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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Clear a Theoretical Ground for Modern Chinese Poetry: Re-readings of the Etymological Roots of Shih

Vol. 30 No. 4   12/2000  


Clear a Theoretical Ground for Modern Chinese Poetry: Re-readings of the Etymological Roots of Shih


Lai-ming Wong









Key words

shih [poetry], etymological roots, shih-yen-chih [poetry verbalizes intent], romanticism, lyric tradition, deconstruction


     This paper sets out to investigate a corpus of writings that have contributed to the theoretical configuration of modern Chinese poetry. These writings include the works of poet-critics such as Lu Hsun, Chu Tzu-Ch’ing, Wen I-to and Hu Shih of the May Fourth period. In view of the common literary practice of legitimizing a poetics of the times by connecting it with the traditional “shih-yen-chih” tenet, this discussion take the etymological roots of the seminal word “shih”─the origin from which “shih-yen-chih” has been derived─as the point of de parture. In the selected writings, the formidable poetic tenet is re-read with different strategies, including some adapted from English Romanticism. These innovative readings of the etymological roots of shihyen [speech/word], chih  [foot, to go/to stop] and ssu  [hand. To hold], have resulted in an approach to poetry that not only liberates modern poetry from the conventional constraints, but also establishes a Chinese lyris tradition both distinct from and related to poetic traditions in the west. These attempts at founding a new kind of poetry that is both “modern” and “Chinese”, taken as negotiations with the origin, have interestingly foreshadowed a deconstructive tendency prevalent in contemporary discourse. In literary history, the in vention has been the most vigorous impetus for generic transformation. Through a critical examination of the interactions between tradition and innovation at the theoretical level, this paper aims at uncovering the path of the conceptual formation of modern Chinese poetry in the twentieth century.



Author: Lai-ming Wong
Genre: Article
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