Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010


How to define “modern Chinese literature”? The challenge has to do specifically with the terms modern and Chinese. First of all, when does the modern period begin and end? Second, by “Chinese,” does one mean “of China” or “in the Chinese language”? If the scope is limited to 1918 to 1949, then the issue can be settled without much controversy. If the historical line stretches further down, however, the problem becomes potentially divisive. What about Taiwan? What about prehandover Hong Kong? And the Chinese diaspora?

In the process of sorting through nearly a century of literary production, I have decided to adopt a more inclusive, thus more controversial, definition of “modern Chinese literature” in order to take into consideration the complex and diverse paths of its development. In terms of historical framework, I begin with the May Fourth generation and continue to the present. Acknowledging the defining role of the vernacular language, I have chosen to exclude texts written in classical Chinese during the same period. In terms of geographical boundary, I have also opted for a more inclusive line of demarcation. In addition to writers in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, those who have settled in the West but continue to address the topic of, for the lack of a better word, “Chineseness,” are considered as part of the modern Chinese literary enterprise. Treating modern Chinese literature as a continuous and borderless entity, this dictionary of Modern Chinese Literature thus adopts a liberal usage of the words Chinese and modern by selecting from writers publishing since the beginning of the 20th century to the present whose language of expression is Chinese. A more accurate but cumbersome title could be “A Dictionary of Modern Chinese (Language) Literature.”

I am certainly aware that the inclusion of Taiwanese writers in this dictionary could be a point of contention. My process of selection, however, is guided by considerations of linguistic as well as cultural and literary traditions instead of political concerns. In that sense, this project subscribes to a growing trend that takes a more general view of a literary institution aptly termed xiandai zhongwen/huawen wenxue (modern literature written in Chinese), which includes works from not only the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong but also the Chinese diaspora. Needless to say, the scope is enormous, and in some cases the definition of “Chineseness” is hard to pin down. I have chosen, for the sake of convenience, to leave out many authors in Southeast Asia, which has large Chinese communities still creating and reading literature in the Chinese language. For that and many other reasons, this dictionary is by no means comprehensive or definitive. The criteria for selection are admittedly arbitrary and subjective. The writers whose names are precluded are not necessarily deemed less worthy. These absences could only be attributed, in some cases, to the limited knowledge and lapse of judgment on my part, and in others, to the continuously evolving arena of modern Chinese literature.

I want to thank Professor Tan Ye, who got me started on this project. For the readers interested in Chinese theater, Professor Ye’s Historical Dictionary of Chinese Theater, also published by the Scarecrow Press, is infinitely more informative than the few entries I have devoted to the genre. Finally, the unfailing love and support my husband, Charles Chao, and son, Kyle Chao, have shown me have sustained me throughout the years. To them I owe a debt of gratitude.