Modern Chinese poetry

Last updated

Modern Chinese poetry, including New poetry (traditional Chinese : 新詩; simplified Chinese : 新诗; pinyin : xīnshī), refers to post Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) Chinese poetry, including the modern vernacular (baihua) style of poetry increasingly common with the New Culture and 4 May 1919 movements, with the development of experimental styles such as "free verse" (as opposed to the traditional Chinese poetry written in Classical Chinese language); but, also including twentieth and twenty-first century continuations or revivals of Classical Chinese poetry forms. Some modern Chinese poetry represents major new and modern developments in the poetry of one of the world's larger areas, as well as other important areas sharing this linguistic affinity. One of the first writers of poetry in the modern Chinese poetry mode was Hu Shih [1] (1891–1962).

Contents

Background

The historical and linguistic background to modern Chinese poetry involves a long Classical Chinese poetry tradition, written or chanted in specialized, literary forms versus modern changes both in vernacular varieties of Chinese as well as the development of and exposure to various other poetic traditions from modern Europe and the United States, both directly and indirectly through Japanese literary sources. Thus, one important change in the history of Chinese poetry involves the revaluation of the use of Classical Chinese literary language and the traditions of Classical Chinese poetry. Another is the more global phenomenon of modernism in poetry, involving rejecting traditional poetic forms and styles in favor of experimental developments and novelties.

Varieties of Chinese

Modern Chinese poetry has been written and spoken in different varieties of the Chinese language. Traditionally, much poetry was written in Classical or Literary Chinese. Some modern poetry is still so written. Also used in Chinese poetry are other varieties of Chinese, such as Standard Chinese and other types of Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Min Nan, Hakka, and Shanghainese.

Socio-political change

Modern Chinese poetry developed within a context of major socio-political changes, and some of the poets were directly involved with these as members or leaders of some of the parties involved in consciously influencing the course of historical developments. The nineteenth century had been one of upset to traditional Chinese ideas and institutions, as China went through a period of successive loss of sovereign control and self-determination as a nation and internal struggles for political power of an often violent military nature. The First Opium War (1839–42) fought between Great Britain and China resulted in the Treaty of Nanking (1842), which ceded Chinese control of five treaty ports and all of Hong Kong Island to the British. After the Second Opium War (1856 to 1860), the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), and other conflicts China had lost control of important parts of its territory to Britain, France, the United States, Japan, Russia, Portugal, Germany, and other colonial powers, which are documented in a series of unequal treaties: these areas included all of Taiwan and many of the most important eastern cities. In the meantime, various rebellions (or civil war) arose, included among other rebellions in the Qing Dynasty were the Taiping Rebellion (1850 to 1864) and the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901), and although the latter of which was largely directed against foreign powers and influence, both showed the weakness of the Qing court. These nineteenth century events in China resulted in an aftermath in which tens of millions of the population had died during the various conflicts, a significant part of the cultural legacy of China having been looted or destroyed (for example the Old Summer Palace and its contents, including the burning of the library), and that the Qing government increasingly having been viewed as less and less viable as a political institution, together with the Qing experiencing a demonstrable and ongoing erosion of territorial control.

During the final years of the Qing dynasty poets, such as Gong Zizhen (1792–1841) continued work in the traditional Classical Chinese poetry modes, as did Huang Zunxian (1848–1905), though some changes as a reaction to events including poetic evaluation of foreign places, cultures, and ideas can be seen in Huang's works. [2] Gong Zizhen was quite disturbed by the condition of the empire, [3] and Huang Zunxian traveled widely in the course of his diplomatic duties, including to Japan, the United States, London, and Singapore. [1] Such experiences and the associated poetry would prove to be harbingers of the development of modern Chinese poetry in the twentieth century, and into the first part of the twenty-first century.

Early twentieth century

The early poetry of the twentieth century in China was written "in an atmosphere of great uncertainty...but of some excitement." [4] Twentieth century events in China which had a major importance from the perspective of poetry include the Xinhai Revolution (1911–1912) and the end of Qing (1912), the establishment of the Republic of China (1912–1949), the Chinese Civil War (1927–1950) fought between the Guomindang and the Communist Party of China as major belligerents, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the occupation by Japan of large parts of China (1937–1945), and the establishment of People's Republic of China (1949). In the early years of the century, the Qing government clearly was not sustainable as an ongoing institution, at least without major reform. Opinion and intrigue were heavy, with the formation or existence of various parties, opinions, and secret societies. The poets did not fail to weigh in. The Southern Society (Nanshe), formed in 1909, opposed the Qing government but advocated writing traditional poetry. Its leader, Liu Yazi, continued to write in Classical Chinese until the early 1920s.

New Culture Movement

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the scene was set in China for both socio-political and poetic change, both political and literary revolution; indeed, the "twentieth century has drawn a heavy line across the time-chart of Chinese culture." [5] The New Culture Movement also known as the May Fourth Movement, was a defining time period in the direction of poetic literature in Chinese language. Nominally originating in the socio-politically oriented student demonstrations in Beijing on May 4, 1919, the New Culture Movement May Fourth Movement was associated with a more general "intellectual ferment". [6] The Beijing University (also known as the Peking University) had an important role in this process. Both Hu Shih and Cai Yuanpei are prime examples of those associated with the university around this time who urged a transformation in literary style deprecating the use of Classical Chinese, in favor of embracing written vernacular Chinese. Hu Shih, Xu Zhimo, Guo Moruo and some of poets followed this path towards a more modern literature, through the use of a more colloquial writing style. [7] This, together with a western influence can be seen in other authors, such as Wen Yiduo.

International influence

The early twentieth century was also a period in which the world's other linguistic and cultural traditions of poetry greatly influenced Chinese poets, partly as a result of colonialism. For example, Lin Heng-tai grew up in Taichung, on the island of Taiwan, which was then under imperial Japanese control, with its resultant Japanese-oriented educational system; and, so, wrote all of his early poetry in Japanese. [6] The presence of European colonies on the mainland and the islands of Hong Kong and Macau also provided sources of international influence. Attendance at university in Europe, Japan, or the United States provided another source of international influence on Chinese poets, or future Chinese poets, such as Xu Zhimo or Lu Xun (better known for his short stories and prose).

Societies

The formation of various literary or poetic societies played an important role in the developing movement of modern Chinese poetry. Among these societies are the Crescent Moon Society, the League of Left-Wing Writers, and the Silver Bell Poetry Society. [8]

Publications

A number of magazines or other publications also played an important role in the developing movement of modern Chinese poetry. One of the important early publications for modern Chinese poetry was New Youth (Xin Qingnian) 新青年, or La Jeunesse, which published poetry written in vernacular Chinese by Hu Shih and Liu Bannong, as early as 1918.

Continuing the classical tradition

Some authors of poetry in the first half of the twentieth century "continued to write pleasantly in the traditional metres and with more or less of the traditional manner": [4] a major example of this is Mao Zedong (1893–1976), the first Chairman of the Communist Party of China and leader of the People's Republic of China for nearly 30 years, who continued the tradition of Chinese governmental officials writing Classical Chinese poetry. Many of Mao's popular poems can be seen to chronicle moments during his rise to power, from his early "Changsha" (1925) through "Reply to Mr. Liu Yazi" (1950).

Later twentieth century

By the midpoint of the twentieth century, imperial Japan had been decisively defeated as part of the process of World War II, the Guomindang had retreated to bases in Taiwan and some other islands, where they began to establish regional control, and the Communist party controlled most of the Chinese mainland. Many (with notable exceptions) of the poets of the first half of the twentieth century were already dead, imprisoned, in exile, or subject to strong political pressures to make their work conform to the expectations of their ruling governmental bodies. [4] This was part of a trend which would continue throughout the next few years, through the so-called White Terror (1949–1987) in Taiwan and the Cultural Revolution on the mainland (1966–1976). The Cold War (often dated 1947–1991) was one of the factors which contributed to the pressure on poets to produce patriotic poetry, and since then there has been some influence wrought by various political campaigns and plans.

Amateur poetry societies

Amateur poetry societies have a long history on the mainland and on Taiwan. [9] Towards the end of the twentieth century Ming and Qing style poetry contests were held in towns and cities around Taiwan, in which people sometimes wrote poems in contests. One type of these poems were known as "hitting the bowl" poems, because of the old-fashioned method of limiting the time to compose a poem by the time being regulated by burning an inch of incense stick to which a thread suspending a coin over a bowl was attached: when the incense stick burned up, the thread burned through, and the coin sounded an alarm when it hit the bowl below. Watches may have replaced incense sticks, but the "hitting the bowl" name remains. [9]

Early twenty-first century

Many of the traditional uses of Chinese poetry remain intact in the modern era. These include relationships between politics and poetry, and also completely traditional practices in folk culture such as posting New Year's couplets.

Evaluation

Some critical views have involved evaluation of socio-political utility or loyalty of various poems or poets. Another critical theme involves esthetic issues regarding the poetry deliberately written according to ideas about modernist/postmodernist/hypermodernist poetry versus poetry which continues the use of Classical Chinese poetry forms.

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 Davis, xxxvi
  2. Davis, xxxv – xxxvi
  3. Davis, xxxv
  4. 1 2 3 Davis, lxx
  5. Davis, lxix
  6. 1 2 Davison and Reed, 101
  7. Davison and Reed, 101–102
  8. Leo Oufan Lee, "Literary Trends: The Road to Revolution 1927–1949," Ch 9 in Fairbank, John King; Feuerwerker, Albert; Twitchett, Denis Crispin (1986). The Cambridge history of China. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521243384. link to excerpt
  9. 1 2 Davison and Reed, 107

Related Research Articles

Poetry Form of literature

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

Hu Shih Chinese scholar, writer and philosopher

Hu Shih (Chinese: 胡適; pinyin: Hú Shì; Wade–Giles: Hu2 Shih4; 17 December 1891 – 24 February 1962), also known as Hu Suh in early references, was a Chinese diplomat, essayist, literary scholar, philosopher, and politician. Hu is widely recognized today as a key contributor to Chinese liberalism and language reform in his advocacy for the use of written vernacular Chinese. He was influential in the May Fourth Movement, one of the leaders of China's New Culture Movement, was a president of Peking University, and in 1939 was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. He had a wide range of interests such as literature, philosophy, history, textual criticism, and pedagogy. He was also an influential redology scholar and held the famous Jiaxu manuscript (甲戌本; Jiǎxū běn) for many years until his death.

Classical Chinese Written form of Chinese until the early 20th century

Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese, is the language of the classic literature from the end of the Spring and Autumn period through to the end of the Han dynasty, a written form of Old Chinese. Classical Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese that evolved from the classical language, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese. Literary Chinese was used for almost all formal writing in China until the early 20th century, and also, during various periods, in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Among Chinese speakers, Literary Chinese has been largely replaced by written vernacular Chinese, a style of writing that is similar to modern spoken Mandarin Chinese, while speakers of non-Chinese languages have largely abandoned Literary Chinese in favor of their respective local vernaculars. Although languages have evolved in unique, different directions from the base of Literary Chinese, many cognates can be still found between these languages that have historically written in Classical Chinese.

The history of Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature vernacular fiction novels that arose during the Ming dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese. The introduction of widespread woodblock printing during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng (990–1051) during the Song dynasty (960–1279) rapidly spread written knowledge throughout China. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881–1936) is considered an influential voice of baihua literature in China.

Chinese culture Overview of the Chinese culture

Chinese culture is one of the world's oldest cultures, originating thousands of years ago. The culture prevails across a large geographical region in East Asia and is extremely diverse and varying, with customs and traditions varying greatly between provinces, cities, and even towns as well. The terms 'China' and the geographical landmass of 'China' has shifted across the centuries, with the last name being the Great Qing before the name 'China' became commonplace in modernity.

Written vernacular Chinese, also known as Baihua, is the forms of written Chinese based on the varieties of Chinese spoken throughout China, in contrast to Classical Chinese, the written standard used during imperial China up to the early twentieth century. A written vernacular based on Mandarin Chinese was used in novels in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and later refined by intellectuals associated with the May Fourth Movement. Since the early 1920s, this modern vernacular form has been the standard style of writing for speakers of all varieties of Chinese throughout mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore as the written form of Modern Standard Chinese. This is commonly called Standard Written Chinese or Modern Written Chinese to avoid ambiguity with spoken vernaculars, with the written vernaculars of earlier eras, and with other written vernaculars such as written Cantonese or written Hokkien.

Chinese poetry

Chinese poetry is poetry written, spoken, or chanted in the Chinese language. While this last term comprises Classical Chinese, Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Yue Chinese, and other historical and vernacular forms of the language, its poetry generally falls into one of two primary types, Classical Chinese poetry and Modern Chinese poetry.

Classical Chinese poetry Traditional Chinese poetry

Classical Chinese poetry is traditional Chinese poetry written in Classical Chinese and typified by certain traditional forms, or modes; traditional genres; and connections with particular historical periods, such as the poetry of the Tang Dynasty. The existence of classical Chinese poetry is documented at least as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry,. Various combinations of forms and genres have developed over the ages. Many or most of these poetic forms were developed by the end of the Tang Dynasty, in 907 CE.

The New Culture Movement was a movement in China in the 1910s and 1920s that criticized classical Chinese ideas and promoted a new Chinese culture based upon western ideals like democracy and science. Arising out of disillusionment with traditional Chinese culture following the failure of the Republic of China to address China's problems, it featured scholars such as Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei, Chen Hengzhe, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, He Dong, Qian Xuantong, Liu Bannong, Bing Xin, and Hu Shi, many classically educated, who led a revolt against Confucianism. The movement was launched by the writers of New Youth magazine, where these intellectuals promoted a new society based on unconstrained individuals rather than the traditional Confucian system. The movement promoted:

Japanese poetry Literary tradition of Japan

Japanese poetry is poetry typical of Japan, or written, spoken, or chanted in the Japanese language, which includes Old Japanese, Early Middle Japanese, Late Middle Japanese, and Modern Japanese, as well as poetry in Japan which was written in the Chinese language or ryūka from the Okinawa Islands: it is possible to make a more accurate distinction between Japanese poetry written in Japan or by Japanese people in other languages versus that written in the Japanese language by speaking of Japanese-language poetry. Much of the literary record of Japanese poetry begins when Japanese poets encountered Chinese poetry during the Tang dynasty. Under the influence of the Chinese poets of this era Japanese began to compose poetry in Chinese kanshi); and, as part of this tradition, poetry in Japan tended to be intimately associated with pictorial painting, partly because of the influence of Chinese arts, and the tradition of the use of ink and brush for both writing and drawing. It took several hundred years to digest the foreign impact and make it an integral part of Japanese culture and to merge this kanshi poetry into a Japanese language literary tradition, and then later to develop the diversity of unique poetic forms of native poetry, such as waka, haikai, and other more Japanese poetic specialties. For example, in the Tale of Genji both kanshi and waka are frequently mentioned. The history of Japanese poetry goes from an early semi-historical/mythological phase, through the early Old Japanese literature inclusions, just before the Nara period, the Nara period itself, the Heian period, the Kamakura period, and so on, up through the poetically important Edo period and modern times; however, the history of poetry often is different from socio-political history.

The culture that led to the founding of the Republic of China and that flourished immediately afterwards was informed by two main concerns: the weakness of the government in the face of pressure by Western powers, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, and Japan, and the seeming backwardness of the political system, which previously had held primacy over East Asia. It was this climate that led to the rapid changes and quick questioning of thousand year old traditions.

Poetic diary

Poetic diary or Nikki bungaku (日記文学) is a Japanese literary genre, dating back to Ki no Tsurayuki's Tosa Nikki, compiled in roughly 935. Nikki bungaku is a genre including prominent works such as the Tosa Nikki, Kagerō Nikki, and Murasaki Shikibu Nikki. While diaries began as records imitating daily logs kept by Chinese government officials, private and literary diaries emerged and flourished during the Heian period.

Tang poetry refers to poetry written in or around the time of or in the characteristic style of China's Tang dynasty, and/or follows a certain style, often considered as the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. The Quantangshi includes over 48,900 poems written by over 2,200 authors. During the Tang dynasty, poetry continued to be an important part of social life at all levels of society. Scholars were required to master poetry for the civil service exams, but the art was theoretically available to everyone. This led to a large record of poetry and poets, a partial record of which survives today. The two most famous poets of the period were Li Bai and Du Fu. Tang poetry has had an ongoing influence on world literature in modern times.

Classical Chinese poetry forms

Classical Chinese poetry forms are poetry forms or modes which typify the traditional Chinese poems written in Literary Chinese or Classical Chinese. Classical Chinese poetry has various characteristic forms, some attested to as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry, dating from a traditionally, and roughly, estimated time of around 10th–7th century BC. The term "forms" refers to various formal and technical aspects applied to poems: this includes such poetic characteristics as meter, rhythm, and other considerations such as vocabulary and style. These forms and modes are generally, but not invariably, independent of the Classical Chinese poetry genres. Many or most of these were developed by the time of the Tang Dynasty, and the use and development of Classical Chinese poetry and genres actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, and still continues even today in the 21st century.

Han poetry

Han poetry as a style of poetry resulted in significant poems which are still preserved today, and which have their origin associated with the Han dynasty era of China, 206 BC – 220 AD, including the Wang Mang interregnum. The final years at the end of the Han era often receive special handling for purposes of literary analysis because, among other things, the poetry and culture of this period is less than typical of the Han period, and has important characteristics of its own, or it shares literary aspects with the subsequent Three Kingdoms period. This poetry reflects one of the poetry world's more important flowerings, as well as being a special period in Classical Chinese poetry, particularly in regard to the development of the quasipoetic fu; the activities of the Music Bureau in connection with the collection of popular ballads and the resultant development of what would eventually become known as the yuefu, or as the rhapsodic formal style; and, finally, towards the end of the Han Dynasty, the development of a new style of shi poetry, as the later development of the yuehfu into regular, fixed-line length forms makes it difficult to distinguish in form from the shi form of poetic verse, and at what point specific poems are classified as one or the other is somewhat arbitrary. Another important poetic contribution from the Han era is the compilation of the Chuci anthology, which contains some of the oldest and most important poetic verses to be preserved from ancient China, as well as the transmission of the Shijing anthology.

Yuan poetry refers to those types or styles of poetry particularly associated with the era of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), in China. Although the poetic forms of past literature were continued, the Yuan period is particularly known for the development of the poetic aspects included in the complex mix of different art forms which characterize Chinese opera, namely the qu or fixed-tone pattern type of verses that were delivered by the actors of these shows. Although the language of Yuan poetry is still generally considered to be Classical Chinese, a certain vernacular aspect reflecting linguistic changes can be seen in some of the fixed-rhythm verse forms, such as Yuan ci and qu. Certain aspects of Yuan poetry can be understood in the context of the social and political changes which took place as part of the process of the Mongol conquest of the Jin and Song Dynasties and their subsequent establishment of the Yuan dynasty.

Ming poetry

Ming poetry refers to the poetry of or typical of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). With over one million specimens of Ming poetry surviving today, the poetry of the Ming dynasty represents one of the major periods of Classical Chinese poetry, as well as an area of active modern academic research. Ming poetry is marked by 2 transitional phases, the transition between the Yuan dynasty which was the predecessor to the Ming, and the Qing-Ming transition which eventually resulted in the succeeding Qing dynasty. Although in politico-dynastic terms, the dynastic leadership of China is historically relatively clear-cut, the poetic periods involved encompass the lifespans and works of poets whose lives and poetic output transcend both the end of one dynasty and the initiatory period of the next.

Qing poetry

Qing poetry refers to the poetry of or typical of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Classical Chinese poetry continued to be the major poetic form of the Qing dynasty, during which the debates, trends and widespread literacy of the Ming period began to flourish once again after a transitional period during which the Qing dynasty had established its dominance. Also, popular versions of Classical Chinese poetry were transmitted through Qing dynasty anthologies, such as the collections of Tang poetry known as the Quantangshi and the Three Hundred Tang Poems. The poetry of the Qing Dynasty has an ongoing and growing body of scholarly literature associated with its study. Both the poetry of the Ming dynasty and the poetry of the Qing dynasty are studied for poetry associated with Chinese opera, the developmental trends of Classical Chinese poetry and the transition to the more vernacular type of Modern Chinese poetry, as well as poetry by women in Chinese culture.

Poetry of Scotland

Poetry of Scotland includes all forms of verse written in Brythonic, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, French, English and Esperanto and any language in which poetry has been written within the boundaries of modern Scotland, or by Scottish people.

Liu Yazi

Liu Yazi was a Chinese poet and political activist called the "last outstanding poet of the traditional school." He married Zheng Peiyi in 1906, and was the father of two daughters, Liu Wufei and Liu Wugou, and of a son, Liu Wu-chi, a literary scholar.