The Occurrence of “Love” and Conceptual Changes in Modern Literature

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2014


The Occurrence of “Love” and Conceptual Changes in Modern Literature



Yang Lianfen


Courtesy of translation, the word “love” (lian’ai恋爱) entered the modern Chinese language in the early 20th century, leading to changes in the mode, experience, meaning and evaluation of “feelings between men and women” by virtue of this new nomenclature. The word entered public discourse and became the point of entry for new Chinese ethical construction, spawning a series of new moral propositions from the late Qing to the May Fourth Movement together with corresponding works of new literature. The “free marriage” advocated in late Qing confirmed the modern consciousness of marriage premised on love and determined primarily by the will of the parties themselves, initiating a new style of civilized marriage. In the early Republican period, the word “love” was temporarily stigmatized in the course of localization, with the result that it was generally avoided in romantic fiction. However, the widespread cult of the spiritual character of love in novels of tragic love laid the foundation for the emergence of “the sanctity of love” in the May Fourth period. The theory of love constructed at this time under the influence of Western theories made subtle distinctions between the “freedom of love” and “free love,” reflecting the ideological divergence within the new culture community. In terms of spatial imagery and descriptions of love, the pioneering creation of romantic literature during the May Fourth period deconstructed the patriarchal authority that suppressed individual freedom, undermining traditional morality, and opened up the literary sphere of expression. But since the pure pursuit of individual freedom also led to weaknesses such as outpourings of emotion and superficial expression, May Fourth romantic literature could not take the experiences and expression of love to a deeper level.