The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

By Shu-Mei Shih | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Libidinal and the National
The Morality of Decadence in
Yu Dafu, Teng Gu, and Others

Now I can understand the meaning of the word death. Death is pleasurable, death is grand. Justice for the oppressed lies in the word death. When I die, I return this entirely unfree soul to its original state of freedom.

GU ZONGQI (1923)

Life is but the crystalization of sadness and bitterness. I do not believe that happiness exists. People accuse me of being a decadent, a hedonist, but they do not know the reasons behind my pursuit of wine and sex. Ah, waking up from deep drinking on a clear night, looking at the money-bought body sleeping near my chest, my melancholy and my laments are many times deeper and more painful than those of the selfappointed moralists.

YU DAFU (1923)

I wanted to make another confession before dying of starvation and repeating Goethe's dying words: “Mehr Licht! … Mehr Licht!”

YU DAFU (1931)

In 1923, Yu Dafu (1896–1945) wrote approvingly of the phenomenon of premature death among British decadent writers as a symbol of their thorough rebellion against a civilization built upon notions of conventional morality. He noted that the decadent illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898) was consumed by tuberculosis at age twenty-six; Ernest Dowson (1867–1900) died of alcohol abuse at thirty-three; and John Davidson (1857–1909) committed suicide.1 Little did he realize at the time that several Chinese writers who embraced the decadent style in writing, sometimes

____________________
1
“Writers Gathered around The Yellow Book” (Jizhong yu Huangmianzhi de renwu), in Collected Writings of Yu Dafu (Yu Dafu wenji) (Hong Kong: Sanlian shudian, 1983), 5:169–188.

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