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The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity

The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity

Charles A. Laughlin
Copyright Date: 2008
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    The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity
    Book Description:

    The Chinese essay is arguably China’s most distinctive contribution to modern world literature, and the period of its greatest influence and popularity—the mid-1930s—is the central concern of this book. What Charles Laughlin terms "the literature of leisure" is a modern literary response to the cultural past that manifests itself most conspicuously in the form of short, informal essay writing (xiaopin wen). Laughlin examines the essay both as a widely practiced and influential genre of literary expression and as an important counter-discourse to the revolutionary tradition of New Literature (especially realistic fiction), often viewed as the dominant mode of literature at the time. After articulating the relationship between the premodern traditions of leisure literature and the modern essay, Laughlin treats the various essay styles representing different groups of writers. Each is characterized according to a single defining activity: "wandering" in the case of the Yu si (Threads of Conversation) group surrounding Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren; "learning" with the White Horse Lake group of Zhejiang schoolteachers like Feng Zikai and Xia Mianzun; "enjoying" in the case of Lin Yutang’s Analects group; "dreaming" with the Beijing school. The concluding chapter outlines the impact of leisure literature on Chinese culture up to the present day. The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity dramatizes the vast importance and unique nature of creative nonfiction prose writing in modern China. It will be eagerly read by those with an interest in twentieth-century Chinese literature, modern China, and East Asian or world literatures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6482-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Writing as a Way of Life
    (pp. 1-23)

    Often when we look at modern Chinese literature we are more concerned with how it comments on history and national identity and do not fully recognize how the author conveys a philosophy of life or a commitment to principles. But literary writing in China is as much about establishing an image of a way of life (the implied author) and generating or attracting a community receptive to the author’s personality (the implied audience) as it is a discourse about Chinese affairs, whether the writing is revolutionary, reactionary, or ostensibly apolitical.

    This book looks at an essay genre calledxiaopinwen...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Legacy of Leisure and Modern Chinese Culture
    (pp. 24-45)

    In spite of the achievements and innovations of modern Chinese cultural studies over the past ten or fifteen years, what students often still learn in introductory courses is that modern Chinese literature was defined by the May Fourth movement’s radical rejection of “traditional” Chinese culture, that it was formed in the crucible of Western literary influence, and that realistic fiction was overwhelmingly the dominant mode of artistic expression. If it is mentioned at all, the vernacular essay, according to this conventional account, is described as a vehicle for cultural criticism and polemic, or otherwise as a haven for traditional sensibilities...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Wandering: The Threads of Conversation Group
    (pp. 46-76)

    Yu Pingbo’s explanation of his approach to describing a favorite street in Hangzhou is an exploration of prose’s ability to lyrically pursue a feeling without exactly capturing it. If poetry accomplishes this through ambiguity, parataxis, and structures of imagery, prose can add to this the unfolding of and wandering through ideas. Grammatical structures and terminology adopted from Western languages allowed for the expression of ideas through linear articulation to supplement the vertical implication or suggestion inherent to traditional Chinese prose: “This kind of feeling,at once delicate, yet which penetrates into the bones, can only befermented through the accumulation...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Learning: The White Horse Lake Group
    (pp. 77-102)

    The aesthetic of the everyday (the “familiar” in the familiar essay) refers to the expression of unique feelings that occasionally arise in the course of daily life. These feelings and their expression should be clearly distinguishable from stories of heroic or epic confrontation, or the grand discourses of philosophy, politics, history, culture, and religion. The everyday looms large in the modern Chinese literary essay and so is a subject of interest to cultural critics with good reason. Many believe that previous approaches to the arts, social science, and public policy have placed too much emphasis on the perspectives of grand...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Enjoying: Essays of the Analects Group
    (pp. 103-138)

    During the 1920s, when the White Horse Lake group were first writing essays and applying principles they had developed to compositional instruction, andThreads of Conversationwas virtually the only publication devoted to literary prose, essayists in China were not generally considered as belonging to different schools. The achievements of the genre were credited to all those who made an impact through their essays in the early years of the development of New Literature. Hu Shi, Bing Xin, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Yu Pingbo, Zhu Ziqing, Xia Mianzun, and Liu Bannong—writers from across the political and literary spectrum—were...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Dreaming: From the Crescent Moon Group to the Beijing School
    (pp. 139-167)

    The dream is a literary trope familiar to the Chinese reader. From earliest times, the dream has been invoked in Chinese writing to present philosophical skepticism about the self/world opposition and other dichotomies (Zhuangzian Daoism), to suggest the illusory quality of life, suffering, and desire (Buddhism), to imagine a bridge or a line of communication between the living and the dead, between spirits in the heavens, under the seas, or in the underworld (folk culture, vernacular fiction). The dream has been associated with literature at the margins of the intellectual, social, and moral norms of Confucianism—the literatures of hermits,...

  10. Conclusion: The Legacy of Leisure and Contemporary Chinese Culture
    (pp. 168-182)

    In the preceding chapters, I have tried to tease out in the vast and indistinct corpus of the modern Chinese essay some coherent, legible meaning, something distinctive that could be used to assessxiaopin wenwritings against more familiar forms of literary expression. In doing this, I have focused intensely on groups of writers in the 1920s and 1930s who cared so deeply about the essay that they went beyond writing itself to collect, preserve, assess, promote, and advance the form. They edited, published, wrote criticism, and often devoted whole publications to this enterprise. What I have been able to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-210)
  12. Chinese Character Glossary
    (pp. 211-218)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-242)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-246)