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Ezra Pound / Ming Mao: A Liberal Disciple of Confucius

From: Journal of Modern Literature
Volume 27, Number 1/2, Fall 2003
pp. 79-89 | 10.1353/jml.2004.0061

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Journal of Modern Literature 27.1 (2003) 79-89

A Liberal Disciple of Confucius

Feng Lan

Florida State University at Tallahassee

In its 15 December 1914 issue, the London-based literary magazine The Egoist published a short article contributed by Ezra Pound under the title "The Words of Ming Mao 'Least among the Disciples of Kung-Fu-Tse.' " Centering on the argument that the "dependence on self is the core of Confucian philosophy," the article seeks to make a case for a liberal Confucianism that in Pound's view could reinforce the "individualist" agenda of this avant-garde magazine. Interestingly, the article has never attracted critical attention in Pound studies; it has not even been mentioned by scholars who have investigated the influence of Confucianism on Pound, such as William Tay and Mary Cheadle. The article deserves close examination not just because it is Pound's first thoughtful piece of discourse on Confucianism—produced at a date much earlier than recognized as regards his relationship with Confucianism, but also because it reveals the basic ideological assumptions upon which rest Pound's initial interest in Confucianism as well as his subsequent commitment to reinstating Confucian values in Western contexts. In other words, the article offers illuminating glimpses that may help us to elucidate some of Pound's early concerns with aesthetic and political issues and, more importantly, put into a coherent perspective his otherwise often fragmented reflections on Confucianism made in the early years of his career.

Much of the reason why the article has escaped the notice of Pound's expert readers may have to do with its confusing authorship. Although contributed by Pound, as confirmed by Donald Gallup, the article was signed by a certain "M. M" when published. Gallup guesses that "M. M" might be a pseudonym, but he is unable to speculate further for the lack of more concrete evidence. In my view, "M. M" refers to "Ming Mao" in the title of the article. "Ming Mao" sounds like a Chinese name. However, there is no one with that name among Confucius's disciples as registered in the Confucian Si shu or Four Books, which Pound had begun to read by 1914. Nor did Humphrey Carpenter and Noel Stock, Pound's major biographers, mention such a Chinese person among Pound's acquaintances at that time. Ming is the transliteration for the Chinese character meaning "bright" and mao for the character indicating "hair" or "feather." As a matter of fact, the two words, mao in particular, were often used as affectionate salutations by Pound and his wife Dorothy in their letters to each other, a playful practice they had taken to before their marriage. For instance, in a letter dated 20 November 1913, Dorothycalled Pound "Beloved 'Mao,' " even placing the Chinese character for Mao above the salutation. In another letter dated 3 December 1913, Dorothy again called Pound "Dearest Mao." Later, during Pound's incarceration in the aftermath of Second World War, "Mao" became the standard salutation Pound and Dorothy used to address each other in their letters. Then, when Pound called Dorothy "Mao," he would sign the letter as "Mao E"; if Dorothy called Pound "Mao," she would identify herself as "Mao D." Ming or "bright" was Pound's favorite Chinese term; it was by elaborating on this term that Pound connected Confucianism with the Neoplatonic philosophy of light. Although not so frequently used as "Mao," "Dearest Ming" did appear as an intimate salutation several times in Dorothy's letters to Pound. In view of such a practice, it is reasonable to conclude that "Ming Mao" is the Chinese nickname Pound created for himself around 1914, and he used it for his first article on Confucius. Using pseudonyms was not uncommon for Pound during his Egoist years. Jane Lidderdale, for instance, in her study of the history of The Egoist has identified a certain Bastien von Helmholtz, author of an essay in the Egoist, as "Ezra Pound in disguise."

The Ming Mao article came out as a rebuttal of William Loftus Hare's essay on the ancient Chinese philosopher Yang Zhu (Yang Chu) published in the preceding issue of The Egoist. Yang Zhu (440?-360? B.C...