Blossoms of the Apricot: Representations of Confucianism and Confucian China in the Writings of Henry Thoreau, Ernest Fenollosa, and Ezra Pound



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Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Confucianism and Confucian China entered American literature through the efforts of three generations of leading writers. As a rich school of thought that had flourished for more than two thousand years in China, Confucianism presented itself as a philosophy, a political theory, and an aesthetics. Its extensive content and wide application appealed to American intellectuals, who turned it into an endorsement for their own revolutionary proposals in various fields. A selective account of the discourse about Confucianism and Confucian China in American literature from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, this thesis explores contributions of Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, and Ezra Weston Loomis Pound. Playing out in a chronological sequence, it centers on a common theme in these writers’ works––the interpretation and adaptation of the Confucian conception of language. Grounding my analysis in close reading, I discuss both how an eagerness to connect the symbolic realm with the material world characterizes their approaches to Confucianism, and how the Confucian view on language is integrated into their literary practices. Furthermore, I propose an explanation for why these American writers, while consciously invested in the establishment of a new national literature, all turned to an ancient foreign culture in searching for inspiration.



Confucianism, Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Fenollosa, Ezra Pound