Self-Fashioning and Reflexive Modernity in Modern Chinese Poetry, 1919-1949

Author: Mi, Jiayan
This study explores diverse modes of self-fashioning in the discursive formation of Chinese modernity between 1919 and 1949 in modern Chinese poetry. By focusing on four representative poets of modern Chinese poetry before 1949—Guo Moruo, Li Jinfa, Dai Wangshu, and Mu Dan, the study offers fresh, insightful analysis of the dynamic trajectory of the historical complexity of fashioning a new modern self-subjectivity with relation to the nation-state. Theoretically informed by the varied perspectives of modernity, the self, the body, and memory, the author for the first time reveals how the corporeal body emerges as a site of agency, trauma, and libidinal investment for engaging with the configuration of a multi-layered self, gender, and nationhood in modern China. This work will make several significant contributions to enhancing readers’ understanding of the cultural and psychological complexity of modern China. This work will be of interest to teachers, students and scholars of modern Chinese literature and culture as well as comparative literature.


“Not many books have been published in English that focus on modern Chinese poetry, and the published ones offer long-range surveys and histories of poets and poetic works. This book clearly stands out for its sharply focused argument. It breaks ground in several aspects: in its account of aesthetic modernity, in its nuanced exploration of the body as a poetic energizing force, in its analysis of a modern self in the making, and in its examination of the contexts for the rise of modern poetry in twentieth century China. The working premise of this book is refreshing and original … Professor Mi judiciously presents many samples of poems in the original Chinese language accompanied by English translation. He offers close analysis and perceptive comments. These close readings, with apt references to poems by Western writers and poets, will help students and teachers when they come to study Chinese poetry … Through a comparative perspective, the author highlights Western philosophers and poets as inspirations for Chinese poets’ endeavor for self-fashioning. Guo Morou draws inspirations from the notions of bodily life-force from Whitman, Nietzsche and Bergson. Lin Jinfa and Dai Wangshu had echoes of French symbolist poets. The poetic self-fashioning is a cross-cultural project that attempted to forge a national identity in the clash and links between the modern West and Chinese culture … Professor Mi is able to blend theories of literature, psychology, and modernity into this cogent account of Chinese poetry. These theories illuminate the social and psychic contexts from which the new poetic forms arose. This book offers a compelling argument about the self-fashioning in modern Chinese poetry and a fascinating narrative of certain strains of modern poetic sensibility. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of modern China and its poetic minds.” – Professor Ban Wang, Rutgers University

Table of Contents

The body Poetic: Toward a Compositional Self and National Identity
1. The Dialectic of Progressive Body: Self, Cosmos, and National Identity in Guo Moruo’s The Goddess
2. The Decadent Body: Toward a Negative Ethics of Mourning in Li Jinfa
3. The Narcissistic Body: Mnemonic Auras and Fragments of Modernity in Dai Wangshu
Conclusion: Self-fashioning, Modernity and the Will to Maturity