Huang Zunxian, member of the staff of the Qing legation in Tokyo (1877–82), became acquainted with prominent Japanese literati (bunjin). His experiences provide a window of information and insight into the cultural atmosphere of early Meiji Japan and the attitude of progressive and Chinese intellectuals then resident there. With the skills of a literatus, Huang had access to the modes of discourse and thought of his hosts, so formed discriminating views of almost all aspects of Japanese life in an era of change. His experience is captured in some 200 quatrains in the two editions of his Riben zashi shi (Poems on miscellaneous subjects from Japan, 1879 and 1890), whose contents overlap to include different poems and different versions of same poems. The poems were intended to have more than literary impact—to enlighten those in power in China by casting Japan in a positive light and promote Japan as a model for reform and modernization. Huang linked Japanese tradition with the Chinese, which he did in poems emphasizing their common high culture. The scope of the poems is quite broad: Japanese history and geography, Sino-Japanese cultural relations, Chinese culture in Japan, poetry (kanshi) and prose (kanbun), painting and calligraphy, Confucianism and Buddhism, the Meiji Restoration and modernization, new political and social institutions, the Diet, local government, political parties, museums, taxation, education reform, women’s education. Many subjects were unknown to earlier tradition but now topical and urgent as China began to shed old ways and embrace the new.
This paper discusses the biography, thought, and works of Li Ruqian (1852–1909). He was appointed Consul in Kobe 1882–84, during which period he studied the political institutions and culture of Meiji Japan and the West, eventually translating Washington Irving’s biography of George Washington into Classical Chinese, a book which exercised a great influence on late Qing reformers. Li’s literary theory strongly emphasized the importance of originality. He also cultivated a style that was simpler and closer to spoken Chinese than many of his contemporaries. He eventually espoused a thoroughgoing reform of Chinese government and society. He abandoned the idea of the centrality of Chinese culture for a worldview of cultural relativity in which all cultures of the world are viewed as equally valid. After his return to China Li became even more involved in reform activities, but soon he became almost totally alienated from Chinese society and even began expressing strong doubts about the whole tradition of classical writing. In his poems and prose works, he warned Chinese intellectuals to abandon their smug conservatism and adapt to the new world or perish, making fun of his own society in biting satirical pieces that remind one of the writings of Lu Xun’s May Fourth era. Li Ruqian may, indeed, be the first Chinese author to develop the idea of Chinese inadequacy and guilt which is so common in the literature of the next century.
The late Qing woman poet Shen Queying (1877–1900) had lived in the shadow of her husband, the reform martyr Lin Xu (1875–98). This paper subverts the conventional portrayal of Shen Queying as a chaste widow through reading her poems and song-lyrics in comparison with the poetic works of Lin Xu, to show that she herself was a reformer in her own right, and in this she was Lin Xu’s vocal soul-mate rather than his mute wife and then widow. In her poems and song-lyrics, Shen Queying made clear that she had endeavored in poetic learning for expressing “the grand ambition of a racing steed,” and her poetry sent unmistakable message to become a political player herself in China’s reform era, fighting for the welfare of the country and the people. For some subtle reasons, however, she was not able to fulfill this ambition by personally participating in the reform activities. Frustrated, she resolved to be a supporter and protector of her husband. Precisely because Shen Queying had put so much of her reform ideal into her husband’s career, the execution of Lin Xu fell on her as a double blow. Her pining away to death, although conforming to a seemingly late imperial lienü model, transcends this traditional image and bears a clear mark of the reform era, when a woman tied her personal life closely to the destiny of the country and the people.
Chen Sanli broke the conventional stereotypes, regulations and structural limitations of past poetry to create innovations in poetic form, as well as adopting a variety of writing devices such as the transformed metaphors and the abstruse diction. Within these invented poetic forms, converted metaphors and recondite diction, Chen Sanli experiments with new subject matters which were unprecedented in poetry before his time, and convey his psychological reactions such as oppression, anxiety, helplessness, fear, despair, and confusion toward the change and upheaval. All the poetic forms, metaphors, linguistic devices and emotions in Chen’s verse have a great impact on modern Chinese literature. This paper aims to examine how Chen’s verse promoted classical Chinese poetic tradition but also contributed to the transition from traditional to modern literature.
This paper examines the birth of classicist poetry by paying attention to the Southern Society’s (Nanshe) diachronic succession of the late Qing Poetic Revolution. It provides a careful analysis on the novelty of Huang Zunxian’s poetry and shows how the Southern Society transformed Huang’s Europeanized innovation into something that was rooted in both traditional scholarship and modern political discourse. I argue that the poetry of the Southern Society as being more formally conservative than Huang’s; however, spiritually, it represents a kind of progress as it styled itself as the “poetry of the cotton-clothed” (buyi zhi shi)—the “cotton- clothed” stands for the scholars not serving in court. In this regard, its poetry could be seen as modern in spirit. It selectively integrated the traditional and the Western, for pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
This paper examines the voluminous “poetry talks” (shihua) written by Southern Society (Nanshe) members and focuses on two tendencies in these discourses: The general cult of sentimentality and the narrative strategy on women’s poetry. These poetic discourses succeeded the language of traditional literary criticism, but also exhibited ideals of the new epoch. As a rebellion to the Qing imperial standard on measured and learned poetry, Southern Society poets took instead as their role models eccentric and iconoclastic poets who “venerated feelings.” The cult of sentimentality continued the trend of individual liberation from the late Ming and further showed a collective discourse that promoted a new kind of revolutionary subjectivity. These authors were also fond of collecting sentimental stories about female poets. More than being traditional “talented women,” these poets exhibited a diversity of female roles in an era of liberation.