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The Impossibility of Remembering the Past at Nanjing: Poetry of Wang Jingwei (1883-1944) and the Weight of Historical Memory

07.11.2019 | 12:00 c.t.

Prof. Zhiyi Yang (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt / Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin)

In late June 1939, on his trip back from Japan after tentatively reaching an agreement with the Hiranuma Cabinet to form a collaborative government in Japanese-occupied China, Wang Jingwei (1883-1944) wrote a heptasyllabic octave titled as "Night Onboard." The intensive patriotic pathos in the poem, constructed through references to literary precursors and China's cultural memories, has since caused an exegetical crisis among historians. In this talk, I propose reading Wang’s poetry as a special kind of mnemonic text with historiographical functions, so as to transcend traditional Chinese exegetical criteria such as “authenticity” or “revelation.” Under closer examination, “Night Onboard” is a composite text that contains multiple forms of memories, each with its own purposes. Using his poetry, Wang also established himself as a legitimate successor of meritocratic literati politics. His cultural pedigree further helped to vindicate Pan-Asianist propagandist discourse based on China and Japan’s shared cultural traditions. In the end, the text resists a singular reading, but is revealed to be a rich and ambivalent open space of a creative cacophony. By creating a diachronic community consisting of literary precursors and contemporary as well as later readers who belonged to the same "Republic of letters," it participates in the writing of his biography and his regime’s history.

Zeit & Ort

07.11.2019 | 12:00 c.t.

Fabeckstraße 23-25 ("Holzlaube"), Room 2.2051