Shengqing WuModern Archaics: Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900-1937

Harvard University Asia Center, 2014

by Carla Nappi on September 25, 2014

Shengqing Wu

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[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian StudiesShengqing Wu’s gorgeous new book begins by exploring the image of the treasure pagoda to introduce readers to an aesthetics of ornamental lyricism in Chinese poetry at the turn of the twentieth-century. Modern Archaics: Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900-1937 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) then continues gorgeously, exploring practices and discourses of classical poetry in early twentieth-century China in beautiful prose that carries a powerful argument. Challenging some widespread assumptions about the practice of classical poetry in modern China, and simultaneously problematizing the relationship between the spoken and written word in modern Chinese literary discourse, Wu argues that Chinese lyric poetry from 1900-1937 saw the innovative development of a new aesthetic style, ideological commitment, and social practice in reaction to political, cultural, and historical necessities of the time. Paying careful attention to the formal aspects of these poems, the three main sections of Modern Archaics consider the relationship between history and lyricism in contexts of (1) historical trauma and loss; (2) the development of affective communities that treated lyric composition as an integral part of shared social practice; and (3) travel and translation. There’s also some wonderful material on gendered lyric composition and women’s history. It’s well worth reading for anyone interested in modern Chinese literature, the histories of poetry and/or translation, and literary theory.

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