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Introduction Shakespeare’s Ferdinand lamented that all his linguistic learning went to waste on the isle on which he was shipwrecked: “My language? Heavens...I am the best of them that speaks this speech, Were I but where ’tis spoken” (The Tempest, act 1, scene 2). Some sentiment approaching this must have been harbored by the many cultivated Cantonese literati as they strove to win careers as scholar-officials in the foreign linguistic environments of the dynastic capitals of imperial China. For all their credible book learning, they labored under the social disadvantage of being stamped as culturally backward and racially distinct southerners by a refined northern coterie of insiders. Ethnic prejudices and cultural barriers, as much as linguistic handicaps, had to be surmounted by the would-be southern entrant to the world of Chinese officialdom. In spite of all of this, Cantonese literati, especially in the later imperial periods of the Ming and Qing dynasties, produced much scholarship on classical exegesis, bibliography, history, religion, and moral and political philosophy, as well as creative contributions to belles-lettres. In another dimension, the same Cantonese character that fueled the intellect in the world of scholarship was evinced by their common country cousins who contributed much to the opening up of both the American West in the nineteenth century and the closed Chinese society in the early twentieth. This type of character, as manifested in traditional Chinese poetry, is described by Paul W. Kroll as a type of “sharable vitality” through “the force of language.”1 Cantonese poetry, written in the traditional literary language, is expressed through favorite literary images that form what I call the Southern or Cantonese Muse. This muse in turn informs all of the poetry devoted to the Southern Garden Poetry Society, the subject of this book. This Southern Muse, as the voice of the collective verse produced about Guangdong, gradually created what we may call an “epic of Guangdong.” Viewed historically as a set of poems composed by various authors across time and centered on a particular region, such an epic functioned diachronically much like the geographically linked poems in the Shijing did as a more synchronous grouping. It formed, in the words of Pauline Yu, “miniature chronicles of the states from which they were said to originate.”2 Yu suggests that such a regional grouping of poems in the Shijing “comes close to creating the functional equivalent of the epic in the West.”3 Her definition of epic is worth applying to the case of poetry on Guangdong: “An epic is an extended narrative that can provide origins, structure, and meaning to a culture.”4 That we have to formulate such an epic by reading these poems as an entirety does not invalidate the way they function as a grouping; it just makes the process of reading a wide-ranging journey of exploration instead of a convenient perusal of an individual text. We may also view these scattered poems as part of the canon of Cantonese literati, for, as Martin Kern queries: “Where is the cultural memory, as a social construction of the past, located? In a text-centered culture, it can be preserved in a canon of writing….”5 As an initial foray into an epic of Guangdong, or the poetics of traditional literati from Guangdong, I have chosen to focus on one of the most potent literary themes in the region: the Southern Garden Poetry Society, in all its revivals throughout history.6 Sun Fen 孫蕡 (1335/38– 1390/93), the first major poet of the city-port of Guangzhou, founded this literary club headquartered on the banks of the Pearl River. The circle of like-minded literati he gathered earned a reputation throughout China as one of the five leading schools of poetry at that time. Sun’s collection of poetical works was considered fine enough to be published in the imperial compendium of the Qing dynasty, the Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In the eyes of informed connoisseurs, then, Sun was the father of poetry in Guangzhou. The periodic revival of this poetry society through the Ming, Qing, and Republican periods is a feat unique in Chinese literary history. As such a long-lived entity, it forms a convenient and almost automatic framework for focusing attention on worthy exponents of the Southern Muse. Nevertheless, the various problems of social interaction and literary composition call for a bipartite approach; this work is therefore in two parts. Part One, “Literary Culture,” provides an overview of notable Cantonese literati...


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