Revolutionary Literature in China: An Anthology

By John David Berninghausen; Ted Huters | Go to book overview

Introductory Essay
By John Berninghausen and Ted HutersDuring the past sixty years, one of the world's great cultures has been transformed by a profound revolution which touches virtually every aspect of life in that society. As China continues the struggle to fully control her own destiny and to put her revolutionary ideals into practice, the rest of the world looks on with no little fascination tinged with a certain amount of envy, residual misunderstanding, skepticism and admiration.Perhaps the aspect of the Chinese revolution least understood and appreciated in the rest of the world is the development of a new art and literature. Although the widely differing reactions to revolutionary literature and art among outside observers interested in the current state of the arts in the People's Republic of China range all the way from total hostility to sycophantic praise, a more typical response is a bewildered shrug of the shoulders. Even among the scholars in the West who study Chinese literature, only a very small number have devoted serious attention to 20th century Chinese literary works. Insofar as modern Chinese literature comprises only one small sliver of a literary tradition three thousand years old, this is not all that surprising. Yet the greatly increased interest among both scholars and the general populations of other societies in China's undeniably impressive political and economic achievements has generally not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the attention given to the developments which have taken place in her art and literature.One obvious problem which confronts those of us who would like to better understand modern Chinese literature but who cannot read it in the original language is the lack of readily available translations. It is the basic purpose of this special issue of the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars to present a selection of significant short stories and critical essays in complete translations which will illustrate something of the process by which the revolutionary literature of contemporary China developed. Every attempt has been made by the editors of this special issue to obtain translations of works heretofore unavailable in English and most of the pieces being published here are appearing for the first time in any of the major European languages.In the same way that the social and economic transformation achieved in China through political revolution represents a historical response to certain problems and conditions which are peculiar to China, as well as a response to some of the problems and conditions common to many societies, likewise revolutionary Chinese literature has developed within a Chinese context and is directly linked to China's unique history and cultural heritage. Its development was, needless to say, simultaneously influenced by historical events and literary phenomena external to China.A Chinese short story in which "boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are separated by cruel fate, boy and girl die of broken heart" will likely share some features and concerns typically found in short stories which treat a similar theme regardless of language, historical background, dominant value system, social order, literary traditions or class origin of author. By the same token, a 20th century Chinese novel about a protagonist engaged in revolutionary struggle to overthrow the existing social order and establish a new society based on Marxian socialism will, just as novels written in other societies which deal with similar themes, encounter certain types of artistic problems; a Chinese novel is, after all, still a novel, and this particular type of novel will tend to solve those problems in ways that are usually similar to solutions worked out in non-Chinese novels of like theme. On the other hand, no matter how similar their thematic content, ideological orientation or literary techniques, the cultural differences (including those of different literary experience and expectations) will have a significant influence on literary works written in different languages and societies and will automatically produce differences in meaning and methods of expression.The writers (story-tellers) and the audience for whom they create the literary communication have received a particular conditioning via their shared historical, cultural and literary experiences. These experiences are conceptualized, remembered and evaluated in ways which are at least partially unique to that specific culture and its language. In order to begin to better understand the development of revolutionary literature in China and its relationship to modern Chinese society and the Chinese revolution, we have to keep the following two points firmly in mind:
Modern Chinese literature, revolutionary as well as non-revolutionary, is an outgrowth of traditional Chinese literature and is related to modern Chinese society in ways that parallel the relationship of traditional Chinese literature to its society.
Revolutionary Chinese literature reflects the revolutionary changes which could only have occurred in this century and which are not unrelated to the

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