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  • Die chinesische Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert
  • Martin Winter (bio)
Wolfgang Kubin . Die chinesische Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert. Geschichte der chinesischen Literatur, edited by Wolfgang Kubin, vol. 7. Munich: K.G. Saur, 2005. xi, 481 pp. Hardcover €148.00, ISBN 13: 978-3-598-24547-3.

This survey surpasses the currently available reference works in English and German on this time period in many details. The author is Germany's leading translator of modern Chinese literature and the most prominent researcher on classical and modern Chinese poetry. This book includes fascinating accounts of major figures such as the novelists Mao Dun, Ba Jin, Yu Dafu, and Ding Ling. Wolfgang Kubin's pronounced subjectivity enables him to state the role of sex and gender in the evolution of Ding Ling's work very clearly, for example. He also provides many details about literature of the 1950s and 1960s in the People's Republic of China, including translations into English. The past 25 years, on the other hand, are treated sketchily. Many prominent authors are omitted (Huang Xiang, Chen Zhongshi, Liu Xinglong, You Fengwei, Yu Jian, Yan Geling) while others are either summarily dismissed (Zhang Xianliang, Zhu Wen) or mentioned only in connection with one recent publication, without any data on their development (Zhang Wei, Hong Ying). Prof. Kubin offers, on the other hand, many interesting anecdotes about authors who have visited Germany and/or have been reviewed there.

This book is part of a 10-volume series on the history of Chinese literature. Prof. Kubin is the overall editor. He is also the author of the first volume of the set, which covers classical Chinese poetry. The present volume is comparable to The Literature of China in the 20th Century by Bonnie S. McDougall and Kam Louie.1 In the introduction, Kubin says he won't attempt to cover PRC, Taiwan, and overseas writing equally. He also emphasizes the role of his own tastes and preferences. The overall tone of the book is much less neutral than the one by McDougall and Louie, but it is still very comprehensive. Kubin gives details about some PRC authors of the 1950s and 1960s, including translations into English, that are not listed by McDougall and Louie.

The premise of this book is a perceived imbalance between the international status of the Chinese language and the representation of Chinese writers. The author is very critical of literary developments in China and pronounces a dearth of internationally important Chinese authors elsewhere as well. One could point to figures such as Ha Jin and argue that for historical reasons, Chinese did not have a prominent status in the twentieth century, in comparison with European languages. However, there are more fundamental questions in connection with the meaning of the terms "literature" and "history." Yomi Braester asks and tries to answer such questions in his recent work Witness Against History: Literature, Film and Public Discourse in Twentieth-Century China.2 Like Yang Xiaobin in The [End Page 439] Chinese Postmodern,3 Braester foregrounds the relationship between literature and trauma. Both cover major recent authors such as Mo Yan and Yu Hua. Since neither Yang nor Braester attempt a literary history of a whole century, it is somewhat unfair to compare Kubin's treatment of particular authors to theirs. But Yang and Braester do try to answer expressively the kind of questions about literature indicated previously. For them, Chinese cultural events are fascinating objects of research because they point to fundamental questions of history and memory. There is no need for an emphasis on a typical inferiority of modern or contemporary Chinese literature, in contrast to Kubin's attitude.

In terms of recent poetry in the PRC, the Taiwanese critic Huang Liang has developed a history of independent minds that goes back to the 1960s.4 Huang's anthology of nine poets from Mainland China in the 1990s (published in 1999), along with a theoretical companion volume, is an approach that could be seen along the same lines as those of Yang and Braester. Wolfgang Kubin is a very prolific translator of ancient, modern, and contemporary poetry. His new literary history of the recent century in China reflects this...


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