Theses Doctoral

Classical Poetics in Modern China

Estep, Chloe

The question of the relationship between modernity and poetic classicism has typically been investigated through the lens of classical-style poetry, which is to say, by examining poetry written in the modern period which adheres to existing poetic forms and eschews the European influences and free-verse style of New Poetry (xin shi). But as premodern poetry existed within a classical media ecology alongside calligraphy and painting, to understand the ways conventional poetry confronted modernity, this dissertation argues, we must also understand the way this media ecology was transformed, as well as how this constellation of modes shifted from a literati practice during imperial China to a modern, even revolutionary practice in the twentieth century. I argue that changing conceptions of the zi, or character, were central to this transformation, and to the production of poetic classicism in the modern period. I understand the zi as a material, visual, and theoretical site at which the temporal, political, and aesthetic properties of poetry are articulated, a site which transgresses the boundaries between calligraphic inscription, pictorial representation, and poetic utterance.

Covering a wide variety of media, including underground literary journals, political cartoons, paintings, typography, and theatre, this study investigates the ways changing conceptions of the zi allowed writers, artists, poets, and politicians to adapt classical poetics to contemporary political concerns. At stake is more than an expanded--or even revisionist--history of twentieth-century Chinese poetry. Rather, by tracing processes of canon formation, dissolution, and rearticulation in a way that reveals the role of literature in crafting political sentiment, this project shows how so-called traditional culture has been leveraged in support—and critique—of Chinese nationalism today.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Liu, Lydia H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 29, 2021