Enduring the Revolution: Ding Ling and the Politics of Literature in Guomindang China

Enduring the Revolution: Ding Ling and the Politics of Literature in Guomindang China

Enduring the Revolution: Ding Ling and the Politics of Literature in Guomindang China

Enduring the Revolution: Ding Ling and the Politics of Literature in Guomindang China

Excerpt

Shortly after promotion to associate professor in 1978 and after completing a book on Lu Xun (1881–1936), I was asked by the editor of the Twayne World Author Series to undertake a biography of Ding Ling. The request raised all sorts of questions, both historical and literary. Lu Xun was clearly the most famous of the May 4 Movement writers. Was there any other writer who was equally famous? If so, what was that writer’s unique contribution to Chinese literature? A noted authority on modern fiction, professor C. T. Hsia of Columbia University, encouraged me to study Ding Ling.

One of the landmarks in the study of contemporary Chinese fiction was C. T. Hsia’s debate with J. R. Průšek over the life and works of Ding Ling. As vitriolic and politically motivated as it may have seemed, the debate was less important than the conclusion. The primary task of literary criticism, Hsia reminds us, is “discrimination and evaluation: until we have elicited some order and pattern from the immense body of work available for examination, until we have distinguished the possibly great from the good writers, and the good from the poor, we cannot begin the study of influence and technique, however temptingly scientific the latter kinds of study may be.”

Like Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” (1918) and “The True Story of Ah Q” (1921), Ding Ling’s short story “The Diary of Miss Sophie” (1927), the account of a consumptive as well as lovesick young woman, was also a landmark of May 4 fiction. During the 1940s she had written another short story, titled “In the Hospital,” which criticized medical malpractice and the lack of sanitation in Yan’an, an area already liberated by the communists. Her critical essays . . .

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