time by theoreticians, filmmakers, critics, journalists, audiences, and writers. By analyzing articles published in the newspapers and magazines, as well as more intellectual studies on the (relatively) new art form, it is evident that Chinese national cinema was trying to emulate Hollywood dominance in this field. Widespread dislike of national cinema was taken for granted – the most immediate example that comes to mind is Lu Xun (1881–1936), considered to be the father of modern Chinese literature. As a writer who was extremely concerned about the nation’s future, we should expect that he would have endorsed local production.Yet, we discover from his diaries that he almost exclusively watched and enjoyed American movies.10 Although national cinema (a slippery term, within the context of a rapidly changing political situation like the Chinese one at the beginning of the 19th century) was not being ignored, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between the “local” and the westernized cinematographic models. Cinematographers, scriptwriters, and critics periodically argued over the necessity to endorse and sustain their national cinema in the face of the colonial cultural dominance of the western model. However, this was much more closely related to production values and 208

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content ethics than it was to form or style. Producers and investors had to survive without state subsidies (unlike post-revolutionary Russia); many of them found it more lucrative to speculate on fluctuations of the market, by buying and selling equipment (including the very film itself) and studio proprieties, rather than invest in the high-risk enterprise of movie pictures. On the other hand, in the eyes of progressive filmmakers, the goal was the engagement of all citizens, a coming to consciousness that would ultimately lead to radical changes in society and politics. Thus, the most “Chinese/traditional” productions (those related to popular entertainment like the wuxiapian/martial arts movies and the opera film) were loved by the public, but rejected by the intelligentsia and pioneer filmmakers as suspicious – if not despicable – remainders from feudal times. Yet even the more leftist productions, later acclaimed by official historiography as the seeds of the new revolutionary consciousness in cinema, needed public recognition, box office return, and a safe way through censorship’s control. The most practiced way to reach public acclaim and to spread modernist and democratic values was through melodrama. As a “new” genre, indebted to Western romantic and popular literature, Ibsen’s theater, Beethoven’s symphonies and of course, Hollywood “Griffithiana,” melodramatic cinema was – in the late ’20s and ’30s– already a largely global language. Many critics argue that melodrama was one or the principal characteristic of Chinese cinema in general.11 Others have tried to redefine this idea using different concepts, such as the “vernacular.”12 One of the most prominent moviemakers of the golden age of Chinese cinema consciously and admittedly introduced Hollywood techniques, styles, and aesthetics in national cinema, via a lyrical yet realistic, popular yet informed, consistent yet variegated cinematographic style. I am referring here to the pioneer director Sun Yu (1900–1990). Sun Yu was the only filmmaker at the time to complete his education in the States. After a period at Qinghua University in Beijing (where he studied theatre and literature), in 1923 he began his literary studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he remained for three years, and later graduated from the New York Institute of Photography. He also took evening classes at Columbia University (where he specialized in photography and filmmaking). Sun Yu was there during the Roaring Twenties, when American cinema was crafting its global appeal. The influence of a solid traditional Chinese literary education, American-style filmmaking and firsthand experience in the New York of the Jazz Age mingle in his works and writings. Sun Yu defines the cinema (and, indirectly, himself) as zasui or chop-suey (which recalls the famous self-definition of Ozu Yasujiro as a tofu-maker).13 His most accomplished films include Wild Rose (Ye meigui, 1932), Daybreak (Tianming, 1933), Little Toys (Xiao wanyi, 1933), Queen of Sports (Tiyu huanghou, 1934), and The Big Road (Da lu, 1935). Later, his famous and acclaimed Life of Wu Xun (Wu Xun zhuan, 1949) had the misfortune of being one of first films to receive a direct and fierce critique from the People’s Daily, signed by Mao Zedong himself, which almost put an end to his career. He still managed to produce a few movies in the late ’50s, but they were pale works of propaganda, lacking any creative tension. In his silent films, Sun Yu developed his own personal poetics, strongly influenced by his technical apprenticeship in the States and his practical experience as an avid moviegoer. Admittedly, Sun Yu was influenced by the works of King Vidor, F. W. Murnau, and D. W. Griffith. Directing techniques were one of the significant novelties introduced by Sun Yu. His actors stopped acting with their eyes, and started acting with their bodies. The other major novelty popularized by Sun Yu was unprecedented dynamic camera work. Sun Yu contributed to the spreading of complicated pan movements, tracking shots, and crane shots. At the time, these techniques were major innovations, shifting from static, theatrical representation, where the camera was at the same height and angle as the spectator’s gaze in a theatre, staring fixedly at the scene. The scenarios of his most classic movies decline, via melodramatic twists, the struggle of the youth to define a mission during turbulent times: Daybreak tells the story of a young couple, 209

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Lingling (Li Lili) and her cousin (Gao Zhanfei) arriving from the countryside to Shanghai and confronting corruption and decadence. The boy joins the revolutionary party, the girl is forced into prostitution but eventually becomes a spy and, once caught, faces death as a martyr, becoming an inspiration for the very same soldiers who are responsible for her execution. Anne KerlanStephens and Marie-Claire Quiquemelle see an homage to Marlene Dietrich herself in the final sequence of Daybreak, particularly from Dishonored (Joseph Von Sternberg, 1931). In both movies, the protagonists walk to their end – the firing squad – bravely defying the perturbed gaze of the soldiers.14 If Marlene brandishes her mythical cigarette, Li Lili lets her beautiful smile shine over her dark fate. Facing her destiny, Lingling does not betray her lover, and she accepts death by a firing squad. She does this with two conditions though, both related to her image. In the first place, she wants to face death dressed in her village clothes. She refuses her evening dress, her refined but corrupted camouflage, and chooses to return to her “original” identity, which represents purity, innocence, and ultimately, the inner, original strength of the Chinese soul. Her second condition: she wants to smile. She is going to die, but she wants her death to be a symbol of future hope, of optimism, of a fighting spirit, of martyrdom. It is noteworthy that Lingling, in endorsing the revolutionary cause, understood the importance of the image, of the symbol.Thanks to her village dress and girlish smile, Lingling is not a simple individual girl, for she represents all of China’s youth. In The Big Road, the young protagonists are building a road that will lead the Nationalist army to fight the Japanese invaders. Their bodies are followed by a long and sensuous tracking shot that expresses their youthful energy, as well as the idea of an entire nation marching towards independence.There is a literal stretching out towards liberation, towards emancipation, towards empowerment. The movement of the camera, the novelty of the tracking shot, the dynamism never seen before of the interaction between the camera work and the muscular bodies of the young characters, all lend a special, “modern,” blatant, energetic, and fresh meaning to the ideological image of the newly constructed social class, that is, young romantic rebels in a young China. It is both a call to arms addressed to a new generation of young people and a declaration that insists that Chinese youth are not weak, and shall not be. Utilizing the “Western” technique of cinematography, which he apprehended in loco, Sun Yu shifts the representation of the intellectual heroes from that of a weak scholar and a submissive refined young lady15 to an image of strength, energy, and engagement. Along the tragic path of his heroes and heroines – revolutionary martyrs, saint-like prostitutes, but also common young women who sacrifice their pride to collective honor as in the Queen of Sport – Sun Yu elaborates a new ideal of battling youth. His movies remain largely popular (or “vernacular”)16 and endorse the melodramatic mode to call for public response and reaction. Like other members of intellectual circles of the time (to which he was closely tied), the director, once called “the poet of the silver screen,” rejected Western and Japanese imperialism while appropriating democratic ideals, romantic momentum, a fascination with science and social progress, and Western-developed representational techniques. His visual style, the way of filming young bodies that lean straight into the camera, and the idealization of the (paradoxically) realistic push towards progress and rebellion, often interrupted by war, society, and religion, portray the patriotic engagement of Sun Yu, as well as an aesthetic ideal made of freedom, liberty, and sensuality, an ideal for the building of a new generation that may embody the future of China itself.

The tragic star Herself a masterpiece, Ruan Lingyu is one of the most important and influential actresses of the silent era. Stanley Kwan filmed an avant-garde biopic in which she was interpreted by 210

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Maggie Cheung (Center Stage or Ruan Lingyu, 1992). Among her most representative films is probably The Goddess (Shennü, Wu Yonggang, 1934). The protagonist is the archetype of the saint prostitute, sacrificing herself for her child. This iconic figure recurs throughout the beginning of the twentieth-century China, since it contains the strongest potential for melodrama. It is an obvious sexual voyeuristic magnet, and at the same time is a powerful site of negotiation of freedom for women’s still-under-construction new identity, and finally stands as a representation of humiliation suffered by a China still “violated” by foreign invaders as well as the “weakness” of the Chinese intellectual at the time. The movie has been largely analysed and its contradictions are laid bare for a modern eye: on the one hand, society is clearly seen as a weapon of oppression for women, where all divergence from a Confucian norm are stigmatized by an angry mob of rumors and hypocrisy; on the other hand, the woman cannot but succumb at the end of the movie, praying for her son to forget her (she’s spending time in prison for having killed her cruel pimp). She hands him over to the school headmaster, a Confucian figure par excellence, who is going to save him by writing a canonical path to redemption. Revolutionary catharsis and conservative parables merge in this classic melodrama. Sadly, Ruan Lingyu is also known for her tragic destiny: she committed suicide at 25 years old, and her death and funeral become the illustration of the overlapping and contradictory forces in the process of reshaping the media field of Republican China. She represented the female casualty of a patriarchal society – her portrait by Lu Xun became a classic of women’s emancipation literature; she transfigured into the sacrificial victim of the star system, long before the Paparazzi character from Fellini’s La dolce vita established its figure as a ubiquitous poltergeist of the Debordian spectacle society. Besides, her untimely death signaled the epochal, traumatic passage from the silent era to the advent of talkies. Many actors’ and actresses’ careers didn’t survive the shift because of their untrained voices, and of course because of the lack of a standard oral language capable of reaching all Chinese communities in the mainland and abroad. To stay in tune with this para-cinematic note, the recent recovery of Love and Duty (Lian’ai yu yiwu, Bu Wancang, 1931) is well timed and highly symbolic. A decade-spanning 153-minuteslong epic love story between a young emancipated girl of Confucian background and a college student disliked by her parents, Love and Duty can be viewed as the prototype of the Chinese silent blockbuster in terms of content, form, and distribution. Starting from its very title: “Love” reveals clearly that melodrama is and will be one of the genres par excellence of Chinese cinema, where individual feelings must negotiate with the pressure of society and internal contradictions. “Duty” is reminiscent of the famous phrase: “obsession with China” coined by C. T. Hsia to describe the intellectuals and the writers of Early Republic: filmmakers had to negotiate changing times and dramatic historic circumstances and continue to define, redefine, challenge, or contribute shaping effort to the newborn republic of China. Along this short journey into the masterpieces of early Chinese cinema, we have already found and continue to encounter this recurrent dialogue between politics and the cinema medium in the prescient or programmatic title “love and duty.” Finally, the journey of the hard copy of the film itself reveals the adventure of early Chinese cinema. Considered lost for quite some time, a 35mm copy was retrieved in an archive in Uruguay, and then sent to Taiwan, where an enthusiastic archivist found it in the vault of the library and then had it elaborately restored. This intriguing story reveals the complexities of the circulation of what we call now “Chinese” film, linking Shanghai to Hong Kong, Japan-occupied Taiwan to mainland, Chinese communities abroad, and the international cinema market. And it reminds us that most early Chinese masterpieces are lost, because of the wars, lack of proper conservation methods, and the fatally belated idea that cinema is an art to be protected and restored. 211

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It speaks, eventually Sound film takes a long time to carve its dominion: the different languages spoken in the country made it hard to find a common practice among actors, written text on the other hand was a better way to communicate; technological backwardness also slowed down the adoption of sound films; but eventually there appeared some of the most highly regarded films of the time. At the end of the ’30s two masterpieces were shot: Crossroads (Shizi jietou, Shen Xiling, 1937) and Street Angels (Malu tianshi, Yuan Muzhi, 1937). These two films depict dramatic trajectories of youth in Shanghai urban spaces. An array of characters – from the prostitute to the intellectual, from the street artist to the failed journalist – are shown as struggling within the turmoil of the time, caught in the despair of the impossibility to find a place in a society changing too fast. At the same time, the energy of their vital force is represented as the true vehicle of possible social and political change. Negotiating the new role of the woman, the to-be-reinvented place of the individual, the elegy of the tragic artist and the virtuous poor, these films somehow are reminders of the poetics of the sixth generation that started making movies in the 1990s: limited funds, urban settings, and peer actors. Both tendencies were inspired by the frequent importation of Western movies and by a keen gaze on local reality, a certain decadent aesthetics that can be seen both as indulging in self-pity or as a denunciation of alienation and solitude of modernizing youth in a struggling megalopolis. Critics tend to underline the political values of films of the ’30s, their political relevance and their political and leftist components. History reminds us that screenwriters and directors had to cope with a highly unstable situation in terms of personal freedom and political turmoil, and so many had to self-censor to avoid imprisonment, or worse. Thus, many movies tended to be crowd-pleasers or popular dramas, where the sexiness of the actors, the erotics of the love stories, and the attraction of the action sequences are much more important than the political components. The Wan brothers can arguably be seen as the pioneer of Chinese animation, with masterpieces like Iron Fan Princess (Tieshan gongzhu,Wan Laiming and Wan Guchan, 1941) technically modelled on Walt Disney’s successful Snow White and thematically inspired by the legendary Monkey King’s (Sun Wukong) adventures during his (and his pals) journey to the West. Color, as elsewhere, takes a long time to appear and cohabitates for many decades with black-and-white films. In China, like the first feature films, color film came onto the scene via the threshold of theatre: the first color movie is Remorse at Death (Shensi hen, Fei Mu, 1948), played by Mei Lanfang, the iconic opera actor, whose figure inspires Bertold Brecht and Seguei Eisenstein in their study of the Chinese performing arts, and in turn shapes their own artistic practices. Genre films are both instrumental in taking the public into the theaters and as vehicles of ideological struggles using history or theatrical repertoire as means to talk about the present and raise the consciousness of the public. Mulan Joins the Army (Mulan congjun, Bu Wancang, 1939), for example, clearly alludes to the resistance against a “barbarian” foreign power invading China from the North. Based on the well-known story of the female soldier who pretends to be a man to serve the army so as to take the place of her aging father, the film speaks about the reality of the newsreel shown just before the feature presentation. Sometimes the political message acquires an uncanny echo in very popular films like Song of Midnight (Yeban gesheng, Maxu Weibang, 1937). Song of Midnight was able to exploit viral modern mass communication marketing techniques: huge posters portraying the monstrous protagonist loomed in front of the theatres, and newspapers reported shocking effects and promised never before seen thrills. The movie was heavily influenced by classic Western horrors such as The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian, 1925) or Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931). As Linda 212

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Hutcheon describes, we are confronted here with an adaptation similar to an inception of ideas. The process of transcoding signs can be seen as a Darwinian process where forms and style struggle to survive and disseminate.17 Here, the universe is derivative: in an abandoned theatre a Cyrano de Bergerac–style deformed actor (believed dead) literarily sings in place of the young, inexperienced protagonist. His ancient lover has gone crazy and lingers in her garden dressed up with a white tunic, her hair disheveled, waiting every night to hear the song of her lover. The mob finally hunts down with torches the “monster” who is but a victim of society’s blindness and prejudices. The background is expressionist-gothic scenery filled with signs such as bats, squeaking floors, candle-lit ghostly abandoned rooms. However, the local specificity is loud and clear: the “phantom of the opera” has been persecuted because he was the representation of the new intellectual elite trying to transform China, both on and off scene. In his youth he was acting in modern plays representing the French revolution, hence advocating the socialist reform of society, and was in love with the woman desired by the local warlord. The newly arrived troupe is performing a Song dynasty story, where an “attack from the north” is mentioned, again an explicit (yet censorship-wise safer) reference to the then-current invasion of Japan. Private grief and public progressive forces mingle in a revolutionary drive that seems, at times, to serve as an uncanny force that haunts generation after generation: the young actor not only receives the training of the “phantom” but, at the end of the movie, promises that he will elope with his master’s ancient lover – who, meanwhile, has recovered her spirits. But she’s never asked an opinion about with whom to elope! In sum, the hero completely assumes the “phantom” role, including accepting what can be described as an arranged marriage. The younger generation has to submit to the ancients in Confucian obedience, even if chanting revolutionary slogans as a promise of self-determination facing national crisis. The fact that the young character doesn’t seem to have any decisional power, but that he slavishly follows the liberating (pun intended) commands of his mentor, could be read as an expression of Maxu Weibang’s (and his public’s) anxiety vis-à-vis the political dogma and revolutionary doctrine that will soon be imposed on the whole nation. Is it a subtle text foreshadowing the authoritarian consequences of the Yan’an forum talk? Or an expression of the restlessness vis-à-vis a foreign model (here: the codes of the gothic/horror genre, the Broadway-style opera) that kindles desire but also provokes rejections as an organ transplant? Or an unconscious revival of Buddhist retribution schemes, where the cyclical repetition becomes a source of threat and a ghastly image of coalition to repetition? In any case, the force of Song of Midnight is to be found exactly in this complexity, where multiple readings and suggestions debate and struggle under a murky surface. The aforementioned mob that blindly hunts the revolutionary character is another powerful representation of this subterranean anxiety. This is far from a coeval representation of a happy, cheering, optimistic crowd bringing the long-awaited liberation to the people. Here the mob is an unheimlich figure of abdication – the masses abdicate their free will, acting as a totality – possibly also hinting at the disturbing upload of Western ideas and lifestyle (including communism) that will shape future China. The birth of a nation is a labor by fire.

Last spring In the troubled times between 1945 and 1949 some films are made, and they are great documents of the civil war tearing the nation apart while still recovering from the Japanese invasion. The Spring River Flows East is an outstanding achievement just in its making: an epic three hours long, divided into three parts, the plot spanning from wartime to postwar, and from Chongqing to Shanghai. Regardless of how difficult it was just to achieve the filming because of the 213

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practical challenges of wartime, this blockbuster remains one of the most famous and influential Chinese movies ever made, a matrix for further historical dramas, since it encompasses different structures of feelings, highly cinematographic representations and melodramatic dilemmas, family values confronting epochal turmoil, the display of the fierceness and greatness of Chinese geography, and the harshness of its extreme climates, chanting a passionate elegy for the native land and the sufferance of forced diaspora, the contrast between romantic love and Confucian obligations, the struggle of changing gender roles, the coming of age of a generation during war time, the contrasting ideological drives that will soon bring the Nationalist and Communist parties to a dramatic showdown in 1949. Still, probably the most important and cherished pre-1949 film remains a movie that was hidden from the public by censorship for many years before being acknowledged and rediscovered by the generation that started making movies during the Deng Xiaoping’s 1980s as a source of inspiration and a drive to uncompromising, poetical creation. Spring in a Small Town (Xiaocheng zhi chun, Fei Mu, 1948) keeps the war outside its frame, but yet the conflict is there, pushing at the very limits of the setting and the consciousness of the characters. It is a liminal film, standing on the verge of a ravine, keeping an elegant equilibrium just before the fall. The story follows a doctor coming back home to his natal village – a figure reminiscent of a character from Lu Xun’s short stories: the intellectual, Westernized man that faces the retrogressive, paralyzed ideological landscape of his native rural China. The encounter raises questions about his own commitment to modernization and progress, and about the price he has paid or he’s ready to pay in order to accomplish his modernizing objective, not to mention the doubt about the possibility to change the nature of the sick cradle that still retains a luring, decadent attraction.The doctor visits his school friend, who’s sick and depressed, living in a rich but dilapidated family mansion with his frustrated wife and fully-in-bloom younger sister. He discovers – along with the public – that he and his friend’s wife used to be lovers. Their passion soon rekindles, thus giving rise to a classic love triangle, further spiced by the young sister who’s fantasizing that the doctor can be a way out of the claustrophobic small town. The force of the movie goes beyond the stereotyped dichotomy of the political struggle and enters the realm of the senses via languid camerawork and an evocative set design that visualizes the respiration of vital qi – to use the expression by Anne Cheng18 – circulating among human beings and architectures, vibrating on the desolate landscape and penetrating the cracks of the decrepit walls of the family mansion. There is indeed a strong critical standpoint vis-à-vis the sick, impotent, and suicidal husband, but the doctor is also stigmatized as a selfish individual who doesn’t hesitate to abandon his love to pursue his career by himself alone in the city. Hence, it is a difficult task to decipher a privileged ideological standpoint of the director, because all the characters are painted with an affectionate yet critical look, soaked with weakness and vital drives. Soon the spring will bring long-repressed desires and memories to resurface with force and urgency. Maintaining elegant restraint, Fei Mu shoots iconic sequences of implicit seduction and sensual tension using the most quintessential elements of everyday life, suddenly eroticized by a camera that seems to gently pose layer after layer of voluptuous vibrations flowing among characters. The dialogues between the ancient lovers are a precious example: the two characters stand in the dimly lit room, discussing the watering of the plant or the comfort of the pillow, when all of a sudden, the light goes out because of a blackout; when the light comes back, we discover them with hands clasped in a brief, torrid, illicit embrace or in plain daylight, on the ruined city wall, the woman engages in a dangerous game of seduction using her handkerchiefs to repel and attract her old lover, displaying her own conflict between the nostalgia for past passion and her duty as a faithful wife. One of the most iconic and vibrant sequences takes place at night, around a table, where all the protagonists start to engage in a drinking game that soon reveals 214

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overlapping desires and tensions. Nothing is said explicitly, but the complicated psychological relations among them – fear and desire, kindness and rage, hypocrisy and rebellion – always threaten to explode, but remain hidden in plain sight, as if following the rhythm of the slowly shifting movement of the camera, modestly situated outside the room. At the end of the movie the doctor leaves the town and the other characters behind; a hollow representation that doesn’t steer towards a clear-cut ideological standpoint. The family seems back together (after a suicidal attempt by the husband), but no revolutionary seeds have been planted. And is the young doctor heading to a brighter future or toward a moral compromise where professional success will overwhelm ethical and political considerations? This conclusion seems to be indebted to the poetics of Lu Xun: a clear diagnosis of the political situation of his country, full of compassion and irony, where the “optimism” of the revolutionary drive is but a stitch demanded by political necessity, while the feeling left by the movie is a decadent, pleasant melancholy suggesting a contemplative attitude more than a proactive engagement. No wonder that Spring in a Small Town, like the most controversial and subtle short stories by the “father of the modern Chinese literature,” has been repeatedly submitted to censorship and denial – not without leaving a burgeon for future blossomings. Such a slightly decadent indulgence in complex emotional intertwining, painted with graceful chiaroscuro, would not find its place in the development of Chinese socialist cinema (except for a few rare exceptions, like the exceptionally apolitical and passionate Early Spring in February or Zaochun er yue, Xie Tieli, 1963), not at least until the blossoming of the fifth generation of the late 1980s. Tian Zhuangzhuang, one of the most important and controversial contemporary directors, directed a remake of Spring in a Small Town. Filmed in lush colors, the movie is dedicated to the pioneer of Chinese cinema. The rich heritage of early cinema enshrines precious gems to be discovered and rediscovered, to be restored and preserved for further generations that seem, consciously or not – as the doctor in Spring – to look back and to reproduce in a loop the visual practices of the republican period: competing studios producing melodramas, comedies, wuxiapian, blockbusters, with few but aesthetically relevant, small-scale productions, and literary adaptations.

Notes 1 Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh, “New Takes on Film Historiography: Republican cinema redux, an introduction,” Journal of Chinese Cinemas (2015), vol. 9, no. 1, 1–7, doi:10.1080/17508061.2015.1005931 2 Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh, “Translating Yingxi: Chinese Film Genealogy and Early Cinema in Hong Kong,” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 76–109, doi:10.1080/17508061.2014.994849, 77. 3 Berry Chris and Mary Farquhar, China on Screen: Cinema and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 47–56. 4 Zhang Zhen, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 5 Tom Gunning, “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator,” Art and Text (1989), vol. 34, 114–133. 6 Bao Weihong, Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915–1945 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). 7 Laikwan Pang, Building a New China in Cinema: The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement, 1932–1937 (Boston: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 148. 8 Régis Bergeron, Le Cinéma chinois: 1905–1949 (Paris: Alfred Eibel, 1977). 9 Chen Xiaomei, Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-discourse in Post-Mao China (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) underscores the positive effects of using the “Other” as an inspirational force to empower the subjected peoples; she is also aware of the risk involved in such an intellectual enterprise. 10 Anne Kerlan-Stephens and Marie-Claire Quiquemelle, “La compagnie cinématographique Lianhua et le cinéma progressiste chinois: 1930–1937,” in Arts Asiatiques (2006), tome 61, 5.


Corrado Neri 11 Nick Brown, “Society, and Subjectivity: On the Political Economy of Chinese Melodrama,” in New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 40–56.Wimal Dissanayake, ed., Melodrama and Asian Cinema (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), Stephen Teo, “Il genere wenyi: una esegesi del melodramma cinese,” [The wenyi genre:The Chinese melodrama], in Festival del cinema di Pesaro, ed., Stanley Kwan. La via orientale al melodramma (Roma: Il Castoro, 2000). 12 Zhang Zhen, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937, 30. It is necessary to note that since melodrama is to some degree a foreign concept, the Chinese translation is shifting. It is often rendered as tongsu ju, where tongsu means “popular “and ju “play, drama.” 13 See Sun Yu, Floating on the Screen: Memories of My Life (Yinhai fanzhou – huiyi wo de yisheng) (Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi chubanshe, 1987); and Sun Yu, Song of the Big Road (Dalu zhi ge) (Taibei:Yuanliu, 1990). Note that the “traditional” chop-suey dish is not traditional at all, but instead a “construction” of the Chinese diaspora; see Gregory B. Lee, Chinas Unlimited: Making the Imaginaries of China and Chineseness (Honolulu: Routledge Curzon Press and University of Hawaii Press, 2003). 14 Anne Kerlan-Stephens and Marie-Claire Quiquemelle, “La compagnie cinématographique Lianhua et le cinéma progressiste chinois: 1930–1937,” in Arts Asiatiques (2006), no. 61, 11. 15 Song Geng, The Fragile Scholar: Power and Masculinity in Chinese Culture (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004). Stephen Teo, Hong Kong:The Extra Dimensions (London: BFI Publishing, 1997). 16 “Sun’s commitment to both social progress and cinematic innovation led him to create a particular film language that may be called “unofficial/popular discourse,” which for my purpose, may be reformulated as “vernacular discourse”,” Zhang Zhen, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937, 296–297. 17 Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (New York and London: Routledge, 2006). 18 Anne Cheng, “Le souffle chinois,” in Cahiers du cinéma (Novembre 2003), n. 584.

Further readings Bao Weihong. Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915–1945. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. Berry, Chris and Mary Farquhar. China on Screen: Cinema and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Bettinson, Gary and James Udden, eds. The Poetics of Chinese Cinema. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pang, Laikwan. Building a New China in Cinema. The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement, 1932–1937. Boston: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Rojas, Carlos and Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Zhang,Yingjin, ed. A Companion to Chinese Cinema. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing, 2012. Zhang, Zhen. An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.



Middle modern literature (late 1930s–1977)

Part II: introduction: war, revolution, and the individual The second part of this handbook covers Middle Modern Chinese Literature (late 1930s–late 1970s). During this period, while the momentum of the first period continued to exert its influence on literature of this period, most of the literary works were largely products generated under the impact of the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), Second Civil War (1946–1949), the Socialist Revolution (1949–1966), and the Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). The literature of this period may be divided into two distinct sub-periods with Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art as its demarcation line. Before the Talks were published, writers of all genres plunged themselves into the national movement of the anti-Japanese invasion. Inspired by fervent patriotism, writers created a large number of literary works of all genres with the predominant theme of national salvation. In the domain of poetry, Zang Kejia, Tian Han, Ai Qing, and others composed a great deal of poetry which expresses the poets’ love for their motherland, hatred for the atrocities of the aggressors, and criticism of the depraved corruption of ruling classes, and deep sympathy for the broad masses suffering from death and destruction, oppression and exploitation. Among these poets, Ai Qing’s Dayan River, My Nurse is a representative work of this period. In this period, drama achieved significant artistic successes. Playwrights like Guo Moruo, Tian Han, Chen Baichen, Yang Hansheng, and others produced some of the most successful plays in modern history. Among them, Guo Muruo’s historical plays Qu Yuan and Tiger Seal, and Chen Baichen’s social satire, A Picture of Official Promotion were among the most influential of this genre. Fiction, especially the novel, underwent a significant change in themes and aesthetic forms. Under the direct influence of Mao Zedong’s Talks on Literature and Art, fiction writers selfconsciously worked on themes directly related to the war, revolution, and the life of the laboring people, and created a style of fiction based on revolutionary realism with distinct native characteristics. Among them, writers who wrote in this style include Zhao Shuli, Sun Li, Ding Ling, Zhou Libo,Yang Mo, and others. Ding Ling’s The Sun over the Sanggan River, Zhou Libo’s Hurricane,Yang Mo’s Song of Youth, Ouyang Shan’s Three Family Lane, and other novels presented a panoramic view of various sectors of Chinese society and achieved an epic grandeur. While revolutionary realism dominated the literary scene, fictional and poetic works as well as literary essays which aimed at pure art also flourished. Feng Zhi, Mu Dan, and poets of the so-called

Middle modern literature (late 1930s–1977)

Nine Leaves School turned out poetry, which went beyond the poetic themes and forms pioneered by early poets. Writers of literary essays like Yang Shuo, Qin Mo, Liu Baiyu, et al. not only continued the tradition pioneered by early essayists in the early period but also created new poetic vistas inspired by the new social conditions. In the second period, there appeared some new trends in modern Chinese literature, characterized by what may be called proto-feminism and literary liberalism. While proto-feminist writings were concerned with women’s issues in Chinese society, liberalist writings attempted to maintain an independence from the predominant trend of revolution, nationalism, and realism. Among these writers, while Ding Ling did not hide her feminist tendency in her literary works, Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang) wrote her fictional works as if social upheavals only touched her characters superficially and did not affect their inner world. Shen Congwen, Qian Zhongshu, Zhang Henshui, and others wrote their fictional works with themes remotely related to the dominant themes of their time, thereby earning their categorization as independent writers. The establishment of New China in 1949 brought fundamental changes to the literary scene in this period. Mao Zedong’s Talks on Literature and Art now became the official guideline for all literary creations, effectively putting an end to heterogeneity of styles of literary creation except that of socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism. Although this official policy for literary creation had negative impact on literary creation, the seventeen years before the Cultural Revolution did produce a large quantity of literary works of all genres, which show remarkable breadth and depth in themes and literary achievements in aesthetic qualities despite their conformity to the official guidelines. Even in the ten-year period of the Cultural Revolution, which is widely regarded as a barren land for literary creation, works of literature and art did not disappear. Apart from the state-sanctioned works of fiction, drama, and poetry following the official guidelines, there was an impressive collection of unpublished poetic works and handcopied fictional works, which came to be called “Underground Literature.” It displayed remarkable aesthetic sensibilities and paved the way for the re-emergence of refined literature freed from ideological control after the Cultural Revolution. Literary production of the late phase of the second period will be discussed in four overviews: “Fiction of New China,” “Poetry of New China,” “Drama of New China,” and “Literature of the Cultural Revolution.”



Poetry and patriotism

16 ZANG KEJIA AND TIAN JIAN’S POETRY A clarion call for national salvation Bingfeng Yang

When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Chinese poets found it difficult to continue the debate on the artistic issues of poetry as the country was under the real threat of foreign occupation. The experiments and diversity of poetry writing in the 1930s (usually referring to the period 1927–1937 in Chinese literary history) soon gave way to a passionate call to arms and for engaged realism in literary creations under the strong impulse of patriotism. Revolutionary literature, if it was something debatable when it was advocated by the left-wing writers in the early 1930s, was now not only intellectually necessary but morally desirable. The individualist pursuit of personal freedom and artistic purity had been largely abandoned, while sorrow, anger, and even hatred for the Japanese imperialism became legitimate subject matter in the light of the new patriotic commitment. It was a unique period in the history of modern Chinese poetry when the extreme social condition greatly changed the mentality and sensibility of the poets who were still searching for new poetic language. What Tim Kendall said about English war poetry is applicable in the Chinese situation: “poetry . . . makes nothing happen; but war makes poetry happen.”1 Among the influential poets, Zang Kejia and Tian Jian, the two poets discussed in this chapter, are both known for their popular patriotic verses during the war. It is not a coincidence that they are also both known as peasant poets, or people’s poets, on account of their similar rural background and strong interest in depicting the miserable life of the peasants, who constituted the vast majority of the Chinese population and suffered most when their land became battlefields. The early advocates of modern Chinese poetry were often well-educated scholars. Many of them were well versed in both Chinese and Western literature. When they turned to the new poetic forms and modern topics, their language was sometimes unnatural and awkward because of the powerful influence of classical Chinese syntax and/or Western languages.When a number of young poets such as Zang Kejia and Tian Jian began writing about the brutal reality of the peasants’ lives and the people suffering in the war in plain and clear vernacular, they were well received as leading a new form of patriotic literature. Zang Kejia had been highly praised for his well-structured vernacular poems and sincere sympathy for the suffering people. His poetry also participated in the newly fermented zeal for folk literature initiated by Chinese anthropologists, who were trying to rebuild national identity by discovering the lost treasure of the people when traditional culture had been openly attacked by modernists.


Bingfeng Yang

The main purpose of the wartime poetry was to mobilize people to patriotic actions. Cleanth Brooks, an American New Critic, regards “sentimentality” as a fault of political poetry,2 but in wartime it was natural that poets should appeal to patriotic sentiment in order to stimulate the public and encourage resistance to foreign aggression. Hu Feng (1901–1985) clearly expressed the special need for poetry during the war: “Poetry in its essence, though, requires much from the reader, for he needs to have acquired a certain level of education. But now the requirement for poetry is that it should move as many people as possible, and poetry should be as close to the people as possible.”3 A consensus was soon reached that poets should take up the responsibility of comforting and encouraging people in the time of war. Tian Jian, widely known as “the drummer of the age,” was certainly not alone when he claimed that “poetry and songs are weapons.”4 His powerful rhythm and passionate cry for battle and victory may sound coarse and aggressive, but they were exactly what soldiers and war refugees would like to hear at a time when China faced the danger of being subjugated by the invaders.

Zang Kejia: life and career Zang Kejia (1905–2004) was born into a well-educated rural family in Zhucheng, Shandong province, in the year when the Chinese imperial examinations were officially abolished. Both Zang’s grandfather and father were poetry lovers, and it had been a great delight for the child to listen to them reciting classical verses. In 1923, Zang entered the Shandong Provincial First Normal School in Ji’nan, where he read contemporary vernacular poetry and started writing his own. It is also the period when he was exposed to revolutionary ideas, which resulted in his journey to Wuhan in 1926, where he was trained at the Wuhan Branch of the Central Military and Political School. When the revolution failed the following year, Zang had to escape and live for a few months in exile in northeast China. In 1930, Zang Kejia enrolled in Qingdao University, first as an English major, but he soon shifted to the department of Chinese language and literature to study poetry under the guidance of Wen Yiduo (1899–1946). His first poetry collection, The Brand (Laoyin), came out in 1933 with a preface by Wen Yiduo. It received positive reviews from established writers such as Mao Dun (1896–1981) and Lao She (1899–1966). After graduation in 1934, Zang took a teaching job at Linqing Middle School in the northwest of Shandong province. The teaching days were happy and productive, and Zang would later remember them in his memoirs as his “golden days.” This period saw the publication of three collections: The Evil Black Hand (Zui’e de heishou, 1934), Self-Portrait (Ziji de xiezhao, 1936), and The Canal (Yunhe, 1936). When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, the school was forced to close and Zang joined the Chinese military as a civil officer. He travelled in the hinterland, visited the fronts, and published several collections of patriotic verse. Songs of Soil (Nitu de ge), published in 1943 with mixed critical reactions, contained his best pastoral poems on the peaceful life of peasants and the countryside. In 1942 he arrived in Chongqing, the war capital, where he was unemployed for some time. He wrote for newspapers and magazines and became an active voice on contemporary political issues. Some of his best political poems were written in this period. In 1945, Zang published a poem in praise of Mao Zedong after they met in Chongqing.When he was editorin-chief of Poetry (Shikan), a poetry journal launched by the Chinese Writers Association in 1957, Zang managed to have 18 of Mao’s poems published in the inaugural issue. These poems of Mao appeared in book form with notes and annotations in the same year, with Zang as the co-editor.


Zang Kejia and Tian Jian’s poetry

Literary achievements of Zang Kejia Zang Kejia held a close relationship with the Crescent Moon poets and later the Nine Leaves poets, but he has never been regarded as one of them. The intricate craftsmanship displayed in his early poems clearly showed the influence of Wen Yiduo, but his down-to-earth realism and particular brand of solemnity distinguished him from his contemporaries who were much under Western influence. Robert Payne, for example, believes that Zang is “uninfluenced by any foreign movement.”5 Zang Kejia certainly read and studied Western literature, but deliberately modelled his own on classical Chinese poetry and learned whole-heartedly from folk literature. His genuine sympathy for the proletariat and unaffected vernacular style were unmistakable. As a result, Zhu Ziqing (1898–1948), a prominent writer and critic, claimed that Zang’s works had opened a new direction for Chinese vernacular poetry with their honest representation of the real situation of rural China.6 Allegedly the most prolific poet in the war period (1937–1945), Zang was a leading figure in propaganda efforts against Japanese aggression. His large number of patriotic poems, though not the most refined works, were widely read by soldiers and students. Zang’s dedicated love for the rustic and the countryside was immediately recognized when his Songs of Soil was published in 1934, for which he earned the reputation as a modern tianyuan shiren (“pastoral poet” or “poet of the countryside”).7 Stephen Field noticed a particular trend of ruralism in traditional Chinese poetry and claimed that Zang Kejia, along with Ai Qing, was working in the same tradition and “formed the core of the modern satiric mode of rustic poetry and paved the way for the postrevolutionary experiment in peasant literature.”8 Like many poets, Zang’s artistic production took a very different tone after 1949 as the overwhelming optimistic atmosphere made his bitter criticism of social problems virtually impossible. He worked in various editorial positions, singing with great enthusiasm happy songs for the new culture. He continued producing volumes of poems, but they seldom surpassed his early works.

Zang Kejia and Chinese rural tradition Different from other influential poets in the first half of the twentieth century, Zang Kejia had no overseas experience before he became a prominent poet. His genius was rooted in traditional Chinese literature and folk art. In the preface to Zang Kejia’s first collection of poetry, The Brand (Laoyin),Wen Yiduo compared the young poet to Meng Jiao (751–814), a Mid-Tang poet known for his bitter verses and intricate craftsmanship.9 Zang Kejia apparently liked this comparison as he quoted Meng Jiao in his postscript to the second edition of the collection in 1934: I am a serious man in writing as well as in life. I do not write easily. I would spend an entire afternoon thinking about one word; or for a whole day I would not eat, as my heart was aching for a poem. Sometimes I would wake up at midnight only to jot down under the candlelight the lines that just popped into my head. I enjoyed these moments so much but they did cause harm to my health. I am now a sick man physically as well as mentally, “my heart is my body’s enemy,” this perfectly describes me.10 The quotation is from Meng Jiao’s “On Painstaking Work” (Kuxue yin), in which Meng described how he “worked at night and did not stop until dawn.” Zang likened himself to the Tang poet for a good reason. The new vernacular poetry was still in its infancy; poets in the 1920s even debated on questions such as whether modern Chinese poetry should be rhymed as in classical poetry. The “free verse poets,” or the poets who believed Chinese poetry should be forever freed from the shackles of tradition, tended to rely on the extravagant use of vernacular


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Chinese for artistic innovation. Zang Kejia, under the influence of Wen Yiduo, took a much more serious attitude to the undisrupted evolution of poetic tradition. He openly denounced what he called “mystic” poetry, believing that Chinese new poetry was in need of the power directly drawn from the reality of life. For Zang Kejia, poetry is an ethical as well as aesthetic endeavor which he could even die for. Like Meng Jiao’s unhappy poems, Zang’s works are full of suffering, conflicts, and pungent depictions of social problems. Unlike Meng Jiao who lived a hermit life, Zang was rather active in social life and political engagements, and ambitious in writing something tough and great. In the title poem of his first collection The Brand he wrote “I live by chewing bitter sap / Like a worm fed on croton seeds.”11 The metaphor is heavily loaded with Chinese medical knowledge. “Croton seeds” (badou in Chinese) are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine as a purgative. Since croton seeds are poisonous, they should only be used for some special diseases or in the situations that ordinary medicines fail to heal. This theory is popularly known as yi du gong du (“to fight the poisonous with poison”) and it is common knowledge that in a seriously dangerous situation, a good healer has the right and responsibility to take some unusual measures for the good of the patient. Zang Kejia, a poet fully aware of the social inequalities and a dissident who believed in radical changes, used this image deliberately in its medical-political sense. Zang focuses on the uneasy feeling of eating croton seeds, not only for the bitter taste, but for the coming cathartic effect that the medicine is supposed to produce. The idea of revolution which is embedded in “The Brand” becomes clear in “One Day In the Future,” in which a “change” to the unjust world is surely to come: “Do not worry about the present, let’s wait and see / One day in the future, / The world will touch its face and shock us with a change!”(14) The personification alludes to the “face-changing” trick in Sichuan Opera, in which the actor could change his colored masks almost instantaneously. The poet speaks in a prophetic tone, announcing the coming of a “bright dawn” with full confidence:  . . . Now you laugh at my stupidity, As you would do to a loony who says, “The sun rises in the West, How could I prove these? No shadows can be seen in cloudy days. But would you please notice this: Under the long wings of night A bright dawn is hiding. (“One Day In the Future”) (14–15)12 The revolutionary spirit is unmistakable in those lines, but Zang carefully avoids using elevated words and wraps his heroic dreams within clichéd quotations. “The sun rises in the West, / The Yellow River is clear” is an idiomatic expression in Chinese to describe something which cannot possibly happen. The spiritual lunatic who believes in something impossible, or the tragic hero who fights alone, was a specific cultural image attractive to the young poet. It speaks well of the poet’s individualistic pursuit of freedom and explains a certain kind of spiritual loneliness that had been felt by many of his contemporaries. The poem reminds us of the madman in Lu Xun’s first story, “A Madman’s Diary,” who is also the image of a revolutionary. A comparison with Lu Xun’s character shows a difference: while the madman who sees through the nature of Chinese culture and society finally recovers and reconciles with the


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society by taking an official appointment, Zang Kejia’s lunatic is a revolutionary who is determined to fight to change his society. The same sense of lack of satisfaction and disappointment with the present and the wish for a radical change can be felt in Guo Moro’s The Goddesses and Wen Yiduo’s Dead Water. What makes Zang Kejia’s poetic creation unique is the way he identifies himself with the depressed individuals. He turns his eyes to the peddler, the coal miner, the wagon driver, the bar singer, and many other poor people living in despair for his poetic imagination. In most cases, Zang would focus on a dramatic moment of an individual who has been pushed by the pressure of life to the edge of depression. In one of his most anthologized poems, “The Old Horse,” the poet takes the burdened animal as a symbol of the people in crisis: The cart is loaded to the extremity The horse endures it without a moan The straps cut into his flesh His neck hangs down in pain No time is for him to think of future No tears for him to shed in vain He raises his head and watches ahead When the whip is before his eyes again. (“The Old Horse”) (20) Although the poet insisted that the poem is but a truthful depiction of his own experience of coming across a poor horse in the street,13 the image of the overloaded animal has been nevertheless widely interpreted as a perfect symbol for the heavily exploited Chinese peasants in the Warlord Era (1916–1927).14 More than an icon of victim, the horse becomes a hero of great endurance under the burden of life. The sympathetic identification with the suffering horse reveals the basic attitude of the poet toward the persecuting master who is invisible in the poem, but easily recognizable in the contrast that he made between the suffering country fellows and the ignorant city people. Zang Kejia openly expresses his hostile attitude toward the modern and corrupt cities, and proudly calls himself a villager: “In the foreign block I am a dried fish, / In villages, can you tell me what I am not good at?” (“Eyes and Ears”)15 The “foreign block” (yang chang in Chinese) is a conventional term for the part of old Shanghai infested with foreign adventurers, which the poet uses here referring to the modernized/westernized city in general. This explicit contrast between the country and the city may sound familiar in Western ears, as Raymond Williams has made it clear in his The Country and the City. As he points out, the key to understand the contrast is nature against worldliness, and more importantly, it is an “ideological separation between the processes of rural exploitation . . . and the register of that exploitation.”16 Zang Kejia wrote those lines in Chinese rural tradition much earlier than Williams’s conceptualization of the contrast, but of course he spoke of this ideological separation in a poetic way. For Zang, the city is the opposite to the rustic village, where he found his best teachers and friends among the uneducated peasants. Writing in the traditional pastoral tradition, Zang has produced some of the most lovely short lyric poems in modern Chinese poetry: The windlass Swings a string of ringing pearls Into the shining net of the morning sun.


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Blessed are the ears of the man Who gets up early. (“Pearls”)17 In this tranquil beauty of rural life is a modern poet who takes his time keeping a distance away from the real labor of lifting a water bucket from the well. The catching description of water drops falling in the sunshine is quite alien to traditional Chinese poetic diction but rather common in modern poetry, and the employment of religious ideas in the secular sense (“blessed are the ears of the man”) skillfully resonates with the biblical verses of the Sermon on the Mount, which he might have read as a college student. It is generally true that Zang is a poet whose works show little Western influence, but he is certainly aware of the existence of Western culture in China. In fact, the title of his second collection of poetry, “The Evil Back Hand,” directly refers to the Christian church in China. The poet takes Christian missionaries in Qingdao as accomplices who collaborated with Western cultural imperialists. His criticism of Christianity, however, does not apply to its religious doctrine but to the ironic contrast between the genteel atmosphere in the church and the stark poverty outside.18 For Zang, Christian churches did not help the Chinese poor but supported the already corrupt ruling class in securing its social status by clearly distinguishing the inside from the outside. In the eyes of the young student from the countryside, the unfamiliar services of the Christian churches are but another component of the corrupt city. Zang Kejia has no love for the Westernized city life, partly because of his own rural background, and partly because of his patriotic commitment inherited from the traditional attitude toward the countryside. Deliberately picturing cities as hypocritical and alienated, Zang paints the rustic and the uneducated in heroic colors. Peasants are “simple, diligent, tough, / with a clear conscience” (“Sons of Farmers”);19 they are “giants of hands,” healthy, honest, and morally superior to the people in cities: “your eyes / that little pair of bright mirrors / make every ‘honorable’ person / see his true self.” (“The Giants of Hands”) (15) Even the highbrow culture of the educated is foreign to him: “Beijing Opera does not strike my ears / country plays are my crush” (“Iron Soul”). (25) He feels more comfortable with the language of the people of his own: “I love to hear / one call stars / xingxing” (“Stars”).20 In formal Chinese, stars are indicated by a single syllable “xing,” but in the vernacular the same thing is called “xingxing” with a repetition of the same syllable.The poet is extremely sensitive to this delicate variation of words and turns it into a sign of cultural difference. To justify his indulging preference for the rustic life, he appeals to the idea of filial piety which has been highly valued in Chinese culture, especially in rural society. When asked why he is inclined to love the village, he replies: “I would ask: / ‘which child in this world / does not love his mother?’ ” (“The Sea”)21 His love for the country people is thus unconditional: “I love these: / their red hearts, / their black faces, / and the scars on their bodies” (“The Sea”) (19). Situating himself in such an intimate relationship with peasants, he confidently speaks in their voice and for their destiny: Children Bathing in the soil; Father Sweating in the soil; Grandfather Buried in the soil. (“Three Generations”) (44) 226

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This natural commitment to the soil/land could be easily translated into a patriotic love for the nation and country, which was so appealing to the Chinese during the war against foreign invaders. Zang worked as the leader of the Youth Training Squad, published short patriotic verses during the war, and organized recital groups.22 His epigraph to Enlisted in the Army (Congjun xing) best illustrates his wartime production: “Poets, / Open your mouths, / Aside from fiery songs of war, / Your poetry shall be silence.”23 His most lovely pieces in the war, however, are still those focusing on his familiar country life. In a poem portraying a soldier’s life, for example, when the hero is back home on leave, his friends and family are gathering around him to listen to his adventures. In this peaceful scene of merry gathering, the poet captures a warm moment: the little boy “happily but timidly” reaches out a curious hand to touch the father’s revolver, while “his woman, / with face shone in joy, / embraces him with her glances / stealthily” (“He Is Back Home”).24 Zang Kejia has also produced a large number of political poems in his long literary career. Many of them have lost their critical power for modern readers as they were written in immediate response to contemporary issues. A few of them, however, were well accepted in the canon of modern Chinese poetry on account of the catching language and dramatic tension: Some people live But they are already dead; Some people died, But they are still alive. (“Some People: In Memory of Lu Xun”)25 These plain, straightforward words helped establish the unparalleled fame of Lu Xun as a cultural hero in modern Chinese history. Zang Kejia never met Lu Xun and he wrote this poem in Beijing in 1949 for the thirteenth anniversary of Lu Xun’s death. The poem has successfully captured the delicate mood of a time when the country was celebrating liberation, while mourning for the huge loss of life in wars. Lu Xun was the most visible monument in the sea of joyful tears, and the great sorrow people felt for their lost friends and comrades could be perfectly projected upon this outstanding figure of revolutionary literature. The poem has become an epigraph for all the revolutionaries who are “living in people’s minds forever” for their sacrifice for the nation.

Tian Jian: life and career Tian Jian (pen name of Tong Tianjian, 1917–1985) was born in Wuwei county, Anhui province. Tian received his early education in classical Chinese literature in his native village and started writing poetry when a teenager. In 1933, he entered Kwang Hua University to study in the department of foreign languages. While in Shanghai, he joined the League of Left-Wing Writers (Zuolian) and started editing poetry journals. His first collection of poetry, It Is Not Yet Dawn (Weiming ji), was published in 1935, followed by Chinese Pastorals (Zhongguo muge) and a long poem entitled “Stories of the Chinese Countryside” (Zhongguo nongcun de gushi) in 1936. His works were banned by the nationalist government and he had to flee to Japan in the spring of 1937, where he read Petöfi, Byron, and Mayakovsky. Returning to China soon after the Sino-Japanese War broke out, he traveled to Yan’an the following year, joined the Chinese Communist Party, and served as a war correspondent with the Service Corps on the Northwestern Battlefield. When in Yan’an,Tian Jian and his friends began a propaganda drive for “street verse” (jietou shi), writing and painting short patriotic verses on walls and stones in public places to encourage Chinese people to fight against foreign invaders. The idea was partly inspired by Mayakovsky’s “Rosta windows” posters.26 Two 227

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volumes of patriotic poems, To the Soldiers Patrolling in Storms (Cheng zai da fengsha li benzou de gangweimen, 1938), To the Fighters (Gei zhandouzhe, 1943) and a long poem Even She Wants to Kill (Ta yeyao sharen, 1938) came out from his experience in the war. From 1943, Tian Jian began working in various positions in local government and edited a literary magazine, New Masses (Xin qunzhong). He continued to produce volumes of poetry, including the first part of a long narrative poem The Cart Driver (Ganche zhuan, 1946) featuring the ruined life of a peasant and his daughter resulting from the overexploitation of the landlord. He held important positions in the Chinese Writers Association and taught at the Central Institute of Literature in Beijing after 1949. He published the rest of his voluminous narrative poem The Cart Driver (Parts Two to Seven). During the Korean War (1950–1953), Tian Jian served again as a war correspondent. He visited Eastern Europe and Africa in 1954 and Egypt in 1964.

Literary achievements of Tian Jian In the words of Robert Payne, the editor of Contemporary Chinese Poetry,Tian Jian is a poet who might have changed the course of Chinese poetry more than any other Chinese poet: With Tien Chien [i.e.Tian Jian] we enter a world which passes almost beyond poetry altogether, a world of simple hammer-beats, of emotion untrammeled by complexity, a world where there are no lute players, no deceits, no diplomatic maneuvers. In that world,there is nothing but clear honesty and purpose, vigorous life and the unending pursuit of good, and all this expressed in the simplest possible and the most resounding terms.27 Tian Jian’s forceful verses were extremely popular in the war period and for which he was widely known as “the drummer poet” because of Wen Yiduo’s influential review; he was also known as the “battle buddy” for his inspiring war poetry. In Wen’s 1943 review, the critic called Tian Jian “the drummer of the age,” and described his poems as drumbeats that are “uniform, majestic, sturdy, brave, rough, rapid, depressed, heavy.”28 Tian Jian is more a passionate singer than a craftsman. His poetry is full of “life desire,” which would “arouse your love, agitate your hate, and encourage you to live.” (233) Encouraged by Tian Jian’s wholehearted embrace of a revolutionary literature of the people, Wen Yiduo proclaimed Tian Jian to be “the poet of tomorrow,” “a poet who has already been in the new world.”29 Tian Jian’s most ambitious narrative poem is The Cart Driver, of which the first part is often regarded as the most successful. The poem is structured as a modern folksong. It has been welcomed as the representative work of the new proletariat literature in China by noted Western Marxist literary scholars such as Jaroslav Prusek and F. C. Weiskopf, who also translated it into Czech and German respectively.

Tian Jian’s war poetry When Hu Feng, an influential literary critic of the time, described Tian Jian as “a poet of war and a poet of people who has shuffled off the soul of the intellectual,” (234) he meant to praise the poet for his willing departure from the unhealthy sentimentalism that many of his contemporaries suffered from. In the foreword to the first issue of New Poetry, the official journal of Chinese Poetry Association (“Zhongguo shige hui,” a group affiliated to the League of LeftWing Writers) launched in 1933, it was proclaimed that the purpose of the new poetry is “to capture the new reality, / to sing for the conscience of the new century.” (234) To achieve this goal, the foreword stated that “we should make our poetry sing for the people, / and we ourselves be part of them.”30 As a young editor of the journal, Tian Jian accepted the theory and guided his poetic creation according to the principles. Like Zang Kejia, Tian Jian derived much 228

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of his inspiration from his life experience with the peasants of his native village. He praised them for their humble honesty and lamented the ruined beauty of the countryside. His early poems had already shown his efforts to find a literary style modeled on Chinese folksongs: The sun throws a torch Upon the hilly field We are picking cotton. Picking cotton – Our bellies hurt Our backs ache We cannot go home The day is not end. (“Song Upon Hilly Fields”)31 The singsong rhythm and the transparent language remind the reader of the ancient ballads in the Book of Songs (Shijing, the first anthology of poetry in the Chinese tradition). When identifying himself with the common peasants, the poet finds his way of representing the soul of the people. When working as a war correspondent in the Service Corps on the Northwestern Battlefield in 1938, Tian Jian started writing poems to capture the fighting spirit of the people in rapid drumbeat-like verses. His wartime poems are composed in irregular, abrupt lines, some of which containing only two or three characters. With a good use of repetition and parallel structures, he successfully turns the horror of war into powerful messages of love and loyalty. In “To the Soldiers,” the poet appeals to the patriotic sentiment at the crucial moment of national crisis: . . . Where Shall we go? In a world, With no land, With no seas and rivers, With no soul, To live In crawling Is to die. Today We will die, But let us offer Our last soul To the sacred song Of guarding our country. (“To the Soldiers”)32 This is not the platonic reasoning of death, but a poetic explanation of an ancient moral code famously explained in the Confucian canon The Book of Rites: “he [i.e. a scholar, or a gentleman] 229

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may be killed, but he cannot be disgraced.”33 The “scholar” (ruzhe in Chinese) in Confucian ideology, or a decent man as it has been well accepted in the Chinese popular mindset, is by nature a free and cultivated human being, who will keep his moral integrity even in the most hostile situation. The fervent desire to die with dignity is not new in Chinese poetic tradition. The best-known classical expression was made by the scholar-general Wen Tianxiang (1236–1283) when he was captured by the invading Yuan armies of Kubla Khan: “Who in this world can escape death? / To die a hero is to live in history” (“Passing the Lingding yang”). The “soul of the intellectual” is to some extent regained by the poet by alluding to the patriotic tradition in history. This dramatic rendering of shame for humiliation and slavery frequently appears in his “street verses” written in Yan’an: If we do not fight, Our enemies will kill us With their bayonets, And point at ours bones and say: “Look, They are slaves!” (“If We Do Not Fight”)34 The disgrace or shame that the Japanese invaders brought to the Chinese people was greatly dramatized in “Even She Wants to Kill,” a long poem featuring a country woman named Bai Niang. The name literally means “a woman named ‘white,’ ” which obviously implies her innocence and purity. The title is meant to dramatize the worst condition of humanity: Even Bai Niang, the last person to kill anyone or anything, wants to kill the wicked Japanese for their atrocious crimes – even she wants to kill. She is created as a representative of the indomitable spirit of the Chinese suffering under Japanese occupation. In formal style, the poet tends to break the entire poem into a great number of very short run-on lines. Considering the unnatural mental state of the main character, those broken lines are perfectly suitable for the expression of her desperation, sorrow, and rage. It is widely acknowledged that Tian Jian was under the influence of the Russian/Soviet poet Mayakovsky, which he himself never denied, but it is only in verse lines that Tian Jian’s chopped verses resemble those of Mayakovsky. It is more likely that the poet models his specific rhythm not on drumbeats or hammer beats, but on the pulses or the broken utterance of a woman heavily breathing in despair. The unusual character of Bai Niang makes the harsh rhythm of the poem not a mere formal innovation but a poetic rendering of the most unbearable emotional pain. The dramatic characters of the poem are significantly modern as the poet refuses to establish the character within a plot in the traditional way. He bases his narrative on several crucial scenes so that he can picture the development of the character’s emotional breakdown in a few fragmental snapshots. The purpose of the poet is to find a new poetic language to represent the psychological turn of the people from timid denial to fervent desire for revenge under the most unnatural circumstances. Mao Dun, when commenting on Tian Jian’s narrative poems, said that “it is as if I was watching a movie with all ‘actions’ taken away, leaving only a few ‘close-ups’ and ‘scenes’ hanging together.”35 Mao Dun made this comment not as praise (he believed that Tian Jian sacrificed too many details to the grand picture), but his apt remarks on the poet’s cinematic techniques are accurate and provocative. Tian Jian’s peculiar taste for visual languages is most visible in his inclination of framing the narrative with different imaginative visual perspectives.


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The poem opens with Bai Niang wandering and crying in the open field at night, followed by a closeup image of the desperate young woman after being raped by the Japanese: . . . Her feet Were bare, Her eyes Bulged. With her dreadful fingers, Twisted fingers that were never to be relaxed, She felt her wounded breasts And bleeding chest. (“Even She Wants to Kill”)36 Not only does the poet use these haunting visual images to build up the tension between the innocent victim and the war criminals, but he also directly invites the reader to see what Bai Niang has seen: “In her pupils, / reflects the villains, / so many of them, / those devils in spiked shoes . . .”With the repeating phrase “She saw it,” the poet recalls the destruction of the peaceful life of the villagers, which culminates in the most horrible scene of the murder of her child by the invaders. When the poet gives a flashback to show how lovely a woman she was before the war, a chorus-like narrative sadly reveals that Bai Niang was the most kindhearted woman in the village, the last to hurt anyone or to be hurt by anyone. With the help of Tian Jian’s typical broken lines, the information is released in a voice choked with emotion: . . . Because she Never Kills anyone, Not Even an ant dies Under her careful steps. If A dog, Or a horse Was whipped too hard By her neighbor, She will come up to the master And protest: “Drop your whip!” (22–24) The poet employs the theme of rape and child murder to expose the cruelty of the Japanese invaders, which leads to the dominant motif of the poem: “She never kills anyone, / But the wicked Japanese, / They burnt her child, / They violated her body.” (25–26) The narrative is indeed a poetic drama, with flashing montages of killing enemies, suffering villagers, ruined countryside, and the angry woman finally rising up to fight. The poet makes good use of the extreme psychological condition of Bai Niang to frame the scenes of different time and space


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into a coherent narrative. It is remarkable that the poet intentionally describes the whole situation as psychologically unnatural. When Bai Niang watches the fire in the field, she sees in vision her child crawl out from the fire, “his fat little face, / brimming with toothless smile, / was screaming: / ‘Mom! Mom!’ ” (39–40) For the heartbroken mother, the entire world is already out of joint: “the knife was seducing her, and was leading her, . . . as if it was saying / ‘let me bring your baby / back to you, / and show you how to live.’ ” (41–42) The process of this horrible development naturally leads to the violence of revenge: . . . Don’t say She is mad; It is not she who is mad. Don’t say She is eager to kill; If someone comes to kill us, We have no choice but To kill. (87–88) The madness of the woman is explained as the result of the brutal murder of her child, which makes the psychological development of the character a reasonable support for her violent intention of killing. It justifies the anger and revenge of her country fellows, and illustrates the basic logic of patriotism. It is only in this extreme condition that the poet could justify the bloody violence of war against the invaders and celebrate in ecstasy the fighting and killing of the soldiers: Ho! What a snowy day! Our guns In the snow Are shooting. . . Great! Beautiful! Our enemy’s horseshoes Are shot into pieces! (“One Gun and One Zhang Yi”)37 The poet’s undisguised thirst for revenge and victory becomes acceptable and even comforting for the Chinese readers in the great shadow of death. But he is quite aware of the harsh truth that the glory of victory cannot be won without blood and tears, and death could be everywhere even when soldiers could return heroes: Somewhere in the Changbai mountains Chinese sorghums Are growing in blood. In the dust of a windy day, A volunteer soldier Walks across his hometown on horseback. 232

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He is back, With an enemy’s head Hanging on his barrel. (“A Volunteer Soldier”)38 The poem could be easily read as a silhouette of a proud warrior ready to receive welcome from his country fellows, but no flowers or celebrations appear; the survivor of a brutal battle comes home a lonely man, only to find his sorghum plants stained with blood, and a dead man’s head as his only reward. The scene of a soldier returning home with his enemy’s head on his barrel is apparently a symbolic stance of patriotism, but the way the poet frames this picture tells more about the insanity and cruelty of war. Tian Jian’s detailed description of the psychological impact of the war upon the ordinary people may be horrifying for modern readers, but his words are impressive and provocative; considering the fact that they were once read as the most powerful voice of Chinese resistance literature, the poet’s artistic depiction of the horrible truth of the war has helped chronicle the inescapable pain of the Chinese memory. Tian Jian’s war poetry is a literary record of one of the most dreadful moments in the modern history of China, when the individual has lost all possible means of pursuing a meaningful life under the huge national crisis. The poem was meant to be an effort of propaganda against the Japanese aggression, but it also shows how the poet endeavored to explore the psychological depth of those impoverished peasants-turned-revolutionaries.

Notes 1 Tim Kendall, Modern English War Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 2. 2 Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry and the Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 50. 3 Hu Feng, “Remarks on the Poetry Since the War Broke Out (Lue guan zhanzheng yilai de shi),” in Collected Essays of Hu Feng (Hu Feng pinglun ji), vol. 2 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1984), 52. The English translation of the Chinese quotations in this essay is mine unless specifically notified otherwise. 4 Tian Jian, To the Fighters (Gei zhandou zhe) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1978), 223. 5 Robert Payne, Contemporary Chinese Poetry (London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1947), 107. 6 Zhu Ziqing, “The Advance of New Poetry (Xinshi de jinbu),” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia (Zang Kejia yanjiu ziliao), eds. Feng Guanqian and Liu Zengren (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1990), 336. 7 Yao Xueyin, “Modern Pastoral Poems (Xiandai tianyuan shi),” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia, 533. The Chinese term “tianyuan,” literally meaning “fields and gardens,” though often translated as “pastoral,” does not fit well with the Western idea. For detailed discussion of the term see Stephen Field, “Ruralism in Chinese Poetry: Some Versions of Chinese Pastoral,” Comparative Literature Studies (1991), vol. 28, no. 1, 1–35. 8 Stephen Field, “Ruralism in Chinese Poetry: Some Versions of Chinese Pastoral,” 30. 9 Wen Yiduo, “Preface to The Brand (Laoyin xu),” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia, 436. 10 Zang Kejia, “Postscript to the Second Edition of The Brand (Laoyin zaiban houzhi),” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia, 148–149. 11 Zang Kejia, The Brand (Laoyin) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2000), 8. 12 Unless indicated, all the translations of cited poems are mine. 13 Zang Kejia, “On My Poem ‘The Old Horse (Tan ziji de shi Lao ma),’ ” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia, 160. 14 The poem was written in 1932, the year after the publication of the first Chinese translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment. It is not known whether the poet read the novel or not, but the image of the overloaded horse easily reminds us of the dreadful dream of Raskolnikov in the novel, although the animal which was beaten to death in the story is not an old horse but a thin sorrel nag.


Bingfeng Yang Zang Kejia, Songs of Soil (Nitu de ge) (Shanghai: Xingqun chuban gongsi, 1946), 64. Williams Raymond, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 46. Zang Kejia, Songs of Soil, 70. Zang Kejia, Selected Poems of Zang Kejia (Zang Kejia shi xuan) (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1954), 20. Zang Kejia, Songs of Soil, 18. Zang Kejia, Selected Poems of Zang Kejia, 89. Zang Kejia, Songs of Soil, 20. Crespi, John A., Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 111. 23 Zang Kejia,“Epigraph to Enlisted In the Army (Congjun xing tici),” in Research Resources on Zang Kejia, 199. 2 4 Zang Kejia, Songs of Soil, 59–60. 2 5 Zang Kejia, Selected Poems of Zang Kejia, 100. 2 6 Hung, Chang-tai, War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 254. 27 Robert Payne,“Introduction,” in Contemporary Chinese Poetry (London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1947), 25. 28 Wen Yiduo, “The Drummer of the Age: On Reading Tian Jian’s Poems (Shidai de gushou: du Tian Jian de shi),” in Tang Wenbin et al., eds., Research Resources on Tian Jian (Tian Jian yanjiu zhuanji) (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1984), 229. 29 Wen Yiduo, “Tian Jian and Ai Qing (Tian Jian he Ai Qing),” in Research Resources on Tian Jian, 234. 30 Cai Qingfu, “Chinese Poetry Association and its New Poetry (Zuoguo shige hui ji qi Xin Shige),” Journal of Modern Chinese Literature Studies (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan) (1980), vol. 3, 309–318. 31 Tian Jian, Essays and Poems by Tian Jian (Tian Jian shi wen ji), vol. 1, (Shijiazhuang: Huashan wenyi chubanshe, 1989), 69. 32 My translation is based on the original version published in 1943. The last several lines were different in later version: “Today /Let’s Die! /Shall we die? / – No, never!” See Tian Jian, Selected Poems of Tian Jian (Tian Jian shi xuan) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1983), 23. 33 James Legge, trans., Sacred Books of China:The Texts of Confucianism, Part IV:The Li Ki, Xi-XLVI (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1885), 405. 34 Tian Jian, Selected Poems of Tian Jian (Tian Jian shi xuan) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1983), 25. 35 Mao Dun, “The Future of Narrative Poems (Xushishi de qiantu),” in Research Resources on Tian Jian, 221–222. 36 Tian Jian, Even She Wants to Kill (Ta yeyao sharen), ed. Hu Feng (Shanghai: Haiyan shudian, 1949), 11–12. A different English translation of the poem entitled “She Also Wants to Kill A Man” can be found in Robert Payne, Contemporary Chinese Poetry, 155–163. That translation made by Chu Chun-I, however, is not an accurate rendering of the original, but a shortened version with many lines reorganized and omitted. 37 Tian Jian, To the Fighters (Gei zhandouzhe) (Shanghai: Xiwang she, 1947), 132–133. 38 Tian Jian, Selected Poems of Tian Jian, 27. 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Further readings Batt, Herbert and Sheldon Zitner, trans. The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016. Crespi, John A. Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009. Hsu, K.Y. Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry. New York: Doubleday, 1963. Hung, Chang-tai. War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Lee, Leo Ou-fan, “Literary Trends: The Road to Revolution 1927–1949.” In John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker, eds. The Cambridge History of China,Volume 13: Republican China 1912–1949, Part 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Lin, Julia C. Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972. McDougall, Bonnie S. and Kam Louie. The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.



Life and career Ai Qing (1910–1996), pen name of Jiang Haicheng, is one of the most renowned Chinese poets of the 20th Century. After graduating from secondary school in Zhejiang province, he enrolled at Hangzhou’s National West Lake Academy of Art (today’s famous China Academy of Art) in 1928, founded by the prominent modern Chinese artist, Lin Fengmian (1900–1991), and began studying modern painting. Encouraged by Lin Fengmian to study in France, he went to Paris the following year. There, while earning his own livelihood, he kept studying painting in private academies and exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants in 1931. While learning painting, he started to read literary works by poets like Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891), Emile Verhaeren (1855–1916), Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), and French translations of Russian poets such as Sergei Essenin (1895–1925),Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930), or Aleksandr Blok (1880–1921). In the meantime, he came to know some compatriots involved in left-wing and anti-imperialist movements. He returned to China in 1932, and participated in artistic and political activities. He was arrested by the French concession’s police on grounds of seditious activities, before being handed over to the Kuomintang authorities that imprisoned him, first in Shanghai’s prison, and then in Suzhou’s House of Correction. After being released in 1935, Ai Qing did some teaching and engaged in artistic and literary activities. He collaborated with the left-wing journal July (Qiyue), edited by Hu Feng (1902– 1985). During the first years of the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945), he moved from one place to another (Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing, Linfen, etc.) and finally settled in the Communist base in Yan’an in 1941. He attended the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942. There, he encountered the first political critiques of his literary creations. After 1949, he continued to publish poetry, while engaging in official duties and editing work. During the AntiRightist Movement (1957–1959), Ai Qing was labelled a “Rightist,” and banished to Xinjiang, and stayed there until his rehabilitation in 1979. He regained his literary reputation and position as an official poet. He was respected for his patriotism during the war, his “liberal” artistic views on the role of the poet, the personal emotions and subjectivity he dramatized in his literary creations, as well as for being a victim of the Anti-Rightist Campaign. He occupies a prominent place in the history of modern Chinese poetry. His complete works, which collect his poetry, prose, essays, and poetic criticism as well as translations in 5 volumes, were published in 1991.2 235

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Literary achievements Ai Qing published his first poem in 1932, and his first poetry collection in 1936. His first collection of poetry, Dayanhe, My Nurse (Dayanhe, wode baomu) (on the title, see below, and note 46) was published privately in November 1936, and distributed by the Shanghai Masses Magazine (Shanghai qunzhong zazhi).3 It included nine poems, presented in an order differing from their actual chronological and editorial order: “Dayanhe My Nurse” (Dayanhe wode baomu), “A Transparent Night” (Toumingde ye), “Listening” (Lingting), “Over there” (Nabian), “The Death of a Nazarene” (Yige Nasalerende si), “The Ballad of a Painter” (Huazhede xingyin), “Mirliton” (Ludi), “Marseille” (Masai), “Paris” (Bali); some of them were previously published in different literary journals.4 As this collection, a milestone in his poetic career, came out before the outbreak of the War of Resistance in 1937, and before Ai Qing started following the CCP’s guidelines for literary creation in 1942, it rests upon an artistic tension between politics and art, “realism” (xianshi zhuyi) and “modernism” (xiandai zhuyi). Thus, Ai Qing played a crucial part in the birth of Chinese poetic avant-gardism. Many of the pieces he wrote prior to this period, although composed along a clear political line, reveal a significant presence of foreign themes and forms presumably at odds with politics. In his later collections, such as The North (Beifang, 1939), or Facing the Sun (Xiang taiyang, 1940), he kept displaying both poetic lyricism and political commitment. He later experimented with “popular forms” to support the political cause. His long poem “Wu Manyou” (1943),5 so named after a Yan’an’s exemplary peasant, is a representative work of this experimentation. Ai Qing managed in many of his later poems to preserve his stylistic independence in spite of his political commitment.

The masterpiece Poems from jail Dayanhe, My Nurse is widely recognized as Ai Qing’s masterpiece. The collection may be called “prison poetry,” as it was written in jail.6 The young imprisoned poet was not only very ill at the beginning of his detention, but also too much under tight surveillance to move freely and give vent to his emotions. For him, the outer world limited itself to his cell’s “iron window.” Remembering his childhood (“Ballad of a Painter”) and his past travels in France (“Paris”) arguably made up for his kinetic, emotional, and spiritual void. He could only read a few books of Rimbaud or Verhaeren, which his friends brought him when they visited him at times. They also helped him smuggle out his poetry manuscripts for publication outside the jail,7 thus creating a symbolic link all the stronger with an imagined community as he had already got himself involved in political activities prior to his arrest. His poetry duly reflected his daily life in prison.8 It revealed how he had to cope with censorship. His “mirliton” (ludi), which symbolizes his poetry, and was “forbidden” (jinwu) by the police of the Shanghai concession (29), reminds the reader of Apollinaire, who made fun of the French authorities during World War I using the same instrument (see note 32), that Ai Qing imported. The prisoner’s enunciation is a literary topos, even a genre. Ai Qing’s actual experience conforms to the foreign literary conventions he found in Apollinaire’s poetry, which he was fond of, and whose presence is obvious in Dayanhe. Ai Qing was not unfamiliar with At the [Prison] La Santé (A la Santé), collected in Alcohols (Alcools, 1913),9 written by the detained French poet. In his own poem, “Mirliton,” Ai Qing compared his situation with Apollinaire’s: “Now / Your [Apollinaire] poetry collection Alcool [sic] is in the Shanghai police station / I have ‘committed a crime’ ” (29). In Chinese, “crime” and “drunk” are homophonous (zui). The poem suggests 236

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that Ai Qing’s “crime” consists in nothing but reading Alcools, and the virtue of poetry lay in its proper power of intoxication. With this pun, the reading of Apollinaire’s collection brings the Chinese poet even closer to his foreign predecessor. The theme of detention occurs again in Ai Qing’s later poems, for example in “Facing the Sun” (Xiang taiyang, 1938),10 which expresses the poet’s physical and spiritual liberation in the context of the Resistance against Japan. Such a formative jail experience allowed Ai Qing to perform the role of the so-called Western poète maudit, a poet rejected by his own society on account of his moral virtues who created for himself a new identity. The quotation above plays upon words which not only refer to Apollinaire’s hypotext, but also invites the reader to see the “I” as a figure reviving Apollinaire’s hell and deserving in turn the rank of a poet.

Avant-garde poetry After his release, Ai Qing did not give up all interest in fine arts (he was not allowed to paint in prison). As a matter of fact, his 1936 edition of Dayanhe is illustrated with two of his own paintings, and a reproduction of a Chagall’s picture.This poetic collection is generally viewed as being written in a “realistic” manner. But, due to the poems’ obvious artistic and visual qualities, and given the explicit mentions of “Van Gogh” (as well as of other painters), it is often labelled “impressionistic,” and even “post-impressionistic.”This is, indeed, the overall impression one gets from reading many of Ai Qing’s poems. However, the expression of “avant-garde” might be more appropriate than “impressionistic,”11 because it pinpoints a particular set of formal, rhetorical, and stylistic characteristics,12 as well as a series of specific literary and artistic references. One might even speak of a rather futuro-cubist style, which also shares some techniques with symbolism and expressionism. One ought to note that the term “avant-garde” in the modern Chinese context hints at the importation of various aesthetic devices put into a single category, whereas in the European context the artistic avant-garde is, strictly speaking, perceived as a resistance to symbolism or impressionism. These stylistic features are often interwoven within a tight interliterary and transaesthetic nexus. In “Over There,” the “black” (hei) color is imbued with a deeper signification, as it is repeated as the poem unfolds; it largely contributes to producing an “expressionist” effect based upon the contrast between the black color with the few and fragile “lights” twinkling in the night and symbolizing the toiling masses in the city: Black river, black air, In the black, black centre, Thin, thick, Myriads of lights, Look, over there, it’s: The world of men striving forever.13 (My own translation) This poem displays a strong intertextual connection with Verhaeren’s poetry collections The Hallucinated Fields (Les Campagnes hallucinées, 1893) and The Tentacular Cities (Les Villes tentaculaires, 1895), which Ai Qing read and translated in prison.14 We may compare it with “The City” (La ville),15 the opening poem of the Hallucinated Fields: Over there, (. . .) It’s the tentacular city, 237

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(. . .) A river of naphtha and pitch Strikes the stone moles and the wooden pontoons; The crude whistles of the ships that pass Scream out of fear in the fog; A green lantern is their gaze At the ocean and the spaces.16 (My own translation) Like Verhaeren, Ai Qing gives color an expressive meaning, and works out a decadent and crepuscular imaginary of the modern city.17 Nevertheless, it seems that he focuses less on the aurality than the Belgian poet does. A more original and expressive use of color is displayed in the dramatic18 poem, “The Death of a Nazarene” (63–70), which features a series of pictorial effects in the depiction of a sublime landscape. Besides, this poem imports a foreign theme: Jesus is introduced as a revolutionary leader announcing to the popular crowd behind him that “the victory” shall be “his” (Victory is always mine!) (67).The link between the evangelic narrative and the revolutionary theme partially derives from Blok’s The Twelve (Dvenadtsat, 1918), which Ai Qing read in French translation in Paris. Apollinaire’s innovative work “Zone” (collected in Alcools)19 might be another model for Ai Qing’s rendering of urban wandering20 as well as of the figure of Jesus. Ai Qing’s poem exemplifies a trend of modern Chinese literature in the 1920s, which displays a fondness for such intertextual references.21 Another transaesthetic experiment may be recognized in “Paris” (33–41).22 In this long narrative poem, Ai Qing portrays Paris as a “profligate” (yindang) and “bewitching girl” (yaoyande guniang) (41), an object of a desire to be conquered by the young poet. He also mentions the painting, “Banban Dance” (Banban wudao) (35)23 by the Italian Futurist Gino Severini (1883– 1966).This is most likely the “Pan-Pan” Dance at the [Cabaret] Monico (La Danse du “pan-pan” au Monico, 1909–11), which made a sensation when it was exhibited for the first time in Paris in 1912.24 In his monumental painting, the artist represented the bodily movements of the dancers through a kaleidoscopic division of the shapes, forms, and colors. Likewise, in “Paris,” Ai Qing resorted to the techniques of juxtaposition and catalogue; the most obvious example of this device being the reduplication of a single word, “Wheel + wheel + wheel” (lunzi+lunzi+lunzi) (36), that cuts and suspends the syntagmatic order of the sentence, while expressing the futurist idea of concatenation and movement (“wheel”). He might have read the important epistolary collection Cloverleaf (Sanyeji, 1920), coedited by Guo Moruo (1892–1978), Tian Han (1898–1968), and Zong Baihua (1897–1986). A translation by Guo Moruo of Max Weber’s (1881–1961) “Eye Moment,” collected in Cubist Poems (1914), used a very similar technique.25 In “Ballad of a Painter” (71–3), Ai Qing engages in an ekphrasis with vivid description of an actual painting.26 In this poem written in jail, he mentions “Chagall’s painting” (Chagall de huafu, 71 – “Chagall” written in Latin letters in the original), after a first series of remembrances: Walking along the Seine I remember: Last night in the drums’ and gongs’ clamor of my dream At the plazza of the village that bore me, In the hand of the wandering acrobat who crossed South and North This sad and gorgeous strip of red, . . . – Only in a Spanish bullring Is there such a strip of red! 238

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The Eiffel Tower Stretches The saddening memories of my distant childhood. . . (. . .) On the streets of this city I am besotted with the lost time passed, – look In Chagall’s painting This lovesick cow, At the horizon Her two eyes staring powerlessly at past things, On Russia’s field the bride Sits under its belly, Squeezing out a clear and perfumed milk. . . (71–72) (My own translation) This evocation of the “soil” (tudi) stems from the imaginary juxtaposition of the poet’s place of origin as well as other fields (Russia, Spain), and from actual and contemporary wanderings in the streets of Paris. This composite space thus becomes a “kingdom” for the “cosmopolit[an]” vagabond, with whom the poet could identify himself. A single textual location is sufficient for him to roam simultaneously through different countries and cultures. His personal memories blend into “Paris” as an ideal melting pot for poetic writing, likely to provide the Chinese poet with a cosmopolitan identity. Ai Qing resorts to the technique of the cubist collage, the examples of which he could find in some of the works of Marc Chagall (1887–1985), whose name appears in the poem. We think of a particular painting, made in Paris by the Ukrainian artist: I and the Village (Moi et le village, 1911).27 The first of a series of works, it reveals the sense of a multicultural identity that blends the Vitebsk’s countryside of Chagall’s childhood with Yiddish culture and the Russian world. Considered from an aesthetic perspective, the painter mixes the techniques of cubism and of abstraction he discovered in Paris, together with the Russian primitivism he previously practiced.28 In 1912, Chagall painted another canvas related to this first one, To Russia, to the Asses, and to the Others (A la Russie, aux ânes et aux autres),29 displaying similar themes and images. Ai Qing might have had this work in mind, as well as the well-known Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (Autoportrait aux sept doigts, 1912/3) in which the artist represents himself standing between Russia and France, while painting To Russia.30 A poem collected in Apollinaire’s Calligrammes (1918), “Across Europe” (A travers l’Europe, 1914), refers to Chagall’s painting.31 In his own poem “Mirliton” (29–32), which is “Dedicated to the poet Apollinaire” (Jinian gu shiren Apolinei’er), Ai Qing precisely inserts a verse of “Across Europe” as an inscription: “I had a mirliton I wouldn’t have exchanged for the baton of a French marshal” (J’avais un mirliton que je n’aurais pas échangé contre un bâton de maréchal de France).32 Did Ai Qing recognize the indirect description of Chagall’s Self-Portrait in Apollinaire’s “Across Europe”? He might have found in Apollinaire’s work some examples of transaesthetic relations between poetry and painting, and in particular the depiction of an actual artistic work.33 Nevertheless, Ai Qing did not passively quote foreign verses and images; nor did he servilely try to reproduce Apollinaire’s depiction of a painting from Chagall. The crucial point is to understand how he consciously mastered and adapted some of the European and Russian avant-garde’s techniques and themes. He mainly fulfilled his artistic purpose by means of collage. He first adopted a series of disparate literary and pictorial images in his own poem with the aim to build intextual relations with foreign works. Then, he merged them so as to create an original and new meaning of his own. 239

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Here are some examples: the colors, most notably the red one,34 pervades “Ballad of a Painter” as a symbol of an intense life blended with tragedy; the Eiffel Tower,35 as the symbol of futurist modernity; the countryside cow, and its milk, evoking the idea of native soil.36 Besides, the kaleidoscopic representation produced by this device also recalls some poems by Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961),37 who is actually mentioned in this poem (72), and perhaps of the “simultaneous book” (livre simultané) which the Swiss poet published together with the artist Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979), The Prose of the Transsiberian and the Little Jehanne from France (La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France, 1913).38 Another poem of Dayanhe, “Transparent Night” (17–20),39 displays the same fragmentary narrative of a drunk poet who wanders in the countryside, in the form of a cubist and fragmented scene. Other devices contributing to these aesthetics of fragmentation, instantaneity, and simultaneity include: the catalogue (Ai Qing was not the first Chinese poet to read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass); the free-verse form, and the absence or suspension of punctuation (Apollinaire, Cendrars), a use of which creates ambiguities about the limit of a clause. We may add some other sources: the futurist Mayakovsky, whose “A Cloud in Trousers” (Oblako v shtanakh, 1915) Ai Qing was particularly fond of,40 and the surrealist Paul Eluard (1895–1952), whose famous verse “the earth is blue like an orange” (La terre est bleue comme une orange)41 inspired another of Ai Qing’s poems, “Orange” (1934), which quotes words from it.42 The primary function of these devices Ai Qing adopts is to break the linearity of verse.43 With these, he suspends the linguistic signifier’s chain, drawing the reader’s attention to the fragmentary and dynamic elements of the text, and allowing the depictions of colors and movements to be dissociated from any actual referentiality (see his later “Facing the Sun”). And yet Ai Qing leaves open the possibility of expressing some political ideas, not doggedly following the avant-garde project to its limits: his poems did not aim at breaking the language, as the Dadaist experiments would. This is what Ai Qing later designated as his “realism.” The multiplicity of these eclectic references, notably in “Ballad of a Painter,” constitutes a form of a collage per se. By integrating these imported elements, Ai Qing shapes the themes of memory and life, and creates his own personal lyrical expression of the experience of a modern Chinese poet caught between different cultures and identities. He juxtaposes his souvenirs and the imaginary elements with some actual images. He puts together the description of disparate and dynamic scenes dated from different times. Similarly to what Chagall and Apollinaire did in their own works, Ai Qing blends the memories of his childhood in the countryside with the urban and modern Paris.

From the city to the countryside Nevertheless, Ai Qing’s avant-garde aesthetics, despite its cosmopolitan meaning, is not devoid of a strong political commitment, as is also the case for many other Chinese or Western poets. The imported cultural cosmopolitanism, displayed in his poem “Mirliton,” plays a role in the making of a modernist and internationalist self. His poetic work was also integrated into the critique of the imperialist “Europe[an] vile thieves” (30),44 and the association with the expression of a rural identity, two features that culminated in his masterpice “Dayanhe” (23–28) in which the Belgian and Russian countryside of Verhaeren or Essenin’s poetry turns into a Chinese rural world. Similarly, the city in Dayanhe appears as an ambivalent place for international cultural circulation, and for the exploitation of the world proletariat’s. In sum, the internationalist discourse, and the Chinese imagery of the national or nativist countryside, plays a major role in the construction of Ai Qing’s poetic identity.


Ai Qing’s poetry and Dayanhe, My Nurse

Small wonder that the poet uses for the first time the pen name “Ai Qing” when writing “Dayanhe” in January 1933.45 He offers the first one of the eponymous collection as a “tribute” (jing) to the dead wet nurse of his childhood, Dayanhe. The place name, “Dayanhe,”46 refers to a village in the Chinese countryside, which was used to name a peasant woman deprived of a proper name. Ai Qing said later that his parents, for some superstitious reasons, entrusted him to this nurse,47 whom he regarded as his real mother. What deserves our attention here is the way the poet Ai Qing inscribes his identity within the text, and thus poetically reinvents both his biography and his self-identity: I am a son of a landlord; And yet I am, having grown up drinking Dayanhe’s milk, Dayanhe’s son. Dayanhe raised her family to raise me, And I was raised drinking your milk, Ah you Dayanhe, my wet nurse. (23) (my own translation) Ai Qing forges a new filiation for himself, i.e. as a member of the peasants’ community. He rejects his status as the “son of a landlord,” a political term with negative connotations, to become the “son of Dayanhe,” who then replaces the role of his mother and father. It may sound paradoxical that this identity he himself chose also designated a dead person, buried in a “grave.” This can be explained as follows: since Dayanhe had no proper name, the poet tries to make her more real through his poetical evocation. Dayanhe stands as a symbol of a common origin grounded in a particular place: the native soil. By so doing, Ai Qing creates a new family, not one based on blood ties, but on the sharing of the same peasant milk, and Dayanhe’s “tears,” another secretion of hers, that nourished Ai Qing’s body and soul.The poet feels he owes a debt to Dayanhe, and to her progeniture, as he was literally “brought up” on her milk and tears, an image to be read as a classical allegory of the masses’ oppression by the class of the landlords Ai Qing belonged to. Put into more politicized terms, Ai Qing was trapped between two opposing classes: the capitalist exploiter and the exploited proletariat. The only way for him to overcome this dilemma was to embrace fully his identity as a son of Dayanhe, the brother of her sons, in a new brotherhood bounded by the soil, and by the working body of his wet nurse. Instead of being a “thief,” he becomes the peasants’ foster child. Ideologically, this poem calls for a classless rural society to be established after symbolically removing the oppressive class of the landowners. Despite this political dimension, the poem is not a dry piece of propaganda. The character of Dayanhe is invested with a strong emotive and lyrical overtone: she is a full-blooded person, not an abstract or ideological figure. The poem serves as an example of how to blend the use of concrete imagery with political themes. As he writes later in his Treatise on Poetry (Shilun), poetry requires the merging of feelings with ideas,48 and lyricism with propaganda.49 In the present case, the “concrete” images were notably those of Dayanhe’s body. The physical actions she was associated with were evoked in detail in the form of a thanksgiving litany: Dayanhe, today, your foster-child in jail Writes a poem of thanksgiving in your homage, In homage to your violet soul beneath the yellow earth, In homage to your outstretched hand that embraced me,


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In homage to your lips that kissed me, In homage to your sweet face dark like mud, In homage to your breast that bred me, In homage to your sons, my brothers, In homage to everything on this good earth, [. . .] In homage to Dayanhe who loved me like her own son. (27–8) (my own translation) This series of poetic images implements another aspect of the poetic “concretization”: the surrealist or expressionist use of colors. Aesthetically, it might recall the palettes of Esenin,50 or of Apollinaire.51 Similarly, the body is described in detail, made more present, while displaying the lexical field of the soil (tu, ni, dadi). The focus on the colors turns some terms into a series of living metaphors: the yellow color is highlighted in huangtu (“lœss,” literally yellow soil, v. 3 in the selection), adding a potential cultural and national meaning, as is the case in “Yellow River,” or “Yellow Emperor.” Similarly, the word for “mud,” heini (lit. black mud), is dynamically reversed into ni hei (“mud black,” v. 6): “In homage to your sweet face, dark (or black) like mud.” The language is supposedly made more concrete by producing the illusion that Dayanhe, the mother soil, is palpable, as is her “soul,” the “violet” color of which makes it more visible and real (the “soul” being what cannot be seen par excellence). Ai Qing is no longer the “son of a landlord,” but one of the many sons of the earth52 that belongs to everyone.This poem is a nativist Internationale: Dayanhe is an orthodox Marxist image of the so-called historical primitive communism, even of a primitive matriarchal society. Ai Qing “wrote” his “poem” in “jail” (v. 1–2), which suggests that he became a poet by recalling and summoning the phantasmagoric image of Dayanhe. She was nameless, voiceless, and she had no knowledge of time, since she was already dead. The rural milk53 of the deceased one is symbolically turned into a new mother tongue54 – a quest for a mother tongue, or for the lost language. “Dayanhe” voices the tribute of a witness, testifying for Dayanhe’s life, and for her past dedication to him. To some extent, the imprisoned poet was “the subject witnessing a desubjectification” (Agemben) at three levels: (1) neither Dayanhe nor himself could actually speak as free subjects; (2) he was and was not a landlord or a son of Dayanhe; and (3) he was detained when he wrote this poem. The fact that “Dayanhe” is the first poem bearing the pen name produces evidence of this difficult and critical position: it could not have been signed by Jiang Haicheng, since he chose Danyanhe as his name instead of his given name. This reversal of the filiation signifies a reversal of the values, and a wish for a conversion to a new common destiny. Ai Qing’s identity realizes itself through “Dayanhe,” not only as a poet, but also as a proletarian, and a peasant. Was it possible for such a “landlord’s son” to identify with someone with no name – with a female proletarian nobody?55 – or to overcome the paradox of being both lyric and ideological? Ai Qing thought he could. Nonetheless, it could not prevent the real world of politics from catching up with him: later on, he was accused of being a petty “intellectual” by Zhou Yang (1908–1989)56 in 1942, and of “lacking revolutionary fervor” as well as being a “formalist,” by his fellow poet Feng Zhi (1905–1993) in the 1950s.57 “Dayanhe” (written in 1933, published in 1934) was the first poem of the collection, but not the first one Ai Qing wrote or published.58 Thus, in assembling his collection, he inverted the original chronology and the thematic evolution of his poems.This necessitates a recognition that Dayanhe must be considered as an organic whole. Dai Wangshu (1905–1950) once proposed to name Ai Qing’s collection “Mirliton,” instead of “Dayanhe.”59 Interestingly, the poem “Dayanhe” was rejected by Les Contemporains,60 for being too “realistic,”61 although Ai Qing had published 242

Ai Qing’s poetry and Dayanhe, My Nurse

several poems in this modernist journal. The poem “Dayanhe” marked a significant change in his poetics, and in his positionality. He decided to retrospectively turn the reader towards a more “realistic” and politicized understanding of his works, trying to minimize its undeniable “modernist” dimensions (he would later deny any difference between the two), which are best exemplified by “Mirliton.” The “realistic” themes covering the proletarian and peasant’s identity and its rural grounding attest to the reterritorialization of the imported themes.The cosmopolitan and westernized vagabond in “Ballad of a Painter” or “Mirliton” became for good a son of the Chinese soil. In Dayanhe, the cosmopolitan poems are placed after the pieces, which display a more proletarian and nativist thematic preoccupation.62 These different and apparently divergent dimensions (lyricism and politics, internationalism and nativism) were present right from the beginning of Ai Qing’s poetic career; the shift is just made more explicit through the prism of “Dayanhe.” It is also noteworthy that “Dayanhe” displayed less direct intertextual relations than some of his earlier poems. But even so, while from a stylistic and aesthetic perspective “Dayanhe” is a “westernized” or “globalized”63 poem, it remains one of the most creative poems of Ai Qing’s collection.64 In sum, this work, so lyrical and personal, not only paved the way for a more ideological and collectivist poetic agenda, it also produced an artistic tension out of which Ai Qing’s poetry is born.

Notes 1 The author is grateful to Prof. Ming Dong Gu for his editing work, and to Profs. Gérard Siary, and Nidesh Lawtoo for their re-reading. 2 Ai Qing, Complete Works (Ai Qing quanji) (Guangzhou: Huashan wenyi chubanshe, 1991), 5 vols. 3 See Liu Fuchun, “Ai Qing’s First Poetry Collection,” (Ai Qingde diyiben shiji) Poem Magazine (Shikan) (1999), vol. 5, 80. 4 In Les Contemporains (Xiandai) (“Over there,” September 1932; “Mirliton,” May 1933); Spring Magazine (Chunguang zazhi) (“Listening,” April 1934; “Dayanhe,” May 1934); Poetry Monthly (Shige yuebao) (“The Death of a Nazarene,” June 1934). 5 See Angela Jung Palandri, “The Poetic Theory and Practice of Ai Qing: Continuity and Change,” in Mason Wang, ed., Perspectives in Contemporary Chinese Literature (Michigan: Green River Review Press and University Center, 1983), 66. 6 See Chen Zengfu, “About the Lyrical Personality in Ai Qing’s Poetry,” (Ai Qing shige shuqing zhuti ren’ge guanjian) Social Science Front (Shehui kexue zhanxian) (1999), vol. 5, 138. 7 On Ai Qing’s imprisonment, see Cheng Guangwei, Ai Qing (Beijing: Zhongguo huaqiao chubanshe, 1999), 46–49. 8 See Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 16, 49–50. 9 Guillaume Apollinaire, Alcohols (Alcools) (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 126–131. 10 See Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 201, 203; Ai Qing, Selected Poems of Ai Qing, trans. Eugene Chen Eoyang (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1982), 54–55. 11 To my knowledge, Ai Qing does not claim this label (he presents himself as a “realist”). “Avant – garde” is ambiguous: it mainly embodies a posture in the field of the artistic world, and is often used by critics and historians to make a value judgment: see Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, The Artistic Avant – Gardes 1848– 1918, A Transnational History (Les avant – gardes artistiques 1848–1918, Une histoire transnationale) (Paris: Gallimard, 2015), 19–39. I use it, as referring to a set of themes, forms, and techniques that are quite distinctive in practice. Ai Qing is definitively not a “realist” poet, in the sense that western literary criticism generally understands it. 12 Such as the free-verse, the use of spatiality and of typography, the disjunction of the poem’s elements, instantaneous poetry, concrete poetry, association of writing and painting: Fernand Verhesen, “Poetry” (La poésie), in Jean Weisgerber, ed., Literary Avant – Gardes in the 20th Century (Les Avant – gardes littéraires au XXe siècle) (Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1984), vol. 2, 798–824. 13 Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 14. 14 His translation of Ai Qing’s nine poems was published in 1948, under the title The Countryside and the City (Yuanye yu chengshi): Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 735–759. Despite this title, they were not selected solely from these two collections (see the following note).


Victor Vuilleumier 15 Translated by Ai Qing under the title “Chengshi”: Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 739–744. See also “The Factories” (Les usines), in Emile Verhaeren, Les Campagnes hallucinées, Les Villes tentaculaires (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), 119–122; or “The Mass” (La foule), from his collection, Life’s Faces (Les Visages de la vie, 1899) (Paris: Mercure de France, 1916), 35–41, that Ai Qing translated as “Qunzhong”: Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 744–749. In 1940, he wrote a poem with the same title (423–424), expressing his own anxiety about being confronted to the masses. 16 “Là – bas, / (. . .) C’est la ville tentaculaire, / (. . .) Un fleuve de naphte et de poix / Bat les môles de pierre et les pontons de bois; / Les sifflets crus des navires qui passent / Hurlent de peur dans le brouillard; / Un fanal vert est leur regard / Vers l’océan et les espaces.”: Emile Verhaeren, Les Campagnes hallucinées, 21–22. 17 See Christian Challot, “Emile Verhaeren and Georg Heym, Painters of the Great Metropolis,” (Emile Verhaeren et Georg Heym, poètes des grandes métropoles) Belgian Review of Philology and History (Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire) (1999), vol. 77, no. 3, 751–764; He Qing, “The ‘Influential’ Dimension of the Urban Experience, About an Imported Element in Ai Qing’s Poetic Creation,” (Chengshi jingyande “yingxiang” xiangdu, Ye shuo Ai Qing shige chuangzuo zhongde wailai yinsu) Comparative Literature in China (Zhongguo bijiao wenxue) (2008), vol. 3, 103–111. 18 The “dramatization” (xijuhua) of poetry, along with its “prosification” (sanwenhua), is a major trend in the Chinese as well as Western poetry from the 1930s and the 1940s. 19 See Apollinaire, Alcools, 7–14. 20 An archetypal wanderer and visionary poet in modern French literature appears in Rimbaud’s “Drunken Boat” (Le bateau ivre, 1883), a model for Apollinaire’s “Zone,” or Cendrars’ “Transsiberian’s Prose.” 21 See Victor Vuilleumier, “Crucifixion and Torn Body in Modern Chinese Literature,” (La Crucifixion et l’écriture du corps déchiré dans la Nouvelle littérature chinoise) Chinese Studies (Etudes chinoises) (2011), vol. 29, 321–339. 22 English translation in Ai Qing, Selected Poems, 31–36. 23 Translated as “Shimmering Dance,” in Ai Qing, Selected Poems, 32. 24 This work was commented by Apollinaire: Didier Ottinger, ed., Futurism in Paris: An Explosive Avant – Garde (Le Futurisme à Paris, une avant – garde explosive) (Paris: 5 Continents et Centre Pompidou, 2008), 162–163. 25 Guo Moruo, Complete Works, Literary Part (Guo Moruo quanji, wenxue bian) (Beijing: Renmin wenyi chubanshe, 1990), vol. 15, 122–123. 26 Ai Qing also wrote on Lin Fengmian’s paintings. See David Der-wei Wang, The Lyrical in Epic Time, Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 237–239. 27 See Marc Chagall, Les années russes, (1907–1922) (Paris: Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1995), 69. 28 Ibid., 60. 29 Ibid., 61; Brigitte Léal, ed., The Modern Art Collection: the Collection of the Centre Pompidou (Collection Art moderne: la collection du Centre Pompidou) (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2008), 129–131. 30 Marc Chagall, Les années russes, (1907–1922), 96–97. 31 Philippe Geinoz, Relations in Progress: Dialogue between Poetry and Painting in the Days of Cubism (Relations au travail: dialogue entre poésie et peinture à l’époque du cubisme) (Ph.D. thesis no. L 713, Université de Genève, Genève, 2011), 306–309. 32 Actually, this verse appears in an earlier version of Apollinaire’s poem: The Storm (Der Sturm) (1914), vol. 3, 19. This verse was later deleted by the poet, because of the wartime context: see Peter Read, “Calligrammes and self – censorship” (Calligrammes et l’autocensure), Que Vlo  – Ve? (1983), vol. 2, no. 6–7 Proceedings of the Stavelot Conference 1982 (Actes du colloque de Stavelot 1982), 9. The “mirliton” is an allegory of Ai Qing’s cosmopolitan and internationalist poetry: in French, the expression “mirliton verses” (vers de mirliton) designates an unpretentious poem – besides, “mirliton” sounds like an irreverent distortion of “military” (militaire). 33 See also “In Memory of Le Douanier [Rousseau],” (Souvenir du douanier, 1914) in Apollinaire, Poems for Lou (Poèmes à Lou) (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), 63–66. 34 Apollinaire is a potential reference: in “Zone” (“sun cut neck,” soleil cou coupé), or “Across Europe.” The latter was at first titled “Rotsoge, To the Painter Chagall” (Rotsoge, Au peintre Chagall); different explanations have been given for this title, but “red” (rot, in German) is easily identifiable. 35 Apollinaire’s “Zone” (“Shepherdess O Eiffel Tower,” Bergère ô tour Eiffel), and many of Chagall’s paintings (see below). 36 See Chagall, and for example Essenin’s “russet cow”: Sergueï Essenine, Journal of A Poet (Journal d’un poète), trans. Christiane Pighetti (Paris: La Différence, 2014), 63.


Ai Qing’s poetry and Dayanhe, My Nurse 37 The futurist image of the “Transmission without wire” (TSF, quoted in Ai Qing’s text) appears for example in one of the most famous poems of Cendrars, a long journey poem resorting to the technique of collage, “The Panama, or the Adventures of my Seven Uncles,” (Le Panama, ou les aventures de mes sept oncles, 1918): Cendrars, From All Over the World, to the Heart of the World, Complete Poetry (Du monde entier, au cœur du monde, Poésies complètes) (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 72. 38 Cendrars wrote one of his “elastic poems” (poèmes élastiques) on Chagall, in two parts, “Portrait” and “Studio” (Portrait et Atelier, 1914): Cendrars, Du monde entier, 96–98. 39 English version in Ai Qing, Selected Poems, 23–25; Kai-yu Hsu, ed., Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 275–277. 40 Vladimir Maïakovski, Aloud (A pleine voix), trans. Christian David (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), 15–46. 41 Paul Eluard, Capital of Pain, Followed by Love, Poetry (Capitale de la douleur, suivi de l’amour la poésie) (Paris: Gallimard, 2007), 153. 42 Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 1, 53–55. 43 See Apollinaire, Calligrammes, ed. Gérald Purnelle (Paris: Flammarion, 2013), 28–29. 44 In 1932, Ai Qing attended in Paris a seance of the League against Imperialism, and wrote on that occasion a poem, “Gathering” (Huihe), published a few months later, after his return in China, in Big Dipper (Beidou), a publication of the Chinese League of the Left-Wing Writers (Zhongguo zuoyi zuojia lianmeng). It is his first published poem. 45 Ai Qing, Complete Works, vol. 5, 641. It was first used in a published poem in 1934 (“Mirliton”): Zhu Donglin, Zhu Xiaojin and Long Quanming, eds., History of Modern Chinese Literature 1917–2000 (Zhongguo xiandai wenxueshi) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2007), vol. 1, 324. 46 The original toponym is Dayehe (Big – leaved Lotus), but written Dayanhe (Big Dike River) by Ai Qing, because of the local pronunciation: Cheng Guangwei, Ai Qing, 8; Ai Qing, Selected Poems, 211. 47 His horoscope being supposedly dangerous to his parents: Cheng Guangwei, Ai Qing, 2. Ai Qing also reported that in order to be able to breastfeed him, since she already had four children, she had her newborn girl drowned: Luo Hanchao, On Ai Qing (Ai Qing lun), quoted in Chen Sihe and Li Ping, eds., One Hundred Modern Texts (Xiandai wenxue 100 pian) (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1999), vol. 1, 545. 48 See Victor Vuilleumier, “Body, Soul, and Revolution: The Paradoxical Transfiguration of the Body in Modern Chinese Poetry,” in Tao Dongfeng et al, eds., Chinese Revolution and Chinese Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 49. 49 See David Der-wei Wang, The Lyrical, 62–63. 50 See “To the Yellow Tunes of a Sad Accordion,” (Aux accents jaunes d’un accordéon triste) (Snova p’yut zdes’, derutsya i plachut): Sergueï Essenine, Journal d’un poète, 101; Julia Lin, Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), 178. 51 See for example “Across Europe,” or “Windows” (Fenêtres, 1913), in Apollinaire, Calligrammes, 54–55, 88; Apollinaire, Calligrammes, trans. Ann Hyde Greet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 397–398; Ann Hyde Greet, “ ‘Rotsoge’: Through Chagall,” (‘Rotsoge’: A Travers Chagall), in Que Vlo  – Ve? 1.1–22 (1979), Proceedings of the Stavelot Conference 1975 (Actes du colloque de Stavelot 1975), 1–16. 52 The son of earth is a frequent motto in the Chinese poetry of the 1930’s: see among others Li Guangtian (1906–1968) or Zang Kejia (1905–2004). 53 For a later but similar connection between the nativist milk and the production of words in Mo Yan’s works: Howard Choy, Remapping the Past, Fictions of History in Deng’s China, 1979–1997 (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 189–192. 54 Giorgio Agamben, Auschwitz, the Archive, and the Witness (Auschwitz, l’archive et le témoin, French translation of Quel che resta di Auschwitz, 1998), trans. Pierre Alferi, in Homo Sacer, 1997–2015 (Paris: Seuil, 2016), 924. 55 See Kirk Denton, The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature, Hu Feng and Lu Ling (Stanford: Stanford Unversity Press, 1998), 63. 56 Yang Siping, Chinese New Poetry’s Main Trends in the 20th Century (20 shiji Zhongguo xinshi zhuliu) (Hefei: Anhui jiaoyu chubanshe, 2004), 185. 57 Quoted in Angela Jung Palandri, “The Poetic Theory and Practice of Ai Qing,” 66. 58 He had published at least six poems by 1932. 59 Chen Shan, “Poetry Should Reach the People, Comrade Ai Qing Speaks About His Past Creation,” (Shi ying shi tongxiang renminde, Ai Qing tongzhi tan ta guoqude chuangzuo) Journal of Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan) (1981), vol. 3, 351. 60 This prominent “modernist” magazine in Shanghai during the 1930s, edited by Shi Zhecun (1905– 2003), published some other poems of Ai Qing, which fit probably better into the magazine’s agenda.


Victor Vuilleumier 61 Cheng Guangwei, Ai Qing, 52. 62 Ai Qing’s “Dayanhe My Nurse” shows a certain closeness to Guo Moruo’s poem “Earth My Mother!” (Diqiu, wode muqin, 1920), but without the themes of pantheism and its universalist dynamics: see Guo Moruo, Complete Works, Literary Part (Guo Moruo quanji, wenxue bian) (Beijing: Renmin wenyi chubanshe, 1982), vol. 1, 79–83. 63 In a conference held in Paris in 1980, Ai Qing declared (maybe by simplifying things) that Chinese “New Literature was mainly influenced by foreign literatures, and the same is naturally true of the New poetry” (Xin wenxue dabufen shi waiguode yinxiang, xinshi ziran ye ruci): Chinese Literature at the Time of the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937–1945) (La littérature chinoise au temps de la Guerre de résistance contre le Japon, de 1937 à 1945) (Paris: Editions de la Fondation Singer-Polignac, 1982), 319. 64 See Tao Tao Liu Sanders, “Dayanhe,” in Lloyd Haft, ed., A Selective Guide to Chinese Literature, 1900– 1949:The Poem (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 30–31.

Further readings Lin, Julia C. Modern Chinese Poetry, An Introduction. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972, 172–188. Lu, Yaodong. “Fifteen Years of Ai Qing’s Studies.” Modern Chinese Literature Studies (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu congkan) 2 (1995): 136–151. Palandri, Angela Jung. “The Poetic Theory and Practice of Ai Qing.” In Mason Y. H. Wang, ed., Perspectives in Contemporary Chinese Literature. Michigan: Green River Press, 1983, 61–76. Sanders, Tao Tao Liu. “Dayanhe.” In Haft Lloyd, ed., A Selective Guide to Chinese Literature, 1900–1949:The Poem. Leiden: Brill, 1989, 29–31.



Feng Zhi (1905–1993) is often and well described as one of China’s leading modernist poets. His name is also frequently mentioned in association with another nine poets collectively known as the Nine Leaves (jiu ye), as he taught and mentored four of these younger poets. The most prominent among the Nine Leaves was Mu Dan (1918–1977, male).The other eight poets were (in alphabetical order): Chen Jingrong (1917–1989, female), Du Yunxie (1918–2002, male), Hang Yuehe (1917–1995, male), Tang Qi (1920–1990, male), Tang Shi (1920–2005, male), Xin Di (1912–2004, male),Yuan Kejia (1921–2008, male) and Zheng Min (1920–, female). Fame came early for a young Feng. He was sixteen when his first published poem, “The Man in Green,” attracted favourable attention in the elite Chinese intellectual circles of 1921. In the autumn of that year, Feng began a foundation course at Peking University and lived for the next six years in Beijing, enjoying the support of Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Yu Dafu and other New Culture luminaries who lived or visited there during this period. In 1935, Lu Xun praised him as “China’s most outstanding lyrical poet.”1 Upon graduation in 1927, Feng worked as a high school teacher, first in Harbin and later in Beijing. From 1930 to 1935 he lived in Germany, enrolling at the University of Heidelberg where he studied German literature, philosophy and aesthetics as a scholarship student. He first encountered the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) in 1924 in Beijing. In 1931, he attended the University of Berlin where he read Goethe and German contemporaries of Goethe. In 1933, Feng returned to Heidelberg where he pursued doctoral studies under Ewald Boucke and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1935. In 1936, he accepted a professorial appointment at Tongji University in Shanghai, but fled a year later when Japanese troops invaded the city. With his wife and young daughter in tow, Feng stopped at different places in Zhejiang and Jiangxi for the next year before arriving in Kunming in August 1939. There he took up the position of professor of German Studies at the National Southwestern Associated University (known as Lianda), the wartime campus founded in Kunming by academic refugees from Peking University, Tsinghua and Nankai. For the duration of its existence (1937–1946), Lianda attracted academics and students from different parts of China, all of whom had been displaced by the war. It was at Lianda that Feng became a major influence on Mu Dan, Du Yunxie, Yuan Kejia and Zheng Min who were students there: the first three were enrolled in the foreign languages department where Feng taught while Zheng was a philosophy major who enrolled in Feng’s German language course. (A fifth 247

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member of the Nine Leaves, Tang Qi, graduated from Lianda’s history department in 1942). In 1946, Feng took up a position at Peking University’s department of Western languages and literatures where he would remain for the next twenty years. By 1949, he had become an enthusiastic supporter of the Communist cause and his devotion to Mao Zedong in the 1950s helped his career. From 1952, he served as head of his university department and was also appointed to several senior roles on official committees. When many of his intellectual peers fell victim to the Anti-Rightist campaign in 1957, Feng remained unscathed. Indeed, he published articles in support of the campaign and wrote poems in 1958 praising Mao’s ill-conceived Great Leap Forward. It was not until the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966 that Feng was subjected to severe criticism. In July 1970, he was sent to a “cadre school” in Xi county in Henan to be re-educated through manual labour. At the age of sixty-eight in the spring of 1972, he returned to Beijing on medical grounds. In 1977, shortly after Mao’s death, he was reinstated to his former academic position at Peking University. From 1977 on until his death on 22 February 1993, Feng enjoyed the rewards of his renewed literary fame in China and internationally. In 1978, he was appointed President of the China Society for Foreign Literature, and from 1979, he chaired the academic committee overseeing the activities of the Foreign Literature Research Institute (FLRI) within the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, serving also as the institute’s nominal director. He received numerous prizes from the German government for his contributions to research on German literature and was awarded fellowships and honorary positions at prestigious research institutions in Sweden, Germany and Austria. In 1987, a biennial Feng Zhi Prize for Research on German Literature was established under the auspices of the China Society for Foreign Literature, with funds donated by Feng from a 10,000 Deutsch Mark award he received from Germany in 1987. After 1949, Feng ceased to write the modernist poems that had made him famous in the Republican era. Throughout the 1950s, he confined himself to composing paeans to Mao and the party. By 1959 he had stopped writing poetry altogether, returning to it only in 1985. The poems Feng composed in the last twenty years of his life saw his reversion to modernist versemaking. These poems and other writings of his later years brim with personal insights into the process of literary creation. However, in these twilight years, Feng studiously avoided discussing his erstwhile devotion to Mao and his experience of the Maoist years.2

The legacy of Feng Zhi, Mu Dan and the Nine Leaves Today Feng Zhi remains best known as a poet even though his oeuvre consists of much else besides. He wrote essays, fiction, a novella, a biography of the renowned Tang-era poet and scholar-official Du Fu, and his translations of, and monographs on, modern German literature have been highly influential in mainland scholarship. That Feng is studied today primarily as a poet owes to the resurgence of modernist-inspired poetry in mainland China. Poetry was a significant part of the underground cultural scene that grew rapidly in the first decade after Mao’s death in 1976. Leading members of that scene included the so-called Misty poets whose rise to fame coincided with the release of two poetry anthologies: one by Feng and the other by the Nine Leaves. The Selected Poems of Feng Zhi attracted widespread interest when it appeared in 1980 for it included his critically acclaimed twenty-seven sonnets, written in 1941 and first published in 1942, which had not been reprinted on the mainland since 1949. Feng’s anthology was followed by the 1981 publication of Nine Leaves, which consisted of poems written in the 1940s by the 248

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nine poets mentioned at the outset. The nine had not seen themselves as a group in the 1940s, let alone as members of a school. The name “Nine Leaves” was allegedly a jocular suggestion by Xin Di when the retrospective anthology was in production in 1979. Xin had observed that the poets’ great age disqualified them from being named the “Nine Flowers.”3 The “Nine Leaves” were in the early phase of their literary careers in the 1940s.Their poetry explored diverse themes and drew on equally diverse literary precedents, including early twentieth-century formalist, surrealist and symbolist writings produced in China and internationally that they had encountered as students in the 1930s and early 1940s. Shortly after the end of World War Two and Japan’s occupation of China, war broke out between the Nationalists (under Chiang Kai-shek) and the Communists (under Mao). The civil war years (1946–1949) coincided with the growing fame of these nine poets. Then in their twenties and early thirties, their modernist verse and magazine activities reflected an urbane freedom continuous with the New Literature of the 1910s and 1920s. To the extent that people have grown accustomed to referring to these poets as the “Nine Leaves,” the problem then arises of group traits being retroactively attributed to the individuals so named. The nine poets were all left-leaning, as were a large majority of Chinese intellectuals and students of the day. (Chen Jingrong and Hang Yuehe were already Communists in the 1940s.) However, what gave their 1940s poetry an unusual flair owed to neither poetic collaboration nor political preference but circumstances. In the late 1940s, all nine poets were either living in Nationalist-controlled Shanghai or overseas. As Michel Hockx observes, this meant that they “were in no way bound to observe the Communist Party literary standards like poets who had joined Mao in Yan’an [the Communist Party headquarters]. This helps explain why among leftist poets writing after 1945, their work stands out for its quality.”4 The key facts are as follows: from 1946 to 1948, the four whom Feng mentored (Mu Dan, Du, Yuan and Zheng) contributed to Poetry Creation and Chinese New Poetry Monthly, underground magazines founded in Shanghai by the other five (Chen, Hang, Tang Qi, Tang Shi and Xin Di). The nine poets interacted with each other through these post-war magazines, as authors and editors with a broad interest in developing “new poetry.” The six who were based in Shanghai in the late 1940s (Chen, Hang,Tang Qi,Tang Shi, Xin Di and Yuan) met and socialised through their journal activities. Of the remaining three, Mu Dan studied literature at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1952; Zheng was away from 1948 to 1955, studying first at Brown University and later living in New York; and Du worked as a reporter in Singapore from 1947 to 1950. The fame they enjoyed in the 1940s proved short-lived. Under the totalitarian conditions that prevailed from 1949 to the mid-1970s, in which Party thinking dictated cultural production, they either wrote very little poetry or ceased writing poems altogether. Instead, several of them became translators and scholars of the foreign poets and writers they had admired or studied, such as Lord Byron, John Keats, John Milton, Alexander Pushkin, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Rainer Maria Rilke. Mu Dan’s contributions to the translation of foreign literature have been especially significant. As a translator, he worked under his given name Zha Liangzheng. His translation of Byron’s Don Juan, which he started in the early 1960s and on which he worked for over a decade, was hailed as a tour de force when it was posthumously published in 1980. This was because Mu Dan strove to be faithful not only to the original content but to its tone and style, which led him to translate with poetic verve, using the expressions available to him in modern colloquial Chinese. His achievements as a translator are further magnified by the fact that he completed a large part of Don Juan during the Cultural Revolution, when doing hard labour at different camps as part of his “re-education” while also being subjected to numerous episodes of public humiliation.5 249

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Of the “Nine Leaves,” Mu Dan has enjoyed the widest recognition.The posthumous interest he attracted in the 1990s surpassed that of even his mentor Feng Zhi. The resulting “Mu Dan fever” produced an abundance of commentaries and papers about his oeuvre and his poems and translations remain widely studied to this day. In 1946,Wang Zuoliang, a fellow poet and former Lianda student, published an essay in English on Mu Dan’s poetry in the London-based journal Life and Letters, praising him, among other things, for his “daring use of the spoken idiom” and for saying “things with a bang where other Chinese poets are vague and mealy-mouthed.” Most importantly, Wang wrote, Mu Dan had breathed such life into “new Chinese literature” as to have created “a God” for it, adding: The God he eventually arrives at may not be a god at all, but Satan himself. The effort is laudable and the artistic process to climb such forbidding heights of the soul, almost totally new in China, will be worth watching.6 Although the “artistic process” of verse-making became inaccessible to Mu Dan and his fellow poets in Maoist China, literary translation provided them with an alternative means to develop their artistry. The Misty poet Bei Dao observed of the “translation style” created by the “Nine Leaves” that it gave his generation “a vehicle for expressing creative impulses and seeking new linguistic horizons.”7 In the Selected Poems of Feng Zhi and Nine Leaves, readers born after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 discovered the poetic experimentations of Republican-era China while older readers became reacquainted with the modernist idiom and symbolic language of pre1949 New Poetry that the Maoist state had banned.8 The two anthologies became a source of inspiration for artists, poets and writers, active in the first post-Maoist decade, in their struggles to break free from the pervasive grip of Party language on contemporary discourse. Of the writings produced by Feng Zhi and the Nine Leaves poets over their lifetimes, their poems of the 1940s have continued to attract the most attention and commentary in mainland scholarship. Part of the reason is that these poems present a whole realm of creative expression utterly at odds with the doctrinal prescriptions of Mao Zedong Thought which were imposed less than a decade later.The historical poignancy of these poems of the 1940s is further accentuated by the fact that their authors’ creative lives were brought to an abrupt halt after 1949 and resumed only in the late 1970s. Frequently discussed in present-day Chinese scholarship as a last burst of expressive brilliance before the onset of Maoist rule, these poems have also come to represent a Chinese modernism cut off before its prime.

The sonnets of Feng Zhi The Fourteen-Line Collection (Shisihang ji) is arguably Feng’s best known and most lauded work. Consisting of twenty-seven sonnets written over several months in 1941, the anthology was published in 1942 by Tomorrow Press (Mingri she) in Guilin. It appeared “with neither a preface nor an afterword,” as Feng later pointed out in the preface he wrote for the work’s second edition, published by Shanghai’s Cultural Life Press in January 1949. In the second edition, he recounted the circumstances that had led him to compose the individual poems.9 Feng and his family reached Yunnan in August 1939 and lived in various places over the next year. In October 1940, they were given a two-room thatched cottage on a farm owned by the family of one of Feng’s students from Tongji University, Wu Xiangguang.10 Feng soon settled into a regular routine of walking some four and a half miles [“fifteen li”] from the cottage in mountainous Yangjiashan to the provincial capital Kunming, to teach at Lianda and shop for 250

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groceries. On one of these twice-weekly perambulations on a winter’s afternoon in early 1941, he “saw several silver-coloured aeroplanes flying in a sky so blue it looked just like crystal.” This vision led him to “think of the Peng bird dreamt up by the ancients.”11 The Peng bird appears in the first chapter of the fourth-century B.C.E. Daoist classic, Zhuangzi, as an image of transcendent freedom. The back of this mythical creature, says the Zhuangzi, spans unknown “thousands of li” and its wings “shroud the sky like clouds” when it soars to a height of “ninety thousand li.”The Zhuangzi continues: “The blueness of the blue sky: is that its true colour? Is it because the sky extends so far and is without limit? The one [Peng bird] who looks down from on high likely sees the very same thing.”12 By recounting how the bright blue sky reminded him of lines about the Peng bird from the Zhuangzi, Feng retranscribed an ancient expression of wonder from classical language (guwen) into modern vernacular (baihuawen). In one sense, Feng’s cosmopolitan education in China and Germany had afforded him a Peng-like capacity to traverse diverse literary realms in pursuit of his own soaring poetic voice. The image of the Peng, however, is double-edged. The “silvercoloured aeroplanes” Feng saw were deadly weapons designed to kill on an industrial, which is to say Peng-like, scale. Kunming was subjected to periodic Japanese air raids which, as observed by the renowned social scientist Fei Xiaotong (1910–2005) who arrived at Lianda in 1944, “invariably occurred on fine days.”13 Feng wrote that being reminded of the Peng bird caused him “to blurt out a rhymed poem in time with his footsteps”; when he got home, he wrote out the poem and discovered that “quite incidentally, it was a version of the sonnet.”14 He added that he placed this first poem as the eighth in his collection of sonnets and “being the earliest it was also the least eloquent.”This was because he had grown unaccustomed to writing poetry and had produced “no more than around ten poems” in the preceding decade. However, once he had written that first sonnet in early 1941, other poems soon followed: Sometimes I would write two or three in a day, at other times I would get stuck halfway through and would then need a long time to complete the poem. I wrote twenty-seven altogether in this manner. In autumn, I fell seriously ill. When I recovered, I felt all alone and as though I had nothing. As my strength returned, I took out the twenty-seven poems so as to go over and edit them once more. As I did so, I felt a lightness of spirit because I was achieving what I had set out to do. (Ibid.) Feng’s Fourteen-line Collection was acclaimed by his literary peers upon publication. The renowned writer Zhu Ziqing (1898–1948) enthused that the work had “built a foundation for the Chinese sonnet, such that even hardened skeptics are now convinced that this genre will thrive in Chinese poetry.”15 Zheng Min, one of the Nine Leaves, recalled in a 2015 interview that she “worshipped” Feng’s book of sonnets when it appeared in 1942. Zheng said that the book taught her that poetry must “express not only feelings but insight and reflection” and in so doing, shaped her “poetic style” thereafter.16 Most scholars of modern Chinese poetry would agree with Michelle Yeh’s description of Feng’s twenty-seven sonnets as “a modern landmark not only because it is the first collection of original sonnets in Chinese but also because of its supreme artistry and philosophical depth.”17 Of the twenty-seven sonnets, the first four explore human existence in relation to things of nature (such as dust, flowers, grass, insects, leaves, mountains, mud and trees), natural and cosmic phenomena (comet, sounds, wind) and the workings of nature (the changing of the seasons, life and death), the subject of the fifth is Venice and the next four return to the theme of human 251

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existence and human experience, with sonnets eight and nine focusing on human ambition, hubris and mortality. Sonnets ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen are, respectively, odes to Cai Yuanpei, Lu Xun, Du Fu, Goethe, and Vincent van Gogh. The next seven sonnets reflect on the complex emotions aroused in the poet by his encounters with scenic and sublime landscapes, with sonnets eighteen to twenty-one focused on emotional attachments, the human desire to belong and the inevitability of separation. Sonnet twenty-two was partly inspired by a statement Feng had read in the Koran, sonnet twenty-three was composed to mark the birth of a litter of puppies, and the four last sonnets revolve around scenes of nature, everyday life and the creative impulse. Traversing all twenty-seven sonnets is the overarching idea that immortal art springs from mortal preoccupations. In every poem, plain wordings are used to imbue lived experience with poetic significance. As Feng puts it in the first two quatrains of Sonnet One: We prepare ourselves ever so deeply to receive Those miracles we are incapable of imagining. Amid the languid passing of days and months, there is suddenly The appearance of a comet. A wild wind gusts forth. At this very instant, our lives become Akin to the feeling of the first embrace. Past joys and sorrows loom suddenly before our eyes Congealed into majestic and unmoving bodies.18 It is no accident that Feng chose to start The Fourteen-Line Collection with these eight lines. He never explained why the poems were not chronologically arranged. That he placed the very first sonnet he wrote at number eight and that he grouped the ones composed as eulogies at numbers ten to fourteen indicates that the ordering of the poems was not arbitrary.We can thus attach some significance to the first eight lines of the poem with which the work begins. Was Feng suggesting, with this opening gambit, that the poems that matter, the ones that move or thrill us, should be regarded as “majestic and unmoving bodies” of a kind? It does seem so as his twenty-seven sonnets are, after all, careful arrangements of words by means of which the poet “congealed” his impressions of given events, moments and places. In the remaining six lines of Sonnet One, Feng used small and large “bodies” to illustrate the types of experience to which poetry should attend. He presented images of “tiny insects” at their most alive to achieve a correspondence between the brevity of insect life and human finitude. This is followed by a reiteration in the poem’s final two lines of the first quatrain’s “comet” and “wild wind,” differently inflected and stated in reverse order. We praise those tiny insects For having undergone a singular bout of copulation Or having withstood a dangerous threat Before their splendid lives came to an end. We spend the whole of our lives enduring A wild wind gusting forth, a comet appearing. [1] The experiential terms, “copulation” and “dangerous threat,” complement the figures of “the first embrace” and “past joys and sorrows” introduced in the second quatrain. The last two lines of the sonnet extract, from these various references to heightened sensation, a general statement about poetic insight: namely, that it is through intensity of experience and feeling that life, 252

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however briefly lived, becomes imbued with meaning and value. Here we must note that the repetition of “a wild wind gusting forth” and “a comet appearing” at the poem’s end differs in tone from the presentation of the same imagery at the start. In the poem’s first line, Feng evokes the cosmic sublime as a blessing by using the verb “receive” (lingshou). The final line, conversely, suggests the sublime is a burden or an ordeal one must “endure” (chengshou). Feng greatly admired Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926). His translation in 1936 of a 1921 poem by Rilke on the function of the poet offers helpful clues to the underlying impulse behind Feng’s twenty-seven sonnets. The opening lines of Rilke’s poem read: Oh tell us, poet, what it is you do? – I praise. But in the midst of deadly turmoil, what helps you endure, and how do you survive? – I praise.19 Feng published this and other translations of Rilke in 1936, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Austrian writer’s death. In an accompanying essay, Feng extolled Rilke’s poetic achievement of a “commingling [jiaoliu] of the self and the myriad things of nature.” Reflecting on what he had learned from Rilke, Feng stated: We often hear someone say of some material that it is unsuited for poetry or that it isn’t a candidate for poetry. However, Rilke’s reply is that all things, so long as they genuinely exist, can be admitted into poetry. Most people also say that emotions are what poetry needs but Rilke tells us that we have long been equipped with emotions: what we need is experience. The kind of experience he means resembles what disciples of Buddhism regard as “the body transformed into the myriad things” [huashen wanwu], by means of which one becomes able to taste the pain and suffering of all living creatures.20 The proposition that experiential intensity makes life meaningful is implicit in the last two lines of Sonnet One. Against these statements from Feng’s 1936 essay, Sonnet One lends itself to being read as Rilkean- and Buddhist-inspired: both a celebration of powerful experiences (the ones capable of affecting us as much as “a wild wind gusting forth” or filling us with the wonder of “a comet appearing”) and an endorsement of the attitude required for receiving such experiences (as that which we must be prepared to “spend the whole of our lives enduring”). Moreover, by using the Buddhist expression huashen wanwu (the original Sanskrit for huashen is nirmānakāya) to explain the type of experience verse-making requires, Feng endows poetry with a transcendent purpose. For Feng, the poetic urge to pursue and praise “all that is true in the world” was also a form of self-reckoning (Ibid., 76). In his preface to the 1949 edition of The Fourteen-Line Collection, he wrote that although he composed the first sonnet in 1941 for “no particular reason,” he had nonetheless “felt a growing demand deep within” to give voice to “several experiences that are forever repeating themselves in my mind, several people from whom I have continued to draw nourishment, and natural phenomena that I have found instructive.” He then asked himself: “Why don’t I leave a record of my gratitude to all these?” It was this idea that led me to write a poem about each thing that has had an impact on my life or mattered deeply to me: from immortal historical figures to nameless 253

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village children and farmers’ wives, from a renowned ancient city far away to flying insects and mosses on the hill slope here, from a short period in one’s personal life to the things many have encountered in common.21 These remarks reveal the extent to which Rilke’s views, and language, shaped Feng’s conceptualisation of his own poetic intent. It was only in 1989 that Feng acknowledged the influence of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus on The Fourteen-Line Collection.22 However, as studies to date of Feng’s 1941 sonnets have demonstrated, he also took inspiration from diverse authors for his poetic art and vocabulary, including, among others, Tao Yuanming (d. 427), one of the most revered literary figures of premodern China, the Tang-era poets Du Fu (712–770) and Jia Dao (779–843), Lu You (1125–1210) from the Song era, Goethe and Lu Xun. Many of the images Feng employed in his sonnets are staples of premodern Chinese literature. For instance, the “chain of mountains, silent and verdant” in the final line of Sonnet Two resonates with the evocative power of landscape imagery in traditional Chinese painting and poetry. Of this line, Eric Yu has commented that it recalls “Li Bai’s famous line ‘blue mountains stretch beyond the northern city wall’ and Huang Xiaomai’s ‘empty goblets weeping at night, blue mountains speechless.’ ” Feng’s early poems (predating his sonnets) similarly reflect the significant influence of “Tang poetry and Song Dynasty song lyrics in terms of diction and the use of figures.”23 Moreover, Lloyd Haft has observed that the rhyme patterns of Feng’s sonnets reflect the influence of the “Thirteen Tracks” or “Thirteen Rhyme Groups” (shisan zhe), a northern Chinese rhyming scheme dating from the Qianlong era widely used in Peking Opera.24 Feng’s sonnets are a cosmopolitan fusion of modern vernacular syntax and vocabulary, premodern Chinese diction and rhythm, and European literary aesthetics. The elegance and economy of his language calls attention to the novelty and effectiveness of this fusion. That Feng’s poetic art is most often described as “modernist” owes partly to the tensions created in his poems by these disparate elements, which are never fully resolved in favour of one or another element. In language and imagery, all twenty-seven sonnets affirm situations of modern flux and transformation over those of a classical organic harmony. Sonnet Two is a prime example of this modernist sensibility at work. The poem begins with a proposition plainly stated and with such conscious adherence to syntax as if to exemplify a modern clarity of expression in which every word must be made to count: Whatever can be shed from our bodies We will let it turn to dust. The next five lines transpose this proposition into an evocative image of trees in autumn which the poet likens to human existence. However, he does so to accentuate the difference between the unconscious workings of nature and conscious human will.The next two lines after that reiterate this difference via the figure of molted cicadas. Lines three to nine are as follows: We place ourselves in this age Like trees in autumn, one by one, Whose leaves and late blooming flowers Are all given to the autumn wind. Thus eased, the bodies of trees Stretch toward a severe winter. We place ourselves In nature, like molted cicadas Leaving behind their discarded husks in mud and soil. 254

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Having figured death and metamorphosis as the cycle of seasons, trees shedding their leaves, molted skins and things turned to dust, the poet then shifts in the sonnet’s last five lines to extol the capacity of the human mind to imagine death and to create art out of what it imagines. We place ourselves in relation to that Death yet to come, like a part of a song Whose tune has fallen off the body of music. Finally, the music’s outer form is all that remains Transformed into a chain of mountains, silent and verdant. [2] This elevation of “music,” or poetry, to a “chain of mountains, silent and verdant” is a different sentiment to the poem’s opening proposition that all that is mortal must “turn to dust.” Scholars writing on Feng’s sonnets frequently describe them as “philosophical” because these are poems whose wordings invite reflection on the relation between art and life, the cosmic and the human, infinity and finitude. The recurring use of the verb anpai (to “place,” “arrange,” “order”) in Sonnet Two reminds the reader that humans, unlike other creatures, are equipped with free will: to “place ourselves in this age” is to choose a way of being. Similarly, to “place ourselves in relation to that death yet to come” is to attempt to make sense of one’s life as an act of will, in the knowledge of certain death. To turn these modern self-conscious “placings” into a song is to make poetic sense. To first picture death and then turn that picture into a work of art is, as Feng implies, to produce a “majestic and unmoving” body that will endure long after the artist is dead. Given the redemptive powers Feng accorded to art, it is not surprising that he should devote five of his sonnets to chosen exemplars whose textual legacy he regarded as “immortal.” He did not eulogize Rilke in a sonnet, perhaps because he had written extensively on Rilke five years earlier and translated several of his poems. However, in the first edition of The Fourteen-Line Collection in 1942, he made a point of noting that it was Rilke’s words he borrowed to mourn Cai Yuanpei in Sonnet Ten, written on 5 March 1941 on the first anniversary of Cai’s death.25 To commemorate Cai’s role in guiding and accelerating cultural change in Republican-era China, Feng began with these lines: Your name is placed mostly among Other names, indistinguishable from theirs. Nonetheless you will forever Quietly preserve your own radiance. This succinct foregrounding of Cai’s eminence as an official and scholar whose legacy was institutional rather than textual is developed in the sonnet’s last four Rilkean-inspired lines. We deeply feel how you can no longer Join in the work of humanity’s future – If this world is to be renewed If things gone awry are to be put straight. [10] In a letter to his wife Clara dated 19 November 1917, Rilke had expressed the distress he felt on learning of the death of his mentor Augustine Rodin two days earlier: I do not know what Rodin’s death would have meant to me in normal circumstances perhaps something after all reconcilable; for the present, I am dominated by perplexity 255

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that something so close should come to pass without standing out at all sharply defined against the chaos of the time, that behind the unnatural and terrible wall of the war these clearly known figures sink away from one, somewhere Verhaeren, Rodin, those great wise friends – their death becomes indistinct and indiscernible . . . I only feel that they will not be there any more when the horrible vapor clears away, and will not be able to stand by those who will have to raise the world up again and nurse it.26 Rilke’s remark about how the war in Europe had exacerbated the sorrow he felt when Rodin died evidently struck a deep chord with Feng.The conditional statements in the last two lines of Sonnet Ten convey uncertainty, suggesting that, without enlightened leadership, the end of war might not usher in the longed-for recovery. Living amid the devastation caused by Japanese bombs and the occupying Japanese army, Feng felt keenly the loss of Lu Xun as a mentor. When Feng reached Shanghai in September 1935, following the completion of his studies in Germany, Lu Xun was among the first people he called on. He and his wife spent an afternoon with Lu Xun on 6 September in the writer’s favourite bookstore, the Uchiyama Shoten, before travelling on to Beijing.27 By then, Lu Xun’s health was failing. A year later in October 1936, Feng returned to Shanghai to attend the writer’s funeral. We know from Feng’s diary jottings that when he moved into the thatched cottage in Yangjiashan outside Kunming in October 1940, he embarked on a program of reading which included works by Goethe, poems by Du Fu and Lu You, letters by Kierkegaard and Rilke, a few of Nietzsche’s writings and Lu Xun’s personal essays.28 In 1941, Feng wrote Sonnet Eleven to honour Lu Xun’s memory, of which lines five to nine read: I feel the deepest gratitude, always, When gazing upon you, because of this era of ours. It has been destroyed by several fools Its protector lived his days Outside this world, abandoned by it. [11] As arguably China’s best-known and most acclaimed writer, Lu Xun was much sought after by acolytes, officials, academics, artists, writers, publishers, reporters and Communist operatives, whether to grace an event, deliver a speech, give an interview, write an essay, endorse a book, read or edit a manuscript, and so on and so forth. Feng clearly admired Lu Xun. However, his description of the writer in line eight as the world’s “protector” and in line nine as “abandoned” by the world is perhaps overwrought and even unintendedly burlesque. However well meaning, this confusion of writer and writing veers toward hagiography. Lines five to nine of this poem make clear that Feng had sought, in an act of reverential commemoration, to conflate the flesh-and-blood Lu Xun with the figure of the “warrior” (zhanshi), which the writer had used in several of his prose poems and essays. The first four lines of the poem similarly characterise Lu Xun using the title of one of his prose poems, “An Awakening.” At dusk one day many years ago You experienced an awakening because of a few young people You were disillusioned who knows how many times But that awakening has never dissipated. [11] These lines, which draw on the many references in Lu Xun’s essays to young people who had either inspired or disappointed him, are more cogent than the later ones praising Lu Xun as the 256

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world’s “protector.” Line four suggests that Lu Xun’s “awakening,” as a textual legacy, provided readers with a permanent source of inspiration. Feng also extemporised on Lu Xun’s favourite tropes in several of the sonnets. For instance, Sonnet Nine evokes numerous images from Lu Xun’s prose poems in the anthology titled Wild Grass, of which the warrior is one. In his 1925 prose poem “Such a Warrior,” Lu Xun presented a figure of primal independence, single-mindedly focused on hunting down his enemies, to suggest the type of attitude a writer must adopt to wage verbal war against false claims. That Lu Xun meant a discursive rather than a physical war is clear from the statement that the warrior “enters the ranks of the incorporeal” to fight the good fight.29 Feng retranscribes this idea of the textual-as-incorporeal into an act of communion between the reader and the text. He does so by speaking directly to the warrior, to suggest that the imagery of Lu Xun’s poem has a lasting evocative power: You stand in the battlefield like an immortal hero, In another world, forever turned toward heaven’s blue dome. [9] Unlike Sonnet Eleven’s confusion of writer and writing, in this poem, gratitude is expressed through rhetorical emulation, producing a fusion of the master text (“Such a Warrior”) with its derivative (Feng’s Sonnet Nine).Two other poems in The Fourteen Line Collection are evocative of Lu Xun’s favourite tropes. Sonnet Four, on the mountain plant Edelweiss, which Feng rendered in Chinese as shuqu cao, with the attendant connotation of a weed or wild grass, lends itself to being read as a response to the preface Lu Xun wrote for Wild Grass. The central image in Sonnet Seventeen of unknown country roads recalls Lu Xun’s figuration of hope as so many “roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with but when many people pass one way, a road is made.”30 The semantic resonance between this remark of Lu Xun’s and Sonnet Seventeen seems unmistakable: You say that on this wild plain what you like best is the sight of These many little roads so filled with life. The footsteps of countless unnamed travellers have Trodden out these active roads. In the wild plain of our souls There are also little winding roads. Of those who have walked on them, however, More than half have travelled to destinations unknown. Lonely children, white-haired couples, There are also a few young men and women And friends who have died. They have all Trodden out these roads for us. We commemorate their footsteps To prevent these roads being turned into a desolate wilderness. [17] More immediately, however, the road imagery in Sonnet Seventeen recalls the perilous road journeys made in haste by academics and students, with many accompanied by their families, as they fled Japanese-occupied China in the late 1930s for the relative safety of either the southwestern hinterland, controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, or the Communist headquarters in Yan’an in north-central China. Feng’s own journey to Kunming was a difficult one for his wife had contracted a serious illness en route.31 In October 1940, Mu Dan, Feng’s 257

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poetic protégé at Lianda, published a poem to commemorate his own long journey to Kunming. He had set out from Beijing on 20 February 1938 with 240 fellow male students and several academics. Titled respectively “Departing: Traversing Three Thousand Li on Foot, part 1” and “Walking in the Wilderness: Traversing Three Thousand Li on Foot, part 2,” Mu Dan’s two-part poem presents an exuberant account of the sights and scenes the then twenty-year-old poet encountered in 1938.32 Carolyn Fitzgerald writes that this and other poems composed by Mu Dan around this time “all feature a poetic speaker passing through wide swathes of countryside and expressing a newfound sense of connection with the common people” (Ibid., 39). Mu Dan’s poem includes these lines: We walk on the paths which were walked by our beloved ancestors; For so many years it has all been the same endless wilderness. This image is further developed in the poem’s last three lines: That hope, which once burned in the hearts of countless generations of ancestors. This inestimable hope is so stubborn and persistent. Ah, China’s road is so free and vast. . . (Ibid., 41) Feng was thirty-seven when he wrote his twenty-seven sonnets. Was Sonnet Seventeen, written months after the publication of Mu Dan’s road poem, partly an elegiac response to the younger poet’s patriotic optimism: more anxious than hopeful about the future? This question yields no conclusive answer but I raise it here to highlight the closeness, even camaraderie, between students and teachers at Lianda, as the recollections of the university’s faculty and alumni attest. The convergence at Lianda of China’s leading scholars, writers and intellectuals, together with students from Beijing’s top universities, created a unique environment between both artistic and intellectual endeavours. Lianda was “a center of liberal education, liberal in its pluralism and tolerance of diversity.”33 Moreover, the exigencies of war meant there was a general lack of library resources which, in turn, produced a highly personalised and non-textbook-oriented approach to pedagogy on the part of Lianda’s distinguished teaching faculty, which included celebrated writers like Shen Congwen (1902–1988), Wen Yiduo (1899–1946) and Zhu Ziqing (1898–1948) and eminent scholars such as Feng Youlan (1895–1990), He Lin (1902–1992), Jin Yuelin (1895–1984), Tang Yongtong (1893–1964), Wu Mi (1894–1978) and Zheng Xin (1905– 1974). There were also several other modernist writers and poets at Lianda besides Feng Zhi, such as Bian Zhilin (1910–2000) and Shi Zhecun (1905–2003). In the aforementioned 2015 interview, Zheng Min remarked that the makeshift nature of Lianda as a wartime campus afforded the faculty and students a unique freedom: There wasn’t anyone to check on the students or to enforce discipline. However, we were all very keen to attend our classes.There were famous professors in every department, all of whom were highly innovative, who felt that it was a great honour to give lectures using their own work as teaching materials. Zheng remembered Feng Zhi as an energetic teacher who had a “youthful air about him” and “always wore a smile.” However, he was extremely serious and “never chatted with the students”: she did not recall him ever having told a joke.34


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Lianda’s liberating environment is a crucial context for reading The Fourteen-Line Collection as modernist experimental writing in a time of war. As David Wang points out, although war is “the only subject he does not confront directly,” Feng’s sonnets abound with indirect symbolic references to it, particularly in the form of poetic representations of death and metamorphosis, of which many were inspired by Feng’s reading of Goethe.35 Modernism flourished at Lianda because the combination of an absence of political interference and loose institutional arrangements allowed talented poets and writers to give free rein to their imaginative and expressive capacity. The concept of modernism is hard to pin down for it accommodates many styles and perspectives. Nonetheless, as aesthetic responses to times of unprecedented social change from the late 1890s to the 1950s and to the violence of the two World Wars, modernist works do share distinctive traits such as a privileging of the subjective experience of time and space, a heightened awareness of human social existence as dislocated from nature and tradition alike, and a corresponding yearning for self-transformation. These are traits that Feng’s sonnets share with the sonnets of Rilke and W.H. Auden: these three twentieth-century poets each adapted the traditional fourteen-line poetic form to suit his own unique purpose yet all drew from a common vocabulary of modern anguish and wonder. Their twentieth-century sonnets are, accordingly, self-consciously individualistic yet discernibly modernist in execution: for instance, enjambment (where a line of verse runs into the next to complete its meaning), caesura (where there is a pause mid-line) and the use of irregular lines and non-iambic rhymes are features as much in Feng’s sonnets (1941) as in Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus (1923) and Auden’s verses on China, In Time of War: A Sonnet Sequence (1939).36 Feng pointedly excluded his sonnets from The Selected Poems of Feng Zhi (1955), the first anthology of his representative works to appear under Chinese Communist rule. In the preface to this anthology, he accused his previous literary efforts of self-indulgence and narrow-minded thinking. He stated: “In particular, the twenty-seven sonnets I wrote in 1941 indicate how deeply influenced I was by Western bourgeois literature such that in form and content they are all pretentious and contrived and therefore, none of these poems have been included here.” It was not until the post-Maoist 1980s, when avant-garde literature was all the rage and the Misty poets were celebrities, that Feng retracted his 1955 remarks about his twenty-seven sonnets. In the preface to The Selected Works of Feng Zhi, published in 1985, which included the entire Fourteen-Line Collection, Feng now described his 1955 disavowal of his sonnets as “extreme words that bore no relation to reality.”37 As the subject of a very large number of research articles since the 1980s, The Fourteen Line Collection now enjoys canonical status in mainland literary studies.38 However, Feng’s metamorphosis from modernist poet to Maoist orator has been, and remains, an important subtext in the work’s reception in mainland intellectual circles, not least because quite contrary to the sentiments he expressed in Sonnet Seventeen of preserving the roads that people have made, his denunciation of his own and other people’s literary achievements during the Maoist years helped to turn Chinese literature into “a desolate wilderness.” Feng went from describing his creative stance in 1943 as that of “an individual facing an entire universe” to declaring in 1949 that he wanted only to serve “the needs of the people” and to “wash off all narrow intellectual habits as [he] faced the people.”39 In 1949, Feng evidently embraced Chinese Communist Party rule under Mao as a longed-for miracle. However, if political faith could be likened to the experience of “a wild wind gusting forth, a comet appearing,” it also deprived the awe-struck poet of creative and intellectual independence for the next twenty-five years or more.


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Notes 1 Lu Xun, “Preface to Compendium of Modern Chinese Literature: Fiction,Volume Two,” (Zhongguo xin wenxue daxi: xiaoshuo er ji xu), completed 2 March 1935 in The Collected Works of Lu Xun, Volume 6 (Lu Xun quanji 6) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1991), 243. 2 Biographical details drawn from several sources, notably Yao Ping, “A Chronological Biography of Feng Zhi,” (Feng Zhi nianpu) Historical Materials for New Literature (Xin wenxue shiliao) (2001), no. 4, 83–114; Zhang Hui, Feng Zhi: an incomplete self (Feng Zhi: weiwancheng de ziwo), (Beijing: Wenjing chubanshe, 2005). 3 Michelle Yeh,“Chinese Literature from 1937 to the Present,” in Kang-I Sun Chang and Stephen Owen, eds., The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature,Volume 2: From 1375 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 577. 4 Michel Hockx, “The Nine Leaves: Introduction,” in The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican Era, trans. Herbert Batt and Sheldon Zitner (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press), 339. 5 Xu Wang, “The Poetry of Mu Dan (1918–1977),” (Ph.D thesis, Australian National University, Canberra, 2016), 202016.pdf 6 Ibid. 7 Chee Lay Tan, Constructing a System of Irregularities: The Poetry of Bei Dao,Yang Lian, and Duoduo (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 14. 8 Feng Zhi, Feng Zhi: Selected Poems (Feng Zhi xuanji) (Chengdu: Sichuan renminchubanshe, 1980); Xin Di, ed., The Nine Leaves Collection (Jiu ye ji) (Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 1981). 9 Feng Zhi, “Preface to the Fourteen-line Collection,” (Shisihang ji xu) in The Collected Works of Feng Zhi (Feng Zhi quan ji, hereafter FZQJ), vol.1 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe, 1999), 213. 10 Liu Yiqing, A Unique Romance: A Record of Everyday Life at Southwestern Associated University (Juedai fengliu: Xinan lianda shenghuo shilu) (Beijing: Beijing hangkong hangtian daxue chubanshe, 2009), http:// 11 Feng Zhi, “Preface,” 214. 12 Zhuangzi, chapter one, The translation is mine. 13 Quoted in Lincoln Li, Student Nationalism in China, 1924–1949 (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1994), 87. 14 Feng Zhi, “Preface,” 214. 15 Zhu Ziqing, “Shi de xingshi,” (Form in Poetry), 1943, 16 Hou Xinying, “Zheng Min, the Sole Surviving Member of the Nine Leaves,” (Jiu ye pai weiyi jianzai shiren Zheng Min) Huanqiu renwu (10 June 2015), c357069-27133575.html 17 Michelle Yeh, “Chinese Literature from 1937 to the Present,” 575. 18 Feng Zhi, The Fourteen-Line Collection (Shisihang ji) (Beijing: Jiefangjun wenyi chubanshe, 2007), 1. Subsequent quotations from this work will be indicated by the relevant page number enclosed within square brackets. All translations from this work are mine. 19 Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems, trans. Albert Ernest Flemming (New York: Routledge, 1990), 209. 20 Quoted in Zhang Hui, Feng Zhi, 75–76. 21 Feng Zhi, “Preface,” 214. 22 Feng Zhi, “My Destined Relationship with the Sonnet,” (Wo he shisihangshi de yinyuan) in FZQJ, vol. 5, 94. Noted in Eric Yu, “Ideas, Emotions and Poetic Devices: Philosophical Lyricism in Feng Zhi’s Sonnets,” Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies (2012), vol. 3, no. 3, 2. 23 Yu, “Ideas, Emotions and Poetic Devices,” 5. 24 Lloyd Haft, “Some Rhythmic Structures in Feng Zhi’s Sonnets,” Modern Chinese Literature (1996), vol. 9 no. 2, 303–304. 25 Wang Bo, “A Critical Review of Different Editions of Feng Zhi’s Fourteen-Line Collection,” (Feng Zhi Shishihang ji ide banben piping” Xinan shiyou daxue xuebao: shehui kexue ban (2011), vol. 20, no. 1, 83. 26 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1910–1926, trans. Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 167. 27 Yao Ping, “A Chronological Biography of Feng Zhi,” 92. 28 Ibid., 93.


Feng Zhi, Mu Dan and the Nine Leaves 29 Lu Xun, Selected Works of Lu Xun, vol. 1, trans.Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1985), 354–355. 30 Lu Xun, Selected Works, vol. 1, 101. 31 Yao Ping, “A Chronological Biography of Feng Zhi,” 93. 32 Carolyn Fitzgerald, Fragmenting Modernisms: Chinese Wartime Literature, Art and Film, 1937–1949 (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 37. 33 John Israel, Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1998), 373. 34 Hou Xinying, “Zheng Min, the Sole Surviving Member of the Nine Leaves,” http://renwu.people. 35 David Der-wei Wang, The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 139, 140–143. 36 On Rilke and Feng, see Haft, “Some Rhythmic Structures in Feng Zhi’s Sonnets,” 303–314. W.H. Auden, “In Time of War: A Sonnet Sequence with a verse commentary,” in Auden and Christopher Isherwood, eds., Journey to a War (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 247–258. 37 Wang Bo, “Feng Zhi Shishihang ji ide banben piping,” Journal of Southwestern Shiyou University (Xinan shiyou daxue xuebao) (2011), vol. 20, no. 1, 83. 38 The National Index to Chinese Newspapers and Periodicals (Quanguo baokan suoyin) database lists 116 Chinese-language scholarly articles and monographs published in mainland China (1976–2016) with titles featuring “The Fourteen-Line Collection.” (Information accessed March 30, 2017). Research publications that discuss this work, presenting it as an important part of the literary legacy of Republican-era China number in the thousands. 39 Quoted in Zhang Hui, Feng Zhi: An Incomplete Self, 84–85, 151.

Further readings Batt, Herbert and Sheldon Zitner, trans. “Feng Zhi”, “Nine Leaves.” In The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican Era. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016, 140–148, 343–412. Cheung, Dominic. Feng Chih. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Gálik, Marián.“Feng Zhi and His Goethean Sonnet.” In Masayuki Akiyama and Yiu-nam Leung, eds. Crosscurrents in the Literatures of Asia and the West: Essays in Honour of A. Owen Aldridge. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997, 123–134. Hockx, Michel. “Introduction, Part 5: The Nine Leaves Poets.” In Herbert Batt and Sheldon Zitner, trans. The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from the Republican Era. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016, 339–342. Hsu, Kai-yu, ed. and trans. “Feng Chih.” In Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. Ithaca and New York: Cornell University Press, 1970, 139–158. Wang, David D. “Of Dream and Snake: He Qifang, Feng Zhi, and Born-again Lyricism.” In The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, 113–154. Wang, Xu. “The Poetry of Mu Dan (1918–1977),” Ph.D. Thesis. Canberra: Australian National University, 2016, at 2016.pdf Yip,Wai-lim. “Modernism in a Cross-Cultural Context”, “Feng Zhi.” In Lyrics from Shelters: Modern Chinese Poetry 1930–1950. New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc, 1992, 1–14, 69–73.



Topical plays and modern essays


Born through the iconoclastic New Culture (May Fourth) Movement of the 1910s and 1920s, modern Chinese literature appears to be a radical antithesis to China’s classical tradition. The genre of the historical play, by its creative evocation of the past, nonetheless foregrounds the ambiguous intersections across the tradition-modern divide. The two authors at the center of this chapter, Guo Moruo (1892–1978) and Tian Han (1898–1962), are both founding figures of the historical play in modern Chinese literature. As two literary stars from the New Culture Movement, they lived through the violent vicissitudes of twentieth-century Chinese history, and were deeply involved in the country’s major political events. This chapter addresses their historical plays as indicators of forgotten or masked linkages between China’s literary past and present. In particular, it highlights the significance of what I call “lyrical Confucianism” to Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays. Through reinventing the traditional legacy of lyrical Confucianism, Guo’s and Tian’s plays dramatize the past into a rich figure of both the Chinese revolution and the limits of the revolution. An understanding of the hybridization of the past and the present in their works is thus essential for reading the historical play as a distinctive genre in modern Chinese literature.

The playwrights Like many other intellectuals from the May Fourth period, Guo and Tian both travelled to Japan for higher education. Guo started to study and live in Japan in 1914 and later married Tomiko Satō. Tian was educated at the University of Tsukuba. In 1921, Guo Moruo and Tian Han became key members of the Creation Society (Chuangzao she), which ran between 1921 and 1929 and featured literary works inspired by Western Romanticism and modernism. Later, many of the society’s members, including Guo and Tian, allied themselves with the Communist Party and wrote to promote the cause of the proletariat revolution and the project of national self-strengthening. In this context, Tian Han penned the famous lyric to the song “The March of Volunteers” (Yiyong jun jinxing qu), which was adopted as the Chinese national anthem after 1949. As a renowned dramatist, Tian Han assumed many important cultural positions, including serving as the head of the PRC’s National Dramatist Association. Guo Moruo was an even more prominent intellectual figure, known both as a leading historian and a prolific author of poetry, drama, and fiction. Honored as the “national poet,” Guo took on the prestigious position of the 265

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president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an office he held from 1949 up to his death in 1978. After the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Guo and Tian nonetheless experienced different fates. Similar to many other renowned cultural figures of the period, Tian Han was arrested and persecuted, which resulted in his death in 1968. Guo, on the other hand, was spared of such ordeals, and passed away due to illness in 1978. Treading on shared ground across the turbulent history of modern China, Guo Moruo and Tian Han both penned highly influential historical plays. Over his lifetime, Guo produced an impressive list of nearly twenty works in the genre. Since Guo’s creative vision altered alongside major shifts in modern China, we can divide his writing career in the genre into three periods: first, the peak years of the New Culture Movement between 1919 and 1925; then, the wartime years between 1941 and 1943, amidst the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and internal struggles between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party; and, finally, from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 to 1963, shortly before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. During the May Fourth phase, Guo first authored several short “poetry dramas” (shiju) that feature historical or mythical topics: The Flowers of Brotherhood (Tangli zhihua) (1920), Death on the River Xiang (Xianglei) (1920), The Rebirth of the Goddess (Nüshen zhi zaisheng) (1921), The Moon Palace (Guanghan Gong) (1922), and The Two Sons of Lord Guzhu (Guzhu Jun zhi Erzi) (1922). Afterwards, Guo created his best-known historical plays from the period – that is, the trilogy of “Three Rebellious Women,” a set of plays that retell the stories of famous female figures in history, including Zhuo Wenjun (1923), Wang Zhaojun (1924), and Nie Ying (1925). The second period during the WWII years, despite being a short span of three years, witnessed Guo’s creation of his most influential historical plays – namely, his six “historical tragedies” that include The Flowers of Brotherhood (Tangli zhihua) (1941), Qu Yuan (1942), The Tiger Tally (Hufu) (1942), Gao Jianli (1942), Peacock’s Gall (Kongque Dan) (1942), and A Draft from the Southern Captive (Nanguan Cao) (1943). Guo’s creativity in historical plays decreased after 1949, although he did write during the last phase the celebrated play Cai Wenji (1959), as well as Wu Zetian (1962) and Zheng Chenggong (1963), the last of which being intended as a film script. Tian Han wrote considerably fewer historical plays. His works in the genre include only Guan Hanqing (1958), Princess Wencheng (1960), and an earlier unpublished play Chen Yuanyuan (1946). The difference in number apart, Tian’s Guan Hanqing is comparable to Guo’s most renowned work in the genre, Qu Yuan, as a founding example of the historical play in modern Chinese literature. The two writers’ plays responded to a shared national environment, and sometimes to one another. Focusing on Guo’s Flowers of Brotherhood and Qu Yuan and Tian’s Guan Hanqing, this chapter emphasizes these plays’ inheritance of the traditional legacy of “lyrical Confucianism” through a set of themes: that is, the power of the people, the ills of political corruption, and the social meanings of literary creativity. Thus overlapping the past and the present, Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays portray their central events as affective figurations of the revolution and its limits. Their works in the genre hence assumed tremendous appeal to the audience of twentieth-century China.

Lyrical confucianism from the Analects to Historical Records Twentieth-century accounts typically present the New Culture Movement as a passionate rejection of Confucian social hierarchies and classical learning.What is flattened out in this prevalent account is that Confucianism, similar to any other religious or cultural system, has many facets and ramifications. Neither was the New Culture Movement, for that matter, a monolithic or uniform process. For all their eager embracement of Western modernity, May Fourth intellectuals were thoroughly educated in the classical tradition, and many of them remained avid readers 266

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and researchers of past history and literature. Tian Han, given his tireless efforts at preserving traditional theatrical forms, was profoundly invested in China’s own cultural heritage. Guo Moruo’s prolific output in historical plays was a direct extension of his even more productive career as a historian. In fact, against May Fourth iconoclasm, Guo often argued on behalf of the past cultural heritage, such as when he wrote that, “I prefer the philosophy of Confucius and Mengzi, since their teachings are the most attentive to the people’s interests among all the philosophical schools.”1 Confucianism, in this light, contains aspects that parallel the goal of the proletariat revolution. As we shall see, the people-first Confucian framework is crucial to turning the image of past into an affective allegory for the present in Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays. Beyond any parochial forms of nativism or nationalism, these playwrights’ creative inheritance of lyrical Confucianism was due to this traditional legacy’s tragic, proto-revolutionary spirit, which poignantly answered to the anxieties and hopes of twentieth-century Chinese intellectuals. To a degree, my thesis echoes the argument of David Der-wei Wang’s recent book, The Lyrical in an Epic Time, which situates the lyrical mode as a neglected bridge between traditional and modern Chinese literatures. In Wang’s words, Lyricism in the Chinese literary culture has always implicated an interaction between the self and the world, and during [the twentieth century] there emerged waves of literary and aesthetic practices that sought to identify individual options in the face of the atrocities. Lyricism can be seen as a poetics of selfhood that informs the historical moment and helps define Chinese modernity in a different light.2 In my reading, the lyrical aspects of Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays rest precisely in their expression of a “poetics of selfhood” embodied by the central literary figure, who is confronted with historical atrocities that mirror the crises of twentieth-century China. Here, I further relate this lyricism to the Confucian principle of moral self-cultivation, which obtains a lyrical nature when it emerges as a passionate and self-sacrificial insistence on personal integrity in a hostile political environment. As well known, Confucius (551–479 BCE) was not successful in implementing his philosophy in actual politics. This situation of political failure contextualized a strong emphasis on personal integrity in his teachings as recorded in the Analects. Acknowledging the problem of bad leadership, the Analects demands a morally cultivated person (junzi) to maintain personal integrity in a degraded political environment, and to take on social leadership in place of the corrupt government. In these senses, the Analects anticipated the lyrical Confucianism that ran through the Chinese literary culture and came to be inherited by Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays. Later, Mengzi (372–289 BCE), the Confucian philosopher next in importance to Confucius, developed lyrical Confucianism in three significant ways. First, Mengzi’s philosophy explicitly places the people’s welfare above the ruler’s self-interest, as manifested by the famed statement from Mengzi, “The people are the most precious; the state is the next in importance; and the ruler’s own person goes last.”3 Second, following on his “people first” position, Mengzi acknowledged the right to rebellion under oppressive rulership. Famously, when answering whether the founder of the Zhou dynasty was justified to overthrow the tyrannical last king of the previous Shang dynasty, Mengzi stated that the last king of Shang, given his vice behaviors, had lost his kingly entitlement and become a “mere fellow.” Consequently, everyone was justified to dispose of him.4 The subtext of Mengzi’s answer is that the last king of Shang was divested of the “Mandate of Heaven” (tianming) that sanctions legitimate and virtuous rulership. Importantly, the Chinese term for “revolution,” geming, derived from this classical sense as “changing the Mandate” or “transferring the Mandate.” Mengzi’s right to rebellion founded a proto-revolutionary discourse 267

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that continued to inform twentieth-century Chinese politics.5 Third, Mengzi foregrounded personal integrity or “yi” as a fundamental principle of moral self-cultivation, and argued that this principle means to sacrifice worldly gains and even one’s life for what’s right.6 Set against a degenerated environment and bordering on martyrdom, the Mencian notion of integrity has an inherently lyrical inclination. The lyrical spirit of Confucian classics from the Analects to Mengzi notably informed the poetic genre and the images of the poets in Chinese literary history. An obvious case in point is Qu Yuan, the protagonist of Guo Moruo’s most important historical play. According to traditional accounts, Qu Yuan was a courtier in the southern kingdom of Chu during the late Warring States period (475–221 BCE). Exiled due to his pro-resistance stance against the powerful Kingdom of Qin, he composed his poetic masterworks that were later collected in The Songs of Chu (Chuci), before drowning himself as a gesture of protest. To a large extent, the legend of Qu Yuan launched the age of poets in the Chinese tradition, and situated the poetic personality at the heart of the meaning of poetic works. The lyricism of Qu Yuan’s poetic personality stems from his extreme alienation from his environment, and his moral passions that verge on madness. Given his sacrifice of life for the principle of personal integrity, Qu Yuan is a perfect embodiment of lyrical Confucianism. Whereas lyricism by nature implies the poetic genre, we must also attend to the legacy of Sima Qian’s Historical Records, which manifests a similar tendency and directly inspired a number of modern historical plays. In fact, Historical Records is the very source that preserved the legend of Qu Yuan. In addition to Qu Yuan, Guo’s many other plays are based on accounts from Historical Records – such as The Flowers of Brotherhood, a story Guo revisited three times in his dramatic works. Sima Qian’s tremendous influence on Guo Moruo is inseparable from Historical Record’s strong lyrical Confucianism, which is linked with the historian’s own experiences. Serving in the court of the formidable Emperor Wu (re. 141–87 BCE) of the Han dynasty, Sima Qian offended the emperor when speaking on behalf a convicted general, and was subsequently sentenced to either commit suicide or accept castration. Although suicide would preserve his honor as a courtier, Sima Qian chose the humiliating penalty of castration due to his determination to complete a book of history he had been composing. The finished magnum opus is Historical Records, which covers the entire known past, from legends about ancient sage kings to Sima Qian’s lifetime. In his preface to the book, Sima Qian juxtaposes his own tragedy with the ordeals of a succession of ancient worthies, including Confucius and Qu Yuan, and argues that these worthies were spurred by their grievances to create their masterpieces of history, philosophy, and poetry. In other words, writing is a compensation for, and a correction of, a historical reality wherein the virtuous often remains unrewarded. The unfairness of life motivates the virtuous people to express their frustrations in writing, and to shed light on the hidden moral truths. Inside Historical Records, the main literary form that conveys Sima Qian’s vision is the “zhuan” or individual biographies. Inaugurated by Historical Records, the biographical form later became fundamental to Chinese historical writings. In contrast to the chronological or spatial organizations of earlier histories, the biographical form situates the image of the individual at the center of historical memory. Furthermore, as opposed to the categories of “Benji” (“Kingly Chronicles”) and “Shijia” (“Hereditary Households”), which Historical Records employs to portray emperors and noblemen, the category of “zhuan” is devoted to the deeds of non-aristocratic individuals. Thus, as the largest and most influential section of the book, the “zhuan” category commemorates individuals who are historically significant not because of their high births, but because of their own characters and actions. It is worth mentioning that the Chinese original


Historical plays of Guo Moruo and Tian Han

for “zhuan” is a polyphone which, when pronounced as “chuan” in modern Mandarin, has the meaning of transmission and tradition. In this sense, Sima Qian’s biographies opened up a new way of viewing history as being shaped not entirely by the powers that be, but – in vital albeit not always successful ways – by anyone who is worthy of commemoration due to their own qualities and resolves. Of seminal importance to Chinese literary culture, Sima Qian’s correlation between literature and suffering and his creation of the biographical form expressed the essence of lyrical Confucianism as a passionate insistence on personal integrity and a rejection to corrupt power. Persistent through Chinese literary culture, this essence continued to emerge through the revolutionary allegories in Guo Morou and Tian Han’s historical plays, as we shall see in the following section.

Guo Moruo’s Flowers of Brotherhood and Qu Yuan For our purpose, it is significant to note the lineage between Sima Qian’s biographical form and Guo’s and Tian’s historical plays, which are typically named after the leading character. This naming practice diverges from the traditional theatrical convention of entitling a play after its central setting or event, rather than the character. Although this emphasis on the individual in the two playwrights’ works was surely influenced by the example of the Western drama, we must also attend to the roots of their dramatic form in Historical Records’ individual biographies. With regard to Guo Moruo’s plays, their indebtedness to Historical Records is obvious.To enumerate, Guo’s plays that draw sources from Historical Records include The Flowers of Brotherhood (Tangli zhihua) (1920), Death on the River Xiang (1920), The Two Sons of Lord Guzhu (1922), Zhuo Wenjun (1923), Nie Ying (1925), The Flowers of Brotherhood (1941), Qu Yuan (1942), The Tiger Tally (1942), and Gao Jianli (1942), which together account for over half of his works in the genre. Among these plays, Nie Ying (1925) and the two versions of The Flowers of Brotherhood from 1920 and 1941 are all based on the story of Nie Zheng in Sima Qian’s Biographies of AssassinRetainers (Cike liezhuan). According to Sima Qian’s account, Nie Zheng initially turned down his mission in order to fulfill his filial duties to his aged mother. After the death of his mother, Nie Zheng accomplished the mission and defaced himself before committing suicide, for the purpose of protecting his sister Nie Ying. Nonetheless, Nie Ying, in order to pass on his brother’s name, traveled a long distance to identify his body, and then died by his side. As the topic of three of Guo’s plays, the story of Nie Zheng and Nie Ying possesses several features that may account for its appeal to the author. First, as members of the lower class, their heroic images correspond to the revolutionary emphasis on the power of the people from the May Fourth Movement to the Communist era. Second, the tragic nature of their story dramatizes the theme of martyrdom that rested at the heart of patriotic passion during the New Culture Movement and the anti-Japanese war. Third, Nie Ying, the sister who became the protagonist in Guo’s 1925 play, implicitly occupies the position of a historian and an author, since she sacrificed her own life in order to pass on the name and deeds of his brother. In this sense, her action echoes the historiographic lyricism of Sima Qian, and mirrors the mission Guo saw in his own writing.7 In Flowers of Brotherhood, Guo further creates the image of Chun Gu (the Spring Maid), the daughter of an innkeeper, as