Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When "I" Was Born: intro and chapter 1

Jing M. Wang's new look at Chinese women's autobiography shows us that the genre emerged from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. In her "Introduction," she gives two basic motivations for the study: first, to combat the implicit hegemony of Western male privilege and so expand the sense of what autobiography is. A second, related motivation is Wang's sense that in critical examinations of modern Chinese women's literature, all too often "fiction overshadows autobiography." To Wang, this "shadow" is completely unjustified: "The light of these texts shone out to me from dusty shelves in libraries, urging me to bring them together as one tradition." To do so, Ms. Wang makes a major nod a/b studies, adapting Lejeune's definition of autobiography as a form to be distinguished from both fiction and historical writing and fiction. Unlike the fiction writer, the autobiographer intends to be a kind of true statement, but this should be a "subjective truth," and so "the autobiographer...must not be held accountable for 'factual errors.'"

Wang's chapter 1 lays the groundwork for her conception of Chinese women's autobiography as a unique genre emerging first in the 1920s by considering autobiography in the Chinese tradition in an extremely abbreviated fashion. Traditionally, biographical writing in China is a historical genre with strictly didactic functions, as we can see from the foundational biographies of Sima Qian and repeated endorsements of the tradition in critical writings by figures such as the eight-century historiographer Liu Zhiji and Liang Qichao, the great reformer of the early 20th century. Traditional Chinese historical biography crafts heroic lives to be model figures of moral rectitude; this historiography reaches extreme didactic ends in works like the Ming dynasty tradition of Biographies of Women (Lie nü zhuan), which "is filled with gory atrocities women inflicted on themselves to prove their sexual loyalty toward their husbands..." The dramatic forms of self destruction in these biographies figures well the generality that Jing M. Wang wishes to emphasize, which is that "for both women and men, the circle of the so-called self can be compared to a ripple stirred up by the dropping of a pebble into water: it multiplies, magnifies, and gradually extends and disappears into the body of water." This figure helps us understand why autobiographical writing in ancient China was most often considered only a supplement to larger works, was usually very short, and did not dwell on the interior workings of the author's mind.

There is, however, a counter-tradition to this tradition, one that is perhaps not emphasized strongly enough in this chapter. The most influential of all Chinese lyrics, the Encountering Sorrow (Li sao), has also been called China's first autobiography for its extended and allegorical investigations of the poet's state of mind. And as Ms. Wang perceptively outlines, the growth of funerary writing, especially epitaphs, as a independent genre offers a pathway for personal engagement with the self that was used by countless outstanding figures of the tradition, from Cao Pi to Ouyang Xiu. Wang even brings up important but seldom-mentioned members of the critical tradition of personal, private writing, including Liu Xie, Xu Shizheng, and Zhang Xuecheng.

This discussion is perhaps too brief to function as anything more than a first glance at the problem of autobiographical writing in traditional Chinese literature. Interested readers are referred by Wang herself to the still under-celebrated 1990 work Confucian's Progress by the late Professor Wu Pei-yi, for a fuller exposition on the issues. Still, Wang's generalizations about the tendency in traditional writing to focus the imaginative power away from the self-portrait and instead to the service of historical lesson-making are for the most part still accepted understandings of the milieu from which China's first generation of modernists, the generation of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, emerged. Liang's generation promoted fiction to a higher level in Chinese letters than ever before for the express purpose of reforming politics and society, but understood autobiography strictly as a form of biography, which in turn was strictly understood as a form of history. These traditional precepts first broke down under the pens of the May Fourth writers in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Especially significant was Hu Shi, who called for book-length autobiography as a genre which was literary and historical at once, and able to serve in the development of the Chinese sense of the individual. Also there was Yu Dafu, who perhaps more than any other writer of the May Fourth generation strove to answer the call for inwardly-turned exploration of the author's mind and memory in book-length autobiography. Wang identifies a few works from this period that illustrate well the new turn towards self-writing, including Shao Shunmei's introduction to Lu Yin's Autobiography (廬隱自傳),
in which Wang finds a "nudge" toward the concept of the "subjective truth" that effectively makes autobiography a historically-intended genre distinct from fiction. As is well-known, all of these writers were avid readers of Western literature, including Western autobiographies like Augustine's Confessions; Ms. Wang notes this and also finds as well a 1937 anthology from Commercial Press in Shanghai which proves that Chinese autobiographical writing was at the time considered alongside Western autobiography in translation even in the popular sphere.

As Wang argues, writers of the early May Fourth period tended to focus strongly on the growth and development of the individual, believing that individualism was a crucial ingredient of the more powerful and modern Western societies. But as the events of the late 1920s and 1930s brought deterioration of the Republic, the birth of a new collectivist politics in the new Communist Party, and finally a desperately violent war with Japan, individualism quickly declined. Prof. Wang demonstrates a recurring fascination with the fact that, despite the rapid uptake of new nationalist and collectivist themes in Chinese literature of the 1920s to the 1940s, there is a seemingly paradoxical emergence of autobiographical writing by women during this same period. Professor Wang's goal is to explain how this happened. As the reader finishes chapter 1 and prepares to begin chapter 2, he or she is given to understand that the resolution to the apparent paradox lies in the quickly advancing social and political status of women in China. New roles like teaching and writing are available to a small but quickly growing proportion of Chinese women by the 1920s, and these roles call on women to turn away, at least partly, from their old roles as mothers and wives, as agents of private and domestic spaces; these "new women" firmly occupy the new and exciting public sphere. It makes sense, in a general way, that these women will create literary explorations of all these new ways of being, that they will turn to their own experiences for an honest, earnest look at these new identities, and that they will not see these autobiographies as anything less than fully serving the creation of a new, defensible and modern Chinese nation.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

On Old Age

This is a nice poem on old age. I'm stumbling through the Owen notebooks in roughly chronological order at this point, and it's clear from poems with such personal themes that the concept of the lyric poem which was to take firm precedence in the Tang has begun to develop. The important point is that the theme chosen does not quite speak for the populace, but with a much more individual voice.

On Old Age

My white hair drops out with the comb,
It's not cold yet, but I want a thick coat.
My bones and joints easily tire and wear out,
Walking, my steps get slower and slower.
I've started worrying that my years are almost up,
One day my soul will just fly high.
And I know that in a hundred years,
Wild weeds will grow in my hall.

The text here is from Yuwen leishi:


I can see how this one could be made into a good (not great, but good) piece in English with a little more tinkering. This is a nice small, personal poem to craft like a postcard. The questions in my mind right now are: what's the proper rhythm of a poem like this? What sort of sound techniques (I'm thinking some rhyme might be nice here) can be applied here to make the poem effective in English?

Searching for Ruan Yu 阮瑀 on Google brings up a history of literature study guide that looks as if it is used in high school or college courses. The relevant sentence on Ruan Yu is:
Representative writers of the Jian'an period include the three Caos (Cao Cao, Cao Pi, Cao Zhi), the Seven Masters (Kong Rong, Wang Can, Liu Zhen, Chen Lin, Xu Gan, Ruan Yu) and the woman writer Cai Yan. 建安文学的代表作家是三曹(曹操、曹丕、曹植)和七子(孔融、王粲、刘桢、陈琳、徐干、阮瑀、应玚)和女作家蔡琰。
A succinct description of the "Seven Masters of Jian'an, with examples, is available on this Taiwanese page.

Image: Old man statue of teak, sold from a Jakarta exporter, up to 500 month at US $15,000 a piece. Damn!

Vietnamese Buddhism II

Krista Tippett's show today was a re-run of her program on Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who has founded Buddhist communities ("communities of practice") in France and Wisconsin. Apparently Martin Luther King, Jr. was a big fan.

Of course, after thinking about Shilian Dashan, I can't help but think of him as the Shilian Dashan of today.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bitter that face

An extraordinary expression I had not stumbled across before; also an early yuefu form imitated by Lu Ji and others. Text here is from Yiwen leiju (wikisource), which refers to Yuefu shiji, among others.

Fu Xuan, Bitter that Face. 晉傅玄豫章行

Bitter that face, of woman you are,
Lowly, worthless, hard to look at you.
The manchild heads the house,
Dropping to earth he gives birth to spirit.
The manly mind may rove, all the four seas,
Ten thousand leagues, hoping to blow in the dust.
Girls are reared without joy, without celebration;
They are not what the family treasures.
Their jade faces always age with time,
Husbands mostly take to the new and younger.
Once before you two were like body and shadow,
Now you are as distant as East from West.

Fu Xuan's 傅玄 (217-278) verse seems so starkly feminist, it is surprising to see his iconic portrait, spread out over the web. He is mentioned as an orphan, however; perhaps he has extra empathy for women because he dreams of what a mother would have been like. His membership in the court of Cao Cao explains his iconic significance; it also testifies to his poetic talent.


This isn't the text used in Owen; he follows Lu Qinli and Yutai xinyong in using a version of which this is a short excerpt. Just now, in between readings, I like the shorter version better!

Fu Xuan, Bitter that Face. 苦相篇 豫章行 作者:傅玄

Bitter that face, of woman you are,
Lowly, worthless, hard to look at you.
The manchild heads the house,
Dropping to earth he gives birth to spirit.
The manly mind may rove, all the four seas,
Ten thousand leagues of hope to blow in the dust.
Girls are reared without joy, without celebration;
They are not what the family treasures.
長大避深室  藏頭羞見人
垂淚適他鄉  忽如雨絕雲
低頭和顏色  素齒結朱唇
跪拜無復數  婢妾如嚴賔
情合同雲漢  葵藿仰陽春
心乖甚水火  百惡集其身
Growing up they retreat to deep inner chambers,
Hide their faces, ashamed to see men.
Dropping tears they are shunted to other villages,
Suddenly, like rain parting from the cloud.
They lower their heads, blushing,
White teeth meet between vermillion lips.
They kneel, koutou, and never matter again.
Even the servants are there to demand service.
If their love is well-matched, then Oxherd has his Weaver Woman,
Swamp plants await the bright sunny Spring.
And if his heart should change? Then, worse than water or fire,
A hundred hatreds build inside her body,

and then it picks up again where the shorter version leaves off:

Their jade faces always age with time,
Husbands mostly take to the new and younger.
Once before you two were like body and shadow,
Now you are the morning and evening stars.

But onto the ending also comes a new ending couplet, one that feels very tacked-on to the reader who encountered the shorter version first:

Morning and evening may meet again,
Sooner, at least, than a broken marriage be mended.
胡秦時相見  一絕踰參辰

Note: a literal translation brings up Chinese geography, Hu and Qin, that do not immediatly have the intended symbolic effect -- they do not deliver the intended information that the wife feels distant toward the husband and vice versa. It makes sense to me to mine further for a metaphor that is likely to work for the English reader; here we take "the morning and evening stars" out of the actual symbols used in the final line: Shen and Chen 參辰, stars of the evening and morning, respectively. A similar unpacking of culturally-specific metaphor is Oxherd and Weaver Woman from, "Cloudy Han" yunhan 雲漢, a term for the belt of stars across the sky that works like our "Milky Way" (wonder if there's a Cloudy Han candy bar?). Take this note as an entry in my evolving (and only virtual) poetry translation manifesto.
苦相身為女  卑陋難再陳
男兒當門戶  墮地自生神
雄心志四海  萬里望風塵
女育無欣愛  不為家所珍
長大避深室  藏頭羞見人
垂淚適他鄉  忽如雨絕雲
低頭和顏色  素齒結朱唇
跪拜無復數  婢妾如嚴賔
情合同雲漢  葵藿仰陽春
心乖甚水火  百惡集其身
玉顏隨年變  丈夫多好新
昔為形與影  今為胡與秦
胡秦時相見  一絕踰參辰
Images: A piece of gaming art: iconic or just random? I'd like to see odd pornography in pop art as the continuation of a long tradition of gender-anger.

Excuse me, ma'am, is this your fan?

Paging through Owen's notebooks, I stumbled once again into Consort Ban, whose longer poem of self-mourning will be a topic in my class. Owen puts the "Song of Reproach" 怨歌行 attributed to her front and center for his section on early yuefu: it comes from the early anthologies, but there is little corroboration to make us certain it comes from Concubine Ban.

New-made silk of woven white,
bright and clean as fallen snow
Now a "Happy together" fan, crafted,
round, round like the fullest moon.

In and out of my ruler's breast pocket,
waving to make a light breeze.
Always afraid for autumn's arrival,
when chill winds steal the feverish heat.
Then you'll cast your fan into a box,
and your love will suddenly stop.

Turning to the Wen xuan text on Wikisource, we can see the stakes of the attribution: Consort Ban is thought to lay down the model (擬) for all pieces titled "Song of Reproach." Thus the content of this song-title will forever be linked to Consort Ban's biography, a classic exemplary court lady with a classically tragic ending: her Emperor takes a different favorite. What we have in this poem, then, is a link between a model female life and the style of a particular form of writing. The biography and the song-title are linked templates in the literary tradition. To see this is to see the importance of model lives to Chinese poetry in a vivid way. (I realize this is far from an original conclusion; I'm just practicing for my lecture to undergraduates. Tentative plan: combine Consort Ban with Qu Yuan in a single discussion.)


When you read the text in the Wen xuan with commentaries, you get the sense that Consort Ban is participating in the tradition by calling on older models for expression of reproach. An older poem, for example, has a line about a "happy together" blanket embroidered with a pair of mallards; the commentator thus implies that Consort Ban invokes this symbol of being "happy together," in a variation, a personal way. Another note refers to the line "Always afraid for autumn's arrival, when chill winds steal the feverish heat" which is also a variation on an older line, which goes "Always afraid for autumn's arrival, when burnt yellow flower and leaf decline and fall" 常恐秋節至,焜黃華葉衰.

Images: Icon of the jilted Consort. Detail of woman and fan from the scroll painting Han Palace in Spring at Dawn 漢宮春曉圖 by Jiu Ying 仇英, Ming dynasty (National Palace Museum, Taipei). Han dynasty lacquer box from Cultural-China.com.

Friday, June 5, 2009

South of the Walls We Fought

I remember this one from my very earliest exposure to Chinese poetry in Owen's Anthology of Chinese Literature. Evidentally almost every famous poet and his aunt have produced some kind of response to this old naoge. (Text found at Biblio.org, along with a big chunk of the rest of Lu Qinli's anthology)

South of the inner walls we fought,
North of the outer walls we died.

Died in the wastes, unburied, for birds to eat.
Call to the birds, for us.
Tell them we were brave ones,
Died in the wastes, and so unburied.
How could our corpses ever flee you?

The water is deep, churning, churning
The reeds and rushes, dark, so dark.

Xiaoji, the owl fighters, fought to the death,
Tired horses still pace and neigh.

By the bridge they have built guardposts -- How by the south bridge, how by the north?
The grain and millet haven't been harvested, how can our ruler eat?
We hoped to be loyal subjects, but how can we do so now?

We mourn you, good subjects,
Good subjects truly worth mourning.
In morning you marched to the attack,
In the evening you did not come home.




Images: Yuanyu Pass, Gansu -- note how it shows "inner" and "outer" walls. Eastern Han Cavalry sculpture found at Leitai Tomb, Gansu Province; Standing horse, Eastern Han dynasty (Musée Guimet - Paris) Painted figure of an infantryman, Western Han (wiki commons).

I did not edit the text file from biblio.org; there are notable differences between this and Owen's text, so somebody has been emending Lu Qinli: I'm guessing Owen made one or two changes to the lines 梁築室何以南梁何北 (he silently removes the 以; this line still makes no sense) and (禾黍而穫君何食 ; he accepts the obvious emendation of 而 to 不).

Empress Wu

A Kate Beaton comic that my advisor loved.

I'm just now reading Lin Yutang's Lady Wu (1958, 1965; I'm reading the 1965 edition and wondering if it is significantly revised from the version Levy reviewed in 1958). A quick search brought up a very nice statement of the main issue here by Howard S. Levy, reviewing Lin's work C. P. Fitzgerald's book from around the same time, The Empress Wu.
Authors Lin and Fitzgerald differ markedly in their conclusions about the Empress Wu, since they place their emphasis on different values. Dr. Lin's most important consideration in making his evaluation is moral character and ethical treatment of one's fellow man. Looking at the Empress Wu from this viewpoint, he is therefore justified in castigating her because of the cruel ways in which she liquidated her opponents and spared no one who stood in the way of her imperial ambitions, not even those in her immediate family. I believe that the case of Empress Wu must present something of a paradox to the orthodox Confucian, for here was a woman who flaunted the mores, was personally dissolute, and upset all normal family relations. And yet, despite these failings, she was able to regulate the Chinese nation with great ability. Dr. Fitzgerald approaches the question of Empress Wu more from a national standpoint. He is interested not in her personal foibles but in the fact that she ruled China effectively and in peace for a long period. He excuses her tyranny towards her associates, and prefers to analyze the ways in which she maintained a unified China and preserved it from disintegration at the hands of an incapable male sovereign. The reader, then, may consider Empress Wu either as a villaness who ruthlessly exterminated those closest to her in the upper strata of society, or as a gifted feminine monarch who saved the Tang dynasty from internal collapse and, in the words of Dr. Fitzgerald, was "among the greatest of heroic figures of history."


Brainstorming: Penguin Book of Chinese Life Writing

As I slowly put together my course, I keep fantasizing about the textbook that I would make from the course. My ideal publication would definitely be a Penguin title with a great cover. I'd call it The Penguin Book of Chinese Life Writing, and I'd have a great introductory essay covering the terrain of Chinese history, the resonances of a history based on exemplary lives, and the similarity between the arts of of essay and of portraiture.

Thanks, Cover Browser. What a fun website!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"On all four sides, nobody speaks"

Skimming through the Owen Notebooks, making little notes here and there, not studying too seriously. I really liked this one. There is tropic story teller language here: "on all for sides, nobody speaks," "We want to hear" and "Please, tell us." And yet, not a story exactly, but more like the fragment of an epic. This makes me believe that there is a Chinese epic, but it is a networked form, only understandable as anthology: Shijing, Wen xuan, Yu tai xin yong.

On all four sides, nobody speaks.
We want to hear just a bit of that song!
Please, tell us about that bronze censer
towering high like South Mountain.

The one with tendrils pushing upward, like cypresses and pines,
And roots flowing downward that clutch a basin of bronze.
The one with engraved patterns each of a different kind,
And openwork inlays, each connected to the other.
Who could have made a vessel like this?
Gongshuban, perhaps, famous Sage of Carpenters.
A red fire lights up in the censer,
celadon smoke blows out from within.
Into your heart it goes, wafted with the wind."
On all four sides, nobody can stop their sighs.
Ah, that scented breeze hardly stays for long --
It's nothing, really, but faint traces of women's perfume.

四坐且莫諠  願聽歌一言
請說銅鑪器  崔嵬象南山
上枝以松柏  下根據銅盤
雕文各異類  離婁自相聯
誰能為此器  公輸與魯班
朱火然其中  青煙颺其間
從風入君懷  四坐莫不歎
香風難久居  空令蕙草殘

The censer here:"Fairy mountain incense burner (Boshan xianglu), excavated in 1968. Bronze inlaid with gold. From the tomb of Liu Sheng (d. 113 B.C.E.., brother of Western Han emperor Wu) at Mancheng, Hebei. 26 cm H; 3.4 kg. Hebei Provincial Museum, Shijiazhuang." -- thanks to this page.

Owen's "melilotus" or huicao 蕙草 is a flowering herb that women would gather to perfume their bodies. I'm guess quite a bit with the last line; I sort of feel like the mention of the herb is allegorical: the censer is the herb that perfumes the empire; the unseen woman is China. I'm certain Owen and others would call that over-reading. I over-read? So I over-read. It's my poem now.

Gongshu, perhaps, aka 'Ban of Lu,' legendary King of the Carpenters. They say he invented the 'cloud ladders' 雲梯 (offensive weaponry described by Mozi in a rebuke to Gongshu) and the carpenter's plane 刨. This article re-examines his role in the "Gongshuban" chapter of the Mozi.

Listening to Yang Jiang Talk about the Past - Chapter 1

The first chapter of Listening to Yang Jiang Talk About the Past is all about the background of China surrounding Yang Jiang's birth, including her parents, her sisters, and, especially, her father's work. The most interesting feature here is the new portrait of her father, Yang Yinhang aka "Old Mister Gardener" 老圃先生. First we meet Old Mister Gardener, the progressive family man, who treats his wife like an equal, is sweet to his children, and fills the house with intimate speech mixed with local Wuxi expressions and allusions picked up from Chinese and Western literature.

Only later, as Wu Xuezhao closes the chapter, do we meet Yang Yinhang, a tragic idealist whose ethics ultimately led him to give up participation in the government. At least, it was either that or his stubbornness in the face of another man of government, Xu Shiying 許世英. What can we make of their conflict? How much can we believe what we read in this book, which defends Yang Jiang's father against Xu Shiying?

Facts of the Case, According Yang and Wu

In 1917, while acting as a high judge in Beijing 京師高等檢察庭, he had started investigating accusations of bribery 受賄 against then-Transportation Minister Xu Shiying. But Xu had already served in a number of leadership positions and had a lot of clout; many of his supporters lobbied for the case to be dropped. When Judge Yang refused, he was fired by the Minister of Justice 司法長. The Minister, Zhang Yaozeng 張耀曾 (1885-1938), told Yang there was not enough evidence, but this was essentially a lie; the evidence was produced, but it did not prevent Judge Yang from getting reprimanded and fired, together with his colleague 張汝霖. Yang Yinhang was able to find other work eventually, but from this point forward, he was disillusioned with the Republican government in Beijing, and never sought to serve in office again 對官官相獲的北洋政府已看透了,無意繼續做官.

According to Wu Xuezhao, articles from Shen bao on May 24 and 25 illustrate that Yang Yinhang had widespread support for his investigation. Xu Shiying was never sanctioned, and went on to serve in the KMT government in Taiwan. Wu regrets she has not seen Xu's own memoirs, which might shed some light on this case.

Xu Shiying, from a typical web profile that celebrates the man for a brilliant career.

Statue of the Xu Shiying on Jinmen Island, Taiwan. (From this webpage)

Zhang Yaozeng, died 1938 in Shanghai (from an online profile). He was one of Sun Yat-sen's "Council of Seven" 七君子.

Follow-up article, unfortunately not available online:

Xu Xiaoqun. "The Fate of Judicial Independence in Republican China, 1912-37," China Quarterly (1997), 149:1-28.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PhD Dissertation: Wu Yubi 吳與弼

Not Wu Yubi, but apparently his most famous student, Chen Xianzhang

Kelleher, M. Theresa. Personal Reflections on the Pursuit of Sagehood: The Life and Journal (Jih-Lu) of Wu Yü-Pi (1392-1469), 1986. PhD Thesis, Columbia University 1982. (advisor: Wm. Theodore deBary; note that Kelleher was introduced to Wu Yubi by Wu Pei-yi and also was the niece of Thomas Berry, an interesting American priest/environmentalist that I had not heard of. )

This dissertation offers a structure that I could choose for my own work: a critical biography focusing on the author's autobiographical writing, an analysis of the author as an important "exemplary personality or model" (cf. my chosen term "cultural icon"), and, finally, original translation. I'm particularly intrigued by the thought of putting a special section of original translation into my dissertation.

Above, Chen Xianzhang's former home in Guangzhong (at least according to Wikipedia)

Notes from an initial inspection of this 450-page dissertation:
Even though Wu lived apart from the main centers of cultural and political activity, he nonetheless attracted a large following of students, including three of the leading Neo-Confucian's of the next generation: Lou Liang (1422-1491), Chen Xianzhang (1428-1500) and Hu Juren (1434-1484).

Huang Zongxi (1610-1695) placed Wu at the head of his Ming ru xue an (Case Studies of Ming Confucians), declaring, "Just as the Imperial Chariot had its origins in the oxcart and thick ice is comprised of an accumulation of water, so Ming thought could not have flourished without Wu Yubi"

What emerges from the...Journal is the picture of a ...personality with a lifestyle more devotional, confessional, and nature-oriented than we usually associate with Neo-Confucians.

...the Chinese have always had a special appreciation for the power of exemplary personalities to form and transform by their presence all that they come into contact with.

Chapter 1 contains protraits of Ming emperors Taizu and Yongle emphasizing that Taizu made positions at court "precarious" and that the Yongle emperor helped continue the expansion of religion in the lives of all Chinese.
Taizu's legacy of the precarious nature of service at court no doubt constituted one of the factors of Wu's choice of life away from the center of political power. But so too, Taizu's legacy of attention to the religious sphere is also a factor in understanding Wu.
The remainder of the chapter discusses major intellectual figures of the 15th century -- a much understudied century. Figures include: Liu Ji, Song Lian, Wang Wei, Fang Xiaoru. These and other intellectuals of the early Ming have gotten a bit of a bum rap according to Kelleher, who cites literature to this effect. She presents the revisionist view, already established by Wing-tsit Chan, Qian Mu, and others, that Chinese intellectual figures of Wu Yubi's generation were re-thinking the Song Neo-Confucian "concern for achieving the authentic, pristine state of the self."

Chapter 2 is a biography of Wu Yubi.

Chapter 3 is all about Wu Yubi's Journal (ri lu 日錄); chapter 4 continues the discussion with sections on "Wu's Program of Self-cultivation," and "Success or Failure in the Pursuit of Sagehood."

Chapter 5 is called "Wu Yubi as Moral Teacher: His Relationships with Students," which looks particularly at letters he wrote to people like Sun Yuerang, Lou Liang, Hu Jiushao, Xie Pan on matters of books, reading habits, study skills, tips on interpretation, friendship, philosophy of education, and habits of labor and leisure. Kelleher profiles students Hu Jiushao, Lou Liang, Chen Xianzhang, Hu Juren, and Rong Zhaozu. To conclude, there are some brief comments about why none of these figures was well-liked during the Qing.

Wu's Journal is translated in 90 pages of text that follows the five chapters. There are 328 short entries carrying dates from 1425 to 1468. I'm strongly considering giving this entire section as an assignment to my class.

A second group of translations contains letters, a few short essays and one colophon. A final section contains mimeographed copies of all Chinese texts. This is quite a convenient feature!

Tiananmen memoir: Yu Hua 余华

I guess the memory literature of Tiananmen is probably it's own subgenre, one that characteristically combines personal memories of the days surrounding June 4, 1989 and more general reflections on the prospects for political reform in China.

I'm a writer, who cares if I wear plaid with stripes?

One that is going around this year is Yu Hua's op-ed in the New York Times, translated by Allan Barr (he of the Pu Songling fame!).

Yu Hua wasn't really close to the action of the 1989 crackdown; for him, watching the television is a good trope to connect personal memory with general political critique:
Every day the television repeatedly broadcast shots of students on the wanted list being taken into custody. Far from home, in my cheerless hotel room, I saw the despairing looks on the faces of the captured students and heard the crowing of the news announcers, and a chill went down my spine.

Then one day, the picture on my TV screen changed completely. The images of detained suspects were replaced by scenes of prosperity throughout the motherland. The announcer switched from passionately denouncing the crimes of the captured students to cheerfully lauding our nation’s progress.
Yu Hua's point is clear: using mass communication, China's leaders were able to repress the feelings of revulsion, fear, and indignation that the memory of the 1989 actions tended to inspire.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dissertation So Far

To apply for the China Times Fellowship, I am drawing up all work on my dissertation so far, including my prospectus and three conference papers. I feel sort of accomplished looking back at this:


On Six Chapters (1980)

On We Three (2003)

Yang Jiang as Cultural Icon, (2003-2008)

China Times Scholarship

Yu Chi-chung, (1910-2002)

If I was really lucky/skillful, I'd nail the $US10,000 Yu Chi-chung scholarship for the upcoming school year. Yu Chi-chung founded the China Times. A Taipei Times article profiles him as he handed the reigns over to his son at age 92. Clearly, this is an ambitious, bourgeois power-player with close links to Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT that date to some time before 1949. According to the article, he encouraged new talent but could be cruel to those he found lacking. I wonder if a Yang Jiang project is at all more likely to win because she is close in spirit to his brand of humanism?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Paper Draft

At long last, I produced a first draft of my reading paper for the ACCL conference.

Playwright, literary critic, translator, and biographer Yang Jiang has not to date been described as a "cultural icon" in English or as a wenhua yingxiong 文化英雄 in Chinese, but there is increasingly reason to see her as one. First, as with other pre-1949 literary figures such as Eileen Chang and Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang's popularity has increased in stages in the last 30 years: between 1949 and 1980, she was virtually unheard of; in the 1980s, she was a topic among elite intellectuals; by the 1990s, her readership had widened considerably. But what makes Yang Jiang practically unique among living writers is the fact that her 2003 memoir We Three (Women sa 我們仨) sold over a million copies before year's end. Yang Jiang, a 92-year old widow, a retired member of CASS, had produced a best seller. Since then, Yang Jiang has been the topic of hundreds of interviews, feature articles, blog posts, discussion board threads, reminiscences, and literary essays. Penetrating all of the discourse on Yang Jiang, popular and elevated, is a close association between the writer's work and her life story. Indeed, as the three book-length biographies of Yang Jiang show, Yang Jiang's life story has come to exemplify the best of everything Chinese, a mixture of progressivist and traditional values. This recently-acquired ability to represent a shifting set of values to an extremely wide readership is what makes Yang Jiang a cultural icon.

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