Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals

Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals

Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals

Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals


This volume gathers personal reflections on life and literature by 44 of China's leading authors. It aims to illustrate how Chinese society and its creative writing have supported, competed and fought with each other for the past 40 years and more. Much of what is revealed here is mundane, but the pressure of bringing art to social and political causes, indeed the universal pressure to survive, forges this collection into a very human document. The strengths and weaknesses of these essays offer a window on those of modern Chinese literature itself. Realism was the favoured literary doctrine of the day, and, reflecting this, most of these essays speak for themselves - about war, revolution, betrayal and commitment.


Helmut Martin

AT THE END of the campaign against "spiritual pollution" in the spring of 1984, I had the opportunity to work at Tongji and Fudan universities in Shanghai, as an exchange scholar from the Ruhr University in Bochum. The authors I met there, and the collections of autobiographical essays (chuangzuotan) that Chinese friends brought to my attention, helped me to understand the hopes, fears, and everyday problems of China's writers. I returned to Germany with a collection of these essays (see the Source Bibliography), determined to use them as a very personal introduction to contemporary Chinese literature. In 1985, I published a preliminary selection in German, with the cooperation of K. H. Pohl, in the Munich literary magazine akzente.

During a sabbatical year, 1987-88, I had the privilege of undertaking further work in the field at the Modern Chinese Language Project of the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California at Berkeley. There I read through dozens of additional collections of essays for the present selection.

Which writers were selected? A list of one hundred was compiled, in collaboration with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Peking, for a Chinese-German project of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Society). Mounting political pressure in 1986-87 necessitated abandonment of that project. Later, China published a preliminary Chinese version of the project, including 107 PRC writers but omitting Bei Dao, Cong Weixi, Liu Binyan, Wang Ruowang, Wu Zuguang, and others: [Xu] Jiemin, Dangdai Zhongguo zuojia bairen zhuan ([Auto]biographies of one hundred contemporary Chinese writers) (Beijing: Qiushi chubanshe, 1989). For the present anthology, controversial names were restored, Taiwan writers were added (and one from Hong Kong), and then the list was reduced to a more manageable nucleus of forty-four. My selection naturally favors "serious" authors, with Jin Yong representing popular authors and their strained relations with the "serious" ones--and an often overlooked link between the tastes of readers on Taiwan and the Chi-

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