Polyphonic poetics: Reading Yang Shaoping’s Pidgin Bamboo Branch Lyrics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Pidgin English appeared in China along the Pearl River Delta as a contact language composed of a mixture of English, Cantonese, Portuguese, Hindi, and Malay as early as the eighteenth century. It spread to the Yangzi River delta in the mid-nineteenth century when an increasing number of Cantonese merchants and workers traveled to other treaty ports after the First Opium War. Focusing on a series of poems called Pidgin Bamboo Branch Lyrics (Bieqin zhuzhici) published in the newspaper Shen Bao in 1873, this paper explores how pidgin was appropriated in Chinese poetry and altered the literary soundscape in late Qing China. I argue that these pidgin English terms created a heteroglot poetic space wherein Sinographs and European words, literary language and local tongues, and classical images and contemporary anecdotes intertwine to generate diverse and contradictory meanings. Through an innovative collocation of the graphic, literal, and phonetic features of Chinese characters, the pidgin words and expressions in these poems produce a multilayered structure of meanings with various possibilities for interpretation. Moreover, unlike traditional bamboo branch lyrics in which non-Chinese words are incorporated to domesticate strangeness and consolidate the imperial order of center and periphery, these poems have an inverse effect: their use of pidgin English instead alienates the native, the conventional, and the familiar landscape/soundscape. This poetry made of language crossings depicts modernity as an uncanny sonic experience and makes foreignness appear not in a faraway land but in one’s own poetic language and everyday life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalModern Chinese Literature and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • pidgin English
  • poetry
  • bamboo branch lyrics
  • Shanghai
  • Yang Shaoping


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