Intellectuals in Chinese Fiction

Intellectuals in Chinese Fiction

Intellectuals in Chinese Fiction

Intellectuals in Chinese Fiction

Excerpt

While novels are not meant to be complete records of historical fact, they do contain a wealth of sociological data. For a novel presents to us not only the world it seeks to portray; it presents us as well the ideals of its author, his valuations, and his goals. Its reflections of society as it is or was, of course, are inevitably one- sided, even distorted. But such misrepresentation can aid us in understanding the forms of a previous generation's prejudices, its attitude toward life, its moral constraints, and its distinctive philosophies. The information to be found in fiction -- particularly fiction written under the circumstances in which free and unrestricted expression was not possible -- becomes even more valuable and gains in authenticity. In China, the eras of free expression of thought have not been numerous. Invariably, the authors of novels of merit are men who have been thwarted in politics and frustrated in life. In researching Chinese social history, therefore, we may discover in fiction new layers of information not uncovered in other sources.

The five novels under discussion here -- Shi shuo xin yu (A new account of tales of the world), written by Liu Yiqing in the years 433)-444); Fu sheng liu ji (Six chapters of a floating life), written by Shen Fu in the early years of the nineteenth century; Hong (Rain- bow), written by Mao Dun in the years 1927-1928; Caizhu de ernümen (Children of the rich), written by Lu Ling in the years 1943-1944; and Bu li (Bolshevik greetings), written by Wang Meng in the years 1978-1979 -- span a considerable period and are unlike in the persons and societies they depict. Yet there are many common points and themes among them.

First, the authors of these works are all members of the intelligentsia and of a particular stamp: they are men who have lived lives of chaos and upset, who are dissatisfied with the realities of life around them, who hope, through their writing, to probe that life. Chapter 51 of the Song shu (Documents of the Song) tells us that Liu Yiqing, "finding that the roads and ways of the world had become difficult and that he could no longer straddle a horse [i.e., pursue an official career], summoned the masters of literature, and without fail . . .

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