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[Indepth] The absence of urban literature
Latest Updated by 2005-06-30 10:35:42
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Writers and critics all noticed an obvious omission of urban literature in the award-winning works of the prestigious Luxun Literature Awards presented in Shenzhen on Sunday. A discussion of the reasons for and solutions to this absence was initiated at a seminar on contemporary urban literature, held as part of the event.

All four of the awarded novellas featured rural lives, while more than half of the awarded short stories contained rural subject matter. The lack of urban subjects in the awarded works represents, to a certain extent, a lack of urban themes in contemporary literature. Critics at the seminar asked why countryside subjects were so popular and what the appropriate outlet for urban literature should be.

Urban culture neglected

Most critics agreed that Chinese literature was still influenced by agrarian themes and Chinese writers were more familiar with countryside subjects. Many writers lacked the ability to judge or portray urban life, as Chinese cities had undergone rapid development within the past 20 years.

Critic Li Jingze asserted that both theorists and writers should rethink their limited literary thinking.

Writers born after the late 1970s were grappling with complicated urban experiences, whereas critics had no idea what they were talking about or why, said Li.

Li suggested that depictions of the lives of doctors or lawyers should be much more complex and insightful regarding contemporary life than continual depictions of farmers, and should also require more dedicated research. However, most mainstream Chinese writers and critics, coming from the countryside themselves, still focused themselves on rural subjects despite the fact that the urban experience had become a major element of China's contemporary culture.

Urban literature in China needs Charles Baudelaire

As a Guangzhou researcher in literature, Professor Li Fengliang from Jinan University in Guangzhou said Guangzhou and Shenzhen were two typical cities replete with urban literary material. In Guangzhou, residents could go out in public with slippers, and Shenzhen had grown into a modern city from a small fishing village, an illustration of Chinese urbanization, said Li.

Li commended some Guangdong writers' recent works that explored a number of serious urban topics, including the urbanization of villages in Guangdong. Guangzhou and Shenzhen were two cities that provided an arena for writers to think and express themselves, he said.

Li asserted that urban literature in China needed writers like French poet Charles Baudelaire, author of "The Flowers of Evil," who would devotedly investigate urban subjects and at the same time be critical of them.

The problem with Chinese writers was that older writers, though living in cities, could not shake off the psychological influence of their rural upbringings, while young writers tended to write superficially about the material aspect of urban life without much critical thought, said Li.
Is the popular novel the future of Chinese literature?

A heated discussion was also triggered during the two-day event by a comment by Jiang Wei, vice director of the creation and research department of the Chinese Writers' Association, that the future of Chinese literature belonged to Guo Jingming.

Guo, a college student writer who is possibly the most commercially successful young writer in China, has produced a large number of novels that have been well received among youngsters, especially among high school and college students.

Hailed as the cook of youth literature, Guo has also been sharply criticized for the immaturity of his writing style and his plain language. The writer had also been involved in a lawsuit for alleged plagiarism.

Jiang said that his daughter never read works that won serious literary awards, but only read those written by Guo and other similar young writers.

"Why doesn't anyone read serious award-winning works? We should learn from Guo and study why his pieces have attracted so many readers," said Jiang.

The remarks were immediately refuted by his colleague Niu Yuqiu. "Even if Guo's novels sold 10 million copies, I wouldn't agree that he represents the standard of Chinese literature," said Niu.

Jiang was visibly excited and retorted, "We will all die one day. The future of Chinese literature belongs to Guo."

However, Jiang's opinion was not shared by most seminar attendees. Li Jingze said literature was a complicated spiritual pursuit that should not be judged purely by the market.

Shenzhen writer Zhang Liming asserted that children's tastes could not be used as a standard, since they changed frequently.

"My daughter used to adore Zhao Wei, but she abandoned the actress several months later," said Zhang.

"Literature needs to change with the times. When the public welcomes a certain fashion or popular literature, it is unreasonable that we exclude them from literary circles in order to preserve the so-called 'nobility' of literature," insisted Jiang.

Editor: Wing

By: Source: Szdaily web edition
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