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The Politics of Cultural Capital

China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature

Julia Lovell

Publication Year: 2006

In the 1980s China’s politicians, writers, and academics began to raise an increasingly urgent question: why had a Chinese writer never won a Nobel Prize for literature? Promoted to the level of official policy issue and national complex, Nobel anxiety generated articles, conferences, and official delegations to Sweden. Exiled writer Gao Xingjian’s win in 2000 failed to satisfactorily end the matter, and the controversy surrounding the Nobel committee’s choice has continued to simmer. Julia Lovell’s comprehensive study of China’s obsession spans the twentieth century and taps directly into the key themes of modern Chinese culture: national identity, international status, and the relationship between intellectuals and politics. The intellectual preoccupation with the Nobel literature prize expresses tensions inherent in China’s move toward a global culture after the collapse of the Confucian world-view at the start of the twentieth century, and particularly since China’s re-entry into the world economy in the post-Mao era. Attitudes toward the prize reveal the same contradictory mix of admiration, resentment, and anxiety that intellectuals and writers have long felt toward Western values as they struggled to shape a modern Chinese identity. In short, the Nobel complex reveals the pressure points in an intellectual community not entirely sure of itself. Making use of extensive original research, including interviews with leading contemporary Chinese authors and critics, The Politics of Cultural Capital is a comprehensive, up-to-date treatment of an issue that cuts to the heart of modern and contemporary Chinese thought and culture. It will be essential reading for scholars of modern Chinese literature and culture, globalization, post-colonialism, and comparative and world literature.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-2

On 12 October 2000, when Gao Xingjian (1940 – ), a Chinese-born novelist and playwright then living in France, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, China’s century-long quest for Nobel glory finally came to an end.1 Chinese intellectuals and politicians had worried for decades over when a Nobel Literature Prize would come to China, but the lack of a Chinese laureate was now, it seemed, resolved and the mystique of the prize dispelled. ...

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Chapter One: Introduction: Diagnosing the Complex

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pp. 3-40

The question of why China — a country, so it is often claimed, with five thousand years of culture and a language spoken by one fifth of the world’s population — had failed for almost a century to win a Nobel Prize began to be raised with increasing urgency during the 1980s, following the Mainland’s reentry into the international political, economic, and cultural realm. ...

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Chapter Two: The Nobel Prize for Literature: Philosophy and Practice

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pp. 41-72

First awarded in 1901 in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s testament, the Nobel Prizes have since come to embody the complex of contradictions that inhere in the modern idea of global culture. Founded to honor benevolent contributions to mankind, the prizes were established and financed by profits from the dynamite industry. ...

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Chapter Three: Ideas of Authorship and the Nobel Prize in China, 1900–1976

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pp. 73-106

The history of the Nobel Prize for Literature coincides with a tumultuous and formative period in the development of modern Chinese writing and culture: the collapse of the sinocentric Confucian worldview, the clash with Western modernity and the emergence of the modern concept of authorship. ...

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Chapter Four: China’s Search for a Nobel Prize in Literature, 1979–2000

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pp. 107-162

China’s Nobel Complex owes its genesis to the collapse of the Maoist model of internationalism at the end of the 1970s and the re-establishment of the Western-oriented vision of international modernity that had flourished in the first half of the twentieth century. The Chinese search for a Nobel gathered so much momentum in the post-Mao era largely because it centered...

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Chapter Five: The Nobel Prize, 2000

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pp. 163-183

Unsurprisingly, given its history, the Swedish Academy’s response to the Chinese Nobel Complex on 12 October 2000 left few parties satisfied. While Mainland writers kept their own counsel for the first thirty-six hours, the Taiwanese expressed delight; Chinese Internet users throughout the world veered between surprised pleasure at a Chinese Nobel winner, and bemused resentment at the unfamiliarity of Gao’s name. ...

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pp. 185-186

The roots of China’s Nobel Complex lie in the key intellectual question of Chinese modernity: how to respond to a historical situation that at once requires national and transnational consciousness. Modern intellectuals, and writers in particular, took on a heavy ideological and artistic burden at the start of the twentieth century as they worried about the fate...


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pp. 187-221

Glossary of Chinese Terms

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pp. 223-224


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pp. 225-240


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pp. 241-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864958
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829629

Publication Year: 2006