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Voices in Revolution

Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China

John A. Crespi
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Voices in Revolution
    Book Description:

    China's century of revolutionary change has been heard as much as seen, and nowhere is this more evident than in an auditory history of the modern Chinese poem. From Lu Xun's seminal writings on literature to a recitation renaissance in urban centers today, poetics meets politics in the sounding voice of poetry. Supported throughout by vivid narration and accessible analysis,Voices in Revolutionoffers a literary history of modern China that makes the case for the importance of the auditory dimension of poetry in national, revolutionary, and postsocialist culture.

    Crespi brings the past to life by first examining the ideological changes to poetic voice during China's early twentieth-century transition from empire to nation. He then traces the emergence of the spoken poem from the May Fourth period to the present, including its mobilization during the Anti-Japanese War, its incorporation into the student protest repertoire during China's civil war, its role as a conflicted voice of Mao-era revolutionary passion, and finally its current adaptation to the cultural life of China's party-guided market economy.

    Voices in Revolutionalters the way we read by moving poems off the page and into the real time and space of literary activity. To all readers it offers an accessible yet conceptually fresh and often dramatic narration of China's modern literary experience. Specialists will appreciate the book's inclusion of noncanonical texts as well as its innovative interdisciplinary approach.

    11 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3753-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Orated to an audience of young people in a Hong Kong YMCA in 1927, these words of Lu Xun rest upon a commonplace and far-reaching assumption: that to find one’s voice is to locate and express an identity true, inalienable, and at times almost mystical in its sources. Such a premise leads easily to the association of the human voice with what has been called an “ancient magic” connected with “the center of human existence,” the idea that the spoken word “reaches deep into a region of lived experience where it escapes conceptual formulas and where prescience alone operates” (Ong...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Poetic Interiorities: From Civilization to Nation
    (pp. 18-42)

    This chapter explores the construction of poetic voice across one of the most profound ideological divides in modern Chinese history: the early twentieth-century transition from empire to nation. To do so I investigate the mediations between politics and poetics, that is, how the shift from an imperial to a national ideal revised the imagination of language, how the new linguistic imagination inspired a reimagined poetry, and how a reimagined poetry brought with it the reinvention of poetic voice. In other words, the modern Chinese poetic voice emerged from the dynamic integration of old and new elements in the overlapping domains...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Poetry Off the Page: Sound Aesthetics in Print
    (pp. 43-68)

    There can be no “pure voice,” cautions Michel de Certeau, because orality is always determined and codified by a “scriptural economy” (1984, 132). China’s new poetry is surely no exception. For one thing, the imagination of a pure, originary voice of poetry drew its positive ideological value less from the actual practice of oral literature than from its deliberate opposition to its negative Other, the written classical language. Equally important in determining and codifying poetic voice were two intersecting, highly politicized, and non-oral modalities, each established in canonical texts: the local ethnopoetics of the expressionist, morally suasive force, enshrined in...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Inventing Recitation: Poetry and the Idea of the Sounding Voice during the War of Resistance
    (pp. 69-100)

    “If we let stand this new term ‘recitation poetry,’” averred poet Liu Qing in late 1938, “then singable songs, performable drama, and edible food each can stand alone and apart from song, drama, and food” (61). By the time Liu wrote these words over a year into the War of Resistance, something labeled “recitation poetry” had begun to proliferate in the pages of literary journals, newspaper supplements, and at least one poetry collection. Beyond those printed pages, too, one could hear poetry recited at war-related meetings and rallies with a frequency and publicity far beyond anything attempted in the past....

  8. CHAPTER 4 Wartime Recitals and the Consolidation of a Genre
    (pp. 101-129)

    As I have argued, the 1920s and 1930s saw the making of a strain of new poetry that foregrounded an imagined, sounding voice. Writing voice into a poem, however, is one matter, actually voicing a poem in performance quite another. Where the former creates a text easily available to traditional analysis, the latter launches the poem into the unreproducible, transient contingencies of sound, space, and social exchange. This chapter attempts to recover the unrecoverable: the performance texts of recited poetry during the War of Resistance period. The difficulties such a task poses are not few. Most fundamentally, the recited poem...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Zhu Ziqing and Situational Poetics: Sounding Out an Alternative
    (pp. 130-141)

    The “poet’s joy,” to return to the title of Chen Nanshi’s early imagination of the recitational aesthetic, had been for the sound of poetry to resonate widely and deeply among the national populace. Through the 1930s and 1940s, this ideal was reformulated by Ren Jun, Li Lei, and Hong Shen until it emerged as the ideological undercurrent persistently invoked to lend larger meaning to the poetry recitation activities of the War of Resistance. Though the project as such was challenged first by poets of less populist sympathies and later by the unforgiving exigencies of real-world performance, throughout these several decades...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Calculated Passions: The Lyric and the Theatric in Mao-era Poetry Recitation
    (pp. 142-167)

    As we recall from Chapter 4, poetry recitation’s first major debut in Yan’an was hardly an auspicious event. If on that cold January evening in 1938 Mao Zedong had not sat through the entire spectacle of The Evening of Poetry and Folk Song, this new and fragile art might have been condemned to lasting banishment beyond the realm of the Chinese Communist cultural practice. Even so, recitation in the immediately ensuing years gained only a modest foothold among the primarily peasant-oriented performing arts of the rustic Communist base area. But as Mao’s regime consolidated itself over the next several decades,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 From Yundong to Huodong: The Value of Poetry Recitation in Postsocialist China
    (pp. 168-188)

    Clad head to toe in olive drab, the woman poet Fangzi steps to the front of a small audience of reporters, poets, and prospective home buyers gathered in the front hall of a newly opened sales reception center in southwest Beijing. A scale model of a high-rise apartment building to her right and a cobblestone pool of lazy goldfish behind her, she grips a wireless microphone and reads:

    What is home?

    None other than a sturdy and attractive house,

    Where your house is,

    There your love resides,

    Where your love is,

    There is your career,


    Sing praise to one’s...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-198)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 199-204)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 205-222)
  15. Index
    (pp. 223-228)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-231)