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Literary theories can absorb vitality from real life

Author  :  Zhang Dawei     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2016-11-17

Modern Chinese literary theories, to a large extent, are influenced by the Western academic and educational system. Nowadays, if we are going to reconstruct a localized literary theoretical system, we should integrate theories with real life and understand the cultural value behind the literary world while enhancing the interpretative ability of Chinese literature and maintaining its vitality thereupon.

To retain vitality, literary theories should carry out their academic mission in the living world, taking the whole culture and values as a background. The modern Western academic system claims to be value free and analyzes theories for the sake of themselves, forgoing the consideration of values and losing the ability to interpret the realities of life.

For example, Western aesthetics and literary theories in modern times tend to understand literature as an absolute aesthetic target. Literary theories seem to be separated from the real world context and placed under the microscope to be scrutinized. This kind of scholarship separates literature from the realities of life and neglects the need to seek meaning and values. As a result, the theories become increasingly limited and rigid.

Literature should communicate with the living world and all domains of human activity to expand its thinking so that it encompasses the whole of human existence as well as all civilizations and values. That’s why some literary theories and ideas have a far-reaching influence on history.

When limited to the professional and academic domain, we can only see the part rather than the whole; the superficial and not the deep, and abstraction instead of the substance of literature.

Chinese literary theories should draw on traditional Chinese literary theories and find the distinguished angle and spirit of the Chinese people to understand and transform the world. Traditional Chinese literary theories are not only models of writing but also part of Chinese people’s life and value system.

They are more than concepts and theoretical propositions that need to be built upon and interpreted in a modern context. They are the understandings and practice of the lifestyle and values of the Chinese people, which should be the fundamental issues that literary theories explain. They are also the way Chinese people manifest their cultural values.

Therefore, what we should aspire to is not a unidirectional “modernized” reading of specific concepts and categories of traditional theories. We should consider them as intermediary to make our theories truly reflect and reconstruct the emotional mode, moral order, living world and cultural value of the Chinese people. They are also the foundation of literary works and theories.


Zhang Dawei is from the Institute of Literature at the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences.

Editor: Yu Hui

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