Wu Changshi 吳昌碩 was an extraordinary artist and a major force in late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chinese art. A true literatus in a changing cultural landscape, he combined the traditional scholarly arts with popular subject matter in a manner that would revolutionize painting. The following series of “views” represent an accumulation of forays into an understanding of Wu Changshi (also pronounced Wu Changshuo, 1844–1927).
The Teatro Dom Pedro V is a gem. Built in 1860, it both looks like and is a traditional theatre, with gold-fluted columns, plaster molding and orchestra pit. It is, for better or worse (and in many ways better), small with fewer than 300 seats. One can hardly think of a more idyllic place in which to perform opera, yet Solomusica’s production of an opera buffa double bill over Easter weekend was the first there in several years.
If you go into most bookshops in the States for example, there’s a cottage industry of books on the US and China, the US and the Middle East, you go to the UK, there’s a sort of similar cottage industry of books on the UK and France, and France and Germany. But there’s very little on Japan and China, and this is a highly consequential relationship—the world’s second and third biggest economies, Asia’s two superpowers, and with a really difficult, emotional, scarred history …
Americans have been present in the Pacific since the dawn of the Republic. At the time of George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, the country consisted of just 13 states huddled along the Atlantic seaboard, but in the geography of sail navigation Boston and New York were just as close to China as were London, Liverpool, and other European ports. More importantly, the United States was by far the largest whaling country in the world, and with the Atlantic increasingly “fished” out, the whales were in the Pacific. The “Canton trade” with China and the whaling grounds of the northern Pacific made the nascent United States the second most important trading country in Asia (after England).
This story is drawn from The Book of Swindles, a collection whose oldest known edition dates to 1617. The author, Zhang Yingyu, collected stories about swindles large and small that are mainly set in the highly commercialized and mobile world of late-Ming China.
Only several poems by the now forgotten 1930s Shanghai poet Shao Xunmei (1906-1968) have previously been rendered into English, making our translation of his two major volumes a first. We have long considered Shao well worth translating, owing as much to his colorful artistic persona as to his verse. The former mostly flowered during his studies at Cambridge in the mid-1920s, when he was exposed to Western poets like Baudelaire and Verlaine. However, it was mainly AC Swinburne who became Shao’s avatar in both art and life, as our translations below show. Cambridge also introduced Shao to the comfort of English shoes, which he wore with a traditional Chinese scholar’s silk gown—a true cultural hybrid!
In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.