China Literature in the 1970’s and 1980’s

By | January 18, 2022

Since the mid-1970s, Chinese literature has taken a particularly interesting turn. With the removal from the leadership and the condemnation of the so-called “ gang of four ” (1976), new trends begin to appear, always experimental, but no longer necessarily linked to the model of socialist realism.

Among the first is Liu Xin-wu, author of short stories, the protagonists of which are, for example, young people who have lived and worked outside the social consortium; among the stories the teacher should be mentioned ; Liu Xin-wu was a leader of the new narrative, which saw the so-called ” beach group ” forming around him. In 1978 the national competition for a short story was won by a first-time writer, Zhang Jie; a scholar of Western fables, from the Grimm brothers to Andersen to Krylov, she is known in Italy for the collection entitled Chinese Mandarins (1987), which includes an anthology of her most representative stories.

According to diseaseslearning, the 4th Congress of Chinese Writers and Artists was held in Beijing in autumn 1979, with the participation of over three thousand delegates, including representatives of the older generation such as Mao Dun, Ba-jin, Zhou Yang, very young authors and, finally, personalities who had been violently criticized in the past, such as Ding Ling, Ai Qing, Emi Xiao, Wang Meng. The congress is hailed as the beginning of a “new long march” in Chinese socialist literature and as the “springtime of literature and art”. Among the categorical imperatives is that of “fighting against the ideas and habits that prevent modernization”; writers must have full freedom of choice of their arguments and of the method of presenting them, without any interference. Zhou Yang, one of the leading exponents of the federation of literary circles, affirms in this congress that, after long years of silence, revolutionary poetry returns to express popular sentiments; every writer must be free about what and how to write; discussions and debates on different opinions must be encouraged.

Wang Meng (b.1934), future Minister of Popular Culture, urges young people who have just emerged from the dramatic experience of the so-called “ cultural revolution ” to explore and prepare to develop and improve contemporary literature and art, trying to gain a right balance between realism and imagination. His best-known novel is called Huodong bian ren xing (1986; it., Interchangeable figures, 1989).

Debates develop between those who tend to be absolutely faithful to political directives and those who seek freer expressive forms. In 1980 a famous film actor, Zhao Tan, argued that “rigid controls can ruin both literature and art”, since “since ancient times honoring one school of thought and ignoring the other hundred has never led to an artistic or literary flowering “; statements of this kind are a sign that times have now changed.

Comparative studies of foreign literature have a great development. The same fervor of translations that had been seen in the first twenty years of the century is repeated between the end of the seventies and the early eighties. One writer who has read a lot of both Chinese and Western literature is Gu Hua (pseudonym of Luo Hongyu, b.1942), author of novels and a collection of short stories, She wang zhi si (1985; trans. It., Death of the Snake King, 1988); irony and sarcasm make him one of the most original authors of the period following the “Cultural Revolution”.

An old writer like Ba-jin, participating in the 47th International Congress of the Pen Club in May 1984, raises the question of the literature of the nuclear age and why one should write: literary works, which should not be inspired by pessimism, would have the purpose of contributing to the building of a future civilization, characterized by peace and technological development. China is experiencing a moment of openness with foreign countries and the greatest exponents in the literary field serve this purpose. In 1985 the 5th Congress of Chinese Writers takes place. The problem of literary freedom is once again addressed; there is discussion about the guarantees that society must ensure to writers for the development of their works, but always in the context of a socialist literature. Various aspects of post-1976 literary production are considered; there is talk of introspective works, also called ” suffering literature ”; they mostly describe the complex problems of personal relationships in a society that is profoundly transforming. This type of literature includes works by authors such as Gu Hua, Wang Meng and others. Another recurring theme is that of social reforms.

In November 1986 the 6th International Conference on Contemporary Chinese Literature was held in Shanghai, with the participation of many foreign experts; for the first time the problems of contemporary Chinese literary production, the relations with other literatures and the problem of realism are presented from different points of view. Even if, according to the Chinese literary critics themselves, about 50% of the production is inspired by economic reforms and efforts to modernize the country, there was no lack of experimentation with new themes, forms and techniques. This especially in poetry, where the search for formal varieties is accompanied by interest in what is happening today in China.

Chinese literature is still experiencing a transition phase, but it has reached the awareness of not being isolated from the rest of the world, but of being part of it, albeit with its own characteristics.

China Literature in the 1970's and 1980's