The Poetics and Politics of Sensuality in China: The “Fragrant and Bedazzling” Movement (1600-1930)

by Xiaorong Li


"Xiaorong Li definitively establishes the inherent boldness of the lyric poet in late imperial and modern China. In her confident and far-reaching book, ... Professor Li proves with rigorous, persuasive scholarship that the xiangyan genre was indeed a political exercise with a 600-year lineage. ... Professor Li’s study is diachronic; the poems and attached theories were aggressively articulated in the late Ming, continued through the Qing—despite charges of indecency—and taken up with zeal in the Republican era. ... In addition to her analysis of motifs, Professor Li makes a rarely offered, but highly mete, defense of poetry, arguing for the compelling nature of lyric poetry in these eras. ... not content to elucidate the main features and exemplars of the xiangyan as a genre of poetry; however, she also firmly and solidly, with elegant argument and resourceful use of paratextual material, proves that poets, anthologists, editors, and essayists not only believed in the power of the sensual, but also advocated the authority of the sensual ... Professor Li with meticulous argument proves that these poets indeed spoke not only in intimate mode, but also over six centuries to an expectant public, in a fully self-aware, declarative, politicized voice." —China Review International

“'Fragrant and Bedazzling,' as a poetic genre, a gendered imaginary, and a structure of feeling, marks one of the most neglected literary phenomena of early modern China. Professor Xiaorong Li has offered an inspiring and fascinating study of how Chinese elite and popular cultures conceive of eroticism, and how writings about sensuality facilitate both libertine aestheticism and body politics. As the first of its kind, The Poetics and Politics of Sensuality in China will be of great importance to anyone interested in Chinese history of sexuality and textuality, gender studies, and affective modernity." —David Der-wei Wang, Edward C. Henderson Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University

“Through her explorations of unknown or overlooked poets and underappreciated anthologies, The Poetics and Politics of Sensuality in China allows Xiaorong Li to reach innovative and persuasive interpretations of the role of sensualist poetry in periods of intense political change: sensual, even erotic, verse championed the liberation of individual feelings from Confucian efforts to suppress the public demonstration of strong emotions. Her work is pathbreaking; it will necessitate new and more complex interpretations of the “modernization” process in early twentieth-century China as Li traces this subversive literary form from anthologies of ancient poets into the modern magazine and the private collections of May Fourth authors. This is a first-rate example of literary discovery and pathbreaking interpretation.” —Robert E. Hegel, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Language and Literature, Washington University, St. Louis

“A tremendously inspiring book! Xiaorong Li’s new book on xiangyan manages to be specific and broad-ranging at the same time, providing valuable information and insight not just on gender issues in early modern China but also on the modern reception of traditional values. The book is well thought out, well written, and very impressive.” —Kang-i Sun Chang, Malcolm G. Chace ‘56 Professor of East Asian Languages & Literatures, Yale University

"The scholarship in this study is impeccable. Each chapter presents an in-depth analysis of interesting and important writers or collections, many of which are ordinarily overlooked in standard literary histories. There is wealth of learning and prodigious source excavation evident in each chapter. Many original sources—poems, prefaces, and other documents—are presented, discussed, and accurately translated for the first time. I doubt that anyone can match this author's mastery of the renegade tradition of 'sensuous poetry' during the Ming, Qing, and early Republican Period." —Ronald Egan, Confucius Institute Professor of Sinology, Stanford University


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