Knowledge Is Pleasure

Florence Ayscough in Shanghai

(知識就是樂事:Florence Ayscough 的一生)

Lindsay Shen

ISBN : 978-988-8139-59-0

Literary Studies RAS China in Shanghai

August 2012

172 pages, 5″ x 7″, 6 color and 15 b&w illus.

  • HK$120.00

‘The Sensuous Realist’

Florence Ayscough—poet, translator, Sinologist, Shanghailander, avid collector, pioneering photographer and early feminist champion of women’s rights in China. Ayscough’s modernist translations of the classical poets still command respect, her ethnographic studies of the lives of Chinese women still engender feminist critiques over three quarters of a century later and her collections of Chinese ceramics and objets now form an important part of several American museum’s Asian art collections. Raised in Shanghai in an archetypal Shanghailander family in the late nineteenth century, Ayscough was to become anything but a typical foreigner in China. Encouraged by the New England poet Amy Lowell, she was to become a much sought after translator in the early years of the new century, not least for her radical interpretations of the Tang-dynasty poet Tu Fu. She later moved on to record China and particularly Chinese women using the new technology of photography, turn the Royal Asiatic Society’s Shanghai library into the best on the China Coast and build several impressive collections featuring textiles, Ming and Qing ceramics. By the time of her death Florence Ayscough has left a legacy of collection and scholarship unrivalled by any other foreign woman in China before or since. In this biography, Lindsay Shen recovers Ayscough for posterity and returns her to us as a woman of amazing intellectual vibrancy and strength.

Lindsay Shen is an associate professor at Sino-British College, Shanghai, and Honorary Editor for the Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai. She has published in the fields of design and museum studies in Europe and the United States.

“Lindsay Shen has brought Florence Ayscough to life and painted a fascinating picture of the many aspects of the life of the foreign community in old Shanghai. Using enchanting prose, Lindsay shows us a scholarly and unusual woman who, in her study of Chinese language and culture, was ahead of her times.” —Jane Portal, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“This is a sensitive and elegantly written biography of one of the most passionate Sinologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author moves fluidly between closely shadowing Florence Ayscough’s remarkable life and immersion in Chinese culture and stepping back to illuminate her setting and kindred spirits.” —Elinor Pearlstein, Art Institute of Chicago

“Shen’s insightful, yet gentle exploration of the life and work of Florence Ayscough serves to bring a very human face and elegant persona to the tumultuous and challenging world of turn of the 20th century Shanghai. Ayscough’s homes in the British settlement serve as vantage points from which we are provided an insider’s view of the many challenges she and others faced at the end of the colonial era in China. Shen explores with equal parts analytical interest and romantic fascination Ayscough’s embrace of Chinese society, art, literature and horticulture. Her examination reveals the complexity of colonial life marked by a distinct mixture of undying devotion to the colonized culture and rather unpleasant disdain for aspects of its indigenous identity.” —Robert Mintz, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland