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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:

recovered from his (unspecified) illness and, as a tribute to this guardian angel, took the somewhat surprising name “Golden-haired Li.”2

The striking quality of this name is further emphasized by the suddenness of the experience of modernization, both for the new Chinese nation and for the individual Li Jinfa. After leaving his native Meixian in Guangzhou (in 1919, the very year of the May Fourth protests), Li began his advanced art education in Hong Kong at Roman College, where the language of instruction was English, a language he did not speak. Quitting that program, Li moved back to his hometown, where no sooner had he arrived than old friends newly installed in Shanghai encouraged him to continue his studies at Shanghai’s Fudan middle school. Shanghai was at the time one of the major centers of the changes taking place in Chinese society and culture, and Li was anxious to be involved. Yet just after he had arrived in Shanghai, Li found himself with an opportunity to board a boat to France for “diligent study” (勤工儉學 qin’gong jianxue), another dramatic change in his surroundings. Even after his arrival in France, Li continued moving, changing locations three times in the first eighteen months. It is also during this period that Li met, and shortly thereafter married, Gerta Scheuermann, the daughter of a painter and amateur artist herself.3 Thus, in the space of some four years, Li moved from a relatively sheltered life in south China, where he had undergone mostly private education, to one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, marriage to a non-Chinese spouse, selection of a career in a remote field, and keeper of a striking sobriquet, one that irrevocably and ostentatiously associated him with China’s modernity and its sources in the West.

The second view of Li Jinfa is visual, self-referential, and considerably more understated than a Chinese man with blonde hair. This second view is Li’s 1925 oil painting entitled Self-Portrait in Rome Moonlight (see figure 1). Self Portrait was painted during Li’s six-month stay in Italy, a stopover on his way back to China after having lived in France for nearly five years.4 During his short stay in Italy, Li was living with his new wife, often taking walks in the hills behind their apartment to