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Author: Stephen Roddy


From the mid-Tang through the Qing dynasty, poets employed the short-lyric form known as zhuzhici [bamboo branch lyrics] to write, first and foremost, about ordinary people going about their daily lives in China and elsewhere in the Sinosphere. This article explores how early developments in this genre prepared the ground for what later emerged as an arguably proto-ethnographic mode – that is, both poetry and accompanying prose annotations based on poets’ direct observations of and even immersive “fieldwork” within discrete localities. I focus specifically on poems about “water labor,” by which I mean those that describe and give voice to vocational groups and communities along lakes, levies, and channels of the Yangzi River basin. It was partly thanks to this history of reporting about local lives and conditions, I argue, that zhuzhici eventually came to adopt a more information-intensive and increasingly empirical orientation during the later stages of their development. Moreover, this mode of what might even be identified tentatively as affective or lyrical ethnography prefigures efforts by contemporary social scientists to recalibrate ethnography in spatially affective modes, and I conclude with some observations on how its example might inform future efforts in these directions.

Open Access
In: Journal of Chinese Humanities

This article examines the confluence of homoerotic desire with career ambition in Wu Jingzi’s (ca. 1701–1754) novel Rulin waishi (ca. 1750), specifically through its allusions to the author’s cousin Wu Qing (1696–1750), owner of the famed portrait by Chen Hu of the actor Xu Ziyun (1644–1675). The study argues that Wu Qing’s inscription on this portrait is subtly reflected in Wu Jingzi’s representation of male-male eroticism as complementary and even instrumental to the literati’s pursuit of social mobility through the examination system. It also compares this juxtaposition of libidinous and career desires to antecedents in earlier fiction, and concludes with a discussion of a second portrait of Xu Ziyun and his lover Chen Weisong (1625–1682) as well as the impact of this artistic and literary legacy on Chen Sen’s Pinhua baojian (1849).

Volume Editors: Zong-qi Cai and Stephen Roddy
During much of China’s tumultuous 20th century, May 4th and Maoist iconoclasts regarded their classical literary heritage as a burden to be dislodged in the quest for modernization. This volume demonstrates how the traditions that had deeply impressed earlier generations of Western writers like Goethe and Voltaire did not lose their lustre; to the contrary, a fascination with these past riches sprouted with renewed vigour among Euro-American poets, novelists, and other cultural figures after the fall of imperial China in 1911. From Petrograd to Paris, and from São Paolo to San Francisco, China’s premodern poetry, theatre, essays, and fiction inspired numerous prominent writers and intellectuals. The contributors survey the fruits of this engagement in multiple Western languages and nations.