China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper examines the sonic properties of the 1930s Chinese leftist poetry. For the leftists striving to “go to the people,” poetry should be transformed from a “visual art” to an “auditory art” to foster further political participation. They enthusiastically called for public recitation of poetry as a way to not only reach out to the masses, but also to engage and mobilize them as the revolutionary subjects. While previous scholarship has revealed the ideological and political investments, especially the promotion of nationalism, in the Leftist Poetry Recitation Movement, this article attempts to address the bodily and material dimension of the sound of poetry. Whereas the ideological messages of nationalism gear toward the transformation of the audience’s minds, these statements, assertions, and narrative are always mediated by the sonic enunciation, by the sound patterning (meter, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, etc.) that is independent to the lexical meaning of the poem. Focusing on the poetic manipulation of the linguistic materiality of these works, I demonstrate how the sound of leftist poetry, especially their rhythmic structures and use of onomatopoeia, contributes to a particular bodily solidarity. Integrating a whole range of imitations of sounds familiar to the masses, leftist poetry attempts to arrest the distinct aural feature that characterizes the sensory experience of the masses. By recreating in the poetic present the past acoustic environments, these works invoke and re-activate the masses’ shared precarious experiences, thus form the foundation for the recognition of the bodily solidarity among the audiences on site.