shījiè ɡémìnɡ 诗界革命
The Revolution in the Circle of Poets
The Revolution in the Circle of Poets was a cultural movement in early modern China. A part of the Revolution in the Literati Circle, it aimed to reform poetic expression. Liang Qichao (1873-1929) was the first one to champion this movement. In his work “My Days in Hawaii,” he argued that modern poetry should draw on the style and format of classical poetry, but it must also develop new artistic conception and expressions to depict contemporary life. He opposed the obscurity and formal restraints of classical Chinese poetry, arguing that without a revolution among poets, poetry in China would wither. He said that new poetry should be simple in language, convey new ideas, and disseminate modern values to enlighten people in China. Liang Qichao, Huang Zunxian (1848-1905), Yan Fu (1854-1921), Xia Zengyou (1863-1924), Tan Sitong (1865-1898), and Qiu Weixuan (1874-1941) all wrote poetry in modern Chinese and published their writings in newspapers and magazines. Generally speaking, verses written under the influence of the Revolution in the Circle of Poets did not have high artistic value. Rather, they were old in style but new in content, yet they did not make smooth reading. However, their creative spirit later gave rise to truly vernacular new poetry.
There bound to be a revolution during the transitional period, but the revolution is designed to eradicate the substance of old-style poetry, not its form. Nowadays, many of us like to talk about the need for a revolution among poets. That’s exactly right, but if we think the revolution means using a pile of newly-coined phrases, we will just turn ourselves into quasi-reformists like those in the Qing court. The goal of the revolution is to introduce a new vision in the old style. If this can be done, one modern phrase or two here and there in a poem will be no big problem. If not, the poet is only showing the poverty of content to his readers. (Liang Qichao: Notes on Poets and Poetry from the Ice-drinker’s Studio)
Among all poets today, Huang Zunxian figures prominently, because he incorporates new ideas into the old form. (Liang Qichao: Notes on Poets and Poetry from the Ice-drinker’s Studio)