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Knowledge Is Pleasure

Florence Ayscough in Shanghai

Lindsay Shen

Publication Year: 2012

Florence Ayscough -- poet, translator, Sinologist, Shanghailander, “sensual realist”, avid collector, pioneering photographer and early feminist champion of women's rights in China. Ayscough's modernist translations of the classical poets still command respect, her ethnographic studies of the lives of Chinese women still engender feminist critiques over three quarters of a century later and her collections of Chinese ceramics and objets now form an important part of several American museums’ Asian art collections. Raised in Shanghai in an archetypal family in the late nineteenth century, Ayscough was to become anything but a typical foreigner in China. Encouraged by the New England poet Amy Lowell, she became a much sought-after translator in the early years of the new century, not least for her radical interpretations of the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu published by the renowned literary critic Harriet Monroe. She later moved on to record China and particularly Chinese women using the new technology of photography, turn the Royal Asiatic Society's Shanghai library into the best on the China Coast and build several impressive collections featuring jars from the Dowager Empress Ci Xi, Ming and Qing ceramics. By the time of her death, Florence Ayscough left a legacy of collecting and scholarship unrivalled by any other foreign woman in China before or since. In this biography, Lindsay Shen recovers Ayscough for posterity and returns her to us as a woman of amazing intellectual vibrancy and strength.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Series: Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai

Title Page, copyright

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pp. vii

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Acknowledgements Poise

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pp. ix

Firstly, I am grateful to Paul French, editor of the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai, Hong Kong University Press China Monograph series for his enthusiasm and kindness, and commitment to the pleasure of reading. I am grateful...

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pp. 1-6

Winter sunlight glances off the polished fenders of the ‘Blue Tiger’, parked outside ‘the Grass Hut’—a seemingly traditional and prosperously un-hut-like Chinese courtyard house (Figure 1). A smartly dressed...

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1. Shanghailanders

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pp. 7-44

In the mid-1930s the American artist Eva Dunlap painted a map of Shanghai, showing the way to her friend Florence Ayscough’s home, the Grass Hut, at 72 Penang Road (now Anyuan Road) (Figure 2). On her map Dunlap called the house...

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2. Images

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pp. 45-74

There are many reasons for learning, or not learning, a foreign language; Florence Ayscough may be the only Westerner who learnt Chinese out of politeness. Most Shanghailanders didn’t speak any Chinese. From their perspective, there was no necessity. Their household staff spoke pidgin, and compradors...

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3. Words

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pp. 75-86

In the twenty years since Ayscough and Lowell had been young women together in Boston, Lowell had been forging her own successful path as a poet and by 1917 had published three poetry collections. One of these, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914) had been a critically acclaimed bestseller that catapulted...

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4. Gardens and the Grass Hut

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pp. 87-112

On 11 February 1922 Florence Ayscough wrote to tell Amy Lowell that she and Francis had come to ‘a very momentous decision, which is this. Frank will retire from the firm at the end of this year. We shall sell this...

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5. After China

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pp. 113-138

In April 1923 the Ayscoughs sailed away from Shanghai, arriving in St. Andrews, New Brunswick in May. They intended to make Topside, the house Thomas Wheelock had built in 1897, their permanent home. They brought with them...

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pp. 139-142

Florence Ayscough wrote long illustrated essays about two places in Shanghai. One was her home at Penang Road; the other was one of her ‘favourite haunts’. This wasn’t the illustrious Astor House Hotel, or the Country Club in its eleven acres of gracious gardens, or Stehlneek’s Gallery, or the Race...


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pp. 143-154

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 155-158


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pp. 159-162

[Image Plates]

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E-ISBN-13: 9789882208810
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139590

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 21 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: Royal Asiatic Society Shanghai