Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Codes of Novels: A Literature Lesson from an Author

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Codes of Novels: A Literature Lesson from an Author

Article excerpt

Ma Yuan. The Codes of Novels: A Literature Lesson from an Author. Nonfiction. Beijing. The Writers' Publishing House. 2009. 426 pages. 36 RMB. ISBN 9787506347891

Ma Yuan, a representative of the avant-garde movement in modern Chinese culture, created an image of the times in which he lived via unique writing techniques, but little attention was paid to his creative work. Instead, he became Professor Ma, and near the end of his teaching career he collected his lecture papers, reading reports, and other commentaries into The Codes of Novels. Here, Ma studies and analyzes various novels while also searching for new ways to enjoy them.

Ma addresses literary theories and writing techniques, focusing mostly on modern works. He explores both modern Chinese novels as well as Nobel Prize- winning works from around the world, discussing many aspects of these novels as well as details about the writers' diverse means of survival. He also shares his own experience as an author and his critical analyses as a scholar. He has labeled himself an amateur novelist, and said that although there were many schools of thought over the history of the novel, "those who wrote always wanted to convey their own thoughts to other people." In his book, he offers objective comments on the writing of novels, while also providing insight into himself and other writers. For example, he claims that the novel Feidu by Jia Pingwa "expresses the idea of boredom to the fullest extent" and shall live on for some time. Ma praises the novel Brothers by Yu Hua, which didn't gain critical appreciation but was a bestseller nonetheless. Ma is a scholar and professor, but his writings clearly display the additional insights he has gained as an author and a critic.

A few years ago, working with other authors of his time, Ma created some works utilizing his characteristically unique style, passion, and unusual narrative structures to attract readers while touching their hearts. However, to everyone's regret, many readers, even Ma's followers, are now less sure of Ma's legacy as a novelist because there are simply too many choices available in the world; becoming a novelist is no great job anymore. Because of this, there are fewer and fewer writers who can manage to write in a calm and affectionate tone, and there are fewer and fewer patient and serious readers of such works. This is the age of the reader's defection to mass culture, which leads more and more traditional novels to disappear from view.

Once, Ma said his rationale for giving up novel writing was because he could no longer earn the respect of those whom he respected. The glory of this literature was lost and could never be found again, and this did a great deal of damage to Ma and the avant-garde group to which Ma belonged. …

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