The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014


Yiyan Wang

Like the novel in many other cultural traditions, the Chinese novel has humble origins and a long history of evolution. Its current name, changpian xiaoshuo, has two components: changpian means long, full-length, and xiaoshuo is the term for fiction, which, if taken literally, means small talk. Hence, short stories are duanpian xiaoshuo (short-length stories) and novellas are zhongpian xiaoshuo (medium-length stories). Alternatively, both changpian and xiaoshuo can also be a shorthand expression for the full-length novel. An earlier name for the novel is zhanghui xiaoshuo, with the word zhanghui meaning chapters, emphasizing the regular structure of chapters that typically center on the plot to entice the reader to continue.

The word xiaoshuo originally referred to writings in both the classical Chinese language and the vernacular that describe fantastic events, manifestations of the supernatural, or any extraordinary events or experiences. The names of those GENREs that can be grouped in what we now regard as fiction clearly indicate their content and subject matter: zhiguai (records of the strange), huaben (collections of stories), chuanqi (tales of the wondrous), gongan (detective stories), the relatively short pieces of anecdotes or reflections known as biji (jottings), and other genres. All of them had one thing in common, generally speaking: they were not concerned with statecraft, philosophy, personal aspirations, or expressions of the inner complexities of the authors, and were not highly regarded, although philosophical and historical writings are also intricately connected with the development of fiction from subject matter to narrative traditions. In the Chinese literary hierarchy, fiction did not enjoy the same status as poetry and essays until the twentieth century, when it came to occupy the center stage of the literary scene.

Since the late nineteenth century, Chinese novels have been categorized according to their subject matter. If the novel deals with love and relationships, it is yanqing xiaoshuo (a novel of emotional matters); if the narrative is erotic, it is seqing xiaoshuo (a novel of sex and seduction); if it deals with social phenomena or customs, it is shiqing xiaoshuo (a novel of social mores); if it condemns social evil or injustice, it is qianze xiaoshuo (a novel of indictment); if it mocks social establishments and human weaknesses, it is fengci xiaoshuo (a novel of satire) and if the novel's events are based on HISTORICAL events, it is lishi xiaoshuo (a novel of history).

The novel's humble origins have significant implications for its authorship and readership. Before Western prototypes and forms were introduced in the nineteenth century, the Chinese novel was largely for popular entertainment and was often appreciated and consumed in a public space. Although short stories as well as nonfiction written in the classical language intended for the educated elite were part of the ancestry of the Chinese novel, many more novels in premodern times were written in the vernacular for a general readership. Also, readers might not necessarily “read” but enjoyed an oral rendition of the novel in public places such as teahouses or markets. This oral element of the Chinese novel has also led to authors not only imitating the oral style but also retaining the plot-driven chapter-based structure, although the novel could be composed primarily for reading in private. Even today shuoshu ren (“book talkers”), who read, or rather enact novels for an audience, still exist. However, it is also this connection to popular culture that kept the novel from reaching its current prestigious status until drastic social and cultural changes started to take place in the twentieth century. This traditional association of fiction with popular entertainment played an important role in shaping Chinese cultural traditions and the effects are still palpable today, although the media and the venues where the novel is now delivered to its audience have changed considerably. Fiction on the whole gained primacy in the literary hierarchy from the 1900s, and by the 1930s the novel's status as an important and respectable genre was firmly established. Since the latter half of the twentieth century, the novel has been the major genre of Chinese literary output. Each year on the Chinese mainland alone, more than one thousand titles are published. The novel remains the primary source for China's film and television scripts.

The Classical Novel

If we accept that length and scope are two definitive criteria for a narrative to be considered a novel, the Chinese novel started to take shape from the fourteenth century, with the best known being produced between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. More often than not, the creation, or the “rewriting” of a novel was a dynamic and interactive process with multiple editions as a result of contributions from different authors, readers, and critics. The Sanguo yanyi (1522, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Xiyou ji (1592, Journey to the West), Shuihu zhuan (1614, Water Margin) and Honglou meng (1754, Dream of the Red Chamber) are the four most-loved classical novels. Some would add another two: the Jin Ping Mei (1617?, Plum in the Golden Vase) and Rulin waishi (1768—69, Scholars).

The Sanguo yanyi first appeared in the sixteenth century as a grand narrative, elaborating on the HISTORICAL events in the last years of the Eastern Han period (roughly 200 CE) and the personal lives of the major historical figures involved. However, it is the shortened 120-chapter edition of 1522 that remains the most popular. Representation of the major characters, who were also major historical figures, departs considerably from those found in the history book dealing with the same era entitled Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms), which was composed between the third and fourth centuries.

The Shuihu zhuan is also closely associated with history, but the characters in the novel are mythologized and therefore much larger than their historical prototypes active around the twelfth century during the Song Dynasty. The book tells the story of the bandit-rebel Song Jiang and his followers in praise of their mateship, courage, loyalty, and righteousness during their guerrilla war against the authorities. Its characters and plots frequently reappear in other novels, operas, and performance media of all sorts.

The Jinpingmei takes the story of Wu Song, a major character from the Shuihu zhuan, as its starting point. Wu Song kills his adulterous sister-in-law Pan Jinlian and her lover Ximen Qing to avenge their murder of his brother. Pan and Ximen are subsequently the major characters in the Jinpingmei, which was written in the late sixteenth century and circulated to a wide readership in the seventeenth century when a block-printed edition became available (see PAPER AND PRINT). The Jinpingmei was an important point of departure in Chinese narrative history, for it was the first single-authored novel portraying the DOMESTIC lives of a household in an urban environment. It was also the best-known Chinese novel with explicit depictions of sexual behavior, but for this reason, the Jinpingmei was not considered serious literature until recently. Scholars is an incisive social satire and has been popular since it appeared in the eighteenth century. Its episodes ridiculing the participants in the imperial civil service examination are still widely read and alluded to today.

The Xiyou ji emerged from tales about the Tang Buddhist monk Xuanzang (602—64) and his travels to India to bring back Buddhist scripture: thus began the tradition of adventure travel in the Chinese novel. The helpless monk encounters demons, spirits, aliens, and monsters on his way but is always saved by his disciples, Monkey, Piggy and Sandy, who on occasions also need the help from the more powerful. The monk's narrow escapes make for gripping and fascinating stories of foolhardiness, loyalty, and courage. With his extraordinary skills in martial arts, his magic powers, and cheeky personality, Monkey stands out as a most enchanting character not only in this novel but also in Chinese literary history.

The Honglou meng (Story of the Stone, also known as Dream of the Red Chamber and Dream of Red Mansions), is commonly acknowledged as the best-loved and best-written novel in Chinese literary history. The work charts the decline of two branches of a large, aristocratic family. The protagonist is a young boy called Precious Jade (Baoyu), born with a piece of jade in his mouth that connects his current life with his previous incarnation. The narrative follows his daily life with his girl cousins, girl friends, and female servants in the Grand View Garden, where the gender-segregation code called for in elite households is violated. Precious Jade becomes totally disillusioned as he witnesses the tragic fate of the young girls around him in addition to his own unrequited love. The scope, complexity, elegance, and technical skill conveyed in the narrative are considered supreme examples of the Chinese narrative tradition. The Hongxue (“Redology”), a field of specialized study devoted to this novel, has attracted the attention of hundreds of scholars all over the world, and yet many questions remain unanswered. For instance, there is no conclusive proof that the entire book of 120 chapters was completed by Cao Xueqin and no one is sure whether the manuscript of the last forty chapters was lost, or whether he did not finish writing it at all. Most scholars agree that the last forty chapters in the most popular edition of the book were contributed by Gao E.

Literary Modernity and the Ascendancy of the Modern Novel

Novels with indigenous narrative features continued to evolve, and many authors also started to express their concerns for social issues through the format of the novel. In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century, such novels boomed. The most influential include the Lao Can youji (1907, Travels of Lao Can), Ershinian mudu zhi guaixianzhuang (Strange Phenomena Observed during the Last Twenty Years, serialized 1903—5; first ed. 1906—10), and Henhai (1906, The Sea of Regret) by Wu Jianren, the Guanchang xianxingji (1903?) by Li Baojia, and the Niehai hua (1905, A Flower in the Sea of Sins) by Zeng Pu.

With the rapid development of the printing industry and the increased circulation of newspapers and magazines which published novels in serial form, popular novels began to reach large audiences. When Shanghai became the publishing hub of China in the second decade of the twentieth century, it was possible to become a professional writer and make a living out of it. Apart from the popular bittersweet love stories, there were also detective fiction, chivalric fiction, and other popular genres. Some newspaper editors were also writers, as in the case of Li Baojia. The circulation figures for The News, a Shanghai newspaper, reached 150,000 when Zhang Henshui's novel Tixiao yinyuan (1929—30, Fate in Tears and Laughter) was serialized. Zhang was the most popular novelist in China in the twentieth century but until recently, he and those who wrote popular fiction were dubbed writers of the Yuanyang hudie pai (“Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies”) school. Again, until recently, this group and their writings were largely marginalized by literary historians inside and outside of China, despite, or perhaps because of, their enormous commercial success.

Chinese literary modernity has been a contested issue, especially with regard to what constitutes the notion, and when and how it merged. Many scholars used to, and some still do, mark the beginning of modern Chinese literature with the publication of Lu Xun's short story, Kuangren riji (1918, “Diary of a Madman”) in 1918, and consider Lu Xun the founding father of modern Chinese literature. Most also agree that discussions on “the literary revolution” started by Hu Shi (1891—1962) in 1917 in the journal Xin qingnian (New Youth) edited by Chen Duxiu (1879—1942) signaled the beginning of modern Chinese literary sensibility. However, it has been increasingly accepted that since the mid-nineteenth century, elite thinkers had already begun to connect the novel with nation building and identified the genre as the ideal medium in which to usher in new ideas for China's social and cultural change. Many intellectuals and writers, for whom the two roles naturally overlapped and still do, wanted to change the practice of creative writing in order to serve the purposes of nation building. Their debates on the form and content of poetry and fiction have had far-reaching implications for the creative process, the literary output, and the public reception of Chinese literature since that time. The raised status of the novel and the novelist was a major outcome and a significant indicator of the profound social and cultural transformation initiated in China in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Increasingly, scholars have tended to assert that the last decade of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century should not be regarded simply as a transitional period from the traditional to the modern. Those years should be considered the beginning of modernity in Chinese literature, for significant changes had already started to occur during this period. First, novels overtook prose and poetry as the primary literary genre and boasted large numbers of publications and translations. Second, the printing industry was booming and led to rapid growth in the readership of fiction, another sign of literary modernity (see PUBLISHING). Third, there were already critical discourses on literature dealing with a variety of topics ranging from the political ideology of national salvation to the aesthetics of modernity. The scope of thematic concerns and cultural geography covered by novels also vastly expanded.

The most obvious change was the rise of the vernacular as the preferred language over classical Chinese, and creative writing in the vernacular also began to command and win respect from readers and society. At the same time, many writers, poets, and essayists consciously borrowed NARRATIVE TECHNIQUEs, styles, and even plots from European and other literary traditions. In the case of fiction, it was the short story that first adopted techniques and styles from European and Japanese literatures. Novels followed suit, but it was not until the early 1930s that novels modeled on European ones appeared, with Mao Dun's trilogy, Shi (1927—28, Eclipse), as the first examples. His second significant attempt, Ziye (1933, Midnight), was intended as a grand narrative to capture the complexities and scope of the social, political, and economic changes of China in the early twentieth century from a Marxist understanding of societal structure and class conflict. Set in Shanghai, with central characters as major players in Shanghai's business and industry, the narrative on the whole constructs a credible picture of Shanghai's urban ethnography. Apart from having to contend with riots in their home villages from which the raw materials for industry came, these “nationalist” entrepreneurs also encountered workers' uprisings, which were led by the communists but eventually fell victim to the “imperialists” who ran transnational companies. Mao Dun's social realist writings of the 1920s and 1930s assured him leadership status in the Chinese communist literary establishment. Although he wrote no more novels after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, his position as the chief ideologue of the Chinese Communist Party was never challenged. The first and foremost prize for the Chinese novel established in 1981 by the Chinese authorities is named after him.

In the 1930s and the 1940s, novels by Ba Jin were widely read, especially his trilogy Jiliu (Torrents), consisting of Jia (1933, Family), Chun (1938, Spring), and Qiu (1940, Autumn). The trilogy describes how the different generations in a traditional gentry household in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan in China's southwest, respond, or fail to respond to the turbulent social and cultural changes. Lao She was the first novelist to successfully center-stage the lives and struggles of the urban poor in the city of Beijing, and enriched the Chinese novel with the colorful expressions of Beijing local language. Luotuo Xiangzi (1936, Rickshaw) is most representative of his writing. It charts the trajectory of an honest, young Beijing rickshaw puller whose dreams, integrity, and strength are progressively destroyed by dark forces on all sides. Qian Zhongshu, a highly respected scholar, was author of a witty satire, Weicheng (1947, Fortress Besieged), in which a student returning from France with a fake university degree becomes trapped in a series of acts of deception and insincere relationships.

A simplistic division in response to novels occurred in the process of transition: the novels that adopted Western narrative traditions were generally considered “new” and the ones following traditional Chinese narrative features were regarded as “old.” This was rather unfortunate, for the terms automatically mis/placed Chinese indigenous features in the category of the passé and the conservative, which in many cases was not accurate. Contrary to the ideal of the writers of new novels, who wanted their writings to educate the masses to facilitate social progress and promote China's nationalist agenda, their emphasis on innovation proved to be elitist (see NATIONAL). The new novels failed to reach the intended readers and thus could not rival the “old” in popularity. What fundamentally differentiated the new from the old was the change of the purpose of fiction writing from popular entertainment to nation building—the novel was now written to “awaken” the masses so that they would become enlightened citizens who would together constitute a strong nation. To be “new” became the ideology of Chinese intellectuals, and this required a clear departure from traditional Chinese cultural practices. Paradoxically, there was nothing truly radical in the intent of the new fiction, despite its transformation in form and subject matter. The proposal that literature serve the nation was deeply connected with the age-old Confucian tradition that “writing should convey the Way,” although the novel was not considered part of “writing” in the premodern Chinese cultural context.

From Socialism to Commercialism: the Novel's Great Leap Forward

The change to the political system in China in 1949 transformed the literary landscape. For the following twenty years, novel writing became a political task imposed on novelists. Writers were urged to follow the leftist tradition which emerged in the 1920s and flourished in the 1940s in the communist-controlled areas, with representative writers such as Ding Ling and Zhao Shuli. This resulted in a sharp decrease in variety, quantity, and, necessarily, quality. Many a geming xin chuanqi (new revolutionary romance) was produced according to the Party guidelines of socialist realism and socialist romanticism that prescribed the foregrounding of communist heroes (see RUSSIA 20TH C.). Since access to literature produced in other times and other places was extremely limited, Chinese readers managed to enjoy “red classics,” such as Qu Bo's Linhai xueyuan (1957, Tracks in the Snowy Forest), Qingchun zhi ge (1958, Song of Youth) by Yang Mo, and Hongyan (1962, Red Crag) by Luo Guanbin and Yang Yiyan.

Between 1966 and 1976, Mao Zedong (1893—1976), Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, launched a political campaign called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The extreme political repression during the ten years in effect stopped genuine creativity and very few novels were produced. The master in the practice of “socialist realism” and “socialist romanticism” was Hao Ran, whose novels, Yanyang tian (1964, 1966, 1971, Bright Sunny Days) and Jinguang dadao (1972—74, The Golden Route) are representative samples of Chinese socialist revolutionary literature. The varying publication dates reflect the different editions incorporating changes dictated by the political demands of the day.

The death of Mao in 1976 began a period of renaissance in the Chinese novel. In the 1980s, Chinese writers and intellectuals went through a process of soul-searching, when they welcomed ideas from outside and experimented with all sorts of writing styles. Since the rapid transformation of China into a relatively open market economy in the 1990s, the publishing industry has become highly commercialized and diversified. The increased speed and scope of globalization has also provided novelists with many opportunities to interact with writers outside of China and to absorb influences from writings in Chinese published abroad and writings in other languages. Since the 1970s the Chinese novel has taken several great leaps forward, developing into extraordinarily diverse shapes, styles, and forms, and achieving greater productivity, readership, and international recognition. Censorship has eased, but still exists and continues to be a significant factor in the context of literary production, as writers and publishers tend to practice self-censorship to avoid financial penalties. Nevertheless, the unleashed energy and creativity of Chinese novelists has produced a prodigious quantity of novels in recent decades.

Trends in ideas, styles, and thematic concerns have come and gone in recent Chinese fiction: the shanghen wenxue (“scar literature”) that reflects on the traumatic memories and experiences inflicted by the Cultural Revolution; the xungen wenxue (“roots-seeking literature”) that engages in the quest for national potency by returning to traditions and the primitive; the Chinese xianfeng wenxue (avant-garde) that subverts not only the communist party-state's ideology but also conventional narrative ideas and practices (see SURREALISM); the FEMINIST writers who ponder and criticize social repression of women in both pre- and post-socialist Chinese societies, whereas meinü zuojia (beautiful women writers) capitalize on their GENDER and SEXUALITY by writing with their body (shenti xiezuo, meaning their writing focuses on their own physical and sexual experiences). In the 1980s, works in Chinese translation by Gabriel García Marquéz arrived, together with those of Milan Kundera and Marguerite Duras, all of whom were overwhelmingly refreshing to Chinese writers and readers and are still relevant to how Chinese novels are written, especially with regard to the ongoing negotiations between tradition and modernity, between the individual and the authorities, and between the local, the national, and the international. The recent appearance of middle-class white-collar office workers in China's metropolitan centers has led to the birth of chengshi wenxue (urban literature), including novels that explore modern urban themes, such as middle-class lifestyles, isolation from communities, and dislocation or anxieties over relationships or commercial competition. In recent years qingchun wenxue (youth literature) has emerged, with Guo Jingming and Han Han being the best known and most admired by readers in that age group as well. This only-child generation expresses little interest in their fiction in matters of national, political, or ideological significance. Still in their teens and twenties, their life experiences in China's post-socialist decades and their literary concerns differ greatly from those of their predecessors. Nevertheless, adolescent elaborations on the meaning of life and the special brand of urban youth melancholy have proved to be popular, and such works have been topping bestseller lists since the late 1990s. There is also a vast on-line fictional world with correspondingly large numbers of writers and readers interacting in the virtual world of creativity. When the reputations of the best of the on-line writers reach a certain level, their works may emerge in print media as published novels.

Leading Contemporary Chinese Novelists

Alai was born in a Tibetan village of about twenty households in northwest Sichuan, on the outskirts of the Tibetan plateau. He writes in Chinese, which is not his native language, and his distance from the Han Chinese language and culture gives his depiction of his native Tibetan village life plenty of exotica and extra dimensions. His writings are powerful as they articulate alternative ways of viewing relations between China and Tibet. Alai's debut novel, Chen'ai luoding (1998, Red Poppies), deals with Tibet's historical transition in the first half of the twentieth century when the Tibetan chieftains were tricked into fighting among themselves by the Nationalist power-brokers and ended up being taken over by the Communists. The central character is the “idiot” son of a chieftain with a Han Chinese wife, whose “idiocy” protects him from the potential political dangers. Ten years later, in his second novel of three volumes and over a thousand pages, Kongshan (2005—7, Empty Mountains), Alai tackles the process of political, social, and cultural changes made in a Tibetan village by the Chinese communist state. The brutality of that process is most effectively revealed through the conflicts within the villagers themselves during the stages of communization of agricultural production, mass violence during the Cultural Revolution, and the total destruction of the native forests in the 1990s following market reform. His most recent novel is a rewriting of the Tibetan mythology, King Gesar (2009).

Jia Pingwa's most important novel to date, Feidu (1993, Ruined Capital), is set in the city of Xi'an, where he resides. The protagonist, a famous middle-aged writer in the city, is confused and lost when Chinese society is devastatingly commercialized in the early 1990s and men are led astray by power, money, and sex. The book was extremely popular and controversial, especially with regard to the characterization of the protagonist and his sexual behavior, which were a novelty in the 1990s. Half a million copies were sold within six months and the government rushed to ban it. His novel Qinqiang (2003, The Shaanxi Local), about the gradual disappearance of local cultural traditions in Shaanxi, especially the local opera Qinqiang, won the inaugural and most prestigious prize for literature in the Chinese language administered in Hong Kong, the Dream of the Red Chamber Prize.

Mo Yan began publishing short stories at the beginning of the 1980s, but it was with his novel Honggaolian jiazu (1987, Red Sorghum) that he gained national fame and international attention, when the story was adapted into the internationally renowned film Honggaoliang (dir. Zhang Yimou, 1988, Red Sorghum). A highly prolific writer, Mo Yan has won many national prizes and to date is the most translated Chinese writer into English. Bearing strong imprints of MAGICAL REALISM, Mo Yan's novels are mostly about the villagers in his native Gaomi village in Shandong, northern China. His most recent novel is Shengsi pilao (2005, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out), in which the central character lives through a number of reincarnations after he is executed as a landowner by the communist authorities. The novel offers fascinating observations of China's socialist revolution and the economic reforms since 1949 from the perspectives of a landlord, a donkey, a pig, a monkey, and eventually a retarded boy.

Su Tong shot to fame in 1993 when Zhang Yimou adapted his short story, “Wives and Concubines” into the internationally known film, Raise the Red Lantern. He has been best known for his short stories and novellas that depict the daily lives of local residents of small towns or villages along the lower stretch of the Yangtze River. He has produced a number of novels, including Wode diwang shengya (1993, My Life as an Emperor) and Mi (2002, Rice). He'an (2009, The Boat to Redemption) relates the experiences of a young boy, who becomes ostracized by his peers as soon as his father's official title and the status of a communist martyr's orphan are taken away. The boy and his father remain estranged throughout the years that the father and son are exiled to live on a boat without any hope of returning to live on shore. Verging on the absurd, the novel is a bold subversion of the standard narrative of heroic martyrs of the Chinese communists. It won the Mann Asian Literary Prize in 2009.

Wang Anyi, from Shanghai, has been highly prolific and adaptable in her writing. She has produced works that can be considered representative of many of the trends and styles current in the Chinese literary scene since the 1980s. Her “love” trilogy, SanlianHuangshan zhi lian (1986, Love on a Barren Mountain), Xiaocheng zhi lian (1986, Love in a Small Town), and Jinxiugu guzhi lian (1987, Love in Splendor Valley)—sparked discussions on female sexuality, a topic that had been removed from Chinese society thirty years before. Changhen ge (1996, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow) traces a typical Shanghai woman's life from the early 1940s to the 1990s, with detailed descriptions of Shanghai's cityscape and local cultural practices in the laneways of this cosmopolitan city. A refined literary work, this novel has attracted critical acclaim in and out of China. It has been translated into English and adapted for film and a television series (see ADAPTATION).

The novelist Yan Geling is a rising star who emerged around 2005, although she had been publishing since 1978 and had produced several scripts for award-winning films. In 2008 her novel Xiaoyi Duohe (2008, Little Aunt Tatsuru), a story which deals with the survival of a Japanese woman in a Chinese village in Manchuria after WWII, won the best novel prize from Shouhuo (Harvest), the most respected literary journal in China. Her novel Dijiuge guafu (2006, The Ninth Widow) firmly established Yan Geling's reputation as one of China's leading novelists.

Yu Hua's earlier writings were short stories bordering on the edges of the avant-garde, but he is best known for his neorealist novels, in which he exposes his readers to extremes of the grotesque, the violent, the wretched, and the ridiculous. These novels include Huozhe (1992, To Live), Xu Sanguan maixueji (1995, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant) and Xiongdi (2005, Brothers). Brothers is controversial and the critics are divided in their assessment of the im/probability of the fictional events in the novel. It presents a surrealistic view of China in the second half of the twentieth century, showing how violence and inhumanity intrude on ordinary people's personal and family lives: the communist state and its ideology during the Maoist years (1949—76) are responsible for people's suffering, but so too is the all-pervasive rampant commercialism in all aspects of Chinese society afterwards.

The Novel in the Chinese-Speaking World

In 1949 greater China was geopolitically divided into the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora. This segregation has led to very different literary developments in the various parts of the Chinese-speaking world. In Taiwan, native writers wrote differently from recent émigrés from the Mainland. The latter, strongly influenced by modernist writers such as James Joyce and Franz Kafka, produced novels that dealt with feelings of homesickness, nostalgia, and alienation when the writers, like many of their protagonists, were trying to find ground in their newly found homes in Taiwan and elsewhere. Bai Xianyong, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1962, is among the best known in the group. Although most of his fiction is short stories, his novel Niezi (1977, Crystal Boys), about a homosexual boy's conflicts with his family and society, is not only illustrative of Taiwan's social reality but also poses serious challenges to the establishment and its dominant values (see QUEER). Wang Wenxing's Jiabian (1973, Family Catastrophe) caused a great deal of controversy when it came out and remains a novel that divides opinions. The novel is a double narrative about two contradictory responses to the sudden disappearance of the father: one rejects filial piety and the other is conciliatory and contrite to the patriarch. At the same time, the family's flight from Mainland China is only incorporated as a vague narrative background.

Taiwan's nativist writers, the descendants of Chinese migrants who arrived centuries earlier, began exploring their own identities, local traditions, and Taiwan's political reality in the 1970s. From this there arose a literature that articulated Taiwan's nativist consciousness. Wang Zhenhe's Meigui, meigui, wo ai ni (1984, Rose, Rose, I Love You) and Li Qiao's trilogy Hanye (1980, Wintry Night) both deal with modern social changes and the lives of the native and aboriginal peoples on the margins of the island's colonial society.

Continuing with the tradition of popular entertainment, Qiong Yao is well known through her huge output of novels, with a total of sixty-one novels of romantic love to her name. It is small wonder that “Qiong Yao fever” lasted for more than two decades from the 1960s to 1980s in the entire Chinese-speaking world. Her best-known titles are Chuangwai (1963, Outside the Window) and Tingyuan shenshen (1966, Deep is the Courtyard). Her love stories bear a strong resemblance to the earlier Chinese popular love stories by writers of the “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” school of the 1920s.

The two sisters, Zhu Tianwen and Zhu Tianxin, have both been prominent, prolific, and influential writers in Taiwan since the 1980s. Huangren shouji (1994, Notes of a Desolate Man) is Zhu Tianwen's major novel, which explores the complexity of identity politics in current Taiwanese society through a middle-aged homosexual man's quest for love and his constant negotiation with different cultures in Taiwan society: Taiwanese native culture, Chinese culture, and foreign cultures, especially the legacy of Japanese colonalization and popular cultural influences of the U.S. Zhu Tianxin mainly writes short stories and her best known collection is Gudu (1997, The Old Capital).

The wuxia xiaoshuo (martial arts novel) is often considered the most enduring and most typical of indigenous Chinese narrative forms. Its roots can be traced back to earlier novels such as Xiyou ji and Shuihu zhuan and its modern renderings began in the 1920s. The age-old indigenous genre took on a new lease of life in the postwar years in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Independently from each other, in both places, prominent writers of this genre emerged and attracted their own large readership. It is in Hong Kong, however, that this genre has had greater development and impact. Martial art novels by Liang Yusheng and Jin Yong have been enjoyed by millions of readers from the masses to elite intellectuals and by even wider audiences when they have been adapted into films and television dramas. The best-loved titles are the ones by Jin Yong, including Shujian enchou lu (1955, rev. 1975, The Book and the Sword), Shediao yingxiong zhuan (1957, rev. 1978, Legend of the Eagle-Shooting Heroes) and Xueshan feihu (1959, rev. 1976, Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain). The attraction of martial arts fiction is manifold, including the articulation of Chinese cultural traditions, emotional patterns familiar to the Chinese reader, and the highlighting of Chinese aesthetics in the narrative language and structure. The popularity of the martial arts novel attests to the global scale of Chinese popular culture.

Since the early 1920s, a considerable number of Chinese writers have visited or settled outside China. The Chinese diaspora, namely, immigrant communities in different countries all over the world, form large groups of readers and writers of Chinese novels, which I will confine to those written in Chinese for the purpose of this introduction. These writings produced by overseas Chinese are often referred to as haiwai wenxue (literature in diaspora). Most of these writers wrote short stories or novellas until the 1960s, when a sizable number emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. Nie Hualing, one of the founders and organizers of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, published Sangqing yu Taohong (1976, Mulberry and Peach: Two Women of China), a powerful novel which recaptures China's turbulent history by following the protagonists' footsteps from China to Taiwan and eventually to the U.S.

The diaspora novels are increasingly influential, not only in the locations where they are produced, but in the homelands and internationally. Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000 with his autobiographical memoir-fiction, Lingshan (1990, Soul Mountain). The narrative details the physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery when Gao's escape from political persecution takes him to places far away from China's political centers where he discovers the depth and strength of Chinese cultural traditions. Some diaspora novels focus more on the lives of Chinese in their adopted country, especially their struggle for “success.” Beijingren zai Niuyue (1999, A Native Beijinger in New York) by Cao Guilin has been adapted into a television series, attracting audiences in the millions.

Recent political and technological changes have again allowed easier and more frequent literary interactions among the various parts of the Chinese-speaking world. Although writers in different parts of the Chinese world still appear to write with a focus on their immediate surroundings, Chinese novels are converging again, with their reception and distribution already global.

SEE ALSO: Ancient Narratives of China.


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6. Mostow, J.S., ed. (2003), Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature.

7. Owen, S., ed. and trans. (1996), Anthology of Chinese Literature.