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Connotators, Blended Spaces, and Figures of Grammar: Reflections on Traditional Chinese Poetics Through A Semiotic Study of Su Manshu's Poetry

This essay probes into the craft and criteria of traditional Chinese poetry through a study of Su Manshu’s poetry. Su Manshu has been praised as one of the last representative figures of classical Chinese poetry, while his distinctive poetic techniques rendered him a precursor of the New Literary Movement in the early years of the Republic of China. A semiotic examination of Su Manshu’s poetry and its intricate relationship with tradition and transformation in Late Qing literary arena makes an ideal case study of the criteria of classical Chinese poetry. Su Manshu’s poetry is interwoven with connotative elaboration allusions, metaphors and multifarious figures of speech. Meanwhile, function words, colloquial markers and illocutionary acts play in its “less poetic” grammar, making it the construction of both archaic and modern transmutations in the era of paradigm shifts. The approaches of semiotics and linguistics are expected to offer novel perspectives of the poet, providing a methodology hitherto rarely used, if ever, in studies of Chinese poetics.

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