The Lyrical in Epic Time

The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis

David Der-wei Wang
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/wang17046
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    The Lyrical in Epic Time
    Book Description:

    This book positions the lyrical as key to rethinking the dynamics of Chinese modernity and emphasizes Chinese lyricism's deep roots in its own native traditions, along with Western influences. Although the lyrical may seem like an unusual form for representing China's social and political crises in the mid-twentieth century, David Der-wei Wang contends that national cataclysm and mass movements intensified Chinese lyricism in extraordinary ways. He calls attention to not only the vigor and variety of Chinese lyricism at an unlikely historical juncture but also the precarious consequences it brought about: betrayal, self-abjuration, suicide, and silence. Above all, his study ponders the relevance of such a lyrical calling of the past century to our time.

    Despite their divergent backgrounds and commitments, the writers, artists, and intellectuals discussed in this book all took lyricism as a way to explore selfhood in relation to solidarity, the role of the artist in history, and the potential for poetry to illuminate crisis. They experimented with a variety of media, including poetry, fiction, intellectual treatise, political manifesto, film, theater, painting, calligraphy, and music. Wang's expansive research also traces the invocation of the lyrical in the work of contemporary Western critics. From their contested theoretical and ideological stances, Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno, Cleanth Brooks, Paul de Man, and many others used lyricism to critique their perilous, epic time. The Chinese case only further intensifies the permeable nature of lyrical discourse, forcing us to reengage with the dominant role of revolution and enlightenment in shaping Chinese--and global--modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53857-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History, History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PROLOGUE
    (pp. ix-xx)

    “THE LYRICAL” IS PERHAPS one of the least likely terms to be associated with China in the mid-twentieth century. This period witnessed a succession of crises: the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War, the national split in 1949 and the resulting exodus of millions of Chinese, and the campaigns in New China, culminating in the Cultural Revolution. The magnitude of the tumult was such that to focus on the lyrical in this period has been dismissed as anachronistic and self-indulgent.

    However, I contend that preciselybecausethe mid-twentieth century in China was characterized by national cataclysms and mass movements, all...

  5. INTRODUCTION: Inventing the “Lyrical Tradition”
    (pp. 1-38)

    THIS BOOK AIMS TO DISCUSS the dialogic of lyricism and Chinese literary and artistic modernity during the mid-twentieth century. The term “lyricism” is used here to refer not only to a mode of poetry, the lyric,³ but also to a spectrum of articulations—ranging from narrative to film, from painting to calligraphy—whose formal inputs and affective outcomes are attributable to the “lyrical” effect. Above all, lyricism is invoked to describe a set of concepts, discourses, or values regarding the poetics of selfhood;⁴ it is made intelligible through sensory and imagistic data in such a way as to inform the...

  6. Chapter One “A HISTORY WITH FEELING”
    (pp. 41-78)

    IN DECEMBER 1951, SHEN CONGWEN joined a mission to observe the outcome of Land Reform in Sichuan Province. On the road, Shen wrote a series of letters to his wife, Zhang Zhaohe, and two sons. One dated january 25, 1952, is of particular interest. Shen writes that he was left alone to guard an old house that night; he could not sleep due to the noise of neighbors coughing and quarreling. To pass the time, he turned to an abridged edition of theShiji史記 (The record of the historian) that he had found in the trash a few days earlier....

  7. Chapter Two THE THREE EPIPHANIES OF SHEN CONGWEN
    (pp. 79-112)

    SHEN CONGWEN’S LIFE FELL into grave disorder amid imminent national crises in 1948. Labeled a reactionary indulging in “pornographic whims” earlier that year,¹ he was ostracized by progressive colleagues and students at Peking University, where he taught, and became increasingly alienated from friends and even family members who aspired for the revolution. By early 1949, Shen was showing signs of a nervous breakdown. He suffered from paranoia and experienced hallucinatory episodes.² On March 28, Shen tried to kill himself by slitting his throat and wrists and drinking kerosene; he survived only through luck.³ It was arranged for him to take...

  8. Chapter Three OF DREAM AND SNAKE: He Qifang, Feng Zhi, and Born-Again Lyricism
    (pp. 113-154)

    THE YEAR 1942 IS SIGNIFICANT in modern Chinese history. The Second Sino-Japanese War was entering its sixth year, and there was no sign of peace. Instead, Shanghai fell in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor; battles were fought as far away as Burma. A devastating drought happened in Henan that summer, and the consequent famine cost millions of lives. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party continued to thrive in the liberated area. In Yan’an, between May 3 and 23, Mao Zedong delivered three talks, thus setting the tone for Communist literary politics in the decades to come.

    Few Chinese writers could avert...

  9. Chapter Four A LYRICISM OF BETRAYAL: The Enigma of Hu Lancheng
    (pp. 155-190)

    WITH THE POSTHUMOUS RELEASE of her autobiographical novelXiaotuaoyuan小團圓 (Little reunion, 2009), the phenomenon of Eileen Chang 張愛玲 (1920–1995) that began to boom in the 1990s—from publications to visual adaptations, from blogs to cartoons—has reached a new height. A roman à clef,Little Reunionreveals for the first time many details of Chang’s family history and personal life. Of all the episodes contained within the work, the most controversial is the one pertaining to the liaison between the protagonist and her lover, a collaborator, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It rekindles “Chang fans’” (Zhangmi張迷) curiosity...

  10. Chapter Five THE LYRICAL IN EPIC TIME: The Music and Poetry of Jiang Wenye
    (pp. 193-236)

    IN THE SUMMER OF 1936 Jiang Wenye 江問鼎(1910–1983),¹ a young Taiwanese composer cum poet based in japan, made his first trip to Beijing and Shanghai. Earlier that yearjiang had won a prize in the Berlin Olympics’ Musical Competition for his symphonyTaiwan no Bukyoku台灣 沒有(Formosan dance), an honor that solidified his status as a rising star in the musical circles of japan. Instead of traveling to Europe to receive the prize in person, however, Jiang chose to visit China.

    Withjiang Wenye on this trip was Alexander Tcherepnin (1899–1977), a Russian composer and an ardent admirer of Oriental...

  11. Chapter Six THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX: Lin Fengmian and the Polemics of Realism in Modem Chinese Painting
    (pp. 237-270)

    In 1979, Ai Qing, one of the most important poets in twentiethcentury China, wrote a poem, “Caise de shi”

    儲蓄投資 (Poetry in color), describing his impression of Lin Fengmian’s (1900–1991) paintings. Lin was turning eighty that year. He had moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong two years earlier and had just regained his creativity after a long hiatus caused by the Cultural Revolution. This was a busy time for Lin. Two major exhibitions were held, one in Shanghai and the other in Paris, featuring his works from the early years to date. An album with sixty-two color plates of...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter Seven A SPRING THAT BROUGHT ETERNAL REGRET: Fei Mu, Mei Lanfang, and the Poetics of Screening China
    (pp. 271-310)

    CINEMA AND BEIJING OPERA were two of the most popular performing arts in early modern China. Despite sharing little common ground in terms of historical origin, aesthetic appeal, and visual technology, the two forms appeared to influence each other as early as the incipient moment of Chinese moviemaking. In 1905, Tan Xinpei 言罩囊培 (1847–1917), the leading actor of Beijing opera at the turn of the century, performed before the camera an episode ofDingjungshan定軍山 (Dingjun mountain), the first film made in China.¹ The following decades saw dozens of movies of Beijing opera and many more inspired by or...

  14. Chapter Eight AND HISTORY TOOK A CALLIGRAPHIC TURN: Taijingnong and the Art of Writing
    (pp. 311-352)

    CINEMA AND BEIJING OPERA were two of the most popular performing arts in early modern China. Despite sharing little common ground in terms of historical origin, aesthetic appeal, and visual technology, the two forms appeared to influence each other as early as the incipient moment of Chinese moviemaking. In 1905, Tan Xinpei 言罩囊培 (1847–1917), the leading actor of Beijing opera at the turn of the century, performed before the camera an episode ofDingjungshan定軍山 (Dingjun mountain), the first film made in China.¹ The following decades saw dozens of movies of Beijing opera and many more inspired by or...

  15. CODA: Toward a Critical Lyricism
    (pp. 353-370)

    THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS have examined the dynamics of lyrical manifestations in mid-twentieth-century China, highlighting a group of intellectuals, literati, and artists who each took an extraordinary path in engaging a time dominated by wars, revolutions, and diasporic adventures. Amid the national call to arms and solidarity, they sought options for selfhood and aesthetic articulation and projected personal visions in spite of—or because of—their varied political convictions. At their most provocative, they injected into mid-century Chinese and world cultural politics a poetic thrust, which I have described as thelyrical in epic time.

    Case studies ranging from Shen Congwen’s...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 371-452)
  17. GLOSSARY OF CHINESE CHARACTERS
    (pp. 453-458)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 459-486)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 487-508)