T. S. Eliot, one of the Modernist poets in the 20th century and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, was introduced to mainland China in the 1930s. Yeh Kung- chao (1904-1981), a diplomat and famous scholar in literary studies, first introduced and interpreted T. S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland (1922) to the Chinese readers in 1934. Just as what Zhao Luorui (1912-1998), the early translator of The Wasteland, said in her lament for Yeh, the profoundness of T.S. Eliot’s influence outreaches his poetic works. Indeed, both T.S. Eliot’s major poetic works and his essays on poetry have become popular among the intellectual in mainland China since the 1930s. Unfortunately, the publication of anything about T.S. Eliot came to a standstill at the end of 1940s, even the name of T.S. Eliot was found missing in an American anthology. After two decades’ absence (i.e. 1950s -1970s), T.S. Eliot studies have flourished again in mainland China after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. But where’s T.S. Eliot during that period?
This article aims to look for the absent T.S. Eliot, and it gives special attention to the vehicle of the cultural transfer as well as its human agent that has helped introducing the poet-critic across the border to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, it intends to discuss the impact of T.S. Eliot’s works in the Hong Kong context to see any dynamics of (dis)connection.
Based on some important literary archives (esp. local newspaper supplements and literary magazines funded by the USIA), it is found that T.S. Eliot has been introduced to Hong Kong since the late 1940s via the Literary Supplements of the Overseas Chinese Daily News and the Literary Current Monthly Magazine etc. - which were then in the charge of some Soundbound Writers from the mainland China – with some local contributors playing a significant role in translation, illustration as well as local adaptation. Among them, S. Quanan (1935- ), a local writer and major translator of T.S. Eliot in Hong Kong, is a typical case. He not only translates several poems of T.S. Eliot (e.g. The Hollow Men, ‘Virginia’ and ‘Usk’ in Landscapes) in the 1950s, but also borrows some literary devices as well as the western cultures and values behind the texts to his early works, wherein he characterizes the disillusioned intellectual in the mercantile Hong Kong society.