Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Rise of a Scholar and a Discipline in China: A Celebration of Yue Daiyun's Contributions to the Field of Chinese Comparative Literature

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Rise of a Scholar and a Discipline in China: A Celebration of Yue Daiyun's Contributions to the Field of Chinese Comparative Literature

Article excerpt

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A century of cultivation and thirty years of rapid development have seen to the firm establishment of the field of comparative literature in China, as well as its advancement within the international scholarly community. On August 9, 2011, the opening ceremony of the Chinese Comparative Literature Association's (CCLA) annual meeting and international conference in Shanghai was attended by over three hundred Chinese scholars from tertiary institutions and research organizations, along with more than sixty scholars from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. The scope of this event was unprecedented in the field of global comparative literature, and there may never be another like it apart from the annual meetings of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) and the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA).

The list of first-generation scholars who made important contributions to the development of this discipline in China would no doubt be very long: Qian Zhongshu ..., Ji Xianlin ..., Yang Zhouhan ..., Li Funing ..., Jia Zhifang ...., and many more. However, if we were to name one who over the past thirty years has put her full energy and intellect into the construction of Chinese comparative literature as a field and has taken the leading role in bringing the field to its current position, who else could this be but Yue Daiyun ...?

Yue Daiyun, who began teaching in the Chinese Department of Peking University in the early 1950s, gained fame from the very beginning of her scholarly career thanks to her incisive viewpoints and successful achievements in modern Chinese literary research. Her papers on topics such as Lu Xun ..., Mao Dun ..., and contemporary Chinese fiction won her early acclaim in the academic world. Adopting Lu Xun's comparative perspective that conjoins the ideas of Leo Tolstoy and Friedrich Nietzsche and writings from the Wei and Jin Dynasties, Yue persuasively argued that we can only comprehend Lu Xun by simultaneously understanding Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Ruan Ji ..., and Ji Kang .... She thereby became profoundly aware that without a foundation of both foreign and classical Chinese literary knowledge, as well as a relationship of mutual influence and exchange between the two, it is impossible to conduct truly in-depth research in modern Chinese literature. Due to the historical circumstances of the 1950s, however, this newly arisen star of academia encountered the same tragic fate as many of the intellectuals who had the desire to explore truth and the courage to question and contemplate meaning. She became a prisoner of the so-called revolution; labeled as a right-wing extremist, she was dismissed from her post and was sent to the countryside for five years to undergo re-education through labor. During the upheavals of the next twenty years, she faced a succession of severe political purges, including those of the Cultural Revolution. Yue endured all these tragic twists of fate and the rugged difficulty of her career path. Despite the tragedy and the many deaths happening all around her, she maintained her belief in the future and doggedly pursued her dream of revitalizing Chinese scholarship.

The end of the Cultural Revolution ushered in the dawn of reform that transformed the dire circumstances of Chinese intellectuals. Thanks to the recovery of the university system, the then-middle-aged Yue Daiyun was appointed to a prestigious teaching position at Peking University despite having been declared a political outcast several times. And thanks to her knowledge of English, she became one of the few professors to teach the students who came from Europe and the United States at the start of the reform era. The fireworks of Yue's thinking burned on contact with ideas from different cultural and educational backgrounds, producing critical insights and scholarly breakthroughs. …

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