|New Chinese Poetry: The Origin and the Development — From the Perspective of Cultural Exchanges between China and the West by Zhimin Li, a transcription of a presentation given at The Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA|
In this “globalization age”, no nation can survive, not to say develop, without learning from the achievements, either of natural science or of social science, of other nations. “Nations must serve as guides for one another.” In every country one should “welcome foreign ideas, for hospitality in this way makes the fortune of those who receive it.”1 China is becoming more “universal” by receiving influences from the West who had received influences from China in previous ages.
I. Influence of China on the West
Joseph Needham once said: “The more you know of Chinese technology in the medieval period, the more you realize that, not only in the case of certain things very well known, such as the invention of gunpowder, the invention of paper, printing, and the magnetic compass, but in many other cases, inventions and technological discoveries were made in China which changed the course of Western civilization, and indeed that of the whole world.”2 Joseph Needham offers many concrete examples to support his argument. Natural science is itself an embodiment of a certain philosophy. The acceptance of science and technology from another culture is in fact accepting a certain philosophy as well. Hugh Kenner offers some direct traces of Chinese philosophic influence on Western philosophy.3 In the field of politics, some basic institutions, including the “Civil Service Examination System”, in China were imitated by Europe. Literature was also introduced from China into the West and carried much influence on Western literary circles. Johann Wolfgang Goethe once highly praised a novel from China, i.e., Haoqiu Zhuan (《好逑传》, The Fortunate Union).
It should be surprising to readers if they are told New Chinese Poetry was born with the introduction of Western Poetry. In order to make it clear, we need to examine the social, cultural and literary backgrounds in China in which New Chinese Poetry was conceived and finally was born.
III. The Formation Period of New Chinese Poetry from the 1910s to the 1940s
A desperate person can easily be driven into madness, so can a people. Since Chinese culture seemed too weak to hold its own against the violence of internal warfare and external modernizing upheavals, it was subsequently madly challenged by its own people. Chinese classical literature, being a part of Chinese culture and with Chinese classical poetry as a central component, being generally considered as no less wonderful than that of any other culture on earth, was supplanted by a so-called commonplace people’s literature, whose main aim was to penetrate into the minds of the ordinary Chinese, calling upon them to stand up for the rescue of their nation as well as themselves.
Any emotion, not to say unqualified diction, that goes beyond control in a poem should be considered as superfluous and shallow, which would only offend an ear instead of offering any ordered beauty of expression. There is no wonder that there should have been so many superfluous and shallow poems to “serve” the commonplace, being produced during the Cultural Revolution Years while Guo held the official leadership of literary circles in China. Guo might have understood his own poetic limitations later on since he said frankly that “Viewed as literature, these poems may disappoint the reader. Let them rather be taken as recordings of the age in which they were written.”29 It should also be remembered here that to point out the few drawbacks in The Goddesses is by no means to deny its being a literary milestone in the history of New Chinese Poetry, not to say to denigrate Guo the poet as one of the greatest literary figures in the history of New Chinese Literature; since Guo also wrote quite a few remarkable novels that should be worth much more recommendation than his poetic creation.
New Chinese Poetry during the period from 1949 to 1978 is to be only briefly discussed, for New Chinese Literature as a whole did not make any significant progress, if any, during this period, especially during the ten-year Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. The problem was caused by the wish to make literature serve as a subordinate instrument for politics, which resulted in the extreme formalization and generalization of all literary creation in China: The “revolutionary” personages in most “revolutionary” writings are perfect in all respects, the former chapters of such works informing readers about the latter ones. Therefore, “during all the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, there occurred only eight Model Plays and one Author, as people said in joking tones during those days.”33 Literary Circles, including that of poetry, were depressed as a whole. However, the slogan of “literature serving as a subordinate instrument for politics” was officially abolished in the late 1970s, liberating literature from its prolonged chains.
China pink, golden;
Flowers blooming in eyes, for rooms at night,
Two persons, having relationship with flowers,
In traditional China, poetry enjoyed an extremely high social status. Almost all emperors in China’s history would accept training in reading, appreciating and actually composing poetry. And some of them were good poets; one outstanding example is Li Yu (李煜, 937-978), who composed many wonderful poems. Mao Zedong, the leader of China in the twentieth century should certainly be considered as one of the best poets in China throughout the twentieth century. In China, especially in traditional China, people all pay high respect to a person who could write good poems. Poetry is actually the heart of Chinese culture, or to say, the spirit of Chinese culture.
1. René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, 4 Volumes), Vol. 2, p. 230.
2. Joseph Needham: The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West (London: George Allen & Unwin,1969), pp. 149-154.
3. Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), p.231.
4. Zhaoming Qian, Orientalism and Modernism: The Legacy of China in Pound and Williams. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 3-4 (Prologue).
5. Zhaoming Qian, Orientalism and Modernism: The Legacy of China in Pound and Williams. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), p. 137.
6. Howard Chua-eoan, “Empires on the Wane”, The Times, October 21, 1991, p.7.
7. The Legacy of China, ed. Raymond Dawson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), pp. 80-81.
8. Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization, trans. J. R. Foster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 20.
9. Qing Mansu, Emerson and China: A Retrospect of Individualism (Beijing: Joint Publishing Company Limited, 1996), p. 3.
10. Hushi, Hu Shi’s Talks on Literary Changes (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House,1999), p. 60.
11. Hushi, Hu Shi’s Talks on Literary Changes (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House,1999), p. 93.
12. The Historical Trace of Chinese Modern Literature, ed. Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House, 1999), p. 312.
13. The Historical Trace of Chinese Modern Literature, ed. Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House, 1999), p. 61.
14. The Historical Trace of Chinese Modern Literature, ed. Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House, 1999), pp. 4-5.
15. Hu Shi, Hu Shi’s Works (Shanghai: Shanghai East Asia Bookshop, 1929), p. 7. Hu Shi’s eight points for reforming Chinese literature are: 1. whatever said should mean; 2. not to imitate the ancient; 3. pay attention to grammar; 4. no false emotion; 5. no cliché; 6 .no idioms; 7. no antithesis; 8. not to avoid the vulgar language.
16. Hushi, Hu Shi’s Talks on Literary Changes (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House,1999), p. 205.
17. Hushi, Hu Shi’s Talks on Literary Changes (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House,1999), p. 45.
18. I. A. Richards “The Chinese Renaissance”, Scrutiny (a quarterly review), edited by L.C. Knights and Donald Culver, London. Vol. I., No. 2., September/1932. p. 102.
19. Wang Guowei, Comments on Human Poetry, trans. and annot. by Teng Xianhui. (Changchun: Jilin Literary History Publishing House, 1999), p. 86.
20. Wang Guowei, Comments on Human Poetry, trans. and annot. by Teng Xianhui. (Changchun: Jilin Literary History Publishing House, 1999), p. 86.
21. Hushi, Hushi’s Talks on Literary Changes. (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House, 1999),
22. Hushi, “Discussion on Literary Reformation”, Hu Shi’s Work Collections (Volume 1) (Shanghai: Shanghai East Asia Library, 1921), p. 7.
23. Pan Songde, Forty Poetical Schools in Modern Chinese Poetry, (Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 1991 ) p. 29.
24. Zhang Tongdao, An Exploration: On ModernChinesePoetrySchools in the Twentieth Century (Hefei: Anhui Education Publishing House, 1998), pp. 105-106. [To compare: Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber Limited, mcmliv ), pp. 2-14.]
25. Huang Xiuji, The History of the development of Modern Chinese Literature (Beijing: Chinese Youth Publishing House, 1997), pp. 81-94.
26. Wen Yiduo, “The Local Colors of Goddess.” Wen Yiduo, Wen Yiduo’s Poems, ed. by Lan Dizhi. (Hangzhou: Zhejiang Literature and Art Publishing House, 1995), pp. 406-407.
27. Guo Mo-Jo [Guo Moruo], Selected Poems from The Goddesses, trans. by John Lester and A.C. Barnes (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978), p. 7.
28. Guo Moruo, The Goddesses (Beijing: People’s Literature Publishing House, 1998), p. 66
29. Guo Mo-Jo, trans. by John Lester and A. C. Barnes, Selected Poems from The Goddesses. (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978), p. 1 (Foreword).
30. Cheng Houcheng, A Memorization of Li Jinfa (Shanghai: East Publishing Centre, 1998), pp. 53-56.
31. Cheng Houcheng, A Memorization of Li Jinfa (Shanghai: East Publishing Centre, 1998), pp. 29-148.
32. Zhu Ziqing, The Prefaces and Comments Written by Zhu Ziqing (Beijing: Joint Publishing Company Limited, 1983), p. 99.
33. Zhang Dexiang, The History of the Changes of Realism in Modern Times (Beijing: Academic Social Science Publishing House, 1997), p. 189.
34. Selected Poems by Gu Cheng, ed. by Sean Golden and Chu Chiyu, trans. by John Cayley and others. (Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1990), p. 168.
35. Lu Jin, Chinese Modern Poetics (Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 1991), p. 7.
36. Hai Bing, “A Summary of the discussions on Shu Ting’s Creation held by Fujian Literature and Art”, A Selection of the Contending Poems Published in the New Era of China, ed. by Ding Guocheng (Changchun: Era Publishing House, 1996), p. 64.
37. Yang Ke, Selected Poems of the Most Popular Poets in 1990s, ed., (Guilin: Lijiang Publishing House, 1999), p. 3 (Preface).
38. Zhang Tongdao, An Exploration: On ModernChinesePoetrySchools in the 20th Century (Hefei: Anhui Education Publishing House, 1998), p. 571.
39. Wang Jianzhao, The Jottings of Contemporary Chinese Poets (Beijing: Chinese Social Science Publishing House, 1998).
40. Yang Ke, A Poems-Selection of the Most Popular Chinese Poets in the 1990s, ed. (Guilin: Lijinag Publishing House, 1999).
41. Original: Chinese language-Poetry Group, trans. by Jeff Twitchell (Brighton: Parataxis Editions, 1994), p. 98.
42. Zhang Ziqing and Yunte Hung, Selected Language Poems by Charles Bernstein, Hank Lazer, James Sherry, trans., (Chengdu: Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House, 1993), p. 4 (Preface).
43. Poetry Journal, July, 2000.
44. “Chapter 13. On the imagination, or esemplastic power”, The Collected Works of Samual Taylor Coleridge. 7. Biographia Literaria, ed. by James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton [New Jersey]: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 295-306.
45. Greg Whincup, The Heart of Chinese Poetry (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p. vii (Preface).
46. Kai-yu Hsu, Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry, trans. and ed., (New York: Anchor Books Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1963), p. xii.
47. Lu Jin, Chinese Modern Poetics (Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 1991), p. 371.
48. Hu Yingjian, Alone in a HighBuilding: Chen Yinge (Jinan: Shangdong Painting Newspaper Publishing House, 1998) pp. 39-40.
49. The Historical Trace of Chinese Modern Literature, ed. Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Bookshop Publishing House, 1999), p. 16.
50. Tang Hongdi, The World of the Poet Wen Yiduo. (Shanghai: Xuelin Publishing House, 1996), p. 194.
51. I. A. Richards, “The Chinese Renaissance”, in Scrutiny: a quarterly review, edited by L.C. Knights and Donald Culver, September/1932, Vol. I. No. 2. London, p. 103.
New Chinese Poetry: The Origin and the Development — From the Perspective of Cultural Exchanges between China and the West by Zhimin Li
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