Academic journal article China Perspectives

Editorial

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Editorial

Article excerpt

The present special feature focuses on utopian/dystopian literature in contemporary China. Why publish a special feature on literary representations of the utopian/dystopian in China Perspectives, a journal that focuses on Chinese political analysis? In the first place, utopia has always been a political issue, according to Fredric Jameson; (1) or as Douwe Fokkema claims, "[u]topian fiction is arguably the most political of all literary genres and can be studied from a literary as well as a political point of view."(2) Utopia, named by Thomas More in the sixteenth century and repeatedly revived, reinvented, and reprogrammed by later reformers and revolutionaries, projects an ideal vision of human society that contrasts with the unsatisfying reality, and through literary imagination translates social criticism into a political and/or technological blueprint for a better world. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the popularisation of utopian thinking in a European context particularly testified to the enthusiasm of Enlightenment thinkers, revolutionaries, and social reformers toward engineering a perfect society according to scientific knowledge and reason. In a twentieth century that saw the ruin of various utopian projects, a sweeping disillusionment with utopian thinking gave rise to a dystopian literature that has evolved into a distinct genre with its own classics and conventions. Dystopia is generally considered the opposite of utopia. However, if the utopian vision of a good place and a perfect world as alternatives to social reality can be viewed "as a privileged means to convey a potentially subversive message," (3) the same can be said about the dystopian vision that should be, "in fact, a variant of the same social dreaming that gives impetus to utopian literature."(4)Both utopian and dystopian literatures are characterised by engagement with social problems, and their difference mainly lies in varying approaches to solutions: utopia presents a systematic solution to all social, political, and cultural problems, while the dystopian vision never fails to reveal the constraints imposed on humanity by any available or imaginable political systems.

In China, it was Yan Fu ?? who first coined the phrase "wutuobang" ? ??to translate the word Utopia,(5)and since the last decade of late Qing, utopian thinking has shaped the thoughts of many generations of Chinese reformers and revolutionaries. Political events in the late Qing might convey a gloomy picture, from China's defeat in the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War to the failed Hundred-Day Reform of 1898; from the disastrous Boxer Rebellion to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, fought on Chinese territory while the Qing court declared "neutrality." Yet it was also a moment of belated initiation into world affairs for many young literati activists, who were utterly captivated by the seemingly infinite potential of the future. With many varied strands, the contour of Chinese utopianism at the turn of the twentieth century was decisively optimistic, in stark contrast to the dire situation the country was in. Kang Youwei's ??? Book of Great Unity(Da tong shu ???, the composition date of which remained controversial) presented the most systematic politico-philosophical discourse on a utopian vision of the future China. Utopian novels, the very first of which was Liang Qichao's ??? Future of New China(Xin Zhongguo weilai ji????? ?, 1902), soon became an established genre.(6)Generally speaking, at the risk of oversimplification, these novels tend to depict a future China that retains a political Confucianism, whose ideal social order would have to be bound to traditional agrarian society, but the authors seldom provide any consideration of it. Sensually, they are completely urban and excitedly exhibitionist in character, informed mostly by life in Shanghai and possibly Hong Kong as well. Some of the more politically framed works were never finished, including Liang's Future of New China. …

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