Chen Jingrong 陈敬容 was born in Leshan, Sichuan Province, in 1917. Her early education was a combination of classical Chinese literature at home and Westernized modern education at the Leshan Gongxin Girl’s Elementary School, established by French missionaries. As a result, Chen was imbued with notions of gender equality and women’s liberation from early on. In 1932, two years after entering Leshan Girl’s Middle School, Chen attempted to run away from home in pursuit of a literary career in Beijing. The attempt failed, but her poem “Disillusion” (“Huanmie” 幻灭) was brought to Beijing and published the same year by her English teacher, then a rising poet.
Chen finally ran away and joined the literary circle in Beijing in 1934. Her poetry and prose poetry written up until the 1937 start of the Sino-Japanese War were best known for their exquisite lyrical quality as well as seamless integration of classical Chinese and modernist imageries, techniques, and sentiments. Chen did not write much during the war for various reasons, but experienced her most prolific period beginning in 1945 when she moved to Chongqing, then to Shanghai in 1946. Besides publishing a prose poetry collection, Xingyu ji 星雨集 (Star Rain) in 1946, two poetry collections Yingying ji 盈盈集 (Overflow) and Jiaoxiang ji 交响集 (Symphony) in 1948, Chen coedited two poetry journals and kept publishing poems, essays, and poetry translations, including a dozen poems by Charles Baudelaire. Her poetry in this period took on a confident voice of urgency and irony against the social, political, and cultural absurdities of the postwar urban reality in Shanghai. Her translations of Baudelaire plus her own “Baudelairian poetry” drew fierce attacks from Leftist critics. In the 1980s, Chen and her fellow poets who experimented with modernist poetry and contributed to the two poetry journals Chen had coedited in the late 1940s became known as the Nine Leaves school of poets.
From 1949 to 1976, Chen mainly focused on literary translations due to cultural and political reasons. She burst into her last period of poetic activity in the 1980s; in 1983 she published poetry collection Laoqu de shi shijian 老去的是时间 (What Gets Old Is Time), then poetry and prose collection Yuanfan ji 远帆集 (Distant Sail) in 1984, and then later in 1984 she published a selection of translations of poems by Charles Baudelaire and Rainer Maria Rilke, titled Tuxiang yu Huatuo 图像与花朵 (Imageries and Flowers). Her poetry in the ’80s reached another level of depth and complexity with her candidly personal and often anti-lyrical engagement with the multifarious impact of the social, cultural, and technological transformations of the time. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chen’s translations of Baudelaire published in 1957 and 1984 provided eye-opening inspiration for the younger generation of Chinese poets such as Bei Dao 北岛, Shu Ting 舒婷, Duo Duo 多多, Mang Ke 芒克, and Bai Hua 柏桦.
This special section devoted to Chen Jingrong features selected translations of her poems from the 1930s to the 1980s, and two articles, one on the impact Chen’s translations of Baudelaire have had on contemporary Chinese poetry, and the other on the link between noise pollution and Chen’s eco-poetry in the 1980s.
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From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 5 No. 1