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The Poetics and Politics of Sensuality in China: The “Fragrant and Bedazzling” Moveme ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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The Poetics and Politics of Sensuality in China:


Intoxicate the Heart
and Sway the Soul

From 1909 through 1911, a voluminous collection titled Xiangyan congshu 香艷叢書 (A compendium of xiangyan literature) appeared in Shanghai’s book market. The “Editorial Words” indicates: “What is selected in this anthology is mainly concerned with matters of xiangyan, regardless of whether it is a shi, ci, or yuefu poem. Whatever is able to intoxicate the heart and sway the soul is included” 本集所選香艷為主, 無論詩詞樂府, 足以醉心蕩魄者, 一例採入.1 From 1914 to 1915, the book market also saw the launch of several magazines with xiangyan in their titles, such as Xiangyan zazhi 香艷雜誌 (Xiangyan magazine) and Xiangyan xiaopin 香艷小品 (Xiangyan: short pieces). Clearly, xiangyan was considered a word that captured the essence of all these similarly titled publications.

What is xiangyan? What can “intoxicate the heart and sway the soul”? In Chinese, the word xiang means “fragrant and aromatic” and yan means “dazzling because of bright and variegated colors and patterns.” In Tang poetry the terms xiang and yan are used in a literal manner: “Dews draping along willow branches, round drops make fine waves; / Light breezes brushing plum blossoms generate fragrance and dazzlement” 柳滴圓波生細浪, 梅含香豔吐清風.2