Literary historians on mainland China have divided modern Chinese literature into three basic periods: the jindai or “recent [historical] period” (1840–1919), which begins with the First Opium War (1839–1841) and ends with the May Fourth Movement of 1919; the xiandai or “modern period” (1919–1949), beginning with or slightly before the May Fourth and running up until the Communist military victory in the civil war against the Nationalists in 1949; and the literature of the dangdai or “contemporary period” (1949-present).
Western scholars, as well as their colleagues on Taiwan and in Hong Kong, have tended to view traditional Chinese literature as petering to a halt sometime in the early twentieth century and being finished off at the end of its internal “decline” by the iconoclastic May Fourth Movement, which marked the beginning of the “modern” period. One obvious problem with both these schemata, aside from the heavy element of coincidence, is that they focus on surface political events, ignoring the more subtle literary developments which were already in progress before (and after) the cut-off dates. Recently Western scholars such as the Czech scholar Milena Doleželová-Velingerova, the American Theodore Huters, David Der-wei Wang from Taiwan, and others have begun to reexamine the late Qing novel and have found it to be less “traditional” than had been previously concluded. With this inquiry I have proposed that much the same may be true for poetry in the traditional styles over roughly the same period, and perhaps even earlier. The renewed interest of Chinese scholars such as Qian Zhonglian, Huang Lin, Ma Yazhong, and Wang Xingkang in poetry of this period tends, in itself, to confirm this hypothesis, although they stop short, possibly for political or historical reasons, of confirming these conclusions. Nevertheless, as Stephen Owen has observed:
When we read a Ch’ing poet writing of Ch’ang-an in certain