“Old Learning” and the Refeminization of
Modern Space in the Lyric Poetry of Lü Bicheng

By Shengqing Wu

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 16, no. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 1-75

Lü Bicheng, a distinguished ci lyric poet and feminist activist of her time, reached the peak of her poetic creativity during her sojourn in Europe in the late 1920s. Through focusing on the nexus of the representation of space (in Henri Lefebvre’s sense of the term) and gender relations, this paper examines how and to what degree Lü’s geographical and poetical border-crossing experience, wide-ranging imagination and learning, and feminist consciousness reshaped the representation of natural and cultural spaces, which in the ci genre had been confined to such narrowly domestic topoi as the melancholy boudoirs and gardens of abandoned women. The grand spectacle of the Alps and other landscapes and historical sites fostered Lü’s expansive vision of women’s ambitions and legacies in both ancient and contemporary times, as well as in myth and legend. The scenes in her poems were not simply geographical locations, but also spaces that were reconfigured and bore new meanings influenced by Lü’s heightened female consciousness and brilliant revision of genre conventions.

The prospering of Lü Bicheng’s traditional lyric writing in the late 1920s and early 1930s in foreign lands stands out as a particularly compelling case for reexamining commonly-held ideological and linguistic assumptions of modern Chinese literary studies. Her intervention by means of a supposedly obsolete poetic genre suggests ways to rethink Chinese literary modernity and what has been its mainly masculinist, vernacular, and prose-centered characterization.