XI Poetry of the New School at Late Qing


  (晚   清   新   派   诗)

Ever since the Opium War in 1840, China gradually became a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society. Mao Zedong said that in this period, “the contradictions between imperialism and the Chinese nation, feudalism and the masses of the people were the main contradictions of the modern Chinese society.” Therefore, the progressive literature in modern China that reflected the social contradictions was marked with features of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism. In the old democratic revolution period before the May 4th Movement, “The struggles on the cultural front in China were those between the bourgeois new culture and feudal old culture.” Such new culture was at the service of the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution. To accommodate to the historic needs of Chinese democratic revolution, some poems with anti-imperialism and patriotic contents and some democratic thinking appeared during the late Qing period. Tan Sitong (谭嗣同,1865-1898) and Xia Zengyou (夏曾佑,1863-1924) and others advocated “Revolution in the Poetry Circle”; Huang Zunxian (黄尊宪,1848-1905) claimed his poetry belonged to the “new school”, the forms he used was a bit more liberated than before. Yet, the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal thoughts expressed in the works by those listed above were not thorough, colored with reformism; artistically the attainment was not as brilliant as the classic works. But they are after all different in nature in the history of Chinese literature, they expressed to some extent the struggles and wishes of the Chinese people for national independence and democratic revolution. As the fate of failure of the democratic revolution led by Chinese bourgeoisie, the “Revolution in the Poetry Circle” and poetry of the “new school” were not able to have a normal development. However, they did play a certain progressive role at the time; judging from the context of historic development, they played a certain preceding role to the revolution in literature during the May 4th Movement.
A portrait of Lin Zexu

Lin Zexu (林则徐,1785-1850)who resisted British aggressors and burnt more than a million kilo opium during the Opium War was a famous poet at the time. He wrote “示家人,Shi Jia Ren, To Family Members” before he was sent into exile to Yili:

力微任重久神疲,       Li wei ren zhong jiu shen pi,
再竭衰庸定不支;       Zai jie shuai yong ding bu zhi;
苟利国家生死以,       Gou li guo jia sheng si yi,
岂因祸福避趋之;       Qi yin huo fu bi qu zhi;
謫居正是君恩厚,       Zhe ju zheng shi jun en hou,
养拙刚于戍卒宜。       Yang zhuo gang yu shu zu yi.
戏于山妻谈故事,       Xi yu shan qi tan gu shi,
试吟“断送老头皮。”    Shi yin “duan song lao tou pi.”

I’ve long been tired with a heavy duty on my fragile body,
I would not stand if more is exerted from me;
I would devote my life if it were in the interests of the country,
I wouldn’t dodge it if it were a disaster to me personally;
To be relegated is a big favor from the Emperor,
To hide my clumsiness is better than the life in the army.
I tell my wife a story, which is rather funny,
A story about “giving up the old head to the excellency.”

Why did he tell a story to his wife? What was the story? In the Song Dynasty, Emperor Zhenzong once asked Yang Pu if any body wrote him a poem recently, Yang said that his younger concubine wrote him one, which went:
Don’t lose your spirit and indulge in wine,
Don’t be so crazy and wild in chanting poems.
Today you’re going to the court,
You will not be able to keep your old head.

Hearing these lines, the Song Emperor, who intended to keep Yang to work in the imperial court, was amused and laughed, he let Yang go back to his normal life. Lin was punished by the Qing Imperial court for resisting the British troops, but he didn’t regret what he did for the interests of the state regardless of his personal gains or losses, fortunes or misfortunes. Yet, he had to console his wife and family. That’s why he wrote this poem and told this story. Many of his poems expressed his warm patriotism. We now have more than 500 of his poems.

The first book introducing countries in Europe in China was “海国图志,Introduction to Countries on the Sea”. The author was Wei Yuan (魏源,1794-1857), a poet. There are now more than 900 of his poems available. His poems revealed the acute social conflicts and evils, expressed his lofty patriotism and his love of mountains and rivers. His poetry in general is of a vigorous style.

Zhang Weiping (张维屛,1780-1859) was remarkable in his poems which recorded the resistance against British aggression. His poems included new things like steam ships and the map of the world. Now, let me quote a few lines from his long poem “三元里,The San Yuan Lane”:

三元里前声若雷,      San yuan li qian sheng ruo lei,
千众万众同时来。      Qian zhong wan zhong tong shi lai.
因义生愤愤生勇,      Yin yi sheng fen fen sheng yong,
乡民合力强徒摧。      Xiang min he li qiang tu cui.
家室田庐须保卫,      Jia shi tian lu xu bao wei,
不待鼓声众作气;      Bu dai gu sheng zhong zuo qi;
妇女齐心亦健儿,      Fu nu qi xin yi jian er,
犁锄在手皆兵器。      Li chu zai shou jie bing qi.
乡分远近旗斑斓,      Xiang fen yuan jin qi ban lan,
什队百队沿溪山。      Shi dui bai dui yan xi shan.
众夷相视忽变色,      Zhong yi xiang shi hu bian se,
黑旗死仗难生还。      Hei qi si zhang nan sheng huan.
夷兵所持惟枪炮,      Yi bing suo chi wei qiang pao,
人心合处天心到,      Ren xin he chu tian xin dao,
晴空骤雨忽倾盆,      Qing kong zhou yu hu qing pen,
凶夷无所施其暴!      Xiong yi wu suo shi qi bao!

Picture books describing the San Yuanli Struggle

Before the Sanyuan Lane shouting was like a thunder,
Thousand and ten thousand people came together.
Sense of justice made them indignant and courageous,
Villagers joined their efforts to destroy the powerful ruffians.
Houses and fields had to be safeguarded,
No need to beat drums they all pressed on;
When women were of one mind they were vigorous,
Plough and hoe were their weapons.
Banners from various villages were multicolored,
Team upon team came along the mountain foot.
Seeing this the faces of British soldiers changed color,
They knew they couldn’t return alive.
What they relied on were guns and cannons,
When people were of one heart the will of heaven arrived,
On that clear day a downpour suddenly came,
Foreign soldiers were not able to act atrociously!

This poem authentically expressed the indignation against British invasion and the patriotic spirit of the people of the Sanyuan Lane. Their anti-imperialist struggle should always be remembered.

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement broke out in 1850, it was what Marx called the prelude to the Chinese democratic revolution on the eve of social reform. Being the largest farmers’ uprising in China, the movement spread to and occupied large areas for more than 10 years. Even though it ended in failure, the influence it left behind was most extensive. The leaders of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom did write some poetry, yet regretfully, most of them were lost. The following “白龙洞题壁诗,Bai Long Dong Ti Bi Shi, A Poem Inscribed on the Wall of the White Dragon Cave” was written by one of the leader of the uprising Shi Dakai (石达开):

挺身登峻岭,            Ting shen deng jun ling,
举目照遥空。            Ju mu zhao yao kong.
毁佛崇天帝,            Hui fo chong tian di,
移民复古风。            Yi min fu gu feng.
临军称将勇,            Lin jun cheng jiang yong,
玩洞羡诗雄。            Wan dong xian shi xiong.
剑气冲星斗,            Jian qi chong xing dou,
文光射日虹。            Wen guang she ri hong.

I straightened up my back to climb the high mountain,
And look far into the limitless sky.
To worship the Heavenly Emperor Buddha images were destroyed,
People would be resettled and old customs would apply.
In commanding the army I praise courageous generals,
In appreciating caves the giants of poetry were those I admire.
The brilliance of my writing could brighten up the rainbow,
The ray of my sword could dash into the star-studded sky.

This poem was carved on the stone wall at Yishan County, Guangxi Province. It is still there today. One could feel the courageous and fearless feelings of a revolutionary.

Since the 60s of the 19th century, Chinese capitalism developed in a gradual manner; it couldn’t grow at a faster pace owing to the oppression of foreign capitalism and feudalism. Intensely unsatisfied with the reality as the newly rising industrialists, merchants and intellectuals with democratic thinking were, limited by social conditions and their class background, they could only put forward some weak reformist propositions. However, they did criticize the old society with bourgeois democratic thinking and demanded changes in both politics and society. Democratic thinking was strongly voiced especially after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. This was reflected in the creation of poetry as well. The leaders of the Reform Movement of 1898 Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and Tan Sitong wrote many poems. Tan Sitong and Xia Zengyou advocated the “Revolution in the Poetry Circle”. Their poetry was clearly colored with literature reformism. Let us now read Kang Youwei’s “Qi Lu”—“Reading the Newspaper”:

迷途大漠我心忧,        Mi tu da mo wo xin you,
虎豹交横弱肉求,        Hu bao jiao heng ruo rou qiu,
无褐无衣何足岁,        Wu he wu yi he zu sui,
将风将雨只悲秋。        Jiang feng jiang yu zhi bei qiu.
高邱回马哀无女,        Gao qiu hui ma ai wu nu,
沧海横流叹乏舟。        Cang hai heng liu tan fa zhou.
天地无情可终古,        Tian di wu qing ke zhong gu,
国家多难独登楼。        Guo jia duo nan du deng lou.
A Portrait of Kang You wei

Getting lost in the desert weighed me down in the sorrow,
Tigers and leopards applied the law of the jungle,
How could a year be spent without any clothing?
Wind and rain could only add to the fall bewail.
Gaoqiu was sad when looked back and found no girls follow,
Before the surging blue sea I sighed for lack of boats.
Though the sky and earth had no feelings they are still eternal,
I could only climb up the building when the country was in deep trouble.

This poem certainly expressed his patriotism and his worries about the state. The “Gaoqiu” line was borrowed from 《The Songs of Chu》. This line and the next say that there was no capable man and way to save the country. I would like to quote one of Liang Qichao’s poems “读陆放翁集, Du Lu Fang Weng Ji, Reading Loose Man Lu”:
A photo of Liang Qichao

辜负胸中十万兵,     Gu fu xiong zhong shi wan bing,
百无聊赖以诗鸣。     Bai wu liao lai yi shi ming.
谁怜爱国千行泪,     Shui lian ai guo qian hang lei,
说到胡尘意不平。     Shuo dao hu chen yi bu ping.

Your superb military skills had no chance to be applied,
To overcome with boredom poetry became your outcry.
Who felt pity for your thousand lines of patriotic tears?
Whenever invaders were mentioned you felt unjustified.

“Loose Man” was a nick name of Lu You. Among ancient poets, Liang admired Lu You most. In one of his poems he said, “from time immemorial to the present, the Loose Man is really a man.” Liang wrote a book, entitled “饮冰室诗话,Yin Bing Shi Shi Hua, Talks on Poetry in the Room of Cold Drinks”, to comment on the poets of late Qing. Liang said in the book, “Some people in our party recently were interested in the revolution in the poetry circle. But if one regards piling up of new terms as revolution, such a revolution would be identical to the reform of the Manchuria Qing government. But if new conception could be contained in old styles, that would be something truly revolutionary.” The author was mainly commenting on Xia Zengyou and Tan Sitong (1865-1898). We can virtually find no poems written by Xia. But Tan left some 200 poems to us. Tan did use some new terms in his poetry, for instance “喀私德”in Chinese for the word “caste”, “巴力门” in Chinese for the word “parliament”. But his artistic attainment in poetry was much higher. He was more radical in thinking, his book “Studies of Benevolence” warmly disseminated democracy and science and fiercely castigated the feudal monarchy system. Tan was a courageous man and took part in the Reform Movement, yet the Empress Dowager Ci Xi staged a coup and the Emperor was put into house arrest, and the Reform failed. Tan refused to run away, he said, “In the reform for the people in the last 200 years, no body has shed blood. Please begin with Tan Sitong in shedding blood!” He was then arrested and beheaded by the Qing rulers. Let us now read his “Qi Lu”—“除夕感怀,Chu Xi Gan Huai, Feeling Excited on the Eve of the Spring Festival”:

 A photo of Tan Sitong
年华世事两迷离,     Nian hua shi shi liang mi li,
敢道中原鹿死谁!     Gan dao zhong yuan lu si shui!
自向冰天炼奇骨,     Zi xiang bing tian lian qi gu,
暂教佳句属通眉。     Zan jiao jia ju shu tong mei.
无端歌哭因长夜,     Wu duan ge ku yin chang ye,
婪尾阴阳剩此时。     Lan wei yin yang sheng ci shi.
有约闻鸡同起舞,     You yue wen ji tong qi wu,
镫前转恨漏声迟!      Deng qian zhuan hen luo sheng chi!

Neither my life nor social affairs take a clear shape,
We don’t know in whose hands the deer would die!
I should fortify my bones in the icy coldness,
Let beautiful lines belong to Tongmei temporarily.
I wept when singing because the night is too long,
At the end of the year only so little time is left.
We agreed to rise and dance at the cock’s crow,
Yet when stepping into the stirrups we regret the slowness of the hourglass!

“In whose hands the deer would die?” was asking who was going to control the state political power. Tongmei is the Tang poet Li He. Tan was saying he would give up composing poems for the time being. General Zudi of Jin Dynasty used to rise and dance (doing exercise) at cock’s crow. This poem speaks in a deep tone his patriotism and ideal. The style is vigorous and powerful.

Liang Qichao said in “Talks on Poetry in the Room of Cold Drinks”: “ Huang Gongdu is the one among contemporary poets who could cast new ideas in old styles.” The highest possible achievement the new school poetry could obtain before the forms of old poetry were thoroughly broken, was to contain some democratic thinking without destroying the expression and the artistic appeal of old poetry. In this sense, Huang Zunxian is a representative poet of the period of Chinese old democratic revolution. His poetry is rich in patriotic and anti-imperialist spirit and very high in artistic attainment. His poetry had a great influence at the time. His brother said, “Many people wanted to obtain his poems, they thought their life would be spent in vain without reading his poems and knowing the person.”

Huang Zunxian (黄尊宪) was born into a rich merchant’s family in Guangdong, Gongdu was his another name. He was the earliest who acquired some democratic thinking. He strongly opposed the imperial examination system when he was young, he said in his poem “A Random Thought”:

吁嗟制艺兴,          Xu jue zhi yi xing,
今亦五百载,          Jin yi wu bai zai,
世儒习其然,          Shi ru xi qi ran,
老死不知悔。          Lao si bu zhi hui.
…                     …
英雄尽入彀,          Ying xiong jin ru gou,
帝王心始快。          Di wang xin shi kuai.

Ever since the way of writing an 8-part essay started,
It has been five hundred years.
All scholars in the society have so accustomed to it,
They don’t regret doing it till their death.

When all the heroes have fallen into the trap,
The emperor would then be happy.

To enter into the imperial civil service, one had to pass the examination of writing the eight-part essay. Such way of literary composition was rigid in form and often poor in ideas. Some scholars tried a dozen times and failed; yet they still wanted to try. Huang thought this was a way of the imperial rulers to confine the thinking of scholars, so he castigated on that system. In a poem he wrote in 1875, he observed that the imperialists “asked where the tripod of Zhou was this year; next year, they would ask for the Jade of Zhao. They have been exerting themselves to threaten and bluff.” During the Spring and Autumn period, the Kingdom of Chu asked the Zhou Dynasty where its nine tripods, symbols of their state power, were. To ask where the tripod is, in the context of Chinese culture, means aggression; during the Warring States Period, the King of Qin told Zhao Kingdom if Zhao agreed to cede territory he would return the piece of jade intact to Zhao, so, to “ask Zhao for a piece of jade” means asking for concessions. Huang was indignant, he said he would like to be a soldier to wipe out foreign bandits. He went to Japan in October 1877 and took the post of Counselor in the Chinese Embassy there. In Japan he was exposed to western bourgeois thinking, he said, “After reading the theory of Rousseau and Montesquieu, my mind was changed. I realized that a peaceful world lies in democracy.” Huang was warmly welcome by Sinologists in Japan. His “Poems on Straying Thoughts in Japan” was appraised by the Sinologists; one of them buried the original manuscripts at his home. Five years later, Huang was appointed Consul General in San Francisco where he actively protected the just rights and interests of overseas Chinese when the U.S. was repelling Chinese workers. He wrote in his long poem “逐客篇,Zhu Ke Pian, Ordering for Guests to Leave”:

但是黄面人,          Dan shi huang mian ren,
无罪亦篣掠!          Wu zui yi peng lue!
。。。。。。                …
倒倾四海水,          Dao qing si hai shui,
此耻难洗濯!          Ci chi nan xi zhuo!
A photo of Huang Zunxian

Anyone with a yellow face,
Was caned even if the person is not guilty!

To pour out all the water from four seas,
Such shame could not be washed away!

Huang was appointed a counselor at the Embassy in UK in 1884. From 1895-1898, he took an active part in the reform movement. When the movement failed, Huang was about to be arrested, because of the intervention of the British Consul-General in Shanghai and the Japanese Minister in China, Huang was allowed by the Qing government to resign his post and return to his hometown.

There are almost 1,000 of Huang’s poems available. The first important content of his poetry is anti-imperialist aggression. He praised patriotic generals, for instance, “Song of General Feng” sings praises of the 70 year old General Feng Zicai who won the battle at Liangshan against French troops. In “哭威海,Crying for the Loss of Wei Hai”, the poet was both furious and grieved. He used only three characters in each line; the short syllables make you feel that the poet is choking with sobs:

噫吁戏! 海陆军!      Yi xu xi!  Hai lu jun!
人力合, 我力分。      Ren li he, wo li fen.
如蠖屈, 不得伸。      Ru huo qu, bu de shen.
。。。。。。                …
四援绝, 莫能救;      Si yuan jue, mo neng jiu;
即能救, 谁死守?      Ji neng jiu, shui si shou?
炮未毁, 人之咎。      Pao wei hui, ren zhi jiu.
船幸存, 付谁某?      Chuan xing cun, fu shui mou?
十重甲, 颜何厚?      Shi chong jia, yan he hou?

Yi xu xi! Navy and army!
Others joined efforts, Our efforts were divided.
Like an inchworm, couldn’t straighten itself up.

No hope of reinforcement, the forces couldn’t be saved;
Even if they were saved, who was going to fight to the last ditch?
The cannons were intact; this was the army’s fault.
The ships were spared, to whom should they be given?
There were ten decks, were their faces so thick?

His “台湾行,Song of Taiwan”, which sings praises of the people in Taiwan in their resistance against Japanese, is very famous. He wrote 24 poems under the title “出军歌,Song of the Army”. If you put together the last character of every poem, they read, “鼓舞同行, 敢战必胜,死战向前,纵横莫抗,旋师定约,张我国权.” In English it means, “March on encouraged by drums, dare to fight and win, forge on and fight to the last ditch, sweep through the length and breadth of the lost land and no one can resist. When return triumphantly an agreement can be signed to safeguard our sovereignty.” When Liang Qichao commented on these poems, he said, “Anyone who does not rise and dance after reading these poems is not a man.” Another important content of Huang’s poems is his criticism on feudal diehards, feudal culture and his wishes of reforming and developing China. Because of his experience in the diplomatic service, some of his poems also wrote about foreign countries. Huang was good at describing scenes and creating vivid images. He applied some prose writing skills in composing poetry. His styles vary; there are storms as well as pleasant breezes in his poems. Some of his poems are heavy and some are humorous. He was bold in blazing new trails. He insisted that a poet should “我手写我口—my hand writes about what my mouth hums”. He spent 40 years in practicing his propositions on poetry of the “new school”.

After Huang, there were poets like Lin Shu, Ma Junwu, Liu Yazi (who organized a Southern Poetry Society) and Su Manshu (who translated the poems of George Byron and Percy Shelley into old Chinese forms) were quite active in the “new school”. But none of them was very influential. Around the time of the 1911 Revolution, the“Revolution in the Poetry Circle” was defeated by the feudal culture. But from reading the poetry of the new school, we could still feel a profound patriotic sentiment, the struggle of the Chinese people for China’s progress and resisting foreign aggression.

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