Kusumi Morikage Emperor Yao Visiting Yu Chonghua 1968.105 Cleveland Museum of Art


Great Emperors

First dynasty HIA

Tching Tang of CHANG (second dynasty) b.c. 1766

Third dynasty TCHEOU b.c. 1122-255

Confucius (KUNG FU TSEU) 551-479 

 Ezra Pound The Cantos New York: New Directions, 1998. 255


Cantos 53-61 are collectively known as the “China Cantos,” “Chinese Cantos,” “Chinese History Cantos.” Pound himself wrote about them as follows: “No one is going to be content with a transliteration of Chinese names. When not making a desperate effort at mnemonics or differentiating in vain hope of distinguishing one race from another, I mainly use the french form. Our European knowledge of China has come via latin and french and at any rate the french vowels as printed have some sort of uniform connotation” (“Notes on Cantos LII-LXXI,” p. 447). Instead of this totally irrelevant paragraph, every sentence of which, if it makes sense at all, is open to challenge, Pound could have helped his readers with a single sentence telling them the title of the book he has paraphrased: Histoire générale de la Chine, ou Annales de cet empiretraduites du Tong-kien-kang-mou par le feu Père Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyraç de Mailla, Jésuit françois [sic] missionnaire à Pékin (publiées par M. l’Abbé Crosier,…, Paris: Ph.-D. Pierres, Clousier, 1777-1783), 12 volumes. These Cantos should be called the “De Mailla Cantos.” 

The Tong-kien-kang-mou mentioned in the title is referred to as Tsé-tchi tong kien kang mou 資治通鑑綱目 in the book itself (VIII.303i; cf. Canto 55, p. 311 [298], where kang is misprinted as hang); it is a tendentious abridgment by Chu Hsi 朱熹 (1130-1200) and his students of the Tzu-chih t’ung-chien of Ssu-ma Kuang 司馬光 (1019-1086). Like Ssu-ma Kuang’s year-by-year chronicle Chu Hsi’s abridgment covers 1362 years (from 403 B.C. through 959 A.D.). Various writers tried their hand in compiling chronicles of the years preceding 403 B.C. and succeeding 959 A.D.; and when the Manchus founded their dynasty they had Chu Hsi’s abridgment and other short chronicles translated into Manchu, from which De Mailla made his rather verbose metaphrasis.

In writing these “De Mailla Cantos” Pound fingered through the eleven volumes of Histoire générale de la Chine, the volumes containing chronicle proper amounting to 6265 pages; he starts the series with Vol. I, page 3 of De Mailla and concludes it when he comes to Vol. XI, p. 610, i.e., he begins with the reign of the legendary sovereign Yeou-tsao-chi (Yu-ch’ao shih), who was succeeded by Soui-gin-chih (Sui-jen shih), who in turn was succeeded by Fou-hi (Fu-hsi) in 2953 B.C., and ends with the 45th year of Ch’ien-lung’s [Qianlong] reign, 1780. (The chronicle of the Manchu dynasty was not the work of De Mailla, 1669-1748; it was based on the reports of other Jesuit missionaries at Peking). Ssu-ma Kuang was a Confucian pur sang and Chu Hsi was a prominent figure in the Sung dynasty revival of Confucianism known as neo-Confucianism. It is therefore unavoidable that their interpretation of China’s history is tinged with Confucian prejudices; they could find nothing good in Taoism and Buddhism. The Jesuits, who once attempted the mass conversion of the Chinese empire by converting the harem of the Ming sovereigns, always aligned themselves with the ruling class, which was officially Confucian in its outlook. The Histoire therefore does not mince matters when it comes to the real and alleged misdeeds of the adherents to Taoism and Buddhism. De Mailla hated the two rival religions (“superstitions” in his opinion), so much that he did not mind committing “Jesuitry” at their expense.

Achilles Fang. Materials I: 84-6.

De Mailla, being a product of the French enlightenment and a Jesuit, was pleased to see in heathen China’s ascent to a civilized state proof that reason, the divine spark in man, would draw him toward heaven even without the aid of the Christian revelation. His first emperors, horrified by the brute state of their people, teach them to house and clothe themselves, to burn wood and cook food, and by page four are teaching them that that in order to live well and happily they should follow the guidance of that reason with which Heaven has supplied them so that they may perform Heaven’s will. In short, de Mailla’s China is a China for his time. 

Pound’s too is a China for his own time; that is, he brings to its history his own preoccupations and ignores de Mailla’s.

David Moody. Ezra Pound Poet II: 275



CANTO XIII [Confucius]

CANTO XLIX [Legendary emperors: Shun]

CANTO LXXXV [the beginnings of the Shang dynasty: I Yin, the wise counsellor to Tching Tang and his son]


A Draft of XXX Cantos

ship4 for c1

Eleven New Cantos

rsz guido cavalcanti