Zhiyi Yang - Junior Professor, Department of Sinology, Goethe University of Frankfurt
Poetry and history tell two, sometimes rivaling, truths. Poetry claims to reveal the existential, moral truth of the private person, which could either enrich or contradict that individual’s public image and historical agency. In the latter case, which version is true, or truer? This question is especially challenging in reading the poetry of Wang Zhaoming (1883-1944), better known by his penname Jingwei, a KMT political figure who many polar opposite historical roles, first a martyr and last a Japan collaborator and traitor of the nation. In contrast, his lofty poetic persona underwent little change throughout his life, supporting seemingly a revisionist historiography. This paper proposes to temporarily suspend moral judgment, negative or positive. I will first discuss the changing functions that Wang’s poetry had played on the different stages of his political career, sometimes for the agenda of his own, sometimes for that of others who actively preserved, published, circulated, and translated his poetry. Thereafter I will discuss Wang’s various self-images: a martyr, a Man in Nature, and an agent of history. Every role entails an alternative understanding of human life and his cultural identity. As I mainly focus on Wang as a classical poet and nationalist intellectual (instead of a politician), I will also discuss how he had participated in the controversy between new (in a modern written vernacular) and old (in the classical literary language) literature in his time. His vision of building a modern nationalist literature, especially poetry, in succession of the classical tradition remains relevant to date. Only at the very end, I will come back to the question: what does Wang Zhaoming as a classical poet tell us about his engagement in history?
Zhiyi Yang is a junior professor of Sinology at Goethe University of Frankfurt. She received her PhD degree from Princeton University in 2012 and is specialized in classical Chinese poetry and aesthetics. Having completed a dissertation on Su Shi (1037-101), she is currently working on classical poetry writing in the Republican Era.