The New Literature of the People: A Perspective on the Contemporary Chinese Literary Experience

By Fanhua, Meng | Chinese Literature Today, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The New Literature of the People: A Perspective on the Contemporary Chinese Literary Experience


Fanhua, Meng, Chinese Literature Today


Before we address the larger problem of discussing contemporary Chinese literature, we must examine an important paradox. Over a century of globalization has already incorporated the Chinese literary experience so that it has become just one part of the worldwide literary experience. Have we the ability to still identify which aspects of the Chinese literary experience are exclusively and purely Chinese? However, it is not clear whether or not Chinese literature has truly been accepted into the realm of global literature, since the claim of globalization regarding literature has long been full of false bravado. Furthermore, even if these problems are ignored or resolved, do we really have the ability to form a definitive sense of the "Chinese literary experience"? Since literature is the most intensely individualistic of all creative pursuits, where could the definitive sense of the Chinese literary experience be found?

These doubts are such that whenever I am to speak on the Chinese literary experience, I do so reluctantly and without passion. As I see it, even if the Chinese literary experience exists, it is extremely abstract and constantly evolving. Chinese literature has exhibited certain distinguishing features during other historical periods such as the May Fourth Era, the Nationalist and the Liberation movements, the 1949 era, the Cultural Revolution and 1980s era, and the post-1990 era. These periods are all quite distinct, making it nearly impossible to form a definitive and relevant sense of the Chinese literary experience as a whole. Though the two ideas of "the Chinese literary experience" and "the entering of Chinese literature onto the world stage" introduced in the 1980s seem to be two completely different issues with different underlying aspirations, they are actually united in their essential attitude, which is a general hesitance-one that clearly shows our lack of confidence in contemporary Chinese literature. The latter idea implies that Chinese literature has not been accepted by the international literary community, especially the more dominant communities of America and Europe, and it shows an eagerness to abide by the demands of the greater family of world literature. Or, in the context of globalization, there is the concern or fear that Chinese literature will be eclipsed, devoured, absorbed, or hidden by the great literatures of America and Europe. Because of this, they say, we should fight Chinese literature's integration into world literature. Behind these claims and slogans lie the two inescapable demands that come with portraying national character in literature. On the one hand, the more characteristic literature is, the more it becomes world literature. On the other hand, the more characteristic literature is, the more it becomes independent. It is thus evident that if not for the rhetorical pressure of globalization, the phrase "the Chinese literary experience" would be almost without meaning.

In the continuing process of Chinese literature's interaction and convergence with world literature- especially in the social climate of Chinese economic reforms from 1980 to 2010-Chinese literature has passed through a historic change. Literature that was once controlled by a political culture has gradually gained freedom and independence. If we truly want to summarize the Chinese literary experience even though it is constantly under construction, I feel that this experience is comprised of three principal elements: the traditional literary experience of ancient China, the vernacular literary experience of the post- May Fourth Era, and the foreign literary experiences that we are continually absorbing. Only through the confluence of these three types of literary experience can we sufficiently illustrate the modern Chinese literary experience, especially with regard to current developments. But this is only a theoretical description, of course. If we enter into the realm of Chinese literature that is actually in development, which is the experience of Chinese style and Chinese manner, perhaps the discussion of so-called common literature that has recently become an increasingly prevalent phenomenon will soon become the most prevalent. …

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