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Modern Archaics

Modern Archaics

Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900–1937

Shengqing Wu

ISBN 9780674726673

Publication date: 01/20/2014

After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the rise of a vernacular language movement, most scholars and writers declared the classical Chinese poetic tradition to be dead. But how could a longstanding high poetic form simply grind to a halt, even in the face of tumultuous social change? In this groundbreaking book, Shengqing Wu explores the transformation of Chinese classical-style poetry in the early twentieth century. Drawing on extensive archival research into the poetry collections and literary journals of two generations of poets and critics, Wu discusses the continuing significance of the classical form with its densely allusive and intricately wrought style. She combines close readings of poems with a depiction of the cultural practices their authors participated in, including poetry gatherings, the use of mass media, international travel, and translation, to show how the lyrical tradition was a dynamic force fully capable of engaging with modernity. By examining the works and activities of previously neglected poets who maintained their commitment to traditional aesthetic ideals, Modern Archaics illuminates the splendor of Chinese lyricism and highlights the mutually transformative power of the modern and the archaic.


  • A broad reassessment of the place of classical poetry in early twentieth-century China. Shengqing Wu shows how the old lyrical forms were turned to new purposes to help negotiate China’s emergent modernity. This is a story about modern Chinese literature that has not been told before.

    —Ronald Egan, Stanford University


  • Shengqing Wu is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Wesleyan University.

Book Details

  • 456 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center