CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE
Storyteller China has a great tradition of literature and poetry but unfortunately much of it is difficult to translate into Western languages. Classical Chinese literature is made up of Confucian texts and vernacular Chinese literature consisted largely of grand prose epics that were regarded as low-class by classical scholars when they were written and popularized.
The Chinese have a saying: "use the past to criticize the present." One Chinese intellectual told Theroux, "That is a Chinese preoccupation. There was a mayor who wrote a play about an obscure figure during the Ming period. People were shocked. 'You are criticizing Mao!' they said. That mayor was removed very soon after. And he disappeared." A similar incident triggered the Cultural Revolution.
China has a wealth of classical literature, both poetry and prose, dating from the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 B.C.) and including the Classics attributed to Confucius. The oldest known Chinese literature are poetry and folk songs that date back to the 8th century B.C. Fiction developed relatively late with the oldest known stories written in the vernacular dating back to the Tang period (A.D. 690-907). .
One of China’s most famous stories, The Peony Pavillion , written more than 400 years ago by the Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xiazu, is a love story that takes place within a dream: a woman falls asleep by a peony pavilion and dreams of a handsome scholar she has never met. Unable to find him in the real world she dies of a broken heart and ends up in the Underworld, where the strength of her desire convince the Infernal Judge to release her ghost back into the land of the living to marry the man of her dreams. Fei Bo, a Chinese choreographer, told The Times: “The story “tells you universal emotions and passions. People can understand how strongly the heroine fights to find love. Drama and novels developed from the same story-telling tradition in which the use of vernacular language is a prominent feature. The Peach Blossom Fan and the popular short stories collected in Lasting Words to Awaken the World and Pounding the Table in Amazement are other works that grew from this tradition.
In the old days “news singers” were fixtures of Chinese teahouses. The fact that so little Chinese literature makes its way to the West is worrisome. As of 2005 there was only one serious translator of Chinese literature into English, Howard Goldblatt, the founding editor of Modern Chinese Literature and a professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Good Websites and Sources: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) mclc.osu.edu ; Library of Congress loc.gov : Myths Oriental Stylewww.ourorient.com ; Monkey Spirit Story at Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) mclc.osu.edu ; Folk Tales pitt.edu : Stories China Page chinapage.org ; University of North Carolina unc.edu/~rwilkers ; Ballad of Mulan China Page : Classics Chinese Text Project ; China Page chinapage.org ; Side by Side Translations zhongwen.com; Book: Anthology of Chinese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Fourteenth Century edited by Cyril Birch.
Poetry China Vista chinavista.com ; Classical Poems chinapage.org ; Poetry Reading chinapage.org ; Moon Poems chinapage.org ; Love Poems chinapage.org : Li Bai Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Page chinapage.com Classic Novels China Page chinapage.org : Journey to the West School Lesson einaudi.cornell.edu ; Journey to the West site vbtutor.net ; English Translation PDF File chine-informations.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Pearl Buck University of Pennsylvania english.upenn.edu Links in this Website: CONFUCIANISM AND CONFUCIUS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TAOISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE WRITERS Factsanddetails.com/China
Chinese Culture: Cultural China (site with nice photos cultural-china.com ; China Culture.org chinaculture.org ; China Culture Online chinesecultureonline.com ;Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; Transnational China Culture Project ruf.rice.edu China Research Paper Search china-research-papers.com ; Book: Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sabina Knight (Oxford University Press, 2012) ; The Culture and Civilization, a massive multi-volume series on Chinese culture (Yale University Press).
Early Chinese Literature
In a review of Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Sabrina Knight, Li-hua Ying of Bard College wrote in the MCLC Resource Center Publication: The first chapter, a well-argued treatment of classics, begins with the famous fish parable in Zhuangzi, which advocates the acquisition of a broader perspective, a concept "shared by all the major schools of Chinese thought". To illustrate this point, Knight goes into an explication of the Chinese writing system, and Confucian and Daoist classics, highlighting the role of the literati in transmitting and transforming Chinese culture, since "China's survival over three thousand years may owe more to its literary history than to its political history" The second chapter, packed with many insights and a forcefully articulated point of view, focuses on classical poetry, which, according to Knight, "offered ways to find meaning amid time's transience, regulate bodily energies, and cultivate benevolence." [Source: Li-hua Ying, MCLC Resource Center Publication, October 2012]
The third chapter deals with a wide variety of prose writings, including historical narratives and belles lettres (essays and jottings), as well as short stories of "strange" and fantastic nature. By including historical narratives as wenxue (lit., "the study of writing" or literature), Knight makes an important point in keeping with Chinese practice prior to the late nineteenth century. She underscores the function of early narratives as record keeping and moral teaching, and her extensive list includes historical narratives such as Zuo's Commentary (a.k.a., The Chronicle of Zuo or The Commentary of Tso) and The Historical Records (a.k.a., Records of the Grand Historian); supernatural or marvelous tales found in Classics of Mountains and Seas (a.k.a.,The Classic of Mountains and Seas), In Search of Spirits (a.k.a., In Search of the Supernatural), and Strange Tales from a Leisure Studio (a.k.a., Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio); and tales of the mundane, such as those collected in New Accounts of the Tales of the World. These texts are wildly diverse in theme and style.
Song-era Book Six of
the Confucian Classics The are five Confucian classics— 1) Book of History, a collection of documents ascribed to ancient Emperors and officials; 2) Book of Songs (“Shijing”), an anthology of early poems also known as Book of Poem ; 3) Book of Changes (“I Ching”), a manual of divination and philosophical appendices; 4) Rites (“Li Chi”), a compendium of rituals; and 5) The Spring, Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu; and the attached Zuo Commentary.
Among the most important classics in Chinese literature is the Yijing (Book of Changes), a manual of divination based on eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. (By Confucius' time these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams.) The Yijing is still used by adherents of folk religion. [Source: Library of Congress]
“The Shijing (Classic of Poetry) is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. The Shujing (Classic of Documents) is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose. [Ibid]
“The Liji (Record of Rites), a restoration of the original Lijing (Classic of Rites), lost in the third century B.C., describes ancient rites and court ceremonies. The Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn) is a historical record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 to 479 B.C. It is a log of concise entries probably compiled by Confucius himself. The Lunyu (Analects) is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples.
In Confucius’s time there was an additional classic, Music, but it has been lost. The oldest versions of the I-Ching and Confucius' Discourse on the Book of Poetry are on chop-stick-like bamboo slips in the Shanghai Museum. They are believed to be more than 2,200 years old.
The Four Books—The Analects, (“Conversations,” or "Classics"), The Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning and Mencius—form the basis of Confucian education and training for imperial officials. The Analects has been described as "the most influential book in the history of the human race" and a "modern book" with "the oldest intellectual and spiritual portrait of a man." One Confucian told the New York Times, "All human knowledge is contained in this book. If you read this book carefully, you don't need another."
Confucius reportedly compiled the sayings, aphorism, maxims and episodes that make up The Analects during his retirement. But this seems unlikely. The 20 chapters and 497 verses of The Analects were unknown until 300 years after his death. More likely they were compiled by his disciples and written down by other people. Confucius himself once said he merely "transmitted" what was taught to him "without making anything up" on his own. The first half of The Analects is stylistically and thematically very different from the second half. University of Southern California historian John Wills Jr. told Atlantic Monthly, "We have known for a long time that some of the later parts of the book are suspect. After Chapter Ten or Twelve you get a lot of fishy Taoist stuff."
Longest and Oldest Books
Yongle Dadian Encyclopedia According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest publication and largest encyclopedia ever was the Yongle Dadian (an 11,095 volume work with 22,937 chapters produced by 2,000 Chinese scholar between 1403 and 1408). Only three copies were made.
The Chinese are credited with inventing wood block printing in the 3rd century A.D., and printing presses in the 11th century. Before giving China full credit for inventing printing it must pointed out the wood-block printing invented by the Chinese was very different from the movable type printing used by Gutenberg to print his famous Bible. Chinese printing with wooden movable type, has been proposed for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status.
The world's oldest surviving book, The Diamond Sutra, was printed with wooden blocks in China in A.D. 868. It consisted of Buddhist scriptures printed on seven 2˝-foot-long, one-foot-wide sheets of paper pasted together in one 16-foot-long scroll. Part of The Perfection of Wisdom text, a Mahayanist sermon preached by Buddha, it was found in cave in the Gansu Province in 1907 by the British explorer Aurel Stein, who also found well-preserved 9th century silk and linen paintings.
In Imperial times, the Chinese preferred handwritten calligraphy over printing for important texts. Printing was used by those who could not afford anything better. In 932 a Chinese prime minister wrote: "We have seen... men from Wu and Shu who sold books that were printed from blocks of wood. There were many different texts, but there were among them no orthodox Classics [of Confucianism]. If the Classics could be revised and thus cut in wood and published, it would be a very great boon to the study of literature."
Handscrolls and Literature
Handschroll Until the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 690-906), most books and documents were kept as handscrolls that were around a foot and half wide and varied in length from a few inches to several hundred feet. The proper way to look at hand scroll is to hold it vertically, unroll it from the left and roll it from the right, examining a section at a time.
Ancient books and documents were put on handschrolls. The first handscrolls, dating back to the Spring and Autumn period (770-481 B.C.), were made mostly from bamboo or wood strips bound together with chord. Ones from the eastern Han Period (25-220 A.D.) used silk and early paper.
Old Chinese Stories
Tang-era literary garden party In imperial times until the 20th century, people flocked to tea houses and public squares to listen to storytellers, who often told multi-part stories that kept audiences coming back for more. Popular literature was absorbed by the masses more in this way than through the reading of books.
Famous old stories include The Good-Luck Horse by Chih-yi Chan, a story about a boy and his miraculous pony; Give Brother, an old folk tale; Shen of the Sea; and The Treasure of Li-Po. Some scholars believe that the Cinderella story had its origins in China. Some classic stories have been rewritten so many times, with so many variations and differences, it is difficult to ascertain what the original story was.
There are also old stories about a silkworm, a beautiful lady with a white hare, the first firecrackers, the origin of rice, demons, warriors, ghosts, mandarins, and peasants. Famous stories explain why human sacrifices are necessary to makes bells and how the willow pattern on blue-and-white porcelain evolved. Biographies of Model Women is a 2000-year-old text from the Han Dynasty with some rather juicy descriptions of sexually liberated women.
The love story between Xiang Yu, the ruler of the 2,200-year-old kingdom of Chu, and Lady Yu, is well known in China. The inspiration for the film Farewell My Concubine, it described how Xiang Yu challenged but ultimately lost to the first Han dynasty ruler and ends with Xiang Yu and Lady Lu in tent surrounded by Han forces. Rather than surrender they commit suicide. Lady Yi kills herself first after performing a sword dance and vowing to love Xiang forever, even in death.
Old Chinese stories often featured magic mirrors. In the tale of Yin Zhongwen a man is executed shortly after he looks into a mirror and doesn't see his reflection. There is another famous short tale about a woman who is unimpressed by a painting of woman said to be very beautiful. The punch line is when the woman realizes she is starting not at a painting but a mirror.
Many popular stories were performed as Chinese opera. One of China’s most famous stories, The Peony Pavillion , written more than 400 years ago by the Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xiazu, is a love story that takes place within a dream: a woman falls asleep by a peony pavilion and dreams of a handsome scholar she has never met. Unable to find him in the real world she dies of a broken heart and ends up in the Underworld, where the strength of her desire convince the Infernal Judge to release her ghost back into the land of the living to marry the man of her dreams. Fei Bo, a Chinese choreographer, told The Times: “The story “tells you universal emotions and passions. People can understand how strongly the heroine fights to find love. Drama and novels developed from the same story-telling tradition in which the use of vernacular language is a prominent feature. The Peach Blossom Fan and the popular short stories collected in Lasting Words to Awaken the World and Pounding the Table in Amazement are other works that grew from this tradition. See Chinese Opera Stories, Opera and Theater.
Folk Stories, Tales and Songs from China’s Ethnic Groups
Book: The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (2011), edited by Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender, two of the world's leading sinologists, This collection presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China's recognized ethnic groups—including the Han, Yi, Miao,Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazak—and the selections include a variety of genres.
Chapters cover folk stories, songs, rituals, and drama, as well as epic traditions and professional storytelling, and feature both familiar and little-known texts, from the story of the woman warrior Hua Mulan to the love stories of urban storytellers in the Yangtze delta, the shaman rituals of the Manchu, and a trickster tale of the Daur people from the forests of the northeast. The Cannibal Grandmother of the Yi and other strange creatures and characters unsettle accepted notions of Chinese fable and literary form.
Readers are introduced to antiphonal songs of the Zhuang and the Dong, who live among the fantastic limestone hills of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; work and matchmaking songs of the mountain-dwelling She of Fujian province; and saltwater songs of the Cantonese-speaking boat people of Hong Kong. The editors feature the Mongolian epic poems of Geser Khan and Jangar; the sad tale of the Qeo family girl, from the Tu people of Gansu and Qinghai provinces; and local plays known as "rice sprouts" from Hebei province. These fascinating juxtapositions invite comparisons among cultures, styles, and genres, and expert translations preserve the individual character of each thrillingly imaginative work.
Classic Chinese Poetry
Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his follower Song Yu (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu, a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism. [Source: Library of Congress]
Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its lushi (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju (truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line.
“Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci, arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song dynasty (960-1279). As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, the san qu, a freer form, based on new popular songs, developed. The use of san qu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature. [Ibid]
Classic Chinese Poets
Poetry by Wan Cheih Chinese poets have traditionally given themselves pen names like The Wanderer and participated in groups with names like the Crescent Moon Society.
Qu Yuan (340-277 B.C.) is regarded by some as the father of Chinese poetry, One of his most famous lines goes: “Long did I sigh to hold back tears, saddened I am by the grief of my people.” He is still admired today. See, Festivals, Dragon Boat Racing
The Tang dynasty was considered the golden age for Chinese poetry. Poets often sat beneath the moon and drank wine from cups floated on rivers and composed poems like: "The sun beyond the mountain glows/ The Yellow River seaward flows/ But if you desire a grander sight/ The you must scale a greater height." Poets sometimes played a game in which a cup was placed in a stream and a poet had to compose a poem before the cup floated by. If he failed he had to consume a glass of wine.
The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770). Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society. His poems inspired many Chinese painters. Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an inspired and critical comment on the society of his time. Other famous Tang dynasty poets include Wang Wei, Li You and Huang Tingjian. Xue Tao was a famous female poet. Wang Wei (701-761) was a poet-painter who said "there are paintings in his poems and poems in his paintings." The Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) poets Su Xun and his sons Su Shi and Su Zhe are also highly regarded .
Chinese Painting, Calligraphy and Poetry
Poem by Wang To Qing Poetry is much more fully integrated into painting and calligraphy in Chinese art than it is into painting and writing in Western art. There are two words used to describe what a painter does: Hua hua means "to paint a picture" and xie hua means "to write a picture." Many artists prefer the latter.
Poetry, painting and calligraphy were known as the "Three Perfections." Poems are often the subjects of painting. Painters were often inspired by poetry and tried to create works with a poetic, lyrical quality.
Recalling a series of twelve poems by Su Shih (1036-1101) that inspired him, the great master painter Shih T'ao (1641-1717) wrote: "This album had been on my desk for a year and never once did I touch it. One day, when a snow storm was blowing outside, I thought of Tung-p'o's poems describing twelve scenes and became so inspired that I took up my brush and started painting each of the scenes in the poems. At the top of each picture I copied the original poem. When I chant them the spirit that gave them life emerges spontaneously from paintings." [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]
When a painting did not fully convey the artist feelings, the artist sometimes turned to calligraphy to convey his feelings more deeply. Describing the link between writing and painting, the artist-poet Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) wrote:
Do the rocks in flying-white, the trees in ancient seal script
And render bamboo as if writing in clerical characters:
Only if one is truly able to comprehend this, will he realize
That calligraphy and painting are essentially the same.
Other times the message of the calligraphy was more mundane. An inscription on the side of Sheep and Goat by Zhao Mengfu read: "I have painted horses before, but have never painted sheep, so when Zhongxin requested a painting, I playfully drew these for him from life. Though I can not get close to the ancient masters, I have managed somewhat to capture their essential spirit”.
The famous Tang dynasty poet Li Bai (A.D. 701-762) is one of the most quoted Chinese poets in the West.In China Li is regarded as a "banished immortal"— “an immortal who misbehaved in heaven and was banished to earth"—and is considered wild, eccentric and possessing special powers.
Li Bai does not seem to have been very likable as a person. He has been described as "tiresome sort of bohemian, vain and untrustworthy, an irresponsible citizen, a careless friend, an indifferent husband and a terrible drunk." Other than a short stint "polishing" Imperial documents, Li never had a job and didn't seem to make much money from his poetry. He appeared to have survived by sponging off relatives.
Li once referred to himself as the “god of imbibing..” It was said he was capable of “producing 100 poems after drinking a whole dou of wine.” A dour is equal to about 10 liters.. One of Li’s most famous poems, Amidst Flowers with a Jug of Wine goes:
Amidst flowers with a jug of wine
I pour alone lacking companionship
With a raised cup I invite the Moon
To toast my shadow, the three of us.
Li Bai wrote the following poem about the famous Huangshan mountains:
Huangshan is hundreds of thousands of feet high
With numerous soaring peaks lotus-like
Rock pillars shooting up to kiss empyrean roses
Like so many lilies grown amid a sea of gold.
Near Jiuhuashan in the Huangshan mountains, Li Bai wrote:
Looking far ahead from Jiujang,
I saw the peaks of Mount Jiuhia
Emerging from the Heavenly River
Like nine beautiful lotus flowers.
Development of Prose in China
“The proponents of the Hundred Schools of Thought in the Warring States and Spring and Autumn periods made important contributions to Chinese prose style. The writings of Mo Zi (Mo Di, 470-391 B.C.?), Mencius (Meng Zi; 372-289 B.C.), and Zhuang Zi (369-286 B.C.) contain well-reasoned, carefully developed discourses and show a marked improvement in organization and style over what went before. Mo Zi is known for extensively and effectively using methodological reasoning in his polemic prose. Mencius contributed elegant diction and, along with Zhuang Zi, is known for his extensive use of comparisons, anecdotes, and allegories. By the third century B.C., these writers had developed a simple, concise prose noted for its economy of words, which served as a model of literary form for over 2,000 years. [Source: Library of Congress]
The Tang period also saw a rejection of the ornate, artificial style of prose developed in the previous period and the emergence of a simple, direct, and forceful prose based on Han and pre-Han writing. The primary proponent of this neoclassical style of prose, which heavily influenced prose writing for the next 800 years, was Han Yu (768-824), a master essayist and strong advocate of a return to Confucian orthodoxy. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Vernacular fiction became popular after the fourteenth century, although it was never esteemed in court circles. Covering a broader range of subject matter and longer and less highly structured than literary fiction, vernacular fiction includes a number of masterpieces. The greatest is the eighteenth-century domestic novel Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber). A semiautobiographical work by a scion of a declining gentry family, Hong Lou Meng has been acknowledged by students of Chinese fiction to be the masterwork of its type. [Ibid]
The Dream of the Red Chamber and Other Famous Chinese Novels
TV drama version of Dream of Red Chamber Classic novels include The Tales of the Marshes by Sze Nai-an (translated into English by Pearl S. Buck), Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lo Kuan-chung (a collection of stories sometimes referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Arthurian legends); Historical Memoirs, Water Margins and the writings of Tu Fu and Li Po. Many classic stories are associated with Chinese Theaters. See Theater and Opera.
The Dream of the Red Chamber is a comedy of manners by Cao Xueqing, who is sometimes called the Chinese Tolstoy. Detailing a number of sexual trysts involving members of both the opposite sexes and the same sex, it was written in the 19th century and set in the 16th century and revolves around a young man named Jia Baoyu and his two girl cousins, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochi, who are his lovers. Lin Daiyu is the tragic figure in Dream of Red Chamber. Orphaned at the age of five, she goes to live with her uncle and must compete with her cousins for lover and attention. The story is also known by title Dream of Red Mansions. David Hawkes’ fine translation of Dream of the Red Chamber is both a faithful translation and a masterpiece of English prose.)
Journey to the West
Journey to the West is a 16th century novel by Wu Cheng En that has many similarities with The Wizard of Oz. It is based on the 7th century wanderings of real life Buddhist monk named Hsuan-tang Zang who went to India in search of sacred Buddhist texts. In the story the Great Monk Tang is accompanied on his journey by three animal spirits: the dim-witted and awkward Pigsy (a pig), the Monkey King (an immortal that possesses a monkey) and the water spirt monk Sha (a feminine spirit).
Hsuan-tsang (Xuan Zang), the Chinese monk who inspired the story, left China for India in A.D. 645 to obtain Buddhist texts from which the Chinese could learn more about Buddhism. He made it to Central Asia and India despite being held up by surly Chinese guards and guides who abandoned him in the middle of nowhere. In Central Asia he traveled to Turfan, Kucha, the Bedel pass, Lake Issyk-kul, the Chu Valley (near present-day Bishkek), Tashkent, Samarkand, Balk, Kashgar and Khoton before crossing the Himalayas into India. Hsuan-tsang spent 16 years in India collecting texts and returned with 700 Buddhist texts.
Film version of Journey to the West Journey to the West is widely regarded as the greatest story of Chinese literature and is well known in Japan and Korea and elsewhere in Asia. The monk Hsuan-tang Zang is kind of an anti-hero, pious but cowardly. He repeatedly has to be rescued by the monkey king and the water spirit. The greatest challenge for the four characters is crossing the 400-kilometer-wide river to Heaven, guarded by a monster that feeds on children. When they return to China with scrolls they went to India to collect the find the scrolls are blank and are told that is the true teaching of Buddha.
The monkey is fearless and likes to fight, defending his rights. At teh beginning of teh story he gate crashes into heaven hoping to become mortal but instead is deemed to self-centered and is imprisoned by Buddha in mountain for 500 years as punishment, and later offered a chance to redeem himself by protecting the monk Hsuan-tang Zang as travels from China to India. The journey takes over a hundred years.
Journey to the West has been staged as a play and a Japanese television series in the 1970s and made into Chinese and Japanese films. In 2007 Chinese director Chen Shizheng collaborated with Damon Albarn of the rock groups Blur and Gorillaz, and James Hewiit, the Gorillaz cartoonist, to do a stage and opera version of Journey to the West. It is a unique blend of animation, dance, acrobatics, martial arts and video game elements. The Times of London called it “an improbable combination of The Lion King, Cirque du Soleil and Crouching, Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Chen is the one who brought the 20-hour, 55-act Ming dynasty opera Peony Pavilion to New York and directed the film Dark Matter with Merlyn Streep. Dalmon’s score by an electronically-enhanced pit orchestra is eclectic and minimalist but is perfect for the show. Fei Yang is delightful and acrobatic as the Monkey King.
Chinese Literature in the 20th Century
In the New Culture Movement (1917-23), literary writing style was largely replaced by the vernacular in all areas of literature. This was brought about mainly by Lu Xun (1881-1936), China's first major stylist in vernacular prose (other than the novel), and the literary reformers Hu Shi (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (1880-1942). [Source: Library of Congress]
“The late 1920s and 1930s were years of creativity in Chinese fiction, and literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (1896-1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the League of Left-Wing Writers and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; and Ba Jin (b. 1904), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the ageold dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is made between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Hong Lou Meng. Another writer of the period was the gifted satirist and novelist Lao She (1899-1966). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those still alive during the Cultural Revolution were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation. [Ibid] The League of Left-Wing Writers was founded in 1930 and included Lu Xun in its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting the glorious future under communism. [Ibid]
19th and 20th Century Chinese Writers
Rickshaw Boy by Lao She The May 4 movement of 1919 started out as student protests against a decision at the Paris Peace Conference, after the first world war, to award Japan control of German concessions in China's Shandong province. It soon encompassed a broader debate about how China should modernize. It spawned a host of writers famous throughout the Chinese world, including Lu Xun.
Other writers associated with a brief period of modernization around the time of Hundred Day Reform in 1898 include Kang Youwei, an iconoclastic interpreter of Confucian philosophy who influenced Emperor Guangxi; and Liang Qichao, a gifted writer who was smuggled into Japan after the Emperor's arrest. Both men mixed politics and literature but eventually turned their backs on radical politics. Kang became interested in cosmology; Liang in history.
In a review of Red-light Novels of the Late Qing by Chloe F. Starr, John Christopher Hamm of the University of Washington wrote: “As a mere reader of fiction, I always found the late Qing and early Republican novels set in the world of courtesans and their clients rather rough going. Anything but ‘sexy,’ they seemed to portray characters ranging from the pitiable to the contemptible, playing out programmatic fates in a world whose claustrophobia-inducing narrowness was intensified by the plots' indefatigable repetition of trivial detail and the narration's pose of somewhat precious self-awareness.”
Lao She has had several books translated into English, most notably Cat City and The Rickshaw Boy. The later is a delightful novel written in the 1930s about a Beijing rickshaw driver. Lao wrote about working class people and met with Mao on a few occasions. Even so he was attacked and humiliated by Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution and was either murdered or committed suicide.
Zhang Xianliang, the author of the sexually-explicit Half of Man is Woman is writer many say is worth checking out. Luo Guanzhong wrote the great historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, set in the Tang Dynasty.
Ba Jin (1905-2005) was a prolific writer whose books are required reading for most Chinese middle school students. He wrote throughout his century-long life and us best-known for his semi-autobiographical trilogy Family 1937); Spring (1938) and Autumn (1940), about the struggle of a large family to break away from the control of its elders.
Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) was one of China's most distinguished poets of the twentieth century. In November 1931 he died tragically in a plane crash on his way from Nanjing to Beijing for a literary event. He attended Columbia University in the United States.
The essayist and short story writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) is considered by many to be China's greatest 20th century writer and the founder of modern Chinese literature. . Lu was trained as doctor and gave up his medical career he said to devote himself to curing social ills with his writing. He loved Jules Verne, and translated his stories into Chinese beginning in 1903 as part of an effort to help China develop an appreciation of Western sciences. Lu eventually gave up writing and took up politics. He allied himself with the Communists around the time of his death in 1936.
Lu Xun is regarded as the pioneer of modern leftist Chinese literature. He was born in Zhejiang province, which is considered a a breeding ground of many Chinese artists and intellectuals. Today there is a literary awards named after him: the Lu Xun Award for short stories.
Lu was "noted for his acerbic tongue and critical nature." He wrote in a simple, straight-forward style that contrasting sharply with the complex, classical language that was fashionable at the time he wrote. He resolved to diagnose Chinese society and culture through literature. Like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China. Among Lu Xun’s more memorable characters is Ah Q, an allegorical, starving man on the street meant to represent the conflicts raging in China at the time.
Lu Xun’s Works
Lu's novella, The Story of Ah Q (1921), was a brilliant and vicious satire on Chinese traditions. Set in 1911. at the of the beginning of the ill-fated Chinese republic, it was about a peasant who survives a number if disasters, viewing each one as a triumph. His dreams of revolution ends with his own execution.
In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen was written Lu Xun in 1926. For decades, it had been in high school textbooks, and there was quite a bit of controversy when education authorities decided to remove it in 2007. There was speculation that the article was junked in part because it might remind people of a similar incident that occurred in 1989]
In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen is about 22-year-old Liu Hezhen, a student activist campaigning for a boycott of Japanese goods . On March 18, 1926, she was a a member of a group of students in Beiping (Beijing) that staged a demonstration to protest the Japanese navy opening fire on Chinese troops in Tianjin. When protesters gathered outside the residence of Duan Qirui, a warlord who was chief executive of the Republic of China at the time, to submit their petition, a shooting was ordered and forty-seven people died.
Watching Magic Shows by Lu Xun
In his short story Watching Magic Shows , Lu Xun wrote: “These shows roam all across the country, so the tricks are the same wherever they go. They need just two things to collect their money: a black bear and a child...The black bear is kept hungry to the point of emaciation, so that he seems almost to lack the energy to move. Naturally, he couldn’t be allowed to be strong; a strong bear cannot be tamed. Now, he’s half-dead and half-alive, but he’s still got an iron ring through his nose, and he’s made to do tricks tethered to a leash. Sometimes he’s given a little something to eat—a crust of wheat bun soaked in water—but the spoon is held above his head, so that he has to stand on his hind legs and stretch his neck and open his mouth wide, and only after all this work does he get a bite, for which the magic show collects a few more coins.” [Source: Developmental Fairy Tales By Andrew F. Jones, China Beat, May 4, 2011]
“No one in China talks about where these bears come from. According to a study done by some Westerners, they are captured in the mountains when they are still small. Grown bears are no good, because once they’re big, their nature can no longer be changed. But even the cubs need to be “trained,” and this “training” takes two forms: beatings and hunger. Later they die of mistreatment and abuse. I imagine that what the study says is perfectly true. We can see well enough that even though they’re still alive and performing tricks, they’re wretched to the point where they hardly even resemble bears anymore. In some places, they go so far as to call them “cur-bears” [gouxiong], so great is their contempt for them.” [Ibid]
“The child in these scenes also suffers, as grown-ups stand on his belly or twist his arms behind his back, until he pulls a face to show his pain and begs the spectators to save him. Six, five, four more, and three “ and the magician has once again collected a handful of coins....Naturally, the child has also been trained, and the pain is feigned, just a plot cooked up in collusion with the grown-ups, and anyway, it never hurts to earn some more money.” [Ibid]
“They bang a gong to get the show started in the afternoon, and continue until the evening. When it’s over, the spectators disperse, and while some of them have spent some money, others have not...At the end of each show, I think to myself as I walk away: there are two kinds of moneymakers. One kind is abused to death until another is found as a replacement. The other kind will grow up to acquire a little child and a bear cub, and go on performing the same old tricks. It’s really very simple, and even seems a bit tedious when you think about it. Yet I go on watching these shows. What else would you have me look at, dear readers? “ [Ibid]
In his analysis of the story Andrew F. Jones wrote in Developmental Fairy Tales wrote: “Lu Xun wrote this essay in October 1933 amidst a wave of intense anxiety and interest in the question of Chinese children. In academic journals and popular media alike, the figure of the child became a ubiquitous emblem of the nation and its developmental hopes. Nor was this equation lost on the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), which had the previous year instituted for the first time a national “Children’s Day.” and had already begun to promote 1934 as “The Year of the Child.” Newspapers and illustrated magazines such as the best-selling weekly Young Companion (Liangyou huabao) had since the late 1920s regularly featured the activities of a nascent scouting movement, a “Children’s Army” (tongzi jun) typically pictured as projecting a military prowess in miniature that the KMT, having suffered the loss of Manchuria to Japanese military encroachment in 1931, sorely lacked. Parents were encouraged to send in photographs of their charges, to be judged competitively on the strength of their vigor and vitality. The slogan for one such competition, sponsored by an American baby formula brand, Momilk—”If you want to strengthen the nation, you must first strengthen the children”—quite neatly summed up the conflation of the child and the nation in the context of the emergence of a vibrant and aggressively commercialized urban media culture.” [Ibid]
Book: Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture by Andrew F. Jones (Harvard University Press, 2011]
Image Sources: 1) Storyteller, Bukliin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; 2) Book, Calligraphy, Palace Museum Taipei ; 3) Encyclopedia, Li Bao, wikipedia; 4) Handscroll, Columbia University; 5) Tang party, University of Washington ; 6) Red Chamber TV, Hongloumeng; 7) Bei Dao, Poets.org 8) Pearl Buck, Pearl Buck website
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013