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Lam Lap

A revival of ci writing was witnessed in the Qing dynasty. Emerging with this resurgence was the founding of scores of ci societies. After the fall of the Qing, some loyalists and traditional literati, following the examples of their predecessors, joined together to form a number of ci societies in Republican China. For loyalist-lyricists such as Zhu Zumou, ci writing was not just one of the effective ways to convey their memories of the past. It also meant to be a gesture of practicing and preserving traditional Chinese culture. However, due to ideological bias, their works and the vitality of cishe did not receive sufficient attention from literary historians in the past. This paper attempts to reveal and examine the interesting features of cishe in the Republican era, asserting that within the collective voice of and harmonious correspondence among the traditional lyricists, there were always some dissonances occurred. First I delineate a general picture of ci societies in Republican China, explicating the geographical distribution and social networks of ci lyricists and why lyricists from the Qing loyalist faction can associate with members of the anti-Manchu Southern Society (Nanshe), and what this phenomenon means to us. Then I focus on the Foam Society (Oushe), the ci society formed in Shanghai before the Japanese occupation of the city, and its group ci composition. Besides recounting Oushe members’ backgrounds and the details of their “refined gatherings,” I will bring into light the multifaceted thematic and stylistic features displayed in the members’ works.

Xiaofei Tian

Nie Gannu 聶紺弩 (1903–86), essayist and poet, had begun his literary career as an avid advocate of the New Culture and New Literature Movement of the early twentieth century; but later in life, he became well-known for his classical-style poetry. This paper examines the paradox of old and new in Nie Gannu’s writings by juxtaposing classical-style with new-style poetry for a comparative analysis. In contrast to new-style poetry, classical-style poetry with its prosodic requirements and formal conventions has a strong technical aspect. Nie Gannu’s preference for the regulated verse in the seven-syllable line is a deliberate embrace of this technical aspect of classical-style poetry: On the one hand, the absorption in poetic skills and craftsmanship was therapeutic for him in the traumatic years of the socialist revolution; on the other, the restraint of the form and the use of parallel couplet afforded him linguistic resources unavailable in the new-style poetry, so that he was able to express emotional complexity, ambivalence, and an irony that is, in his own words, “both there and not quite there.” Nie Gannu’s case demonstrates the importance of understanding the new and old verse forms in each other’s context. Rather than considering the mapping of modern Chinese poetry as following a linear line of progression from classical-style to new-style, this paper proposes a spatial model of configuring the relationship of the two major verse forms in modern times, as mutually defining and constricting.

Editors Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Editors Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Jon Eugene von Kowallis

In this paper I will re-contextualize Lu Xun’s early thought, as evidenced in his lengthy classical-style essays, which are concerned with issues in literature, philosophy, politics and aesthetics during an era when China was facing profound cultural changes. Part of their significance lies in the way they provide us with an unabashed glimpse at what Lu Xun set out to accomplish, early on, in his new-found literary career. Although they are mainly the product of his final Lehrjahre (years of study) in Japan, the fact that he chose to include the two longest of them in the very first pages of his important 1926 anthology Fen (The grave) indicates that he considered the views expressed therein neither too immature nor too passé to reprint at the height of his career as a creative writer. In fact, he wrote that one of his reasons for doing so was that a number of the literary figures and issues treated in these essays had, ironically, taken on an increased relevance for China “since the founding of the Republic.” The central concern of all the essays turns on questions of cultural crisis and transition. What I propose to do in this paper is to re-examine the essays within the context in which they first appeared, i.e., the expatriate Chinese journal Henan, then published in Tokyo as an unofficial organ of the anti-Manchu Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance).

Frederik H. Green

When late Qing and early Republican-period Chinese reformers grappled with the challenges of creating a new poetic language and form in the early decades of the twentieth century, Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967), one of modern China’s most influential intellectuals, believed that much could be learned from the experiments of modern Japanese poets who had overcome similar challenges in the decades following the Meiji restoration. Of all the verse forms Japanese poets were experimenting with, Zhou was particularly interested in modern haiku and tanka. Zhou felt that the modern haiku and tanka’s rootedness in tradition on the one hand and their ability to express modern sensibilities on the other could offer a model for Chinese poets seeking to create a poetic voice that was at once modern, but also anchored in traditional poetics. This article will analyze some of Zhou’s translations of modern haiku and tanka and illustrate how these translations led him to promote a new poetic form in China, typically referred to as “short verse” (xiaoshi). By further reading Zhou’s critical essays on modern Japanese poetry against the writings of a number of Western modernist poets and translators who themselves were inspired by East Asian verse forms—Ezra Pound in particular—I will comment on the degree to which Zhou’s promotion of short verse inspired by modern Japanese haiku and tanka challenges a perceived Western role in legitimizing East Asian forms as conducive to modernism.

Kang-i Sun Chang

Shi Zhecun (1905–2003) was a modern Chinese literary superstar. In the early 1930s, he had already established a canonical position for himself in the sphere of modernist fiction writing. But starting in fall 1937 when the Anti-Japanese War began, Shi suddenly changed direction and devoted his efforts to writing classical style poetry. This paper argues that it was Shi’s wartime experiences, especially during his refugee’s journey to Yunnan, that triggered his poetic inspiration to write in the classical form. It also discusses how Shi’s poems, though written in the classical style, often expressed a kind of “modern” feeling. In other words, the poet utilized a complex, classical use of language to describe his own unique psychological impressions. In a way Shi was actually using his kind of “modernist” fictional writing style to write poetry. Like the many psychological stories he had written, his poems often used classical references, while describing extremely modern emotions. This kind of freshness in classicism is a very important feature of Shi’s Yunnan poems. Some of his poems exemplify his uses of synesthesia in poetry. On the other hand, Shi was undoubtedly influenced by the poetic technique of the Tang poet Li He (ca. 791–ca. 817), but his imagery has the unique quality of modernism, which touches upon the level of psychological/emotional truth. Moreover, to Shi, Kunming seemed to represent an inner haven. Had he not traveled to Yunnan in the year of 1937, the second half of his life would have been vastly different.

Jingxi Liu

Translator Anja Bihler


To construct socialism with Chinese characteristics, advance socialist democracy, and establish a political ecology for socialism with Chinese characteristics, we should devote our efforts toward building a stronger political system and strengthening the rule of law and democracy. Important projects, such as the anti-corruption campaign, mass-line education, or team building for government officials should be guided by the spirit of democracy and the rule of law and proceed in an orderly and regulated manner. Still, voices in support of political meritocracy have become increasingly audible in Chinese political and academic circles, supporting a political phenomenon completely incompatible with the goal of building a socialist democracy. Meritocracy as a political system entails a high degree of uncertainty, unsustainability, and risk and is essentially just a modified version of the rule of man or, to put it differently, the rule of man “2.0.” Its fatal weakness is its inability to resolve two fundamental problems related to the legitimacy of political power: Where does power originate, and how can we control it? An important theoretical prerequisite for building a clean political ecology is thus to demystify meritocracy and dispel any popular myths surrounding it.

Yushun Huang

Translator Kathryn Henderson


“Meritocracy” is among the political phenomena and political orientations found in modern Western democratic systems. Daniel A. Bell, however, imposes it on ancient Confucianism and contemporary China and refers to it in Chinese using loaded terms such as xianneng zhengzhi 賢能政治 and shangxian zhi 尚賢制. Bell’s “political meritocracy” not only consists of an anti-democratic political program but also is full of logical contradictions: at times, it is the antithesis of democracy, and, at other times, it is a supplement to democracy; sometimes it resolutely rejects democracy, and sometimes it desperately needs democratic mechanisms as the ultimate guarantee of its legitimacy. Bell’s criticism of democracy consists of untenable platitudes, and his defense of “political meritocracy” comprises a series of specious arguments. Ultimately, the main issue with “political meritocracy” is its blatant negation of popular sovereignty as well as the fact that it inherently represents a road leading directly to totalitarianism.

Yongle Zhang

Translator Colleen Howe


Compared to Wang Shaoguang’s approach to re-interpret the old concept “democracy” to overcome the Schumpeterian model of political legitimation, Daniel Bell’s Political Meritocracy takes a more challenging path, attempting to build a new discourse of legitimacy centering on the concept “meritocracy” and incorporating elements of ancient China’s traditions, the socialist revolutions in the twentieth century, and the system of competitive elections common in the Western world today. This inspiring work is full of incisive arguments, but could be improved by further considering the tension between the Confucian tradition and the revolutionary tradition in the twentieth century.