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Unlisted Articles on Blake Published in China

The following works11 I have examined all the works in the list except the first two. About these two bicentenary notices, “William Blake, The English Revolutionary Poet,” and “Blake, The Representative Writer of Early Romanticism,” the information comes from Wai-guo Wen-xue Lunwen Mu-lu Sue-ying [A Bibliographical List of Articles on Foreign Literature, 1920-1978], ed. Lu Yong-mao, et al. (Kaifeng, China: Chinese Department, Henan Teachers’ University, 1979), pp. 262-63, in Chinese. This is prepared as a preliminary list and distributed to many universities in China inviting opinions and advice to be incorporated in a later edition. This is a common Chinese academic practice for some important works. The previous edition was in 1957. of 1957-1982 supplement those in Blake Books (1977) and in the article by N.G.P. Malmqvist, “Blake in China,” in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, 13 (1979), 24-28.

1. Wang, Ke-wu.22 The rendering of Chinese names in my writing is in this order: the first name given is the family name, and the name after the following comma is the personal name. “Wei-lian Bu-lai-ke Ying-guo Ge-ming Shi-ren” [“William Blake, The English Revolutionary Poet”]. In Jiao-shi-bao [Teacher’s Newspaper], 30 April 1959, in Russian.

2. Sun, Xi-zhen. “Zao-qi Lang-man-zu-yi Dai-biao Zuo-jia Bu-lai-ke” [“Blake, The Representative Writer of Early Romanticism”]. In Hangzhou Re-bao [Hangzhou Daily], 5 May 1957, in Chinese.

3. Cheng, Xiao-nan. “Wei-lian Bu-lai-ke di Yi-shu Ji-qi Sheng-ping” [“The Life and Art of William Blake”]. In Mei-shu [The Art], 11 (November, 1957), 52-54, in Chinese. There are two plates attached to the article: one is the portrait of Blake by John Linnell, the other is Blake’s “Glad Day.”

4. Fan, Cheng-zhong. “Ying-guo Lang-man-zu-yi Shi-ge di Xian-qu, Wei-lian Bu-lai-ke” [“William Blake, The Precursor of English Progressive Romanticism”]. In Jiang-hai Xue-kan [Jiang-hai Journal], 1 (January, 1960), 43-52, in Chinese.

5. Wang, Zuo-liang. “Ying-guo Lang-man-zu-yi Shi-ge di Xing-qi” [“The Rise of English Romantic Poetry”]. In Ying-guo Weng-xue Leng-weng-ji [Essays on English Literature]. Beijing: Foreign Literature Press, 1980, pp. 57-129, in Chinese. One fourth of the essay, pp. 67-76 is about Blake, and the rest is about Robert Burns, Wordsworth and Coleridge.

6. Liu, Bing-shan. “William Blake.” In A Short History of English Literature. Kaifeng, China: Foreign Language Department, Henan Teacher’s University, 1980, pp. 168-73, in English.

7. Chen, Jia. “William Blake.” In A History of English Literature, Vol. II. Beijing: The Commercial Press, 1981, pp. 237-66, in English.

In China William Blake is not a popular poet, as compared with poets like Byron and Shelley. According to A Bibliographical List of Articles on Foreign Literature (overlapping those in Blake Books and “Blake in China”) from 1920 to 1978, there are only nineteen essays on Blake, while there are sixty-four on Byron and thirty-four on Shelley. But 1957 saw a sudden spurt of interest in Blake. The publication of most of the Blake essays clustered round the bicentennial year 1957, in which Blake was elected “one of the famous cultural figures of the year by the World Peace Congress.”33 This is quoted from Cheng’s essay, “Wei-lian Bu-lai-ke di yi-su ji-qi Sheng-ping” [The Life and Art of William Blake]. This Congress was sponsored by the World Peace Council, which in 1957 was called the International Institute of Peace—see the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, ed. Richard F. Staar, et al. (Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1979), p. 446. So most of the articles are introductions to Blake, and their chief concern is with the revolutionary elements in Blake’s poery.

1. Cheng, Xiao-nan. “The Life and Art of William Blake” (1957). According to this bicentennial appreciation, Blake is a progressive artist, fighting, by means of his artistic works, for truth, democracy, and freedom of mankind. Citing Erdman’s Blake, Prophet against Empire (1954), Cheng holds that Blake is a poet with a clear political motif, “taking part in some demonstrations and revolts of London citizens, for instance, the demonstration against colonialism and English interference in the United States on 6 June 1780.”44 This refers to the Lord Gordon No-Popery Riots, whose purposes were quite different, and Blake’s part in it was involuntary, according to The Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), II, 643. Permeated with humanistic spirit, Blake’s artistic works have their base in real life and, at the same time, they are treated with romantic methods. His art breaks away from the limited boundary of lifeless academic art and expresses the people’s desires and expectations. His method is symbolic. It is only as a means of disguise that Blake takes his subjects from the Bible, Dante’s Divina Commedia, and Milton’s poetry. His purpose is to attack and fight against the strong and wicked. His art is not decadent or mystical. Cheng then explains Blake’s artistic sources and his achievements in engraving, etching, and design. The style of Blake’s pictures is decorative, stereoscopic, with striking contrasts of colors, and much concerned about revealing his figure’s inner mind. To illustrate his point, Cheng, at the end, analyzes two of Blake’s pictures: “Europe Supported by Africa and America”55 The title of this plate is transliterated from Chinese as it appears in Cheng’s essay. The plate under the same title is indicated in G.E. Bentley, Jr.’s Blake Books (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 499, as only engraved, not designed, by Blake (it was designed by J.G. Stedman for his Surinam [1796]). Since I now have no access to any reproduction of that plate, I cannot verify my suspicion that Cheng used an engraving after Stedman for his analysis of Blake’s power of design. and “Glad Day.”

2. Fan, Cheng-zhong. “William Blake, The Precursor of English Progressive Romanticism” (1960).

Blake’s poetry was the progressive forerunner of English Romanticism, which, Fan says, was the offspring of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. When man’s world outlook underwent a change, his feelings underwent a corresponding change, or, rather, liberation. This is the central idea of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The theme of The French Revolution, America and Europe is the reformation of the world. Like Thomas Paine and William Godwin, Blake held that organized and tyrannical oppression was the cause of sufferings and griefs in the world, and that this oppression was represented by kings, aristocrats, and priests. Revolution was the only way to realize the ideal world. In The Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, The Book of Los, The Song of Los, the cause of man’s fall, Fan explains, is the tyrannical Urizen, who is a reactionary figure in several respects: a representative of the past, the old tradition, belief and ethics, and a tyrant in the primitive age; “His wisdom is confined to senses and rationality.” He invents religion and science merely for the convenience of his rule. Man can create a new world only by overthrowing the ruling class, the oppressors and exploiters. But it is a defect in Blake to give in to a doctrine of universal love at the end of The Four Zoas, which marks the summit of Blake’s writing career. In order to begin page 158 | back to top oppose rationalism, Blake accents imagination, inspiration, and vision. But when he strays too far from reality, he slips into idealistic aesthetics, as is seen in his later Prophetic Works. Such tendencies should be objected to. At the end of his essay, Fan proposes to call the English Romantic period the period of Blake, Byron, and Shelley, clearly for their political sympathies.

Since the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976), China’s intellectual life has awakened slowly from that long and destructive chaos. People long to have a clearer and better understanding of Western culture. This situation makes possible some attempt at unbiased, honest judgment of Blake, as seen in the following articles.

3. Wang, Zuo-liang. “The Rise of English Romantic Poetry” (1980).

At the end of the eighteenth century, Wang says, great changes and innovations occurred in the poetic field, and English romantic poetry took form under the strong influence of the French and American revolutions. In his essay, Wang regards Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the major figures in the formation of the new poetry and talks especially about the four poet’s respective contributions to that formation.

As for Blake, Wang dwells on his dialectical way of thinking and his ambivalent attitude towards the French Revolution. Wang calls Blake an idiosyncratic thinker, who had a profound understanding of both the bright and the dark sides of the French Revolution. Blake must be studied with dialectic methods, because he adopted dialectics in his poems, for instance, his “Lamb” and “Tyger.” He described such contraries as intuition and rationality, innocence and sophistication, vision and reality. To these contraries Blake had an unmistakable inclination. He was not a modern intellectual who is all the time hesitating and self-torturing, but a nineteenth-century artisan with a strong sense of good and evil. Blake’s poetry, especially his lyrical poetry, is melodious and in simple language but with profound meaning, like his famous poem “London.” In his late magnificent long poems, such as Vala or The Four Zoas, the poet writes about human experience, or wisdom, and about the grievous cost of obtaining and calculating that wisdom. There is the poet’s vision of the future and his solution to social problems. His peculiar mystical system is only his mask to escape censorship.

The underlying theme of Wang’s essay is Blake’s ambivalent reaction to the French Revolution eulogizing the violent force manifested by the Revolution in its destruction of the old system on one hand, and, on the other hand, expressing his disgust at the highly rational and philosophical ideas, such as those of Voltaire, which had made way for the French Revolution. Therefore, Blake particularly stressed the significance of feelings and imagination. In this respect, he is consistent. So, in his later poems, his thought is more profound, his words are more penetrating and precise, and his versification is as free as the later “free verse,” inaugurating a magnificent new style.

4. Liu, Bing-shan.[e] “William Blake” (1980).

Liu’s book is a brief survey of all English literature, and it serves in many of China’s universities as a textbook for the introductory course in English literature. The slight information about each writer is arranged in the order of the writer’s biography, a list of his literary works and evaluation. The very brief Blake section mentions only Blake’s Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He says of the theme of Songs of Experience that human desire for freedom has to endure the limitation of worldly experience at least for a time, and that the ultimate freedom is still to come through passionate revolt, through revolution. Blake’s statement that “without contraries is no progression” is actually his outlook on life. Liu says that Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, expresses his spirit of revolt against social oppression and his desire to maintain liberty against the law of bourgeois society. At the end, Liu mentions Blake’s Prophetic Books generally, but only makes some vague remarks on them as long and obscure. So this Blake section is almost as brief as the Blake entry in the Oxford Companion to English Literature,66 The Oxford Companion to English Literature, compiled and edited by Sir Paul Harvey, fourth edition, revised by Dorothy Eagle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 94. but without the latter’s accuracy.

5. Chen, Jia. “William Blake” (1981).

Of Blake’s poetry, Chen holds that Songs of Experience is the best, because it is a more mature work than his previous poems and it does not have the great handicap of obscurity of the later Prophetic Books. The dominant theme of Songs of Experience is social criticism. Of Blake’s Prophetic Books, Tiriel and The Book of Thel are less mystical and more lyrical. The French Revolution and America are among the most significant for their direct reference to historical events. Other works which also have reference to historical and political events of the modern world are Europe and The Song of Los. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is obscure, but its general drift is a spirit of rebellion against conventional religion, morality, and art. Other Prophetic Books, like The Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los, have much less value as poetry, because they are purely allegorical and have no direct reference to historical events. Milton and Jerusalem are complicated and extremely obscure. But at the end, Chen admits that after much laborious deciphering we can find spiritual freedom and Blake’s emphasis on poetry and imagination as against the extreme rationalism of the Enlightment.

Obviously, the greatest part of the above articles is dedicated to the discussion of Blake’s political attitude. And his political works, especially The French Revolution, are highly valued in China. Consequently, very little is said of Blake’s intellectual and artistic achievement. But a reasonable change in the attitude toward Blake’s begin page 159 | back to top major works, his Prophetic Books, can be perceived in Wang Zu-liang and Chen Jia’s essays of 1980 and 1981. Wang praises the works particularly highly in terms of intellectual and artistic value.

Even so, the analysis and scholarship of Blake are still elementary and superficial in China. Such critical positions indicate ignorance of Blake criticism and scholarship for at least twenty years.77 This statement was confirmed by G.E. Bentley, Jr., bibliographer and Blake scholar, who was a visiting professor in Fudan University, Shanghai, China. I must take this opportunity to express my gratitude for his detailed assistance on my present essay. This situation is largely due to the fact that China’s intellectual life was virtually shut off from the West for about twenty years. With a new animation in China’s intellectual life, and with an enlargement of cultural exchanges with Western countries, there may be a hope of advance in the study of William Blake in China.

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