Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Literature and the Ideology of Space: How the Beijing School Was Constructed in Modern Chinese Literature 1

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Literature and the Ideology of Space: How the Beijing School Was Constructed in Modern Chinese Literature 1

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Beijing School-or Jingpai-was an important literary school in modern Chinese literature. It came into being in the late 1920s when the tide of May Fourth cultural movement receded and when the Leftist literature and the Shanghai School of literature came to dominate the literary world in China. The Leftist writers advocated that literature should serve the revolutionary cause and it should embrace politics and ideologies. The Shanghai School writers, primarily based in Shanghai that was the commercial and cosmopolitan centre in China at the time, promoted modem, commercial and cosmopolitan values in their writings and accept the commercialization of literature. The Beijing School writers, mostly living in northern Chinese cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Qingdao, were opposed to the close relationship between literature and politics on the one hand and to the commercialization of literature on the other. The Beijing School writers, such as Zhou Zuoren, Shen Congwen, Fei Ming, Ling Shuhua, Lin Huiyin, Xiao Qian, Li Jianwu and Zhu Guangqian, pursued the ideal of literature of humanity, independent of politics and commercialization, and tended to recreate in their writings an idealized rural China where their ideal literary values were located and embodied.

Recent studies on the Beijing School have focused mainly on the works of its writers, their literary values and contributions to modern Chinese literature. There are only a few researches on the school as a whole, taking as its focus the school ' s historical formation and its relationships to other schools such as the Leftist and the Shanghai School. My paper will take the Beijing School as a whole and, using the relationship between literature and space as the central line of investigation, examine how the school was constructed and reconstructed in modern Chinese literature. In the process, it will analyse the writings on the Beijing School, especially comments by Zhou Zuoren, Shen Congwen, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Feng Naichao and others, and it will touch upon the early 1930s debates on the Beijing School versus the Shanghai School.

Ideology of Space and the Literature of Flumanity

The significance of the relationship between literature and space, asserts Zhou Zuoren in his 1923 article " Place and Literature and Art " written for one of his home province newspapers, is not to be found in "the regionalism that the Chinese often has." Instead, by quoting from Also sprach Zarathustra where Nietzsche passionately calls for a loyalty to land, Zhou argues that the importance of the relationship lies well in such a loyalty to land, for he believes that in whatever sense human beings are always children of the land. This loyalty to land, according to him, could also be understood on the basis of the traditional Chinese idea offengtu, a common sense of the close tie between a man and the natural conditions and social customs of a place where he lives. In such a distinction between regionalism which is closely related to a locally collectivized and narrow- minded attachment to a place and a loyalty to land which stresses an individualized and life - empowering bonding to a place, Zhou endeavours to emphasize a general yet also individualized relationship between man, literature and place. However, what was troubling Zhou was that people at the time " like too much the life up in the air and they love to live in the beautiful but meaningless theories, just like people before who would like to live in the old Confucian books." To Zhou, this is no doubt a regretful situation. Thus he calls upon writers of the time to " come down to the ground, let the breath and flavour of land and mud penetrate their arteries and veins, and express them in words." Such words of and from the land are in his mind the real thought, literature and art. Zhou further argues that this land- based way of writing applies not only to the native literature and art that focus on descriptions of regionalized local life but it applies to all literature and art. …

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