China Modern Literature

By | January 20, 2022

The last fifty years are one of the most important periods of all Chinese literature, not so much for the value of the works or for the reputation of the authors, but for the revolutionary and innovative character that, in relation to the ancient, the new literature knew to have. This, in fact, saw the triumph of the spoken language (pai hua) has risen to the dignity of a literary language; it generated a change in taste, as greater importance was given to the novel and the drama; he saw, for the first time, the rise of a prose theater on the model of Western ones; he adapted to the social and political life of the country; it suffered, much more than in the past, the influence of foreign literatures. Unlike what had happened in the century. XIX and in the previous ones, in which, if there had been translations of foreign books, these were limited to making known only technical works, the first years of the century. XX saw a flowering of translations of literary and philosophical texts intended to make known the European and American masterpieces of art and thought. To satisfy the need to be able to express new ideas from the West, the transformation of the Chinese language was necessary and among the promoters of this renewal are the names of Liang Chi-chao (1873-1929) and Tsai Yuan-pei (1867-1940). The true literary revolution began in 1917 with the posters of Hu Shih and Cheng Tu-hsiu (b.1880) published in the magazine Hsing Tsing Nien (New Youth) of January 1st and February 1st of the same year.

In the first, Hu Shih advocated the advent in literature of a healthy realism, which he proclaimed in eight points: 1) no more classicism; 2) no more clichés; 3) no more rhythm; 4) no longer have the fear of using expressions of the popular language; 5) greater care in the grammatical construction of the sentence; 6) no more vain sentimental exclamations; 7) no longer imitate the ancients, but try to have a personal style; 8) write to say something. The criticisms raised by these 8 points invited Hu Shih to condense his program into four points, namely: 1) write when you have something to say; 2) write what is to be said and in the manner in which it is ordinarily said; 3) write according to one’s own way of writing and not according to that of others; 4) always write the language of your time.

According to homeagerly, Hu Shih’s reform, although criticized, despite being too radical, and sterile – as far as Hu Shih himself is concerned – of great works, nevertheless left its fruits. Writers began to gather in schools, in society; the first literary currents were formed: the new literature had arisen. Among the various literary societies we should mention the Wen Hsüeh Yen Chu Hui (Society of literary studies) founded in 1919 in Beijing and which gathered writers of mainly liberal tendencies, among which the best known is Mao Tun (pseudonym of Chen Yen-ping, born in 1896), author of sentimental novels with an essentially realist character such as the Shih trilogy (Eclipse) composed between 1925 and 1927. The Ch’uang Tsao Shih (Creation Society) with a communist character, founded in 1922 in Beijing, gathered writers such as Kuo Mo-jo (b.1891 in Chia Ting in Szech’wan) author of plays, short stories, novels, translator of foreign classics, especially by the German, historian and essayist; like Yu Ta-fu (b. 1896), the most pessimistic of modern writers. Politically neutral writers belonged to the Yu Ssu company, founded in 1924, of which the best known are Lin Yu-tang and Lu Hsün (for both see in this App.).

The war against Japan saw the spread of patriotic propaganda works which absorbed the activity of the majority of Chinese writers: novels and short stories were written to exalt the heroism of the Chinese guerrillas, to excite the military spirit of the people. New writers have arisen and, among them, Lao She (born in 1898) begins to be known also in the West. The postwar period saw a slow but steady orientation of writers towards leftist ideals. As for the theater, the advent of prose also marked a revolution compared to the old sung theater which, however, still remains dominant. The first plays were mainly adaptations of Western dramas and were affected by the typical patterns of Chinese drama, such as, p. eg, the long introductory speeches made by the characters; subsequently the new theater assumed a more distinct physiognomy especially thanks to Tien Han (born in 1899), Ou-Yang Yu-tsien, Hsiung Fu-hsi (born in 1900). During the war against Japan, dramas of a political nature prevailed.

China Modern Literature