Tagore’s China, Yeats’s Orient

Abstract : Both India and Ireland were a central interest of Chinese intellectuals of the late nineteenth and of early twentieth centuries. Both countries' people and intellectuals were seen as having suffered under, and stood up to, the same British imperialism that had wreaked havoc in China during the nineteenth-century Opium Wars. The awarding of the Nobel prize to Tagore coincided with the Chinese revolution (1911) and the founding of the new Chinese Republic (1912). In the years that followed, young Chinese poets were striving to craft a new vernacular poetic language and Tagore provided them with much inspiration. It was Guo Moruo, an aspiring poet who would later become a major revolutionary figure in the Communist pantheon, who came across Tagore's 'Crescent Moon' and started translating the Bengali poet into modern Chinese. The other major romantic poet of his generation, Xu Zhimo, would serve as Tagore's interpreter during his visit to China in 1924 and would be admirer for the rest of his life and would establish a major Chinese poetry journal, and eponymous poetry school, called Crescent Moon. The Chinese interest in Yeats also dates from the pioneering efforts of writers in the new Chinese language and literature of the early twentieth century. Even before Yeats won the Nobel prize, he was introduced to the Chinese public, by the main literary magazine of the day, The Short Story Magazine. In 1923, the same publication would also translate and publish his Preface to Gitanjali, and the last issue of the year would carry articles relating to his being awarded the Nobel Prize.1 Chinese writers and readers were interested in Yeats as a poet, as a representative of the Irish renaissance, and as a champion of anti-colonial Irishness. But Yeats, unlike Tagore, seemed disinterested in the Chinese social reality, and China for him remained bound up with an Orientalist, exoticized vision of the East similar to that he had demonstrated in his early appraisal of Tagore. Thus, Yeats in a very real way exhibited the stereotypical interest of the Anglophone bourgeois world for all that was old in the East, whereas Tagore engaged with poets and others who were about imagining a new Asian culture.
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Gregory B. Lee. Tagore’s China, Yeats’s Orient. Amrita Ghosh, Elizabeth B Redwine,. Tagore and Yeats: A Postcolonial Re-envisioning, Brill, In press. ⟨hal-02270557⟩

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