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Chinese poets around the world at the beginning of the 20th century

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Organizer: Giusi Tamburello

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In contemporary China new trends in literature are often presented as a radical change if compared to tradition. For poetry, when “misty” poems appeared during the Cultural Revolution, the idea was that those poems had never been seen before. The difficulty to frame them was also why Chinese literary critics labelled them as “misty”. These poems though appear to preserve a continuity with Chinese poetry of the past. Duo Duo (b. 1951), among the most important innovators of contemporary Chinese poetry and a “misty poet” himself, admits the influence received by the translations of Baudelaire’s poems made by Chen Jingrong (1917-1989) in the Fifties. Chen was a poet herself and a member of the influential “Nine leaves” group. It seems imaginable that today’s Chinese poetry has links not only with Chinese poetry of the past, but also with foreign poetry. About this last component, Chinese poets of the beginning of the 20th century come to mind: many of them borrowed from their reading poetry in foreign languages and from their translations into Chinese when, through the May 4th in 1919, China went through a deep process of cultural modernization. Many of the most engaged Chinese intellectuals of the time had been abroad: to Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the USA. The exciting atmosphere in China around the May 4th made many young people willing to confront themselves with other realities and they went abroad where they experienced a foreign culture. The panel focuses on those Chinese poets who at the beginning of the 20th century went abroad, and special attention is given to what they have learnt while living and studying abroad, and to those elements of the foreign culture that later, back to China, might have influenced their poetry. American imagism has influenced the young Chinese poets who have been to the USA, but also the philosophical approach of Dewey’s pragmatism. While abroad or once they returned to China, Chinese poets’ production shows elements derived from the West. In a short writing by Dai Wangshu which title is 《诗论零札》 (Fragments on Poetics), the way he describes how poetry should be written suggests the influence of Western ideas. He studied in France just like Hu Shi studied in the USA, but there are also other poets who studied in other countries. Aim of the panel is to draw a clearer picture of the interaction between the “foreign” cultural environment and the development of the poetic experience of the young Chinese poets who went abroad at the beginning of the 20th century, to give a further depiction of the elements that have entered this interaction, and to try to understand to which extent.

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