Trading Metaphors: Chinese Prose Poetry
and the Reperiodization of the Twentieth Century

By Nick Admussen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 88-129

Chinese prose poetry can be usefully understood as two sets of works produced in two different historical periods, one before 1949 that includes the May Fourth movement, and one after 1949. Prose poetry before 1949 centers around the revolution against classical poetics, and often deemphasizes or elides investigations of genre; writers after 1949 are far more likely to self-consciously categorize their work as prose poetry, and their poems tend to center around the relationship between poetry and prose. Current literary-historical periodizations, by treating the two periods as contiguous parts of one larger literary history, tend to obscure these differences and can make critical understanding of individual poems much more difficult. A literary periodization that begins in 1949 and proceeds to the present, however, has its own set of drawbacks and challenges; the most ideal critical application of literary-historical periodization treats historical periods as metaphoric comparisons between works, allowing them to be traded in and out of critical contexts, applied multiply and simultaneously, and allowing critics to learn as much from their limitations as from their aptness.