Pub. Date:
University of Michigan Press
Ezra Pound and China

Ezra Pound and China

by Zhaoming Qian


Current price is , Original price is $88.0. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.

This item is available online through Marketplace sellers.

2 New & Used Starting at $55.07


Ezra Pound and China, the first collection to explore the American poet's career-long relationship with China, considers how Pound's engagement with the Orient broadens the textual, cultural, and political boundaries of his modernism. The book's contributors discuss, among other topics, issues of cultural transmission; the influence of Pound's Chinese studies on twentieth-century poetics; the importance of his work to contemporary theories of translation; and the effects of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism on Pound's political and economic thought.
Richly illustrated, the book draws readers closer to the heart of Pound's vision. Ezra Pound and China will become an invaluable resource to students and scholars of Pound, cultural studies, translation theory, poetics, Confucianism, and literary transmission and reception.
Zhaoming Qian is Professor of English, the University of New Orleans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472098293
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 04/08/2003
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ezra Pound & China

By Zhaoming Qian

University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2003 Zhaoming Qian
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0472068296

Constructing the Orient: Pound's American Vision


A three-storied house in a Philadelphia suburb was only one of many locales for Pound's introduction to the Orient. But there, on Fernbrook Avenue in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, the young Ezra Pound encountered his first Chinese object: a Ming dynasty vase. At Aunt Frank Weston's in New York, he saw a remarkable screen book, a sequence of oriental scenes adorned with poems in Chinese and Japanese ideograms. The oriental collections in the museums of Philadelphia provided additional exposure to Chinese culture, preparing Pound for his later absorption in Orientalism developed through the work of Laurence Binyon, Ernest Fenollosa, No¯ drama, and his own study of Chinese.

Pound, himself, displayed an early interest in things oriental. At one of his first public appearances, he chose an oriental disguise. He was sixteen and attending a Halloween party in Philadelphia where he met Hilda Doolittle, later the imagist poet H.D., for the first time. He wore a green robe that appeared to be Chinese, although he said it was acquired in Tunis some years earlier with his aunt (it was--he went there in 1898 with Aunt Frank). "This robe was much discussed," writes H.D. "I suppose it was something Indo-Chinaish. It went with Ezra."

Family interest in China originated in Homer and Isabel Pound's concern with the work of Christian missionaries in China. Accounts of travel, religious work, and trade formed part of the family's reading, encouraged by their involvement--from teaching to administration and regular attendance--with the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Wyncote. But the oriental objects in the Pound home indicate more than homage to a foreign culture or curiosity with things Chinese for the young Pound. They represent Philadelphia's continuing attraction to the material culture of China, which had a formative role in Pound's earliest conception of the Orient.

Chinese decorative and fine art formed Pound's initial encounter with China and contributed to his likely being the first major American writer to respond more to oriental art than to its literary tradition. Chinese painting and imagery acted as a catalyst for his writing and formation of his work. Although this vision would overlook some of the harsher aspects of Chinese life, generally absent in the imagery of China represented through the visual arts, and neglect some of the more violent aspects of contemporary Chinese history such as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Pound nevertheless found in the cultural heritage of Philadelphia's celebration of China the beginnings of a lifelong preoccupation with the country.

Philadelphia, where the Pounds had moved in 1889, was at the center of America's response to the Orient, reflecting a national fascination with oriental art. The city's link with China originated in eighteenth-century trade, and Philadelphia soon became one of the earliest repositories of Chinese art and decorative objects, the bounty of traders, collectors, and importers. America's supposedly first sinologist, Robert Waln Jr., author of an important 475-page history of China (published 1823), was from Philadelphia. The prominent China merchant Benjamin Chew Wilcocks of Philadelphia was known for his Oriental collection, which included a mezzotint of a famous Canton merchant, Houqua, symbolizing a link between the commerce of China and Philadelphia, intensified when it was discovered that Beijing and Philadelphia shared the same latitude (forty degrees). This led some to believe that Chinese silk and tea could easily be cultivated in Pennsylvania. In 1828 construction began of a one-hundred-foot pagoda with a Chinese garden and pavilion in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park (where the Philadelphia Museum of Art would be located), a copy of a tower in Canton. It was popularly known as "The Temple of Confucius."

The 1839 opening of Nathan Dunn's museum of Chinese objects confirmed Philadelphia's importance as a site for Oriental culture. Dunn, a merchant who had spent more than twelve years in China, returned with some twelve hundred Chinese craft items, from dress to tools and furniture, all wonderfully arranged. Standing alone among the fifty-three display cases was a facsimile of an apartment of a wealthy Chinese merchant's palace. Dunn's collection offered the first large-scale public exhibition of Chinese materials in the United States. Between 1839 and 1841, some one hundred thousand people reportedly visited the exhibit, while more than fifty thousand copies of his Descriptive Catalogue were sold. A second, even larger, Chinese museum opened in Philadelphia in 1847, organized by John Peters. Oriental art and culture had a significant presence in Philadelphia before and during Pound's residence there. The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the first international exposition ever held in the United States, had two impressive exhibits that fascinated the public: the Chinese and Japanese pavilions, which increased the popularity of Oriental objects and the desire to have such objects in the home. The publications, lectures, and sponsored travel of the American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia, also contributed to the city's interest in the Orient. The so-called Orientalists of the organization included its founder, Benjamin Franklin, and its secretary, Peter Duponceau, a student of Chinese. Andreas van Braam and Nathan Dunn, both of whom spent many years in China, would become members of the society.

In 1890, Ernest Fenollosa returned from the Orient to become curator of the new Oriental Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and within a few years began a series of widely popular lectures on Chinese and Japanese art, history, and literature that introduced the East to many Americans. The growing private collections of Oriental art by American entrepreneurs, travelers, and importers, most of which found their way into museum collections like the Peabody in Salem, Massachusetts, set the pattern for the popularity of Chinese porcelain, lacquerware, and bamboo furniture in many American homes. Importing Chinese silk, tea, and other commercial goods to America meant a constant cultural, as well as commercial, exchange between the two countries. Domesticating China soon found a natural outlet, as well, via Chinese horticulture, which soon marked the American landscape, whether it was the Chinese elm, gingko, azalea, magnolia, peony, gardenia, or formal garden.

In the neighborhood of the Pounds in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown, preceding their move to Wyncote, lived a number of the nouveau riche, eager to include elements of the Orient in the decor of their homes and collection of artworks. Cyrus Curtis, publisher of the Saturday Evening Post,George H. Lorimer, journalist and then editor of the Post,J. B. Stetson, the hat manufacturer, and John Wanamaker, merchant, all wealthy or at the least well-to-do men, lived within a short radius from the Pounds. Several of these neighbors even dined at the Pound home. The 1907 fire at Lyndehurst, the Wanamaker mansion, where Pound and his father rushed to rescue several (faked) old masters, vividly remained in Pound's imagination. There may well have been some Oriental objects saved.

One result of the growing collections of Oriental art among Philadelphians was the development of the Asian collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Capitalizing on the presence of Oriental furniture, ceramics, lacquerware, and other decorative arts from the Chinese, Japanese, and Indian exhibitors at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the museum rapidly expanded its Oriental holdings. Donations by others enhanced the collection; the appointment of the distinguished Orientalist Langdon Warner as director of the museum in 1917 meant the establishment of the Division of Eastern Art, which in 1923 alone acquired over 750 Chinese ceramics, including a set of tomb figures. The expansion of the Oriental department meant that by 1928, when the new building opened, the museum could display an evocative Chinese scholar's study as well as a Japanese ceremonial teahouse. The following year the museum purchased a large group of Chinese paintings--and Homer and Isabel Pound decided to remain permanently in Rapallo, where their son had moved. Notifying a neighbor to send the silver and portraits, they auctioned off the rest of their goods. The house itself was sold in July 1930.

What would Pound have seen in looking at Chinese art in the parlor or museum? In landscapes, called in Chinese "mountain and water pictures," he could discover an art of wild solitudes and wide prospects with possibly a contemplative figure in a secluded pavilion. Exhilaration, through the action of nature from torrents to peaks, combined with a sense of peace. The Chinese convention was to lift the viewer above the earth, the high horizon of the painting filled with mountain forms and the absence of detail in the foreground. Liberating spaces lead the eye. Importantly, as Pound's later friend and scholar of Chinese painting Laurence Binyon wrote, "painting for the Chinese is a branch of handwriting"; all the brushstrokes must flow. Such art, Binyon added in a comment apt for Pound, "is concerned with relations rather than with objects." Placing an object in relation to another, or to space, transforms it from a fact to an idea; this transformation Chinese painting repeatedly performs, as does Pound, who in the later parts of The Cantos has empty space dominate through gaps between lines or indentations. Pound met Binyon in February 1909, attended his lectures on Oriental and European art the following month, and frequently visited him at the British Museum with his soon-to-be wife, Dorothy Shakespear, who often copied Chinese paintings while Binyon and Pound talked.

The images of China depicted on the paintings, porcelain, silks, and lacquerware, which re-created a mythical and mysterious China, reproduced in the Chinese landscape environments around Philadelphia, were idyllic and exotic. In execution the art was also focused, precise, clear, objective, elegant in detail, and in harmony with nature. Such visual imagery of China influenced Pound's own response to matters and objects Chinese, whether through wallpaper, furniture, teapots or woodcuts, written characters or paintings. Contradicting anti-Oriental sentiment expressed in other parts of the country (and formalized in the notorious exclusion laws renewed by the U.S. Congress in 1904-5), the widespread materiality of China in Philadelphia, where the culture of the Orient was held in high regard, strongly affected Pound's vision of this world.

The culture of China, expressed through its imagery and art, goods and skills, initiated an early but broadly based fascination and responsiveness to the Orient in Pound that would soon take form in his poetry, from Cathay to The Cantos. His later appreciation of Confucius through Fenollosa and literature through James Legge, H. A. Giles, and others had its grounding in his culturally situated "Philadelphia Orientalism." To state matters concisely: the genealogy of Pound's Orientalism originated in Philadelphia.

The modest Oriental art that inhabited the Pound household was not, then, unusual. Throughout America, Oriental objects and furniture, art and silks, found a place. Pound's reaction to it informed his imagination, not only in such practical ways as drawing the Seven Lakes Canto (Canto 49) from a small book of Chinese and Japanese poems made of silk and rice paper that unfolded like a screen with accompanying Oriental paintings, but in his broader response to the Chinese prints, arts and crafts, and calligraphy he likely saw or was aware of as he grew up in Philadelphia. This awareness led to an "Orient of style," as well as an Orient of text, forms of inscribing the East that originated in America's interest in Chinese art and culture.

"Restraint . . . drives the master toward intensity and the tyro toward aridity," wrote Pound in The Spirit of Romance(SR,18). His comment refers to language and the value of the Orient as a style. This concentration on intensity relates to Pound's understanding of the function of language, combining what he read in Emerson with what he understood in Fenollosa to create an "Orient of style." It begins with Pound's view of nature, where language is constituted entirely by particular signs for which translation into verbal terms is not adequate:
In nature are signatures

needing no verbal tradition,

oak leaf never plane leaf.


This emulates Emerson's view of language in "Nature." He, too, understood not only that nature precedes language but that "a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world." In Emerson's concept of language Pound discovered a blend of Oriental and American symbolism: "From the colour the nature / & by the nature the sign!" (90/625), he writes in Canto 90. Combining this view with Confucian concentration resulted in an aesthetic Pound summed up in this 1939 statement about his writing: "There is no intentional obscurity. There is condensation to maximum attainable. It is impossible to make the deep as quickly comprehensible as the shallow" (SL,322-23).

For Emerson, "words are signs of natural facts" ("Nature," 20). For Fenollosa, reading Chinese was like "watching things work out their own fate." Emerson prepared for Pound's Oriental imagism and understanding of the function of language, charting the way for his acceptance of Fenollosa. Pound, quoting Aquinas, echoes this shared reading: "Names are the consequence of things" (GB, 92). Earlier, to Harriet Monroe, Pound declared that "language is made out of concrete things" (SL,49). Chinese for Pound meant the recovery or reinvention of Adamic speech, "in which words contain the essence of the things they name," a return to the world Emerson had outlined. Chinese was for Pound the restitution of what Emerson saw as the special requirement of language: to "fasten words again to visible things."

In "Poetry and Imagination," Emerson actually articulates a method Pound, especially in The Pisan Cantos, relied on:

While the student ponders this immense unity, he observes that all things in nature, the animals, the mountain, the river, the seasons, wood, iron, stone, vapour,--have a mysterious relation to his thoughts and life . . . he is compelled to speak by means of them.
Pound, in terms less connected to nature but equally intense, wrote, "When one really feels and thinks, one stammers with simple speech" (SL, 49). Or conversely, as he writes in Canto 74/448, "A lizard upheld me."

Seeing and responding to this world is a mutual process activated by Emerson's "transparent eyeball: I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me" ("Nature," 10). In Pound this becomes the light and sun of Canto 83 of The Pisan Cantos and the "acorn of light" of Cantos 106 and 116 (106/775, 116/815). And for Pound, "Where love is, there is the eye," quoting the Neoplatonist Richard of St. Victor (90/629). The eye, as Emerson wrote, "is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second" ("Circles," 403).

But if there is an Orient of style, there is also an Orient of text--in the case of Pound, the establishment of a visual fabric that relates to the verbal matter of his poems. His response to Oriental art, originating in "Philadelphia Orientalism," may be the source of this awareness, later supplemented by his instruction from Binyon, work on the Fenollosa notebooks, and his response to No¯ theater. Again, The Cantos demonstrate this most clearly, not only with their incorporation of actual visual elements such as literal signs (see 22/103 or 34/171 or 71/418), musical notations and the symbols from a deck of cards, but in the Chinese ideograms (entire pages are, of course, devoted to them: see Cantos 77/487, 85/573), illustrated capitals, and elegant typography of the text. What I am calling the "Orient of text" occurs when the visual interacts--and sometimes dominates--the linguistic. These signifying functions form a bibliographic code that at times contests the linguistic code of the work, but at other times reinforces it. Meaning is transmitted through their exchange.

The "Orient of text" joins two forms of perception, Pound presenting a visual image at the same time he outlines a rhetorical function. Different fonts and sizes establish different codes or strategies for reading; as he explains in a letter, "ALL typographic disposition, placings of words onthe page, is intended to facilitate the reader's intonation, whether he be reading silently to self or aloud to friends" (SL,322). This combination of appearance and meaning, or text and sound, is Pound's "phanopeia," loosely defined as constructing the page as a visual field. The decorative materials in The Cantos, whether elaborately presented as in A Draft of XVI Cantos with elegant illustrations by the artist Henry Strater from the Three Mountains Press in Paris (1925), a work recalling the ornamental books of William Morris, or in finely printed late editions of his work, such as the 110 copies of Redondillas(1968), each copy with Pound's signature, demonstrate Pound's concern with the physical form as well as the linguistic meaning of his writing.


Excerpted from Ezra Pound & China by Zhaoming Qian Copyright © 2003 by Zhaoming Qian. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews