Chen Qiang is a professor at the College of Media and International Culture (CMIC). He has been publishing his works with his pen name Jiang Ruoshui.
Interviewer: Nice to meet you, Professor Chen. I’m with the news department of the CMIC and today we’d like to interview you on your life and research. First of all, you studied in Anhui, Chongqing, Hong Kong and many other places. What made you chose Zhejiang University in the end?
Jiang Ruoshui (Jiang): When I first came to Hangzhou in 1981, I was fascinated by the beauty of West Lake and that contributed to the good impression I had had on Hangzhou. To add to that, Mr. Jin Yong was the honorary president of the School of Humanities of ZJU at that time. I requested for his referral and finally settled at the Department of International Culture.
Interviewer: Could you tell us more about your pen name?
Jiang: Well, first of all, my given name is Chen Qiang, exactly the same as an actor who played many roles as a villain. Also, there were so many people who possess the same name as me. In order to differentiate, I started using Chen Ruoshui as my pen name. However, I later realized that someone at the Academia Sinica of Taiwan also shares the same name. Therefore, I adopted my mother’s surname and styled myself Jiang Ruoshui. In the ancient times, people chose either the synonym or the antonym of their real names as pseudonyms. “Ruo” means weak and is the antonym for “Qiang”. That was how I created a pen name for myself.
Interviewer: Your field of research is associated with many fields including classical poetry, modern poetry and poetry criticism. How do you balance the breadth and depth of your academic research?
Jiang: In the ancient society, literature, history and philosophy were inseparable. However, this has changed tremendously through time and is progressing towards specialization. When compared, my areas of studies are already narrow. For someone who is passionate about literature, interdisciplinary study comes naturally. I have every reason to read all kinds of literature regardless of its time and place of creation.
Interviewer: Do you mean that comparing literature works of all times and of all countries will contribute to a better understanding of Chinese literature?
Jiang: That's for sure. All research begins with comparison. If you know nothing about other forms of literature—poems, novels, or operas, you won’t be able to discover the strengths of your field. In other words, without the others, the idea of “self” is impossible. For example, the ancient Chinese did not realize that there were four different tones in the Chinese language until Sanskrit was introduced. It laid a foundation for metrical poetry. Without Sanskrit, there would be no metrical poetry.
Interviewer: In “Poetry in Literary Studies”, you mentioned that modern poetics surpassed narrative literature in terms of literary status. My interpretation of your perspective is that literature is all about storytelling, basically a kind of narration, and that modern poetry is entirely different from narration and literature. Is that correct?
Jiang: There are some misinterpretation here. I was referring to modern novels as too many techniques were applied in its creation. It has become a dull form of creation that is overly subtle and introverted and lacks of soul-stirring elements like characteristics and destiny. A novel should tell a good story, one that is attractive, exciting, unpredictable, and leaves you wanting more. I’m not saying that narration is equivalent to literature, and by literature, I mean poetic charm. The charm in novels could be a kind of macroscopic literary charm.
Interviewer: In my opinion, the language of poetry must function within its context. Words in itself is powerful and context adds to the power as well.
Jiang: The meaning of any given word is determined by several aspects: dictionary, context, and intertextuality. Sometimes, there is no equivalence in the target language. Splendid translations are hard to come by, but Bian Zhilin’s version of Hamlet is one of them.
Interviewer: Based on your understanding, what is your take on global communication especially when it comes to Chinese culture going global?
Jiang: A strong economy is the prerequisite for cultural diffusion. When a country becomes powerful, people will be attracted naturally. If we force it, it will not turn out as expected.
Interviewer: The Analects of Confucius also contains similar ideas. We have to know ourselves before we reach out to others.
Jiang: It would be impossible to completely understand ourselves as every generation goes through different situations. Just like understanding Hamlet or Dream of the Red Chamber—the journey is never-ending. Know that we will get closer, but the destination is unattainable.