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  • Chinese Literary and Cultural Trends in a Postrevolutionary Era
  • Wang Ning (bio)

In the wake of its reform and opening to the outside world during the past three decades, China has indeed entered a postrevolutionary or postsocialist era in which economic construction is highlighted to such an extreme that class struggle and large-scale mass movements are never called for in any public media. Stability and economic flourishing are desires of ordinary people, including some elite humanities intellectuals who have certainly benefited from the reform and openness. Through several years of heated debates on postmodernism and postcolonialism, literary and cultural studies scholars have come to agree that postmodernism is no longer a unique phenomenon in Western postindustrial society; indeed, it has long been more than a periodizing term, for there are metamorphosed versions of it evident in the decolonization process of a number of non-Western countries. Although the ideas of postmodernists and postcolonial critics are far past their prime, postmodernism is still discussed by us Chinese scholars in more or less the same way as in Western academia with regard to its critical and creative reception in China as well as to how it pertains to the issue of globalization and China's current practice of it.1 From our vantage point in the second decade of the twenty-first century, we can see how the 2000s have been characterized by globalization and transnational capitalization, both culturally and economically. Thus, throughout the course of this article, I would like to offer my reflections on current Chinese literary and cultural trends in this postrevolutionary era, starting with our cultural and intellectual strategies and how they can be put forth in the face of so much Western influence.2 [End Page 505]

Alternative Modernity Related to Postmodernity: A Critical Reflection

It is true that postmodernism, as an international, cultural, and intellectual movement, first emerges in architecture and subsequently sweeps through literature and other branches of art and culture and culminates "in the magisterial work of Fredric Jameson," who "has also provided us with carefully discriminated analyses of many schools of thought about postmodernism, linking these schools to various ideological attitudes and positions within postmodernism itself."3 The reason why Jameson's critique and study of postmodernism has had such a wide influence in China is not simply because of his own wide reputation as a Marxist theorist and his several lecture tours in the mid-1980s, when the terms "postmodern" and "postmodernism" were completely new to Chinese literary scholars and critics, but also because of the height of Marxist cultural critique on which he stands along with his insightful description and analysis grounded in the recognition of the legitimacy of all the schools and ideas generated in the postmodernism debate. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese literature has been moving toward the world in an attempt to be held in a higher regard within the study of world literature. Thus the arrival of the international postmodernist movement in China has provided contemporary Chinese literature with a very precious opportunity to take part in dialogues on an equal footing with other world literatures.

Postmodernism has had a tremendous influence on contemporary Chinese literature, which has been in a post-new period (houxinshiqi) since the beginning of the 1990s, the result of its having become more and more market oriented. However, literature and elite culture are suffering from the contemporary commercializing impact, since fewer and fewer people are taking the time to read canonical literary works. The book market is steadily shrinking, as numerous people would rather read literary works online. Obviously, the post-new period comes after the end of the high new period, but what it challenges is not so much the high new period as the cultural dominance of the new period that was characterized by realism and modernism. Several factors have contributed to the emergence of such a discontinuous challenge. First is the radical experimentation of avant-garde writers, which questions the humanistic spirit of the new period; the self-identity of "man" is lost, and literature and elite culture become increasingly formalistic and technique oriented. Second is the rise of new realist fiction and its continuous...


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pp. 505-520
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