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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
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Modern Poetry in China:

Chapter 1

Li Jinfa

From Symbolism to Modernism

I start this exploration of visible Chinese poetry with two images of the early twentieth-century artist, educator, and father of Chinese symbolist poetry Li Jinfa 李金髮 (1900–1976).1 The first image is in words, being quite simply the poet’s name, or penname, Li Jinfa—“Golden-haired Lee.” The story behind this appellation runs roughly as follows: On a hot summer day in the year 1922, Li Quanxing 李權興, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese student of art, was out with some people, including his longtime friend and fellow artist Lin Fengmian 林風眠, visiting museums in Paris. Too poor to take the seaside vacation away from the city like their French classmates, Li and company had taken to contenting themselves with such outings supplemented, in Li’s case, by voracious reading in literature written in his newly acquired French language. On this particular afternoon, lack of attention to his physical state over a long period of time finally caught up with him and, to his friend’s dismay, he suddenly collapsed. In the days that followed, Li remained in a semiconscious state with perpetual hallucinations, one of the most persistent involving a blonde-haired spirit in a white gown who led him on magical journeys through the heavens. Shortly afterward, he