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The Politics of Cultural Capital

The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature

Copyright Date: 2006
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    The Politics of Cultural Capital
    Book Description:

    In the 1980s China’s politicians, writers, and academics began to raise an increasingly urgent question: why had a Chinese writer never won a Nobel Prize for literature? Promoted to the level of official policy issue and national complex, Nobel anxiety generated articles, conferences, and official delegations to Sweden. Exiled writer Gao Xingjian’s win in 2000 failed to satisfactorily end the matter, and the controversy surrounding the Nobel committee’s choice has continued to simmer. Julia Lovell’s comprehensive study of China’s obsession spans the twentieth century and taps directly into the key themes of modern Chinese culture: national identity, international status, and the relationship between intellectuals and politics. The intellectual preoccupation with the Nobel literature prize expresses tensions inherent in China’s move toward a global culture after the collapse of the Confucian world-view at the start of the twentieth century, and particularly since China’s re-entry into the world economy in the post-Mao era. Attitudes toward the prize reveal the same contradictory mix of admiration, resentment, and anxiety that intellectuals and writers have long felt toward Western values as they struggled to shape a modern Chinese identity. In short, the Nobel complex reveals the pressure points in an intellectual community not entirely sure of itself. Making use of extensive original research, including interviews with leading contemporary Chinese authors and critics, The Politics of Cultural Capital is a comprehensive, up-to-date treatment of an issue that cuts to the heart of modern and contemporary Chinese thought and culture. It will be essential reading for scholars of modern Chinese literature and culture, globalization, post-colonialism, and comparative and world literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6495-8
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-2)

    On 12 October 2000, when Gao Xingjian (1940–), a Chinese-born novelist and playwright then living in France, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, China’s century-long quest for Nobel glory finally came to an end.¹ Chinese intellectuals and politicians had worried for decades over when a Nobel Literature Prize would come to China, but the lack of a Chinese laureate was now, it seemed, resolved and the mystique of the prize dispelled. A Chinese writer had been acclaimed “for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Diagnosing the Complex
    (pp. 3-40)

    The question of why China — a country, so it is often claimed, with five thousand years of culture and a language spoken by one fifth of the world’s population — had failed for almost a century to win a Nobel Prize began to be raised with increasing urgency during the 1980s, following the Mainland’s reentry into the international political, economic, and cultural realm. The quest for a Nobel Prize was promoted to the level of official policy and Nobel anxiety evolved into a “complex” (Nuobeier qingjie) that drew in writers, critics, and academics. The task of securing a Nobel Literature Prize...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Nobel Prize for Literature: Philosophy and Practice
    (pp. 41-72)

    First awarded in 1901 in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s testament, the Nobel Prizes have since come to embody the complex of contradictions that inhere in the modern idea of global culture. Founded to honor benevolent contributions to mankind, the prizes were established and financed by profits from the dynamite industry. Alfred Nobel was proclaimed in his own lifetime a “merchant of death” whose research into explosives had fueled the escalating arms race between nations towards the end of the nineteenth century, while his peace prize aimed to promote “fraternity between nations.”¹ A 1947 biographer notes the irony that Nobel, a...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Ideas of Authorship and the Nobel Prize in China, 1900–1976
    (pp. 73-106)

    The history of the Nobel Prize for Literature coincides with a tumultuous and formative period in the development of modern Chinese writing and culture: the collapse of the sinocentric Confucian worldview, the clash with Western modernity and the emergence of the modern concept of authorship. True, China has not spent the entire century agonizing over the Nobel Prize — that would wait until the 1980s, when Chinese interest in the prize reached the intensity of a complex. Yet the fact that the Nobel Prize has tapped such a reservoir of disquiet in modern Chinese letters makes little sense without consideration of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR China’s Search for a Nobel Prize in Literature, 1979–2000
    (pp. 107-162)

    China’s Nobel Complex owes its genesis to the collapse of the Maoist model of internationalism at the end of the 1970s and the reestablishment of the Western-oriented vision of international modernity that had flourished in the first half of the twentieth century. The Chinese search for a Nobel gathered so much momentum in the post-Mao era largely because it centered around one of the key sociocultural questions of the twentieth century: the position of Chinese intellectuals in an era of transnational exchange. Yet the peculiar intensity of post-Mao Nobel anxiety was also heavily determined by its historical context — the repudiation...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Nobel Prize, 2000
    (pp. 163-184)

    Unsurprisingly, given its history, the Swedish Academy’s response to the Chinese Nobel Complex on 12 October 2000 left few parties satisfied. While Mainland writers kept their own counsel for the first thirty-six hours, the Taiwanese expressed delight; Chinese Internet users throughout the world veered between surprised pleasure at a Chinese Nobel winner, and bemused resentment at the unfamiliarity of Gao’s name. In a truly universal world literature, Gao Xingjian’s prize would have been feted as an award to an individual writer, who happened to be born in China, for his achievements in both Chinese and French. However, the much dreamed...

    (pp. 185-186)

    The roots of China’s Nobel Complex lie in the key intellectual question of Chinese modernity: how to respond to a historical situation that at once requires national and transnational consciousness. Modern intellectuals, and writers in particular, took on a heavy ideological and artistic burden at the start of the twentieth century as they worried about the fate of the nation and strove to produce a culture that would enable China to vie with the West. In the broad and ill-defined arena of national identity, and under pressure from international stimuli, aesthetics and politics in twentieth-century China have thus both supported...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 187-222)
    (pp. 223-224)
    (pp. 225-240)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 241-248)