‘London is blacker than lacquer’

Anne Witchard

in Lao She in London

Published by Hong Kong University Press

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9789888139606
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9789882208643 | DOI:
‘London is blacker than lacquer’

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The cultural and social climate to which Lao She would respond in Er Ma was one both of hidebound retrenchment and outward-looking optimism, the latter thanks to the efforts of Binyon, Waley, and Pound, and a growing awareness of alternate aesthetic traditions that had begun to challenge the assumptions of British ruling culture. With the scholar, Clement Egerton, Lao She worked on a translation of the Ming dynasty masterpiece, Jin ping mei, published as The Golden Lotus (1939). The virtuosity of Jin Ping Mei's unknown author has recently been compared with the Dickens of Bleak House, the Joyce of Ulysses, and the Nabokov of Lolita. Until the canonization of modernist technique, the qualities of Chinese narrative fiction, namely the carnivalesque, the surreal, irony, parody, pluralistic viewpoints and irresolution or open-ended conclusions, were judged to be shortcomings or limitations by the tenets of objective realism. Working on the translation of Jin ping mei while devouring the newly published works of Conrad, Lawrence, Joyce, Huxley, and Woolf, Lao She was uniquely positioned to appreciate the formal significance of Chinese literary style and the qualitiesthat were beginning to be explored by Western writers in theirrejection of the dominant tradition of mimetic realism.

Keywords: Jin ping mei; Huang Zunxian; Ulysses; Clement Egerton; School of Oriental Studies; Beatrice and Sidney Webb; Xu Zhimo; Claude McKay; Mulk Anand; Aliens Act

Chapter.  7945 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Society and Culture

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