Pai Ta-shun was a successful poet, a mysterious Chinese man praised by critics and read by the masses. Turns out he was so mysterious because the works actually came from the pen of white American medical physician Frederick Peterson, author of such poetic works as The American Textbook of Legal Medicine and Toxicology.
According to this 1917 article recounting the then-recent controversy, Peterson was a student of Chinese poetry and wrote his poems according to Chinese literary tradition, using the name Pai Ta-shun as a Chinese-sounding homophone of Peterson.
His poems could actually be quite beautiful regardless of the con regarding the author’s identity. Here is his verse from The Dragon:
Ever-changing the cumulus surges above the horizon,
Black with thunder or white with the glitter of snow-capped mountains,
Rosy with dawn or with sunset, an age-long shifting pageant.
Stuff of chaos for dreams to forge into magical visions,
Ranged below it the common earth and the tiger-forces,
Behind and above it unfurled the starry deeps of the heavens.
Out of the formless clouds we shaped the deathless Dragon,
Symbol of change and sign of the infinite symbol of spirit.
In 2015, poet Michael Derrick Hudson caused national controversy when the anthology Best American Poetry published his poem that he submitted under the name Yi-Fen Chou. The anthology was unaware of the author’s true identity at first, but upon acceptance the author revealed the truth to the anthology’s editor, who published it under the Asian pseudonym regardless. As Mark Twain once quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Mystery of Authorship of Chinese Lyrics Solved: Poems of Pai Ta-shun, Widely Discussed for Past Two Years, Were Written by Dr. Frederick Peterson, New York Physician (PDF)
From Sunday, March 4, 1917
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