Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shen Congwen

Shen Congwen 沈從文 and Zhang Zhaohe 張兆和.

Shen Congwen, ca. 1931?

So I'm reading the Panda books edition Recollections of West Hunan. An interesting question comes up: what Chinese texts are these English translations made from?

You'd think that would be printed somewhere on the book, but it isn't. Clearly, Foreign Languages Press never viewed these books as pathways back to Chinese texts. All the prefatory note says is
This volume of his [Shen Congwen's] early essays comprises eleven chosen from four collections written between 1931 and 1937.
Great. Let's just track those down. Here's the 11 stories' English titles, matched against Chinese titles I've found on the internet in places like here:

I Study a Small Book and at the Same Time a Big Book
While Continuing My Schooling I Stick to That Big Book
A Night at Mallard-Nest Village
An Amorous Boatman and an Amorous Woman
Chest Precipice
Five Army Officers and a Miner
The People of Yuanling
Fenghuang 凤凰
After Snow
Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng
Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Fenghuang, Hunan Province, Shen Congwen's hometown

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Icon Bibliography

Hill, Michael Gibbs. Lin Shu, Inc. : Translation, Print culture, and the Making of an Icon in Modern China. Dissertation: Columbia University, 2008. Wachter for Biography's Annual Bibliography of Life Writing, 2007-8:
Analysis of how Lin Shu (1852–1924) and his associates in commercial publishing, education, and business exploited the interactions between translation, literary writing, and print culture for profit and to promote their “conservative” cultural agenda.
Berman, Jessica. "Feminizing the Nation: Woman as Cultural Icon in Late James." The Henry James Review 17.1 (1996) 58-76. I've discussed this already; working on it now.

University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 77, Number 4, Fall 2008. "Rabindranath Tagore as ‘Cultural Icon’" The whole journal is devoted to this one topic, which shows the breadth of angles that one can take on "cultural icon." The definition supplied in the useful introduction by Joseph T. and Kathleen M. O'Connell is as follows: "a symbolic focal point or prism that points toward, sums up, and opens onto a much wider world of meaning."

Snapshot of an Icon: Database evidence

The "China Academic Journals Full-text Database" provides convenient snapshots of major topics covered not only in specialized journals like Journal of the Second Northwest University for Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Science Edition) 西北第二民族学院学报(哲学社会科学版) but also more mainstream literary journals like Reading magazine 读书. This database provides some evidence that Yang Jiang has become a major topic of discourse since 2003 -- a significant and unusual achievement for an author who is over 90 years old!

Between 1980 and 1994, Yang Jiang is a topic of discussion in just 15 articles, mostly praising her autobiographical collection Six Chapters of a Cadre School (1980). However, between 1994 and the present, there are over 200 articles that focus on Yang Jiang in a wide variety of journals (including the two mentioned above). In general, this tremendous rise in popularity as a topic of journal articles is in keeping with other intellectual figures of this generation. Yang Jiang's husband Qian Zhongshu, for example, is the subject of nearly 100 articles between 1980 and 1994, but some 400 articles discuss his life and work since 1994. And perhaps most influential of all the Chinese elder writers, Ba Jin, was the subject of 400 articles between 1980 and 1994, but nearly 1,200 articles since 1994.

The remarkable difference I'd like to point out, however, is Yang Jiang's amazing rise in popularity since 2003. Of the 200-some articles about Yang Jiang's life and work since 1994, some 60 percent were written after 2003, with 37 articles on Yang Jiang in 2008 alone and three more already in 2009. Writing about Qian Zhongshu, by contrast has declined slightly since 2003, and the rate of writing about Ba Jin has stayed the same.

Yang Jiang can be said have been an established Chinese writer at least from 1981, when Six Chapters received a warm welcome (it has stayed in print ever since). But she has only been a "hot topic" in academic and literary journals in the last 5 years. This popularity seems to have been spurred by her 2003 memoir, We Three, a surprise bestseller that dominated the paperback markets in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan through-out the second half of 2003. One of the goals of my dissertation is to examine in detail the factors that have led to this very recent rise in fame, and to link Yang Jiang's fame to the social and political situation of China since 2003, as well as the literary market.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

China in NHL

Snapshots of China's representation in the journal New Literary History.

Zhang Xudong, "Shanghai Image: Critical Iconography, Minor Literature, and the Un-Making of a Modern Chinese Mythology" (2002)

This essay takes its time getting started, but does make a few important points. "Critical Iconography," refers to the set of icons that the author considers, all rather disparate: Shanghai's origins in newspaper articles, photographs, the prose of Lu Xun and Wang Anyi. "Minor Literature" is apparently the collective term for this multiple genre. Nice quote from Qian Zhongshu about this: "to expect Shanghai . . . to be a producer of culture would be to expect ideas to come out of body parts other than the brain;”

Sheldon Lu 盧曉鵬, "Art, Culture, and Cultural Criticism in Post-New China." This is a really nice essay on the art and literature of the age of "global capital," with an extremely leading question:
To intervene or not to intervene" is a choice that all humanists face in post-New China. They have to decide whether they will stay in the academy to perform "pure criticism" or actively participate in social and political events that directly affect the community. It appears to me that to take up either position is bound to be a one-sided choice.


Iser in New Literary History

The 1969 essay introducing reception theory to American readers comes from the journal New Literary History. I'm struck now that Ralph Cohen and the editors of NHL have been big contributors both to Iser's brand of thinking and to the significance of biographical writing, but I'm not sure if there is much overlap.

Before I look at that, though, I proposed to myself a small snapshot of what the journal has had to say about Iser.

Literature for "Democratizing"

The Winter 2000 issue was a special issued dedicated to the writings of Iser. In the useful introduction by John Paul Riquelme, I learned that Iser moved away from a theorization of the individual reader to his more political concern with the role of creativity in society. He takes an anthropological perspective on literary history that focuses on play and staging literary texts. There is an important political tendency here as well, one we might call "democratizing." Following up on the work of Karl Mannheim and on Iser's own experiences in Europe's 20th century, Iser's literary anthropology contains in it the advocacy of gradual democratic reform by providing for shifting positions, for entangled hierarchies, for continuous new positions of leadership.

A Sample Reader-Response Analysis

The Spring 1996 issue contains a rare address to Chinese readers, "Chinese American Literature beyond the Horizon" by Hardy C. Wilcoxon, a professor of English at the City University of Hong Kong. Note 3 is a useful review of reader response theory's highlighting the central problem of determining if what the reader reads into the text is "true" -- see the debate between Iser and Stanley Fish in Diacritics. The paper itself is a modest report of responses of Hong Kong English students to works like The Joy Luck Club, Woman Warrior, and M. Butterfly. These students are much more ambivalent to these works than a Western reader might presume.

Back to Autobiography: A Complex Connection

Bianca Thiesen's contribution to the Winter 2000 issue tackles the changes to the horizon inherent in Rilke's Notebooks, which apparently have both first-person autobiographical and third-person biographical passages. At first glance, it's a bit difficult to tell her point -- the style is extremely dense.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Iser's Challenge

Wolfgang Iser, "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory"

Iser's initial call for attention to the reception of works is meant to challenge the assumptions and limits of formalist literary history and to offer a peak at how to explain why works like Madame Bovary do so much to change social norms. I quite enjoyed this piece and I can now see a number of potential ways to apply reception theory to the investigation of Yang jiang and other icons in Chinese literature.

1. Why Yang Jiang's standing in the world has risen quickly, generally speaking. Iser introduces his reception idea with the statement that, "In the triangle of author, work and reading public the latter is no passive part, no chain of mere reactions, but even history-making energy." The first step is that the perspective of the "reading public" have a major place in the argument. Iser further would have us understand that there is process whereby this reading public, writers included, go from a more "passive" position of receiving the work in question and on to a more "active" stage of building up admirations, imitations, refutations, etc. We sort of see this in Yang Jiang's three published biographies, all of which crib from her own autobiographical writings, but only the third of which gets her authorized endorsement. This is not a clear point, admittedly: more later.

2. Every author anticipates, in some respect, the standards of the genre she is using, previous works that she is appropriating from, and elements of the reader's life experience. These must be compared and otherwise considered together. Iser takes as the subject of study here the genre, themes and poetic vs. practical language dimension here, but does not assure us that this list is complete. Understanding this can help us understand why Yang Jiang is so popular.

3. The "aesthetic distance" of Yang Jiang's work seems to have closed considerably as her iconic status has arisen. Like a classic, the work of an icon does not necessarily have the power to challenge the horizon of expectations.

6. The aesthetic accomplishment of Yang Jiang's work may be in helping the project of re-evaluating figures like her father, making 1900s-1930s humanists the new role models for today again. See the brand new understanding of Yang Jiang's father in the newest biography, for example.

7. Like Madame Bovary, Yang Jiang's work can have complex effects on the moral character of the reading public. Where Bovary was so interesting for its supposed challenge to morality, however, Yang Jiang is interesting for an equally supposed lack of challenge, a return to the safest, most traditional and comfortable side of humanism.

To be updated: bear in mind these are notes of a distracted and tired student.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Snapshot from the Reviews: Spirit and Self in Medieval China

Qian Nanxiu 錢南秀. Spirit and Self in Medieval China: The Shih-shuo hsin-yu and its Legacy. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.

This snapshot from the review literature is interesting because there is such a wide variety of reviews, positive, negative and neutral. I'm actually not sure how often this happens; in the last few months I have seen many books whose reviews are much more closely aligned in charge and tone. I also wonder just how much a strongly negative review hurts an author, personally and professionally. I actually have a conjecture about that, and Prof. Waltner may have given me a bit of evidence to chew on. More on this later (probably much later, given my stack of work).

Sujane Wu: "A fascinating, meticulous study"

Birrell: "Sinology owes Professor Qian a vote of thanks."

Rouzer: "OK, nothing special"

Zhou Yiqun: "Gross distortion of large historical pictures and shocking ignorance about basic texts leave Qian's book with little scholarly value. Adding to my frustration is its dreadful style, which is marked by awkward and confusing terms and funny sentences. Gross distortion of large historical pictures and shocking ignorance about basic texts leave Qian's book with little scholarly value. Adding to my frustration is its dreadful style, which is marked by awkward and confusing terms and funny sentences."

Listening to Yang Jiang Talk about the Past - Childhood

Notes towards explaining a humanistic icon.

With Mom in Shanghai, age 18 months (that would make it December 1912 or January 1913)

Among the most important characters of Yang Jiang's biography is her father (yes, a picture of the man would make sense here, but this is the picture in Wu Xuezhao's biography. It goes to show how the pictures and text don't align perfectly in the book). Biographer Wu Xuezhao describes Yang Yinhang, "Mister Old Gardener" 老圃先生, as a progressive man who treated his wife and children as equals, a very notable distinction in his day.

As a child in Shanghai, Yang Jiang would enjoy candies from her father after meals; these were called "ash-mouth cures" 放完焰口, a bit of secret, intimate family language taken from the Ullambana Sutra (Chinese text; it doesn't actually contain these words).

The father may be the figure to whom are attention is directed here, but I also want to combine this anecdote with the mention that all the children are each called 老小 in the Wuxi dialect. This use of a diminutive, combined with the anecdote of the "ash-mouth cures" shows how Yang Jiang shapes her memory of the family unit around the sharing of family language. In doing so, she encourages the idea that the family is a little community that should communicate intimately.

"Ash-mouth cure" does not occur in the Sutra text, but it does as part of the ceremony commemorating filial piety as one of the values of the Buddhist community. If you think about it, releasing Buddhism from its theoretical threat on traditional family values is a key innovation that allowed it to flourish in China.

But now I digress.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Listening to Yang Jiang Talk about the Past

The year 2008 saw yet another new effort from Yang Jiang, this time an authoritative biography based on interviews with the author by one of the author's closest friends, Wu Xuezhao 吳學昭.

In her preface 序 to the work, Yang Jiang waxes humble : "I don't know why anyone would want to write a biography of me" ... "if the biography seems uninteresting, that may be because there is nothing of great interest or import to record!"

Behind her humility is a skepticism towards biography in general -- to write the life story of someone you are not, she reasons, you have to rely on the written records. The oral history dimension of this biography, though, is a source of consolation to her ("I did very much enjoy going over the past with a close friend"), and is perhaps why she gives it her authoritative approval: "This is the only biography to which I am giving my official endorsement."

The Zhu Family

Interesting family romance connecting the Zhu sisters (the two older girls in the photo above) with Eileen Chang's ex-husband, who she rightfully detested. From the feature article by Peter Lee

After Hu was dismissed from the academy and asked to vacate his housing, a prominent author, Zhu Xining, stepped forward and arranged for Hu to stay in an apartment next to the Zhu household.

Over the next six months, Hu lectured on the Book of Changes and Book of Poetry and created an indelible impression on Zhu and his daughters, Zhu Tianwen and Zhu Tianxin, both of whom became leading literati of their generation.

The Zhu family created a periodical, the Sansan Jikan, as a vehicle for Hu to publish his writings. Young writers clustered around Hu and Sansan Jikan became the intellectual guiding light for a generation of Taiwanese authors, and a direct challenge to Eileen Chang's literary legacy and the widespread veneration she enjoyed inside Taiwan.

Lee goes on to explain how Chang might have served as an iconic figure in Taiwan literature until 1970s because of her association with the KMT, but following the widespread anger against the KMT, her rake of an ex-husband managed make inroads. Fascinating!

Little Reunion

Zhang Ailing, whose new posthumous work is the subject of an interesting feature article in the Asian Times this week.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yang Jiang's Newest Interview (2/2)

The interview

Throughout her report, Lily Hsueh draws family-style ties to Yang Jiang. Why does Yang Jiang welcome, and even seem to like, Lily? Because, Lily surmises, Lily is just the age that Yang Jiang's daughter would be, if she were still alive. And Yang Jiang is just one year older than Lily's mother who died the previous spring. Mother and daughter alike had enjoyed all of the biographical literature by and about Yang Jiang since 2003; both had admired her as a role model. Lily brought a gift of an illustrated book about cats to give Yang Jiang, exactly as if Yang Jiang were an elder relative. Most importantly, Lily thinks of Yang Jiang with a high level of respect, to the point of reverence for her age, her person, and even the domestic space of Sanlihe, Yang Jiang's home.

Sanlihe, the old-style apartment where Yang Jiang has lived since 1979, is a special space for Lily Hsueh, a sanctuary from the ever-changing face of Beijing, a place where time seems to stop and move backward, and a place with an almost mystical presence of humanistic aesthetic feeling. Almost immediately upon entering the building, Lily Hsueh feels more peaceful, and more at ease.

Yang Jiang herself is a living icon for Lily Hsueh. Her very person, well-preserved at great age is of great interest -- her appearance: good teeth, red lips, clear complexion. Even her hearing loss, now severe, is the subject of a humorous anecdote that serves to increase the level of reverence for her elder status. The person Yang Jiang, it is evident, serves as a symbol for her literary work, which is a form of preservation:

* * *

Ms. Hsueh sees in Yang Jiang's preserving-personality and writing traces of both Jane Austen, who Yang Jiang studied in the 1950s, and Huang Fu 黄蓉, a character in a Jin Yong novel who must take care of a warrior-husband the way Yang Jiang took care of Qian Zhongshu. The combination of traditional and modern, Chinese and Western, is a deep inspiration to Hsueh.

In 1995, when Hsueh accepted a signed copy of Qian Zhongshu's poetry collection from Yang Jiang, Yang signed her name and Qian's as well, because Qian had already become so ill he lived in a hospital, isolated from all but Yang Jiang and close friends. Yang Jiang signed Lily Hsueh's copy of the book with the note

『夫在先,妻在后』The husband comes first, and the wife follows.

This had upset Lily at the time, because she could not understand why such a sophisticated and independent woman would so submit to old cultural codes. Only years later did she learn what Yang Jiang really meant: that it was better the husband become ill and pass away first, because the wife is stronger, more able to care for him than he for her. So in the proper course of things, the husband should die first, and the wife will follow along in good time. In this way, Yang Jiang gives new value to a traditional concept, effectively empowering female subjectivity -- hence in the end, Lily affirms that Yang Jiang is a 'role model' for the younger woman.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yang Jiang's Newest Interview (1/2)

One of the ways that Yang Jiang has a direct influence on a popular audience is the interview. Despite her very common protestations that she does not like doing interviews, that she would really rather not be bothered, and that she wishes her audience to take her books as the message she wants to send to the world, still, a number of interviews have appeared since 2003.

My classmate Hao Ji recently directed me to a new interview with Yang Jiang. Note the complexity of the media broadcast here: I heard about it from Hao Ji, a Peking University graduate who saw it online because he keeps up with literary figures and literature news generally.

He directed me to read the interview on, a social networking site where a user named "Kalimantan" ( 加里曼丹) posted the interview. Kalimantan's profile page shows that he or she is also a highly literate, book-loving reader with a diary, a photo album, recommended readings, favorite books, and other like-minded douban members with whom Kalimantan is connected. Kalimantan, though, has reposted the interview from the interviewer's blog.

The interviewer is Lily Hsueh 李黎 and her blog is hosted on the website of The China Times, a Taiwanese newspaper. According to her profile there, she is a moderately successful writer of fictoin, essays and some poetry; her personal webpage features excerpts from her work. A note in the douban post says that this interview was published in the April 2009 issue of the literary magazine Panorama Monthly 万象. The magazine itself does not appear to even have a webpage.

So before I even start on this interview, I want to contemplate what sort of phenomena I'm talking about here. I'm interested in the iconic influence of this literary figure, and I'm finding that she is a topic featured widely on a swath of the internet used by a community of readers. These readers have a common set of values that I will elaborate on in a moment. For now, just think about this:

First, Hao Ji and Kalimantan consider Yang Jiang to be a major figure in the general world of good books and good, intelligent people. Just thinking about Yang Jiang brings up a world of stability based on learning and living well. You can actually see, by looking at Kalimantan's profile page, how Yang Jiang fits among other topics, issues, friends, favorite books, even photographs! In this way we can begin to see Yang Jiang's place as an ingredient in contemporary Chinese letters the way we can taste olive oil or semolina flour in the Mediterranean diet.

Second, the community of readers is a cross-straits community. Taiwanese like Lily Hsueh have to actually cross the straits to see Yang Jiang, but the reader following her in online communities can actually cross from a mainland Chinese social networking page to a Taiwanese newspaper blog, and back and forth, with no sense of disconnect. There is no border here -- the topic is the same, and readers from the mainland and from Taiwan use the same terms. That seems to me to be evidence that Yang Jiang is the kind of cultural icon who brings Chinese communities of readers together.

That seems...not insignificant!

Popular *and* Elevated: Revised Abstract

So my panel at the ACCL conference is called "Popular and Elevated: Overlapping Roles for Intellectuals" and my paper is called "A Life of Ideas: Yang Jiang as a Cultural Icon." This morning I re-tooled my abstract. More to come, including a Chinese translation.

The icon, the audience

Yang Jiang (1911-), writes in her 2003 memoir, Women sa (We Three), that "Our little family was a very plain one, a very pure one. We were never ambitious, and we were never competitive." With this tone of testimony, Yang Jiang gives an account of herself to her audience, detailing tremendous fortitude in the face of political struggle. Although Yang Jiang's autobiographical writing was an immediate success in the early 1980s, the character of her reputation has changed significantly since the publication of We Three in 2003. This book was a bestseller that made Yang Jiang a common topic of discussion in mainstream media and on the internet. Readers are inspired by Yang Jiang's example to love literature, language and a certain way of being. In short, since 2003 Yang Jiang has become a cultural icon, a figure whose received personality has come to symbolize the life of the intellectual, the joy of reading and study, and even the continued importance of humanities higher education in China.

Yang Jiang's rapid rise to the level of icon offers us a case study for the role of the elder intellectual in early 21st-century China. Elder intellectuals tend to produce memory writing in a wide variety of genres: life lessons, reminiscence essays, elegies, prefaces, journals, notes, autobiography and more. As the case of Yang Jiang shows, readers of Chinese are intimately familiar with all of these forms, and they actively read to build role models out of their elders. The respect, authority and popularity of elder writers across a wide range of audiences is phenomenon that is generally little understood in the English-speaking world. This preliminary investigation hopes only to serve as a motivation for future study.

Update: a preliminary Chinese version (not for consumption just yet)

楊絳2003年發表的《我們仨》寫了: “我們這個家,很樸素;我們三個人,很單純。我們與世無求,與人無爭,只求相聚在一起,相守在一起,各自做力所能及的事。” 用這樣又自省又自信的態度,楊絳敘述的是支持困難中中國知識份子的毅力,引起了大眾的歌頌。從80年代開始,楊絳的傳記文學作品都受了歡迎。但是從 2003年《我們仨》發表了後,她的名誉又改變了。《我們仨》是暢銷書,使大眾注意到楊絳、錢鐘書、錢媛的人格與家庭生活。楊絳家的傳記文學現在是變成讓 讀者灵思泉涌的藝術品。讀者看這種書而多對文學、語言、與道德有興趣。總之說,叢2003左右而來,楊絳變成了一種文化英雄,她現在是學習人文欣賞文學的 符號。


Shilian Dashan: A Preliminary Bibliography

Yay for group work

Wu, Pei-yi. The Confucian's Progress : Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Pages 199-203 introduce the late 17th century monk, his memoir of a trip to Vietnam, and the self-portraits he includes in his poetry collection, .

Dashan 大汕, 17th/18th century and Wan Yi 萬毅, Du Aihua 杜靄華 and Qiu Jiang 仇江, eds. Dashan Heshang ji 大汕和尚集. Guangzhou Shi : Zhongshan daxue chubanshe, 2007. This is the edition from which I take the self portraits. It also contains the complete texts of Dashan's poetry collections and the memoir 海外紀實.

Jiang Boqin 姜伯勤. Shilian Dashan yu Aomen Chan shi :Qing chu Lingnan Chan xue shi yan jiu chu bian 石濂大汕与澳门禅史 : 淸初岭南禅学史硏究初编. Shanghai : Xuelin chubanshe, 1999. I haven't examined this volume, but I wonder about Shilian's relationship with trade networks and missionaries -- this book looks like a possible source on that.

Pan Chengyu 潘承玉. Qu Dajun zhi you Shilian: yi wei zhide guanzhu de Qing chu Lingnan Shi seng 屈大均之友石濂:一位值得关注的清初岭南诗僧. Pan Tsung-yi found this on ; the listed origin is 佛学研究网. Another line says 绍兴文理学院,2003年第1期 (Shaoxing Arts and Sciences Institute, Issue 1, 2003). This article reviews the facts of Shilian's downfall: a grand trial in Guangzhou, estrangement from friends like Qu Dajun, his exile and death en route, and having his works banned. Author Pan Chengyu thinks Shilian was probably wrongfully punished by his political enemies.

Volpp, Sophie. "The Literary Circulation of Actors in Seventeenth-Century China." The Journal of Asian Studies, 61.3 (August, 2002): 949-984. Prof. Waltner says this is an example of a study of a portrait album to understand social networks. Although it is about a beautiful young actor, not a Chan master, the common use of media for community-building is fascinating. Haven't examined this yet.

Wheeler, Charles. "Buddhism in the re-ordering of an early modern world: Chinese missions to Cochinchina in the seventeenth century." Journal of Global History (2007), 2:303-324. A great article for thinking about Shilian's place in missionary Buddhism and trade networks; I've already discussed it in another post.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Yang Zao preface and lookback

Yang Zao 楊早 "Culture Heroes of the 1990s: the Cases of Chen Yinke and Gu Zhun." In Dai Jinhua, ed., Writing Culture Heroes 書寫文化英雄.

(NB, I mistook the author of this article for Dai Jinhua in my last post on it)

Prefatory remarks and "Looking Back at the 1980s"

Prefatory remarks

Yang Zao points to the vastly increasing number of references to the most famous intellectual figures in Chinese periodicals -- the "culture heroes." Examples of "first rank" heroes are Chen Yinke, Wang Guowei, Wu Mi, Qian Zhongshu, Qian Mu, and Zai Hongming. There's also a "second rank" that includes folks like Gu Zhun, Lao She, Lin Zhao, Yu Luoke and Li Jiufeng. Besides the relative fame and influence of the "ranks," Yang Zao alludes to a difference in their trajectory towards their current places as cultural icons (my term; doesn't it translate "culture hero" well? More to come on that.).
Chen Yinke, master of 10+ languages

Rank one icons represent famous scholars from before 1949 whose names were forgotten for 30-plus years. Only in the 1980s did they begin to receive recognition again, and only in the 1990s did scholars begin to appreciate their work again, and by the mid 90s they had become popular cultural icons (大眾歌頌的文化偶像; here 'icon' is the explicit term). Second rank fellows (no women are mentioned here!) like Gu Zhun follow a different track -- they are figures within the general scope of Chinese Marxist pioneers, but they were covered up for political reasons and so had to be re-discovered.

But for all these types of thinkers, we see a common general pattern: in a three stage process, these thinkers went from beleagured or totally suppressed, to being seen as bastions of independent thinking, and finally to become powerful symbols of resistance. Along the way, the very basic sense of who they were and what their lives mean evolved -- in some cases it was completely remolded. Yang Zao proposes that recognizing the rich layers of contemporary portraits of these 'cultural icons' helps us establish the topology 圖景 (not a word I'm terribly familiar or comfortable with yet) of 20th century "senses of the essence of knowledge" 知識精英 (that sounds like a boilerplate preface ending -- it's not clear if that means anything yet).

Looking Back at the 1980s.

Yang gives us a very interesting overview of some major Chinese journals and the 'cultural icons' who became major topics.

Going back to the December 1988 issue of Chinese Culture 中國文化 we can see quotes from Chen Yinke and Qian Zhongshu (Qian said: 東海西海,心理攸同;南學北學,道術未裂) that advance a conservative point against those pushing for westernization. The scholar making this point, Liu Mengxi went on to write a set of articles about Chen Yinke, which shows that Chen had become a major topic for the journal. Also Reading 讀書 magazine, from its renewal in 1992, took as major topics Chen Yinke and Qian Zhongshu. Yang's effort here is evidently to show a relationship between the recurrence and character of scholarship about these cultural icons -- the way writers focused on the icon's personalities, especially -- a relationship between this phenomena and the general malaise within humanities scholarship after the June 4 massacres at Tiananmen Square.

In a longer discussion, Yang considers the magazine Scholars 學人 which launched in 1991, which attempts to flesh out this relationship. The period between the mid 1920s and the mid 1930s was selected as a "golden age" in which more Chinese scholars had managed to achieve more than in any other period. The focus on the character of these scholars is bound to have been a huge influence on the general direction of 1990s thought. In all the articles on all the writers in Scholars magazine, there is a pervasive focus on what is said to be a "pure" 純 "history of the art of learning" 學術史. And yet, it was clear enough that this choice of topic and the attitude toward the topic was at least in part a reaction to 1989 that sought to find a new, less political role for intellectuals. A major figure here is Chen Pingyuan, who later in the magazine The East 東方 published an essay on "the fates and the choices" 命運以及選擇 of humanities intellectuals 文人. It wasn't just the massacre that made us lose our sense of self 自我, says Chen. We are looking for what Vaclav Havel 哈維爾 calls for in his essay "The power of the powerless" : to prefer the "art of study" over politics; to prefer the private over the public; and to prefer the elevated over the popular. The goal is to gain some self-confidence again in our field by standing independently in these areas. Xu Youyu, another scholars, had a similar list of priorities for humanists of the 1990s:

  1. bring back Chinese studies 國學
  2. return to Marxism's view of human nature 人性.
  3. Science and Tech.
  4. Modern social science methods.
  5. Focus on the "spirit" of the humanities 人文精神的闡釋.

As the 1990s started, Xu advocated #1 even more to fill the "gaps" that had opened up. The end result was a large number of articles that searched for the key foundational features of great thinkers' personalities 人格. [A long editor's note at this point praises Yang, calling this attention to the personage of the scholar a modern version of the attitude Yan Hui, Confucius' favorite student. This must be the voice of Professor Dai!]


Yang end's with what Yang takes to be a totally dissimilar point of view, commencing with The East 東方 in 1993. An opening salvo in the magazine complains of the new "demoralization" 痞子化 of intellectuals. That Zhou Zuoren and other writers of what Scholars called "the golden age" were considered to at least have the appearance of 'immoral fellows' 痞子 suggests the blanket cynicism that has evolved in this particular journal. In this space, however, writers more often thought up alternative histories: what if the May Fourth movement had turned out differently? In this way, even the cynics seem productive agents in this debate about humanities in China.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Same-sex desire in a play: 憐香伴

G. asked me about the reference to "Women in Love" 憐香伴 by Li Yu in Six Records of a Floating Life, which makes me realize I should start a file on this. ... More to come soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hiram Bingham

The Hawaiian evangelist; a case could be made that he conquered the kingdom.

Lin Zexu 林则徐

Lin Zexu 林则徐: The man who fought, and lost, the first war on drugs

Culture Heroes 文化英雄 1: Shifty Uses

Dai Jinhua. "Culture Heroes of the 1990s: the Cases of Chen Yinke and Gu Zhun." In Writing Culture Heroes 書寫文化英雄.

What is a 'Culture Hero' 文化英雄? A stub in the Chinese wikipedia explains the term refers to heroes who have changed the world, such as the Yellow Emperor.

In a section from her essay on the subject, Dai Jinhua focuses on the ways that the reputations of modern cultural heroes including Chen Yinke, Gu Zhun, Qian Zhongshu, Wu Mi, Wang Xiaobo and others become stereotypical symbols for values that can be supplied by younger authors. They become pawns in the 1990s struggle for a dominant set of humanistic values in China.

Stereotypical and even inaccurate portions of a culture heroe's biography is often commonplace in 1990s humanities writing -- especially mainstream, popular portraits of humanities scholars. This is because general readers don't investigate the historical accuracy of what they read, but are willing to believe commonly told stories. Figures like Gu Zhun, Qian Zhongshu and Wu Mi had by the 1990s become 'brand names.' In 1998 two scholars, Han Dong and Zhu Wenzhi, protested that younger writers were making these 'cultural icons' 文化偶像 into 'man-beating stones' 打人的石頭 (i.e., unreasonable and innacurate examples for uncomplimentary comparison, weapons in character criticism). The backlash against this was considerable, with dozens of scholars launching into romantic paeans to the virtues of their favorite culture heroes. Over the course of many publications, 1997-1999, stereotypical conceptions of major figures solidified and became simply standard in meanstream media. Dai Jinhua:
During the 1990s, culture heroes as a topic of debate expanded from the most restricted field of production -- scholarly -- to the next field, highbrow literature, and finally they entered mainstream media. Subject to the forces of both nationalism and market reforms, the figure of the culture hero became more and more eroded, stripped. As culture heroes came more and more in the 1990s to symbolize a characteristic set of values, their use-value in political and cultural discussion also increased.

“文化英雄”作為90 年代文化圖景中重要的一環,從“學術界話題”過渡到“知識界討論”,再衍生為“大眾文化現象”,在國家意識形態和市場意識形態的雙重作用下,人物原型的意義發生了極大的磨蝕和剝離,眾多的解讀策略共同完成了對“90年代文化英雄”的構建,被符號的這些形象又為不同的使用方法提供了豐富和有效的精神資源和文 化依據。


Cai E 蔡鍔

Cai E 蔡鍔 (1882-1916), whose conflict with Yuan Shikai indirectly led Shen Congwen and many other young Hunan boys to join the army. Better known on the internet, apparently, for his relationship with the courtesan Xiao Fengxian 小鳳仙.

According to the entry on Xinhua books, Xiao Fengxian was a Mongolian orphan from Hangzhou who had by age 16 taken up residence at a bordello 妓院 in Beijing. It was good Xiao Fengxian who helped General Cai escape Yuan Shikai's clutches in Beijing to return to the southwest where he would successfully raise up an army to oppose Yuan's scheme to establish a new monarchy by signing his nation away to the Japanese. General Cai was successful, and Yuan's plans were toppled, but Cai himself was to die within the same year of the lung disease that had long plagued him. Xiao Fengxian, waiting patiently in Beijing, was devasted. She sent down to his funeral a pair of elegiac couplets 挽聯:





Later in life Xiao Fengxian left prostitution to become a common secretary, then wife of another general, then an impoverished widow, and finally a kindergarden teacher for the new Communist government. She died around age 60, says Xinghua. Her life was the subject of a 1953 movie ; see Marked Women, p. 99-100 for other revolutionary prostitutes.

In September, 2008 the aging Hong Kong actor Damien Lau and younger actress Kathy Chau played Cao E and Xiao Fengxiang for a new soap opera version of this story.


Zhu Guangqian 朱光潛

Zhu Guangqian 朱光潛, the aesthetician. He was an influence on similiarly brilliant, romanticist minds like Ji Xianlin and Shen Congwen. On his experiences in the Cultural Revolution, Vera Schwartz has said,
Zhu Guanqian managed to hold back part of himself from the brutally intrusive Red Guards by practicing tai ji quan and by meditating on an old pavilion glimpsed from the window of the "ox pen." His former student Ji Xianlin, though given to deeper despair about the shared calling of intellectuals, insists that he was the author of his own fate. Recalling the painful times of the Cultural Revolution allows this sufferer to reclaim some freedom and dignity in the face of history.
She should know, because she came to know him well on her sojourn in China -- see her Long Road Home: A China Journal. Shen remembers Zhu in his 1981 preface. Zhu's own thoughts appear translated in Autobiography of a Chinese Historian.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Redemption 救赎

From a 2007 exhibition of works by People's Academy of Art assistant director Xu Weixin 徐唯辛.

So much to say, I'm slightly overwhelmed.

For now, just note second from left, who I ("I" meaning Google, naturally) identified as Gu Zhun, a "post-Marxist" who spent his last years in prison arguing that Mao caused the great famines of the early 60s, and this demonstrated the need for political reform. He's a top example of what Dai Jinhua calls a "culture hero" 文化英雄 but I'll argue that this is very similar to the term more commonly used in English, "cultural icon."

The main force of the influence of these icons is, definitively, biographical.

Cultural Icon: Henry James

Berman, Jessica. "Feminizing the Nation: Woman as Cultural Icon in Late James." The Henry James Review 17.1 (1996) 58-76

I firmly believe that the subject of my dissertation is a female cultural icon -- a famous figure exerting real, measurable influence over many lives. But what are the implications of this? How to I go about demonstrating somebody is a cultural icon? This paper on Henry James' later speeches, essays and fiction on the role of women in America offers some helpful first steps.

Elements of a Cultural Icon 1: Power over Language.

"In fact, James did not believe that American speech should exactly mirror English, sharing in Howells's opinion that a mature American culture needed its own mature language. The point is rather that any mature American language demanded certain subtleties which he found lacking in the speech around him. In terms of his linguistic position, then, James straddles the line between nativism and cosmopolitanism." We can imagine that James understood America as an entity, a large set of people, all sharing a general national character. As agents through the domestic sphere, women had power over this national character in certain ways, including language. James called "upon American women to become able to discriminate among the various forms and tones of speech and thereby to advance American culture." I'm thinking of how my own mother taught me not to use swear words, to love reading -- and the themes of reading, like responsibility and a pastoral aesthetic (a Little House on the Prairie aesthetic). This indicates the potential power women might have as shapers of language over the general character. "James felt 'American civilization itself was at stake in the behavior and attitude of the American woman'" (Berman is quoting James himself here).

Elements of a Cultural Icon 2: Power over Attitudes to Other Cultures.

"Precisely in casting the nation as a feminized participant in an international community, James's late writings resist the pull of simple nativism. But the cultural icon of America that James creates is a woman who is both cosmopolitan and loyal native at once, both a powerful Progressive woman and a well-spoken, community-minded, ethical presence. Within her figure and her voice, the tension between a complexly differentiated twentieth-century America and the ongoing [End Page 73] narrative prescriptions for an assimilative national identity will long persist. The paradox is inescapable, both in James's late writings and in the modernist discourses of gender, race, and nation that they illuminate." This conclusion to the paper is not difficult to adapt to the case of Yang Jiang and China; Yang Jiang is a cultural icon of China. She too is both cosmopolitan and loyal native (this is easy to show; passages to come). She too is both progressive and a well-spoken ethical presence. And the tension between receiving a tradition of Chineseness whole-heartedly while also welcoming the influence, the artistic sensibilities, the domestic living standards of other cultures -- especially the bourgeois, meritocratic, pedigree-based standards of America, Great Britain, France and other European traditions -- this tension is fundamental to her iconicity as well.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pei Di 裴迪

The only image I was able to find of the famous friend of Wang Wei.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tao Qian: Sima Qian:: Impressionist: Circumstancist

Larson, Wendy. Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer : Ambivalence and Autobiography. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

A temporo-spatio diagram translating the original literary code to one supplemented with differentiations of frequency and intensity of light. AKA a comic book.

Although my first inspection of Larson's work left me with a very positive impression, my heart sank through the course of chapter 1. I appreciate the basic distinction between two "prototypes" of autobiography: Sima Qian's "circumstantial" type and Tao Qian's "impressionistic" type. Texts by Liu Yuxi and Bo Juyi does buttress this argument. And there are many interesting points found in the notes -- even a fascinating argument-in-miniature that remembers Western autobiographical theory's thought of the constructed self as a set of overlapping perspectives, with application to Sima Qian. So what's my problem then?

The chapter tastes too dry. Why does a "semiotic approach" have to completely forgo any mention of literary style? Aren't the 'referents' we are dealing with major elements of style? Avoiding style is just one clue that makes me feel like Larson isn't identifying with her subjects very much. No, I'm not saying one must identify with the subjects of study - I'm just saying that if you don't, things start to sound a bit clinical. On Tao Qian's recluse aesthetic, for example -- it becomes not an aesthetic, but a "code" :
Thus the 'literary code' is not just writing or literary writing, but includes reference to various components of the life-style of a nonsocially engaged literatus.
"Nonsocially engaged literatus"? No wonder Larson doesn't want to talk literary style. This sounds clinical to the point of not encouraging anyone to be interested in the aesthetic -- at least that's my read. To be fair, Larson has a much better handle on Sima Qian, the defensive scholar: he must make his work be his excuse for living with a defiled body. She gets this and provides a concise statement of his self-definition. This is crucial work; still, I want to make fun of it:

The self or identity of the writer is defined temporally through its lineage and spatially through the physical sites of its existence. Both the temporal and spatial aspects of this definition of the self take material phenomena as the framework of their reference.

Translation: His memories of places, people and events important to him are the elements of his sense of himself. I question the need to dwell on the topic with such dry, clinical terms! That said, I'm writing my first two lectures to reflect and incorporate the divisions put forth here. I'll just try to make them a little more enlivening.

Coda: Self

What is the 'self'? From Sima Qian and Liu Yuxi we get the sense that their 'selves' are those portions of them that possess the motive to vindicate the self. It is what has the motive to vindicate itself, and it is the thing that is vindicated. "In this capacity within the Chinese tradition it [the work of Liu Yuxi, and Sima Qian's text as well] is a true auto-biography, or a biography written by the self, that attempts to define the self in a context identical to that of orthodox biography."

So is every text a new self? A fresh start? This is an important question in the case of Tao Qian, because his is an "impressionistic biography" which "creates a totally unique textual identity."
Impressionistic autobiographies challenge the significance of history, ancestry, and memory in constructing a textual self. Memory is the mind of the present remembering, and through this process altering, the past and bringing out the parts of it which inform the present self.
I'm thinking here of the self that is similarly lodged, similarly impressionistically, in the farming poetry of Tao Qian. Is that unique? A product of its own present? I guess so. But doesn't it bear some relationship to the self of Five Willows? Or was Five Willows a one-shot deal that Tao Qian would be annoyed to find has become the overriding statement of his 'self'? There are many more pieces, such as the self-eulogy, or his eulogies for others, that are a touch less 'impressionistic' and a touch more 'circumstantial.' How to connect all of these together?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (?/33)

Making Offerings to Mother 供母

First attempt at the text: 南嶺挂_北堂供母。肇_聚彀登獨此孝行不棄禪心猶化是知。出世菩提正謂入世忠孝子以後__焉

番禺法弟屈大均題 Fang Qin points out that Qu Dajun (1630-1696) is a famous cultural leader and known Ming loyalist.

Xiangyu mentioned he knew the word 輦彀

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (21/33)

Feeding A Horse 秣马图 [mo4]

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (25/33)

Sick in Bed 臥病圖

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (34?/33)

Whistling Loudly

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (17/33)

Fishing 釣魚圖

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (12/33)

Roaming 遨游图


Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (32/33)

Making Furniture 制器图

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (15/33)

Playing the Flute 吹萧图

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (14/33)

Painting 作畫圖

Is that a little boy in the corner? How bizarre.

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (11/33)

Composing Poetry 吟哦图

"Composing poetry" is Prof. Wu's translation, but wouldn't this better be translated "Reciting [Poetry]"?

Cf. 國語詞典: 吟哦 (yin2e2): 吟詠。宋史˙卷四三八˙儒林傳八˙何基傳:「讀詩之法,須掃蕩胸次淨盡,然後吟哦上下,諷詠從容。」[This last reference is worth working out properly.] 儒林外史˙第十一回:「見公孫赴宴回房,袖裡籠了一本詩來燈下吟哦。」

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (22/33)

Rainmaking 卖雨图


Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (9/33)

Stargazing 觀象


Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (8/33)

Casting Hexagrams 演洛图

Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (7/33)

Meeting a Miraculous Stranger 遇异图


Shilian Dashan's Self Portraits (6/33)

Silently Communing 默契图

The sixth print, Silently Communing, shows the musing young master sitting on the ground with his head bent slightly forward and one leg outstretched. In his relaxed posture there is no sign of the burning urgency or desperate struggle that characterized the sitting-in-meditation of earlier Chan masters.

Not surprisingly, the text here is one of the more difficult examples! I'm surprised my clssmates could help as much as they did:

清露沙門__風___ 舜水張廣業題 Seal: 廣業 Seal: ?正

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