The new “China Channel” of the LA Review of Books has published Eleanor Goodman’s review of A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang 王德威. An enthusiastic review, Goodman writes:
one theme of the book is the importance of inclusivity, exchange, and communication to understanding trends not just in literature, but in global affairs. Many of the writers under discussion here spent time outside of China, particularly in Japan, Europe, and the United States, or are impressively well read in foreign literatures. These essays address works that have been translated from Chinese into other languages, or works in other languages that have been translated into Chinese. Implicit in their juxtaposition, then, is also a picture of geopolitics and global history. These lines of communication were largely severed during the years of the Cultural Revolution; the essays from this period turn inward and are necessarily more political. In contrast, the essays engaging with the outward-looking years around the turns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries demonstrate just how fundamental literature and art are to a mutually intelligible and diverse world culture. It becomes clear reading this book that one can trace the larger history of China itself across the twentieth century by looking at its literature and its writers.
And for mentions of specific entries:
Carlos Rojas writes engagingly of the “issues of gender and gender inversion” at stake in the power dynamics displayed in a novel of the early 1800s. Amy Dooling describes the “publishing sensation that unequivocally established the commercial potential of ‘the woman writer’,” a phenomenon that is a close cousin to – if not a progenitor of – the contemporary “beautiful woman writers” who today proliferate on the shelves of Chinese bookstores with their airbrushed large-eyed portraits. Maghiel van Crevel presents a powerful examination of a “‘cult’ of poetry” that romanticizes suicide among its members, the effects of which can still be seen in more recent examples like the tragic suicide of the Foxconn factory worker and poet Xu Lizhi.
Enjoy science fiction? Mingwei Song’s terrific piece on a “posthuman future” and contemporary Chinese sci-fi will fascinate. You want rock and roll? Read Ao Wang’s rollicking insider’s take on the “Godfather of Chinese rock ‘n roll,” the irreverent and fascinating Cui Jian. In this meticulously edited and selected anthology, there really is something for everyone. All you have to do is look.
The National Translation Award Longlists for Poetry and Prose have been released–and Chinese poetry is represented in the form of Jennifer Feeley’s translation of Not Written Words 不是文字, by Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西. (For some reason the publisher is listed as New Mexico State University, but actually the book is available from Zephyr / mccmcreations).
Carlos Rojas is also longlisted for his translation of The Explosion Chronicles 炸裂志, by Yan Lianke 阎连科. Other notable nominees are Jeffrey Angles, Ottilie Mulzet, Daniel Borzutsky, George Szirtes, and Esther Allen.
At Public Books Eric Hayot writes about the presentation of China in literature available to readers of English, by way of a review of Gail Tsukiyama’s A Hundred Flowers, Christopher Buckley’s They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Dung Kai-cheung’s 董啟章 Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City (translated by the author with Bonnie McDougall and Anders Hansson), and Lenin’s Kisses by Yan Lianke 阎连科 (translated by Carlos Rojas). Here’s how Hayot frames his discussion:
… these four novels—two satires, one melodrama, and one modernist pseudo-documentary—might all be grasped as part of the contemporary social call to understand China, to see it clearly, to name or frame it, to place it in relation to local or global politics, or to locate it inside recent or universal world history. In the last decade economic historians like Ban Wang and Kenneth Pomeranz have demonstrated that the Chinese economy dominated the planet from about 500 to 1500 CE, creating the world’s first global economic system. The possibility of China’s return to that position of dominance—and here I ask all readers to call up a mental image of a sleeping dragon awakening—is what has folks on both sides of the Pacific trembling, in fear or glee, for the “Chinese century” to succeed the American one. “China” is thus one of the names of the global future as we imagine it.
China is also, therefore, an intellectual and social problem, for everyone. What is China to us today—assuming the “us” includes (and how could it not?) the wide variety of people who think of themselves as “Chinese”? What kind of place is it? What must we know to comprehend its nature (if it has one)? What would it mean to recognize ourselves (again, the first person plural includes the Chinese) as people who want to know what China is, and who are willing to work hard, as authors and as readers, to understand it? How will such an understanding return us, like fiction, to a new vision of the world we have known until now?