Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

MODERN POETRY MOVEMENT IN TAIWAN. In the decade from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Taiwan saw the emergence of four major poetry societies that played significant roles at different junctures of the modern poetry movement: the Modernists, the Blue Stars led by Tan Zihao, Yu Guangzhong, and others; the Creationists, represented by Zhang Mo, Luo Fu, and Ya Xian; and the Regionalists, also called Li (Bamboo Hats). The modernist movement was spearheaded by Ji Xian, who founded Xiandai shi (Modern Poetry) in 1953. Three years later, the Modernist Society (Xiandai pai) was formally established, drawing a membership of more than a hundred poets. In their mission statement, the Modernists proclaimed their avant-garde position, emphasizing “horizontal transplantation” (learning directly from Western literature) rather than vertical transmission (inheriting from Chinese traditions), and the discovery of new content, form, tools and methods. They advocated wholesale Westernization and looked for inspiration in Western poetry since Charles Baudelaire. The modernist movement could be regarded as a continuation of the cause pursued by Dai Wangshu and his colleagues, including Ji Xian, two decades earlier in Shanghai. The radical departure from Chinese tradition, along with the exclusive emphasis on intellect rather than emotions, made the Modernists easy targets for criticism. In 1959, Ji Xian left the Modernist Society and the journal he founded, Xiandai shi, was closed down in 1964, ending a decade of its influence in Taiwan’s poetry movement.

Another group, the Blue Stars Society, was founded in 1954 and disbanded in 1964. In the course of 10 years, it attracted many promising poets and published several dozen poetry collections. Less radical than the Modernists, the Blue Stars were apposed to indiscriminate adoption of Western traditions, choosing instead to emphasize the creation of “pure poetry” based on personal perceptions of life. While the Blue Stars also adopted Western modernist techniques, they perceived poetry as the expression of the individual self in concert with national spirit and cultural heritage.

The third influential poetry society was the Creationists, most of its members coming from the military in southern Taiwan. The society was established in 1954 and its journal, Chuang shiji (Creationists), was founded in October of the same year. Intended as a correction to the Modernists, the Creationists rejected absolute “intellectualism” or absolute “emotionalism” in favor of imageries and symbols. In the late 1950s, when the influence of the other two societies began to wane, the Creationists abandoned their earlier positions and opted for “surrealism” in an attempt to move poetry from relying on reason and rationality to a focus on aesthetics. In 1969, financial difficulties forced them to close down Chuang shiji, which would be revived in 1972 with a renewed emphasis on tradition and reality.

While the above three societies were more or less drawn to the idea of pure poetry, the few regionalist groups, most prominently Li, the Bamboo Hats, tried to call attention to the social realities of Taiwan. The emergence of the Bamboo Hats marked the rising of a unique Taiwanese consciousness and identity. Its bimonthly, Li, from which the name for the group was derived, was one of the most influential poetry publications in Taiwan during the time. With its emphasis on Taiwan’s history, geography, and reality, the journal published poems that contained social messages, regional flavor, and colloquial language. Other prominent members include Lin Hengtai, Fei Ma, Du Guoqing, Huang Hesheng, and Zheng Chouyu.