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Poetry, History, Memory: Wang Jingwei and China's Wartime Collaboration

(manuscript accepted by Michigan University Press)


This book investigates the complex of poetry, history, and memory through the case of Wang Jingwei (1883–1944), a poet, politician, and one of the most controversial figures in modern Chinese history. As Sun Yat-sen’s political heir, champion of leftwing democratic centralism, and rival of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD), Wang is now primarily remembered as the chief Chinese collaborator with Japan during WWII. The full story, yet to be told, is much more complicated; his intimate subjectivity, performed through refined classical-style poetry, has inspired scholars like Chia-ying Yeh to pronounce his collaboration as driven by a “martyr complex,” which however is based on another reductionist view that sees the function of poetry as revelation. The purpose of this book is three-fold. First, it sheds light on a historical figure long neglected due to moral and ideological biases. Second, it investigates ways of bringing disparate methodologies into a fruitful dialogue, including a sophisticated exegetical method that allows historians to use poetry while maintaining the latter’s ambiguity and hermeneutical openness. Third, it addresses the problem of justice in mnemonic practices and explores ways of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Since we cannot speak of memory without having a basic consensus on history, part one of this book offers a critical biography of Wang Jingwei. Drawing on archives (in the PRC, Taiwan, Japan, the USA, France, and Germany), memoires, historical journals and newspapers, interviews, and scholarly works, this is the first comprehensive biography of Wang’s in any language. Wang’s poetry, as I argue, played a central role in constructing his political identity and posthumous memory. Given the linear and fluid narrative demanded by a biography, part one may raise but cannot fully address hermeneutical issues such as the question of authenticity in lyric poetry, nor can it offer comprehensive readings of some poems that are intensively allusive or have highly complex discursive contexts.

Part two thus consists of thematic explorations of the “poetics of memory,” primarily investigating poems written by Wang during the period of collaboration and his coded lyric conversations with other elite collaborators. By examining a genre practiced by both Chinese and Japanese elites, I also problematize the nation-state paradigm that dominates the scholarship on cultural production in wartime China.

The Haunted Prosody: Lyric Classicism in Post-Revolutionary China

(manuscript in progress)


The conventional narrative of Chinese literary modernity is dominated by the ideological discourse of revolution, progress, and nation-saving. A hundred years after the 1917 Literary Revolution, this Darwinian historiography has been entrenched in institutions of literary production, publication, dissemination, research, and canonization in China and beyond. Literature following or inspired by classical genres, despite its broad base of writers and readers, is marginalized for its purported anachronism. A rare exception is the Maoist classicism, represented by Mao’s poetry and “new folk songs,” which appropriated formal elements of classical Chinese poetry in the service of revolutionary iconoclasm.

In this monograph, I propose to investigate poetry that harks back to Chinese classical literary traditions from the end of the Cultural Revolution to date, with a focus on contemporary avant-garde classicist poetry written and disseminated in the cyberspace. More than one ghost haunts the house of post-revolutionary poetry in China. Lyric classicism evokes the traumatic memories of the Maoist era and of the “linguistic monstrosity” (Lydia Liu) committed on the Chinese language by colonial modernity. I argue that “new poetry” and “classicist poetry” are mutually-defining genres in the sociology of modern Chinese poetry. The continued dominance of an ideological discourse of literary modernity, however, has decisively elevated one genre as a local candidate for “world literature” while designated the other to an obscure ethnic book shelf—or a local-language URL in the World Wide Web today. The “phantasmic return and mnemonic incantation” (David Wang) of the classical lyric traditions, however, open potential new dimensions to rethink the dynamic dialecticism between avant-gardism and canonicity.


You can reach me:


Email: z.yang[at]


Phone: +49(0)69/798-23288



Sinologie, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Senckenberganlage 31

D-60325 Frankfurt am Main Germany

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