Revolutionary Literature in China: An Anthology

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

Introduction to Cheng Fang-wu's "From a Literary Revolution to a Revolutionary Literature"

The New Culture Movement and the accompanying Literary Revolution (both embraced by the oft-used term, "May Fourth Movement") constituted the focal point of all the socio-political-cultural conflicts and contradictions which had been building up in China since the late nineteenth century. In the resulting charged atmosphere of intellectual intensity, a great many forces vied for influence, if not supremacy. Even, imaginable ideology--both Chinese and foreign--found converts and proselytizers in the Chinese political and cultural scenes, and serious intellectual disputes often broke out into full-fledged name-calling and propaganda wars.

Perhaps the most vociferous and spirited battle cries in the literary sector were raised by the highly self-righteous and irreverent writers and critics of the Creation Society (Chuangzaoshe), founded in 1921 by such prominent figures as Guo Mo-ruo, Yu Da-fu, and Cheng Fang-wu. Primarily concerned with "art for art's sake" aestheticism and European romanticism, they nonetheless found ample time to devote to the attempt to enhance their own position with their main constituency, the "newly-awakened" (i.e., politically), conscious) Chinese youth, by engaging in vituperative flailing at all other literary groups.

Cheng Fang-wu, along with Guo Mo-ruo the chief theoretician of the Creation Society, was a primary participant in the literary battles and was one of the most persistent critics of other writers and theoreticians. His conversion to Marxism in 1925 only caused him to redouble his attacks on his cultural and political enemies, which at times included such giants as Lu Xun and Mao Dun.

Nevertheless, Cheng Fang-wu was most definitely in the vanguard of the progressive forces who were re-evaluating the Literary Revolution and who began calling for a qualitative change in both the form (colloquial language, approximating the actual speech of the worker-peasant masses) and content (revolutionary, taking the masses as the target) of the newly-reformed Chinese literature. He was not the first to come to this position, but he was among the most influential, and his essays helped spark a great debate over revolutionary literature in the period 1928-1932.

The present essay, first published in 1928 in the Creation Society's journal, Creation Monthly (Chuangzao Yuekan), at once sums up the history of the Literary Society, criticizes many well-known and highly respected individuals and groups within the literary world, and sounds the call for the uniting of all revolutionary elements in the struggle against world capitalism and imperialism--in all of their economic, political, and cultural forms. The author repeatedly sets forth the concept that literary movements are inseparable from social ones and that there is no discussing one without the other. Hence, the essay ranges over a far broader area than purely literary concerns.

The essay, from a stylistic point of view, is not particularly well written: there is a profusion of neologisms and foreign borrowings, several unclear terms and hastily applied logic, and the outline format does not always flow. Nonetheless, the piece undoubtedly was not intended to represent creative writing style, nor has it been chosen by the translator for that purpose. The great and lasting value, rather, lies in both its reflection of the contemporary literary scene and also the stimulating effect it had on general readers and other Chinese writers and critics alike. In this respect, it stands as an historical landmark in the development of modern Chinese literature.

The translator would like to call attention to the fact that all words and phrases in the translation appearing within parentheses and in quotes are to be found in the same form in the original text. Anything enclosed in brackets has been added by the translator.

Michael Gotz

-33-

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