Magazine article World Literature Today

CITY PROFILE Beijing

Magazine article World Literature Today

CITY PROFILE Beijing

Article excerpt

CHINA HAS A LONG AND RICH literary history with a well-preserved written language and a robust collection of premodern literary works. Recent Chinese history, however, has taken a toll on this long-admired tradition. In the early 1900s, the great Hanlin library of Beijing, which housed a multitude of rare manuscripts, was burned to the ground. The Cultural Revolution in China that raged from 1966 to 1976 resulted in many scholars being banished and even killed. Precious literary manuscripts were burned to ashes.

Despite all these obstacles, Beijing has been a place of constant inspiration for premodern and modern Chinese writers, for example Cao Xuequin, Lu Xun, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Mo Yan.

During my travels in Beijing, I felt this atmosphere of continued literary appreciation. It was very common for people to have classical Chinese poems written in beautiful calligraphy on wall scrolls. Many buildings have inspirational quotes from famous writers on the outside. When was traveling through one of the narrow alleyways, I saw a red gate with the paint chipping off, a very common sight in Beijing. But there was something different about this gate: a skinny tower was peeking over the top. My curiosity got the better of me, and I pushed open the gate. …

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