Chen Yan, Chen Sanli, Zheng
Xiaoxu, and the “Tong-Guang Style”
The figures discussed in this chapter are considered by many authorities to have exerted “the strongest literary influence within the field of orthodox poetry”1 during the years of the late Qing and early Republic. In other words, it has been suggested that they, more than any other group, ought to be perceived as the real center of gravity within the realm of classical poetry during the period on which we are now focused. My purposes in this inquiry are not to attempt to refute these claims but rather to examine the poetic activities of this school within the broader literary context in which it existed.
To begin with, the term “Tong-Guang style” (Tong-Guang ti), like the generalized concept of a “Song school of poetry” or “Song revivalist school” (Song shipai) existing in the late Qing has always been at least somewhat misleading. Ostensibly, the name “Tong-Guang” is designed to inform the reader that such a group of poets flourished during the Tongzhi (1862–1874) and Guangxu
1 The unlikely source of this statement is the Great Leap Forward-era compilation by the Department of Chinese at Peking University under the title Zhongguo wenxue shi (History of Chinese literature), 5 vols. (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1959), 4:276. Kurata Sadayosru’ seems to agree, beginning his study with the “Song school” in the lead position. Much of what Qian Jibo wrote in the 1930s also confirms this assessment: see his Xiandai Zhongguo wenxue shi (History of modern Chinese literature) (reprint, Changsha: Yue-Lu shushe, 1986), pp. 235–275, esp. p. 236, 264, 268, where he adopts Chen Yan’s views verbatim as his own. More recently Andrew Hsieh, in his entry for the “T’ung-Kuang T’i” in the Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), qualifies this, saying that these poets “represented one of the dominating forces in Chinese poetry for at least three decades before the emergence of modern vernacular poetry in the 1920s” (p. 840). Also see the dissertation by Rhew Hyong Gyu, “Ch’en Yen (1856–1937) and the Theory of T’ung-Kuang Style Poetry” (Princeton University, 1993).