Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Chinese Perspective and the Assessment of Contemporary Chinese Literature

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Chinese Perspective and the Assessment of Contemporary Chinese Literature

Article excerpt

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A Chinese perspective, a Chinese horizon- these are still required to assess the value of contemporary Chinese literature. If we form our assessments without a Chinese perspective, only applying Western aesthetic standards and looking at unsuccessful translations of Chinese literary works, then a correct assessment of contemporary Chinese literature will never be possible.

The reasons for emphasizing the need of a Chinese perspective are as follows: First, the Chinese have been learning from the West for over one hundred years. Throughout these one hundred years, Chinese writers, artists, theorists, and critics have pored over knowledge from the West with sincerity and humility, with determination and thoroughness, and the results have been quite impressive. Second, every Chinese engaged in literary writing, theory, and criticism is widely read in Western literature, thought, and theory. Thus, under these conditions, based on these facts, it is already apparent that maintaining a Chinese perspective within the global framework of modern thought is extremely difficult. Third, a truly effective Chinese perspective is not easy to come by; to some extent, it takes a tremendous amount of courage and originality to create a truly Chinese horizon. The failure to construct that viewpoint results in a perspective still completely restricted by Western standards or a perspective that is Chinese in concept and ideology only.

Today, of course, the discussion of a Chinese perspective is extremely complicated. I would like to emphasize the importance of an effective Chinese horizon, one built within the comparative contexts of East and West. Here I can only propose a simple condition without which we would not be able to assess the achievements of contemporary Chinese literature. We must recognize that contemporary Chinese literature has its own unique experiences. The inability to recognize this will prevent us from erecting a monument for Chinese literature on our own soil, and in turn forever prevent us from developing a standard for its assessment. Assessing Chinese literature according to Western literary values will forever situate it among the ranks of the "lesser developed." There is no doubt that Western aesthetics have guided and facilitated the advancement, growth, and maturity of contemporary Chinese literature. From literary revolution to revolutionary literature, Western modernity has played a guiding role. China experienced a radical revolution in modernity that necessitated a thorough learning process, an inevitable step in the development and growth of Chinese literature. In the 1950s and '60s we studied literature from the former Soviet Union; in the 1980s, amid the "Correction" movement ... following the end of the Cultural Revolution, we once again upheld the banners of Enlightenment and Humanism; in the 1990s a diverse body of writing started to emerge. Throughout these developments, Chinese literature has no doubt been influenced by the West. But realism, romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism are literary trends nurtured by the histories and traditions of the West. Those great writers and their works of greatness are Western home-grown artistic achievements. This is not to say that the past must now bow to the present, or that because of China's economic rise, China seeks to impose its culture. This is just to say that within a global context, we have come to realize that cultural diversity is the foundation of a vibrant global culture and that the value of each culture lies in its uniqueness. In the absence of uniqueness, a culture will be reduced to but a by-product of globalization. In the early 1990s in his lecture "The Antinomies of Postmodernity," Frederic Jameson noted the importance of

the affirmation of a cultural (and sometimes religious) originality that had the power to resist assimilation by Western modernity. . . . At any rate, what one wants to affirm today is that this second reactive or antimodern term of tradition and traditionalism has everywhere vanished from the reality of the former Third World or colonized societies, where a neotraditionalism (as in certain Chinese revivals of Confucianism, or in religious fundamentalisms) is now rather perceived as a deliberate political and collective choice, in a situation in which little remains of a past that must be completely reinvented. …

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