Pondering and Reconstructing Contemporary Chinese Literary Theory

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.4, 2015


Pondering and Reconstructing Contemporary Chinese Literary Theory



Gao Jianping, Zhou Xian, Nan Fan, Zhu Liyuan, Yao Wenfang and Wang Ning


Since the nineteenth century, and especially in modern times, foreign literary theories and ideas have swept China, transforming the structure of Chinese literary criticism. The changes have included much successful experience, but also problems deserving further consideration. In order to better develop the construction of literary criticism in this new situation, the Social Sciences in China Press and the Chinese Literary Criticism Research Council have sponsored a high-level scholarly seminar on the theme of “Pondering and Reconstructing Contemporary Chinese Literary Theory,” inviting domestic scholars to discuss the relevant issues. Six articles that are to some extent representative have been selected for this special issue. Research fellow Gao Jianping from the Institute of Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences proposes that Chinese literary theory should be a theory of “literature” and “practice” and that a special schema should be set up involving literary theory, practice and criticism alongside literature. He also affirms the complexity and communicability of literary theory and the coordination of substance and function. Nanjing University’s Professor Zhou Xian argues that China’s rise has intensified innovation anxiety in Chinese literary theory, and that in developing literary theory with a “Chinese style” and worldwide influence, one should note three important strategies: using “amateurism” to resist the limitations imposed on literary theory by increased disciplinary divisions and specialization; using critical rationality to alter the lack of debate and critical conversation in research on literary theory; and establishing China’s own contribution through “grand narrative” and elevation of the resources of traditional Chinese thought. Research fellow Nan Fan from the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences notes that rebuilding the discourse system of Chinese literary theory is a top priority for the effective interpretation of indigenous literature and culture and the Chinese experience, enabling Chinese literary theory to free itself from Western theoretical models and thus become a part of the national self-narrative. According to Nan Fan, such rebuilding is a complex project which must operate on a modern discourse platform and accept a variety of open dialogues, constructing a new-style discourse system from multiple intersecting perspectives and challenging ideas. Professor Zhu Liyuan from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Fudan University suggests that in dealing with the question of the modern transformation of ancient Chinese literary criticism, we need to “revisit the old views.” The crux of the issue is how to look at these anew and gain a more complete and scientific understanding of them. Zhu supposes Chinese literary criticism to have two traditions; besides the old pre-May Fourth tradition, there is also the new post-May Fourth modern tradition. Moreover, there should be a broader, more dynamic and more systematic understanding of this “modern turn.”  Professor Yao Wenfang of the Liberal Arts College of Yangzhou University puts forward the idea that the Frankfurt School’s critique of mass culture remains an intellectual resource and historical reference, but cannot be used as a template for real-world issues. In current Chinese market economy conditions, the development of mass culture and the cultural industry is in the ascendant; it is up to us to break through previous intellectual constraints and theoretical errors and give due credit to their dynamism. Professor Wang Ning from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of Tsinghua University raises the concept of “world poetics.” He believes that the theory underlying this concept has the following advantages: on the basis of research findings on world literature and comparative poetics, it covers the literature and theoretical experience of different countries and peoples, especially the “small nations”; it is open and developmental; it particularly embraces the categories and experiences of both Western and Eastern literature and theory; and it facilitates the improvement of world literature theories and concepts in a way that will change and modify the existing map of world literature and literary theory.