Periodization of Modern Chinese Literature

I. Origins: Late Qing or May Fourth?

A. Canonical View: May Fourth

-both Chinese Marxist criticism and Western critics have accepted the May Fourth as the birth of modern Chinese literature, when proposals were first made for the use of vernacular as the basis for a new literary language and when the first modern story, "Kuangren riji" (1918), was written
-this is the view of literary history that emerges from the participants of the May Fourth; they were iconoclasts and as such say themselves as originators and creators unattached to any previous writers, so they were blind to their late-Qing progenitors

B. Late Qing transitional and "repressed modernities"

-in the intellectual sphere and in print culture, the late Qing is generally recognized as the beginnings of modernity
-Prusek, Helmut Martin, Dolezelova, Semanov, David Wang and others see the late Qing as holding the seeds of literary modernism (plot structure, contemporariness, theme, writing as political satire), but others see late Qing fiction as remarkably traditional (rhetorical narrator, episodic structure of plot, stereotyped characterization, theme still supportive of Confucianism)
-late Qing, nonetheless, is important in beginning the process of the transformation of literary values and the overturning of the traditional generic heirarchy
-Liang Qichao, Lin Shu, Wu Rulun, Yan Fu, almost in spite of themselves, led to the demise of classical models by promoting fiction and translation of Western fiction
-Lin Shu's intention in translating Western fiction, for example, was to restore the prose style of the Tang and Song masters through translation; he felt that the style could somehow be divorced from the content that tradition could be reinvigorated through it

C. Prusek and late-imperial subjectivism

-the roots of modern subjectivism can ultimately be traced to the late-Ming individualism of the Gongan and Jingling schools and to the subjectivization of literature in the Qing (i.e. Pu Songling; Honglou meng; Rulin waishi...)

II. Early Republican (1911-1917)

-the great boom of the novel of the late Qing period (during which huge numbers of novels were written) was followed by a "retrenchment" during which popular entertainment fiction was the rage
-detective stories, love stories, scandal fiction, adventure tales offered solace, so Perry Link says, to a population trying to cope with the demise of tradition and the advent of Westernization; yet these "entertainment" works are still conveyors of very modern ideas
-the May Fourth view of this fiction is rather more harsh; they hated it and indeed were responsible for coining the term Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly School as a disparaging term
-the May Fourth hated with equal fervor the wen yi zai dao view that literature should convey some Dao (truth, morality...) and the view that literature was for entertainment on a Saturday afternoon after the weeks work was over; yet, May Fourth held a tremendously central role for fiction in the transformation of Chinese culture from tradition and for the modernization of China
-Butterfly fiction was extremely popular during this period and continued to capture throughout the Republican era the readership so coveted by the May Fourth
-the period is important for the introduction of radical ideas that helped establish a modern cultural consciousness that certainly influenced the development of literature in the May Fourth; here I am talking about the writings in the journal Xin Qingnian (founded in 1915)

III. May Fourth Experimentalism (1918-25)

A. Iconoclasm

-New Youth (1915-26)
-Chen Duxiu, Lu Xun, Li Dazhao, Hu Shi, Wu Yu, Yi Baisha, Gao Yihan, etc.

B. Language, literary styles, narrative techniques, genre

-poetic experimentation; poems in free verse vernacular
-short stories following western forms and invested with the seriousness of purpose lacking in the traditional short story
-reversal of the traditional literary heirarchy; fiction, traditionally scorned, is raised to the highest position, poetry becomes much lower
-in this sense, Lu Xun is the central figure of the May Fourth, in terms of iconoclastic message and experimental form and use of language

C. Western influence is surely very important

-19th c. realists and romanticists
-Russian symbolists
-some modernist views of literature
-Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Mao Dun were the most important and tireless introducers of Western literature

D. Emergence of women writers

-Bing Xin as a poet; Huang Luyin, Feng Ruanjun, Ling Shuhua as fiction writers; Bai Wei as dramatist

E. Obsession with the modern, the new and the young

-creating for themselves origins, seeing themselves as new, apart form the past, the bearers of the modern for China
-why this obsession with being modern; the restore China to its place of former glory vis a vis the Western powers

F. Literary societies

-Wenxue yanjiu hui (Literary research association, 1921) and Chuangzao she (Creation Society, 1921), but two of the more important societies
-according to the canonical view of May Fourth literature, these two societies promoted "art for life's sake" and "art for art's sake", the former realist and the latter romantic
-this, as we will see, is a misrepresentation of their ideas which have much in common

IV. Revolutionary Literature (1928-30)

A. move to go beyond the "bourgeois" literature of the May Fourth and create a revolutionary literature of the proletariat

-according to the perspective of writers increasingly leftist in orientation, the May Fourth was elitist in its idealist faith in the writers as enlightener of the masses, in terms of Westernized language (yang bagu)

B. Creation Society and Sun Societies

-young critics of these groups (influenced by a meager knowledge of Marxism) attacked the May Fourth as elitist (their language was so Westernized as to be divorced from actual Chinese as the classical language had been
-they attacked Lu Xun and Mao Dun in particular whom they felt to be ambiguous, dark, and overly pessimistic in their writing

C. calls for "revolutionary literature"

-which was to be a "non-individualist," or "collectivist" literature that promoted the interests of the proletariat
-primarily an urban orientation, though this is beginning to change in this period

D. problem of the bourgeois writer

-these debates, Marxist determinism itself, gave rise to the question of the role the bourgeois writer
-if you inevitably promote the interests and values of your own class, then how can the bourgeois writer write proletarian or revolutionary literature?
-how do you deal with the bourgeois writer in a Marxist determinist framework
-some writers and theorists devise neat plans for a kind of self-overcoming, they maintain the possibility of transcending one's class interests and joining the revolutionary avant-garde

E. works

-not much produced by way of "proletarian" lit; but a self-consciously leftist literature did emerge in the hands of writers associated with the League of Left-wing Writers
-May Fourth writers continued to write
-Mao Dun's "historical allegories" of the failure of the revolution, Eclipse (Shi, 1927-28)

V. Maturity and Diversity (1930-36)

A. radicalization of content

-begins with May Thirtieth Incident (strikers killed by foreign police); GMD purges of leftists 1927
-polarization of literary world
-formation of Zuoyi zuojia lianmeng (League of Left-wing Writers, 1930-36)
-searching for proletarian literature
-satire emerges as a dominant style (Zhang Tianyi may be seen as representative of successes in thirties satire)
-novel form matures in the hands of Mao Dun
-Lu Xun is writing satiric essays called zawen

B. Modernism and the Haipai (or Shanghai School)

-Su Wen edited journal Xiandai (1932-35); one of the most important literary journals in modern China which until only recently has received little attention
-published works by Mu Shiying, Liu Na'ou, etc. who belong to what has been called the "Xin ganjue pai" (New sensualists); showing the influence of Freud, and some Western modernist writers, but most obviously connected to the Japanese school of the same name
-poets influence by symbolism (Dai Wangshu)
-however, dominant trend is toward a literature of social engagement

C. Other "unaffiliated writers"

-Xinyue she (New Crescent Society, 1928-)
-Liang Shiqiu was their principle theorist, promoted a "humanist" literature that was not class based
-Xu Zhimo, perhaps their most important poet

D. Regionalist writers and the Jingpai (Beijing School)

-Shen Congwen, Fei Ming

VI. Anti-Japanese War (1937-45)

A. centralization of literary effort behind war

-formation of a new national cultural organization
-propaganda, theater

B. decentralization

-three major areas of literary creation (Yan'an, KMT, and occupied Peking and Shanghai)
-continued experiments in modernist techniques

C. "critical realism's last stand"

-Sha Ting, Mao Dun, Ai Wu, Lu Ling

D. Yan'an and the Rectification

-perhaps the single most important cultural event of the war period (at least for culture) was the Rectification Campaign of 1942 and the "Yan'an Talks"
-Mao presents a view of literature as subservient to politics (his ideas are not really original, many derive from the writings of theorists from Revolutionary Debate period and from Qu Qiubai)
-becomes party cultural policy through the Maoist era
-marks the efforts of the CCP to end the May Fourth of intellectual autonomy

VII. Civil War Period 1946-49

-consolidation of Yanan views of literature
-film as the most important artistic form of the post-war period (Lee Ou-fan)

VIII. Maoist Period (1949-76)

-in a simplistic view of literary history, we can say that this period is characterized the institutionalization of the Mao's literary prescriptions in the "Yan'an Talks"
-through the formation of state cultural institutions (such as the Writers Association(, the nationalization of the publishing industry, literary and cultural campaigns, writers were stripped of their May Fourth notions of enlightenment and critical autonomy and made to conform to these prescriptions
-this of course doesn't mean we should dismiss PRC literature as mere propaganda; much of it (for example, novels like Song of Youth (Qingchun zhi ge) and films by Xie Jin, were broadly popular

IX. post-Mao (1976-89)

-literary explosion with strong parallels with the May Fourth; diversification

XI. Post-Tiananmen (1989-)

-cultural suppression from 1989-1992, followed by the commercialization of culture and the blending of the elite and popular
-return of realism and urban literature
-avant-garde goes popular