What this website is about.

This website is conceived as a translation platform for long ignored literary pieces of the early 1910s. Its main purpose is to provide China focused scholars and students with a representative selection of famous literary works of that time, which covers the end of the Qing empire and the first years of the Republican era. Most of the pieces translated here were written in Classical Chinese, usually in the elite form of pianwen 駢文 (paralleled prose), and serialized in political newspapers such as People’s Rights (Minquanbao 民權報, 1912-1914). After being harshly criticized by May Fourth intellectuals, these writters became practically unknown, and numerous short stories, novels and other small pieces (xiaopin 小品) of pre May Fourth era failed to attract scholarly attention, though extremely inspiring and erudite works flourished between the 1990s and the 2000s. The vast majority of them were written by both US and Chinese scholars such as Rey Chow, Haiyan Lee, Eugenia Lean, Christopher Rea, Theodore Huters, Michel Hockx, Fan Boqun 范伯群, Chen Jianhua 陳建華, Yuan Jin 袁進 or Liu Na 劉納. Published a decade before, Perry Link’s famous Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies: Popular Fiction in Early Twentieth-century Chinese Cities (1981) and Milena Doleželová-Velingerová’s The Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century (1980) were of course seminal books. However, in other publications, when these pieces are mentioned or even studied, one can hardly read more than one or two paragraphs of their original content.This is precisely the main challenge undertaken by this platform: making major productions of the first years of the Republican era accessible to both specialized and general audience.

The so called “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” writers (Yuanyanghudie pai  鴛鴦蝴蝶派) was the most prominent literary group of these years, though this vague cluster requires a more thorough investigation. For practical reasons, I choose to focus here on what I suggest to label as early Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies (1912-1918), which, I hope, would prevent any misunderstandings and keep the selection presented coherent. This group, contrary to others novelists and writers often conveniently gathered under the deceptive label “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies”, manifested and claimed a sense of unity. Acting as leading figures of this group, Xu Zhenya 徐枕亞 (1889-1937), Wu Shuangre 吳雙熱 (1885-1934), Xu Tianxiao 徐天嘯 (1886-1941), Li Dingyi 李定夷 (1890-1963) and Liu Tieleng 劉鐵冷 (1881-1961) were well known during their days. Xu Zhenya’s bestseller, Yulihun or The Jade Pear’s Spirit, is reported to be one of the – if not the – most printed book of the Republican era. All the texts translated here are extracted from newspapers, magazines and journals they contributed to or founded, namely:

  1. People’s Rights or Democracy (Minquanbao 民權報), from 1912 to 1914: based in Shanghai and run by Zhou Shaoheng 周少衡 alias Zhou Hao 周浩, it was the first stronghold of the early Butterflies writers, affiliated to Tongmenghui then Kuomintang. It is, along with the Celestial Bell (Tianduobao 天鐸報) and the People’s Report of China (Zhonghuaminbao 中華民報), the fiercest opponent to Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 (1859-1916) during the first years of the Republic. These newspapers are of critical importance to fully understand the multidimensional work of Butterflies writers, who were, during that time, first and foremost political journalists. The literary supplement of People’s Rights, although far from being the oldest in the history Chinese media, greatly renovated the existing frameworks by enriching its content and raising it to a more political dimension.
  2. Elements of People’s Rights (Minquansu 民權素), from 1914 to 1917: started after the demise of People’s Rights, forcefully shut down by Yuan Shikai in January 1914. Although a literary magazine of serial novels and short stories, it struggled to keep on fighting Yuan’s power through humoristic xiaopin and poems.
  3. The Grove of Novels (Xiaoshuo congbao 小說叢報), from 1914, 1919: viewed – usually in a dismissive way – as the other stronghold of Butterflies writers, it published many short stories composed in parallel prose, and continued, even after the shutdown of People’s Rights, to tackle contemporary issues. It serialized a fairly high number of war related texts.

More analytical posts and bibliographies will follow.