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).
In the field of poetry, China also carried much influence on the West, the most well-known example is Ezra Pound who published Cathay, a book of all Chinese poems with only one exception. “The River-Merchant’s Wife’s: a Letter” in Cathay is a good example that well demonstrates the charm of Chinese poetry that attracted Ezra Pound. The whole poem is full of fresh, concrete, energetic images, which are created by the technique of “Look-Back Strikes”. For example, in the lines from the second to the fourth, a Genteel poet might just writes: “I played about the front gate/ You came by on bamboo stilts/ You walked about my seat”, in which it seems that the story is also made clear. However, the poetic beauty of the images is terribly undermined, as the images are much less concrete. The three phrases “pulling flowers”, “playing horse”, “playing with blue plum” serve as “Back Strikes”, hammering once more on the images preceded and guaranteed the finalization of beautiful images. By the way, the three phrases together produce a marvelous poetic rhythm and a wonderful poetic sound image as well. In the image of “By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,/ Too deep to clear them away”, two “Back Strikes” are applied, and, therefore, a very vivid image is produced.
However, the most marvelous poetic achievement is the unprecedented, and probably subconscious as well, application of “Sound-Linked Images Flow” in English. This poetic technique is very frequently applied in traditional Chinese poetry, especially obviously in Chinese Couplets. This technique can greatly free images from the bondage of grammar and, therefore, produce wonderful bondage of poetic image; and at the same time, readers do not feel the lines are loosened because of lack of good grammar, as the sound of words closely knit them into a beautiful acoustic unit. In “The River-Merchant’s Wife’s: a Letter”, “pulling flowers”, the phrase-images “playing horse”, “playing with blue plum”, though not a typical example, have more or less achieved this effect.
In fact, Cathay was such a success that, when it came out in 1915, “almost all the major Modernists—Yeats, Ford, Lewis, Eliot, and Williams—applauded its freshness, elegance, and simplicity. Ford, in particular, remarked, ‘If these were original verses, then Pound was the greatest poet of the day’, which should indicate that the English Modernist writer and critic had perceived affinities between his own and Far Eastern sensibilities.”4 After Ezra Pound’s successful introduction of Chinese poetry into the West, Western poets started to learn more and more from Chinese poetry, most of whom are not disappointed. For example, William Carlos Williams learned “the technique of achieving wholeness by means of uniting opposing elements” from Bai Juyi, a fellow poet of Li Bai in Tang Dynasty in Ancient China.5
II. New Chinese Poetry being Fermented under Influence from the West
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.
China had not known much of the West until the year of 1840 when England waged a war against the Qing Dynasty government, thus commencing the Modern Age in China. China had remained a powerful nation for a long time. Even at the time when Columbus discovered America in 1492, China was still the most powerful nation in the world. “The most powerful empire the world over was in Asia----she was China in Ming Dynasty. From 1405 to 1423, Chinese fleets which contained hundreds of warships dwarfed Columbus’s sailboats and brought the fame of the Chinese Empire further into South Asia, East Asia and the Indonesian islands.”6 It is no wonder that many European people, especially the upper class people, should have so fancied Chinese products as well as the Chinese way of living during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, just as many Chinese people very much fancy the Western way of living nowadays.
China failed in the war with England in 1840, a failure followed with a series of misfortunes she had never experienced in the past. Finally, “the Chinese began to doubt anything of their traditional culture and this gradually caused the May-fourth movement that was to overthrow all traditional Chinese cultures and rebuild their culture by learning everything from the West civilizations. …” 7 China had been learning from other nations and had always been accepting foreign cultural nourishment during its whole historical course.8 Yet the process of China learning from the West after 1840 is very special. Before 1840, China had learned from other civilizations and had assimilated the elements of other civilizations into here own culture that is basically of Confucianism. However, it is all different in the modern age. “When China was confronting the challenge of the West in the modern era, Confucianism could no more absorb it as it once had done with Buddhism. It finally became the negative force in the development of Chinese society, causing the Chinese to fall into a severe ideological peril.”9 Confucianism, once the main foundation of Chinese culture, was revealed of many of its defects and was radically criticized by some Chinese vanguards, especially those who had won a chance to study in the West for some time. Chinese culture then experienced a collapse from within, resulting in an unselected influx of Western ideologies. Chinese literature as a main carrier of Chinese culture was first and foremost challenged and subsequently thoroughly reformed on the basis of modeling itself on the West. Even the Chinese ideographic characters that were established thousands of years ago and had been creating many literary wonders, were seriously questioned and challenged.10 It was a crazy age, in which Chinese cultural values were all questions, re-examined and often criticized even without sound arguments. At the same time, Western models were introduced to replace the vacuum of many cultural practices.
The learning from the West was well demonstrated by the translation of books. At the very beginning, “the books such as literary books and philosophic books were ignored in those days. It was natural for Chinese then to think that Western art and philosophy would certainly be lagging behind China, with its 5,000 years’ history, though they had very powerful guns…”11 However, the failure of the Reform Movement of 1898 demonstrated the impossibility for the Chinese culture to reform from within, and so many scholars started a large-scale importing of Western ideas and methods. Since there were very few Chinese who had learned any Western language or culture, most Chinese scholars chose to introduce Western ideology into China by translating Western-origin works in Japanese. “During the three hundred years before the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Chinese translated only 12 Japanese books. But within the 15 years after it, the Chinese translated 958 Japanese books, most of which were originally Western or written about the West…”12 The influx of Western works into China on this unprecedented scale then formally began the Westernization of Chinese culture that had been up to then so well established that only an internal upheaval could possibly shake and change it.
Poetry, as the most sensitive element of Chinese culture, responded very fast to the dramatic changes in China after 1840. Very soon after the Opium War of 1840, some reformation of Chinese poetry had already occurred. Gong Zizhen（龚自珍）and Wei Yuan（魏源）, two famous patriots, claimed that there was an urgent need to change Traditional Chinese Poetry to serve their nation. 13 They did some initial work in this respect and, later on, Huang Zunxian（黄遵宪） and Liang Qichao（梁启超） made a true beginning at rendering classical Chinese poetry into a much freer form by accepting Western poetics.
The most well known resulting poetic reformation during this period was Huang’s “New Style”, whose core is “to write as you speak.” Liang, however, cultivated a much grander aim to reform traditional Chinese literature as a whole by challenging the traditional literary language----Wenyan. Later on, people took Liang Qichao as the initiator of Baihua Literature (literature in vernacular Chinese), and many important literary figures, including Hu Shi（胡适）, Chen Duxiu（陈独秀） and Li Dazhao（李大钊）, were deeply influenced by Liang before the May Fourth Movement.
Changes in the field of poetry only serve as an example. In fact, changes happened in all the literary fields after the Opium War, with the basic belief of reforming Chinese culture for survival.14 The movements of reforming Chinese culture grew and finally in 1919 it exploded, resulting in the changed climate of the May Fourth Movement, which was basically characterized by the Western ideologies of Democracy and Science. Its fundamental significance was its acceptance of the need to learn from Western culture in reforming Chinese traditional culture and literature. Hu Shi’s “Some Suggestions for Reforming Chinese Literature”15, which was composed in the United States and posted back to China to be published by Chen Duxiu in New Youth (《新青年》), the vanguard of the May Fourth Movement, was the most significant literary advance and was enthusiastically hailed and followed. The core of Hu Shi’s advocacy was to establish New Chinese Literature by overthrowing the traditional one, the traditional literary language Wenyan as well.
To overthrow Chinese traditional poetics, Hu Shi argued that vernacular Chinese is the true carrier of poetry and, thus that vernacular poetry should take the place of traditional Chinese poetry. “It is very clear that the vernacular could be applied to writing poems. The vernacular poems of Du Fu （杜甫）, Bai Juyi （白居易）, Hanshan （寒山）, Shi De （拾得）, Shao Yong （邵雍）, Wang Anshi （王安石）and Lu You （陆游） can all be cited as proofs. There are even more proofs in Ci （词） and Qu （曲）.”16 He even exaggerated that “in short, all valuable literary works in China since The Book of Poetry (《诗经》)are in the vernacular or very close to the vernacular.”17 Hu Shi’s criteria were very partial. Nevertheless, his standpoint was supported by many of his followers, who agreed to simplify traditional Chinese literature, with Wenyan that appeals only to the educated class, so that the ordinary public can be well educated to do something on behalf of the nation. It is ironical to note that Hu Shi and his colleagues worked hard to simplify Chinese poetry, however, after almost one century’s development, contemporary Chinese poetry is becoming more and more difficult again, being mostly too difficult for ordinary readers to understand. Hu Shi could have been more convincing if he had not sought too exclusively poetical reasons rather than social ones. Hu Shi and his fellow Cultural Reformers did succeed in establishing vernacular Chinese as an officially accepted written language. However, if it had not been for the particular historical background, Hu Shi would never have succeeded so easily in establishing the vernacular, instead of Wenyan, as the solely right tool for poetry, because his arguments would never have been strong enough to do so in any other historical situation.
Many scholars admit that the creation of New Chinese Literature came about mainly because of the need to call on all Chinese to come together to save their nation. I. A. Richards said: “The intellectual movement in Modern China is primarily a consequence of the political movement. The traditional Chinese outlook is being remade—not because it was felt to be unsatisfactory in itself but because it plainly put China at a disadvantage in the world-struggle.”18 Since traditional Chinese poetry appealed only to a small number of well-educated people, it was criticized and replaced by easily understandable New Chinese Poetry. Naturally, that did not mean that traditional Chinese literature had not been beautiful and nourishing to the spirit, since literary beauty does not necessarily go together with popularity among all members of a society. Actually, many beautiful literary works are very demanding and appeal only to a very small number of readers. But, again, that does not necessarily mean that a good literary work has to be difficult, as there are also many beautiful yet simple works. In short, literary beauty and literary popularity are not identical; some times they coincide with each other while on other occasions not so.
Traditional Chinese Poetry had undergone several large-scale changes in its history before the Modern Age in China. “After Four-word poetry declined, there appeared Songs from the South（楚词）; after Songs from the South declined, there appeared Five-word poetry; after Five-word poetry was Seven-word poetry; after the ancient-style poetry was Lu （律）and Jue（绝）, followed by Ci（词）.”19 Wang Guowei （王国维） gave a more academically reasoned explanation for this phenomenon: “…all those changes happened because after a certain literary form got into circulation, more people would utilize it and then a rigid pattern would take shape, which would prevent even the well-educated people from making attractive literature. Therefore people abdicated the old forms and created new ones. This is the reason that all prosperous literary forms finally declined.”20 However, Wang’s explanation can not be applied to explain the formation of New Chinese Poetry because New Chinese Poetry had been established and widely accepted even before any literary wonders were created in this literary genre. And during all the twentieth century, many people, including poet Chairman Mao Zedong (although he supported New Chinese Poetry politically), repeatedly questioned the success of New Chinese Poetry as a literary genre.
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.
During those years, many persons that had the best advantage in interpreting Western culture and literature, usually being those who had actually spent significant periods abroad, acquired a considerable measure of fame. Hu Shi, who had stayed for eight years in the United States and finally earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York, was one of the few important persons that “ignited” the New Chinese Literary Movements. Hu Shi said: “This movement [the May Fourth Movement]——which is generally called a literary revolution, I myself prefer to address it as the Chinese Renaissance---- was initiated by my friends and I in an American university dormitory in 1915, 1916 and 1917.”21 Hu Shi’s Doctorate was not in literature but in ancient Chinese philosophy, though he claimed that he read a considerable number of Western literary books while in the United States. Scholars often seriously doubt Hu truly knew about Western literature and its cultural background.
His Attempting Poems (《尝试集》), the first poem-collection in Vernacular Chinese, which was widely distributed and imitated, formally starting the New Chinese Poetry history, is actually of quite limited literary quality. Its most significant value seems to consist in the very fact that it is in vernacular Chinese----like “a small foot that has just been released” as Hu Shi himself later on apologized.
It is almost certain that Hu Shi indeed learned or copied some models from Western literature for constructing his famous “Eight Nos”, a prescription which he drew up for reforming Chinese literature, and which became highly esteemed during subsequent literary movements in China.22 In fact, while Hu Shi was studying in New York from 1910 to 1917, the Imagism that had been proposed by Ezra Pound was quite influential there and Hu copied the proposals of the American Imagist Amy Lowell in his notebook.23 The Imagists proposed to create free verse in new-rhythm and new-form using daily language rather than old-style poetic vocabulary. There can hardly be any doubt that Hu borrowed some ideas from the Imagists who learned from Traditional Chinese Poetry themselves.24
Hu Shi, in a sense, is one of the few persons who set the literary direction for the May Fourth Movement. His Western background and Western literary characteristics thus strongly promoted the Western poetical characteristics of New Chinese Poetry. Soon after Hu’s Attempting Poems, there emerged many poem-collections that more or less based themselves on some imported Western poetics, among which Guo Moruo (郭沫若)’s The Goddesses (《女神》，1921) and Li Jinfa（李金发）’s Light Rain(《微雨》，1925), correspondingly importing Western Romanticism and Symbolism into New Chinese Poetry, were among the few works that generated the most immediate and widely-spread attention in the Chinese literary circles of those days.
Guo Moruo’s poem The Goddesses, which is generally considered as the very beginning of Chinese Modern Romanticism that created the first climax of New Chinese Poetry, is of very obvious Western characteristics.25 The title image “goddess” is from Western mythology. “The Western images in The Goddess are much more prevalent than the Chinese ones, such Western mythic images as Apollo, Venus, Cupid, Bacchus, Prometheus, Hygeia… There are also many Western historical terms. And there are even many words in English in this Chinese poem.”26 To directly apply Western sentences in a poem did never happen in traditional Chinese poetry, and it is rather ridiculous that a poem supposedly for the commonplace people should apply some sentences that only very few well-educated people could possibly understand. The same problem applies to the Western images in The Goddesses too, as fulfilling the supposed target of New Chinese Literature to serve the ordinary people, since the conveyed meanings of such Western images could not possibly have appealed to any but specially trained ears. Later on, up to the present, new Chinese poetry has been going further and further towards Western poetical development as well as away from its commonplace native readers.
As soon as The Goddesses was published, it quickly became popular within Chinese literary circles and thus firmly established Guo’s position as a leading figure in the literary world in China. However, the overall most important factor in The Goddesses that appealed to Chinese readers was not so much its literary quality, but rather its patriotic theme as it enthusiastically hailed China as a phoenix coming to a rebirth by burning herself painfully, most forcibly evidenced by the poem “Rebirth of the Goddesses”: “… Ladies and Gentlemen, you have become tired of living in the foetid gloom of this dark world. You surely thirst for light. Your poet, having dramatized so far, writes no more. He has, in fact, fled beyond the sea to create new light and heat. Ladies and gentlemen, do you await the appearance of a new sun? You are bid to create it for yourselves. We will meet again under the new sun.”27 Besides, Guo’s The Goddesses is heavily laden with strong optimism that was very precious for China in a dark age: most poems in The Goddesses are happy and energetic, such as “Sunrise”, “The Good Morning”, “Shouting on the Rim of the World, Oh Earth, My Mother”, “Sea of Light”, “Hymn to the Sun” and “Stirring of Spring”, etc.
More often than not, the popularity of a piece of literary work does not necessarily go together with a high level of literary merit. In The Goddesses there are so many superfluous words and unqualified sentences that a well-trained eye could clearly see Guo’s lack of precise control over either diction or emotion, such as in the poem “Good Morning”:
“Ah, Ah! Alas the Pacific Ocean!
Good morning! Alas the Pacific Ocean!
Good morning! Alas the New Continent beside the Pacific Ocean!
Good morning! Alas the grave of Washington! Alas the grave of Lincoln!
Alas the grave of Whitman!
Ah, Ah! Alas Whitman! Alas Whitman! Alas the Pacific-like Whitman!
Ah, Ah! Alas the Pacific Ocean!
Good morning! Alas the Pacific Ocean!”28
晨安! 华盛顿的墓呀! 林肯的墓呀! 惠特曼的墓呀!
啊啊! 惠特曼呀! 惠特曼呀! 太平洋一样的惠特曼呀!
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.
Li Jinfa, who introduced Western Symbolism into New Chinese Poetry, might be one of the few exceptions who became a famous new Chinese poet without a good mastery of either Chinese or any foreign language. Li Jinfa, who was concentrating on studying sculpture in France, occasionally scratched a few lines in the manner of French Symbolism and got his poems published in China, which immediately brought him an unexpected success.30 Li’s introduction of French Symbolism into China attracted the attention of many poets such as Dai Wangshu, Wang Duqing, Bian Zhilin and others, many of them now considered better writers than Li himself
Li is commonly referred as a “Shi Guai” (诗怪, a bizarre poet) because of his “bizarre” disposition of images, the bizarre images themselves and the bizarrely awkward diction that made his poems appear to be very fresh and imaginative. Readers of Li’s works can often see very bizarre and incoherent pictures and to obtain a wonderful poetical experience; it nevertheless demands of a reader a strong imaginative power. To mention that Li did bring some poetical merits is in no way to guarantee that Li was a master of the Chinese language. Li Jinfa had only a very poor opportunity to improve his Chinese while young.31 Li’s linguistic limitation in Chinese is clearly seen in all his three poem collections, Light Rain (1925), I Sang for Happiness (《为幸福而歌》，1926), The Long-Term Visitor and Hard Times (《食客与凶年》，1927), where poor diction is everywhere. Zhu Ziqing said: “There is no want of imagination in Li’s poem; but his sentence structures are too Europeanized, with some classical Chinese preps and conjunctions, making one feel rather like reading a piece of translation work than an original; this might be owing to Li’s too anxious intention of creating a new language, or because his mother tongue is too limited.”32
Li never published another line in the way of poetry after The Long-Term Visitor and Hard Times. Many famous writers, such as Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren, did exactly the same: they wrote New Chinese Poetry in order to help have it established, and not to write one single line afterwards. Even Hu Shi, the very initiator of New Chinese Poetry is more or less of the same like.
IV. The Misty Poetry Period from 1978 to 1989 and the Individual Creation Period after 1990s
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.
After the removal of the chains of Literature Serving Politics, “Misty Poetry” gradually grew and finally bloomed. It is conventional wisdom to say that Misty Poetry is made up of the sighs, complaints and songs of the long depressed, and then newly released intellectual spirits. Therefore, it is not strange that Misty Poetry was mainly concerned with political themes, and was addressed as Political Poetry by some critics. More than politics, Misty poetry was also concerned with humanity, cultural tradition and intellectual existence, being much more advanced in comparison with the poetry in the previous age, which can be viewed as a partial return to and a further development of the May Fourth Literature.
Misty Poetry as a whole is quite a misty term. The Misty poet Gu Cheng said: “Some of my fellow poets and I have always considered the term ‘Misty’ itself to be rather misty.”34 Misty Poetry was perhaps considered as misty just because most readers, especially some officially important critics, had long accustomed themselves to easy, slogan-like poems. The misty quality of Misty Poetry results in profound poetic beauty, establishing an embryo of a new Chinese literary language that is independent of both Wenyan, the classical poetical language and Baihua, the Vernacular Chinese that had been more or less formalized by the previous literary works, where poetic imagination is at ease, and often at its best. A person without a literary appreciative capability would always feel confused and troubled confronting a “misty” poem, while one with it would only feel inspired and gratified.
Although most Misty poets had seldom been abroad before winning themselves the title as a poet, their works are found to be very Westernized. “The best example to indicate the similarity between New Chinese Poetry and Western poetry is Misty Poetry, which appeared in China during the 1970s.”35 Shu Ting, who was found to be following Western poetics to a great extent, is one of the most popular Misty Poets. “The majority of critical discussions that Shu Ting’s poems are mainly influenced by the West… Some papers state that the poetical techniques of modern European Romanticism, Symbolism and Imagism can be found in Shu Ting’s most excellent works… Other papers declare that, concerning the matters of Form, Theme and Methods of Expression, Shu Ting deliberately imitated the Western Poets…”36 In fact misty poetry is found to be characterized by the use of Western writing skills and poetics that were and are extremely diverse and various.
Compared with their predecessors in the first half of the twentieth century who had personally stayed in the West for a fairly long period of time, many misty poets based their acceptance of Western poetics on the basis of Chinese language through their reading experience in Chinese, mainly through translations. The major disadvantage of this is that they had unavoidably missed a lot of poetic beauty of the original works, and the major advantage is the they accepted Western influence in an inwardly digested way, in other words, they would accept whatever was beneficial for their poetical practice, even to the extent of intuitive acquisition, which prevented them from adopting something that is not consistent with the Chinese language, such as directly applying Western languages into their poems.
The years around 1990 are generally considered as the end of the poetical period of Misty Poetry as well as the beginning of the new period of the1990s----“a new age of Individual Creation.”37 The so-called Individual Creation tendency, which appeared in embryo during the Poetry Exhibition in Shenshen in 1986, refers to the fact that every single poet is seen as writing in his or her own particular way.
It might be on account of the freer social atmosphere and the great success of the Misty Poets (millions of copies of their works were sold out), that there came an age of profuse production of poetry as well as multiplying poetical schools around the turn of 1990, which was topped by the exhibition held by the Shenzhen Youth Newspaper and Poetry Newspaper in 1986. Around eighty different poets’ schools and poetical dogmas were presented during this exhibition, and the total schools in China are believed to have been more than double that number. As the so many –isms and schools were making many experiments, radical or moderate, of which some were failures, others successes, the poetical characteristic of the era of the1990s, an age of no poetical authority, gradually took its form. The many schools and –isms made the pro-classification critics feel very confused, dizzy and desperate. “Post-Misty poetry is a kind of blend of New Classicism, New Romanticism, Modernism, etc. None of them can be classified into any certain school.”38
The date that Haizi (海子), a prominent new Chinese poet, who committed suicide on the Shanhai Guan railway over Easter in 1989, chose for his self-termination is a further sign of the Western features within the New Chinese poets of the 1990s. In a book entitled as The Selections of the Jottings of Contemporary Chinese Poets,39 all the thirty-five poets frequently quote foreign poets, critics, philosophers or experts while few mention any Chinese poet or critic, either classical or modern. And in another poem-collection, A Poem-Selection of the Most Popular Chinese Poets in the 1990s,40 poets such as Xi Chuan （西川）, Bai Hua （柏桦）, Yi Hai （义海）, Lin Dongwei （林东威）, Mo Yaping （莫雅平）, BC-1 and others graduated from Foreign Language Departments in Universities in China; other poets also have a specific relationship with the West, for example: Wang Jiaxin （王家新） stayed in England for two years and travelled in Europe widely; Lu De–an （吕德安） stayed in the United States from 1991 to 1994; Liang Xiaoming (梁晓明) claimed to have begun writing poems after he had been greatly moved by reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; Hei Dachun’s （黑大春） most favorite works are R. Tagore’s Stray Birds and the lyrics of George Gordon Byron and Alexander Pushkin; Ma Li’s （马莉） literary creeds are Aestheticism and Mysticism; Nie Pei （聂沛）said the first book he read was Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and the first poet he became familiar with was William Shakespeare.
One particular poetry group, the Chinese Language-Poetry Group that has recently obtained some attention at home and abroad, at the very beginning of their manifesto, declared: “We object to localist and ethnocentric----in a word, to nationalistic writings. Our writings are of the world (an open box): through writing, we hold conversation with contemporary art of global significance and with modern Western art in particular.”41 This manifesto was publicized in 1988, ten years after Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein initiated their journal L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E in February 1978. However, according to Zhang Ziqing (张子清), a leading figure who specializes in American Literature in China, American Language Poetry was not introduced into China until the summer of 1990.42 It is not important whether the Chinese Language-Poetry Group was shaped under the influence of their American counterpart or not; the fact that they are so eager to “hold conversation with the West” speaks for itself. The following poem “Flowers of Two Persons”, written by the leading figure of the small Chinese Language-Poetry Group Che Qianzi (车前子), might shed more light on this issue:
Flowers in two lips, grow,
Some red words, like two roses.
One is taller than the other, above blue light,
The slightly shorter one leans
Against its lover’s shoulders, murmuring;
China pink, golden;
Flowers blooming in eyes, for rooms at night,
Pave carpet, purple meridian and parallel lines;
The planet suspended between two bodies,
Blooming more violets than sea water.
One warship of violet,
Another warship of violet, gold-spot-jumping
Sunlight, the flower centre of violets, the intersects in
The carpet, like two persons with hands crossed
Embracing for the past.
The gold timepieces in the tender wool of the purple carpet,
As if having China pink at hand, she seizes time.
Two persons, having relationship with flowers,
Having been years. At the intersects of
Growing and blooming: embracing for brains.43
To the majority of Chinese readers, this poem is of no reasonable sense, more foreign than foreign (some Chinese readers have in some way developed a habit of describing anything difficult to understand as foreign), even though there indeed exists a magic beauty that can be appreciated only by a few, whose power of imagination can rise to the challenge beyond the definition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), to recognize and appreciate a poetic beauty created from seemingly unrelated and incoherent images, without declining into the work of mere low-grade fancy (to borrow Coleridge’s term).44
V. New Chinese Poetry: A Melting Pot for Traditional Chinese Poetry and Western Poetry
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.
In the West, poetry seems to have belonged more to the people than to the noble class who comparatively were more interested in wealth and the military field. In Europe, there had been endless warfare throughout its written history, much more than that of China before the middle of the nineteenth century. The unification of China as a large nation at a very early stage was perhaps the most important reason why the Chinese could enjoy more peace than their European counterparts in history. And the rich tradition of poetry in China undoubtedly helped to stabilize traditional Chinese societies, reinforcing their stability to a great extent, until the ruling class became so thoroughly decayed that it would be defeated or replaced within a couple of months or years.
The difference of the cultural and social backgrounds between Chinese and Western poetry granted them very different spirits in tradition. In China, poetry was generally of the ruling classes and most poets were a part of them, and Western poetry was more of the people and more poets were plain persons; thus Chinese poetry was mostly for the ruling class, having an aristocratic tendency while Western poetry was more of the people, having a very strong rebellious tradition. John Milton in England should be a very good representative of the rebellious poetical spirit, while in China, beginning from Qu Yuan, a poet who would at most complain, not to hate, never to rebel in his poems. However, the spirit of Chinese poetical tradition suddenly changed to be very rebellious at the beginning of the twentieth century when New Chinese Poetry took form under the direct influence of the West. Contemporary Chinese poets should be among the most rebellious spirits in China, probably throughout the world as well.
Because of the social difference of Chinese and Western poetry, Chinese poetry was concerned more with aesthetics and Western poetry more with ideologies. But this difference is not very obvious, as there were some opposite evidences on both sides; it can only be viewed as a difference of degree. However, after the introduction of Western poetry into China, New Chinese Poetry suddenly became very ideological, concerned very much with social and political issues. In fact, the famous Misty Poetry Movement was so political that some critics would even address Misty Poetry as Political Poetry.
But the strong appetite for beauty is exactly the same in both Chinese and Western poetics; this is probably why a beautiful Chinese poem can always find readers in the West and the same in the other way around. “Inasmuch as we are all members of one human race, Chinese culture is our culture. Poetry is the heart of Chinese culture. The heart of Chinese poetry beats in us, too.”45 This convincingly demonstrates that Chinese poetry and Western poetry can indeed learn and benefit from each other. In fact, foreign culture has long been a rich source for Chinese poetry. “The only other force that has had as much effect on Chinese poetry as the folk song is foreign literature. As far back as the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.—A.D. 220), military tunes from the non-Chinese tribes in the north and Northwest enriched Chinese poetry. And throughout the centuries, foreign verse forms and influences, like the indigenous folk song, have repeatedly brought fresh blood into the main artery of Chinese poetry.”46 Nevertheless, this does not guarantee that the application of a blind learning approach would not do considerable harm. It is thus clear that attempts at importing Western poetics themselves are certainly highly recommendable if only much of them had not been carried out by some self-belittled minds with a method of taking-without-digesting and creating-just-for-show. Learning is good, but only by digestion and followed with a reasonable creation. Qi Baishi (齐白石), a famous Chinese painter, once said to his admirers: “It is good to learn from me, yet it is fatal to copy me.”47 “Never to copy” is probably the first rule in any trans-cultural learning.
Throughout Chinese history, there was no lack of successful experiences of learning from foreign cultures. The acceptance of foreign influence can always contribute to the development of Chinese literature and language. Even the Four Tones of Chinese language was shaped under foreign influence. Chen Yinke (陈寅恪) in his “Four Questions about the Four Tones” said that “the Four Tones were created by some Chinese monks and scholars who knew music well in Qi and Liang of Nan Dynasty, being inspired by Xiyu [it refers to Ancient India and the nations around it in those days] monks’ ways of reading Jing [the Buddhist books].”48 There has been a very strong voice in the poet’s circle insisting that the best way to prosper Chinese poetry is to “blend Chinese and Western Culture together”, even as early as in the late nineteenth century. “The giant of Poetic Revolution, Huang Zunxuan, had much the same views as Liang Qichao, i.e., they both considered that the way out for Chinese poetry is to blend Chinese and Western culture together.”49 However, before any blending, the following few points should at least be done: a) a good understanding of oneself; b) a good understanding of the other; c) a good understanding of their differences and similarities; d) a good understanding of the positive and negative consequences of their exchanges. Besides, the most desirable is that the person himself should be an ingenious POET!
There does exist a chance for New Chinese Poets to bring their works into great success, if they would choose to learn form both Traditional Chinese Poetry and Western poetry in appropriate ways. “In June of 1923, in the paper of ‘The Local Colour of The Goddess’, Wen Yiduo said: ‘I am always thinking that New Chinese Poetry should be different from not only Traditional Chinese Poetry, but also from Western poetry. That is to say: New Chinese Poetry should not remain purely local, yet it should keep its local character; it should not be totally Western, yet it should absorb Western poetic advantages. New Chinese Poetry should be the son produced by a marriage of Chinese and Western poetics.’”50 And some famous Western scholars have also stated their expectation of combining the advantages of Chinese and Western cultures together. “We have not yet realised that the quality of the world-life that our children are to inherit depends quite as much upon the character of the new China as upon any other one factor we can think of. If we were wiser we would make incomparably greater efforts to see that the values we most believe in came to the Chinese as freely and by as good channels as we could devise. … Only those who have had the opportunity of working with Chinese students know how great their powers and how needlessly entangling and frustrating their difficulties are. A new age is being created in this wedding of East and West. Those to whom history gives some faith in humanity will envy the Chinese the richness of the joint heritage which will be theirs.”51 I.A. Richards was a very famous British scholar who had worked in China. It is not likely that he should say anything without a profound meditation.
However, no matter how strongly would people like to blend Chinese and Western cultures with poetry as the beating heart, this marriage is certainly not like one between two lovely persons in a warm church.
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.