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Explore local heritage of Chinese literature

Author  :  LI YONGJIE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-04-17

In recent years, the academic community has become increasingly aware that Chinese literature needs to find roots from within its own traditions and culture to further develop. Within the context of globalization, how does Chinese literature highlight the value and characteristics of its local community? On April 7, at the symposium “Localization and Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature” held at Jinan University, scholars discussed this issue extensively.

Since the 1980s, many writers and researchers in China have become involved in the experimental field of Western theory. Many literary forms, such as “magic writing” and “vanguard novels,” have prompted widespread creativity and research. Liu Yong, a professor from the School of Arts at Beijing Normal University, said many of the works that were following global trends became detached from their Chinese cultural context and this had blurred their appearance and ultimately led to their demise as genres. He argued that this is a necessary stage in the development of the localization of Chinese literature. It brings experience and inspiration while indicating the possibility of further changes and development in the exploration of localization.

“Localization” has been emphasized in recent times, which shows that its role in interpreting Chinese literature has become increasingly prominent, said Han Chuanxi, dean of the School of Humanities at Northeast University of Finance and Economics. He added that at the academic level, it is crucial to find ways to avoid the theoretical discourse of “localization” because it risks becoming a conceptual trap of universalism. He said that it has become self-congruent and is already a recognizable aspect of contemporary Chinese literature.

In the context of globalization, finding ways to identify and interpret the “localization” of Chinese literature involves both the historical processes involved in the centuries-long creation of Chinese literature and its expression, as well as the analysis and judgment of the current situation of literary reality. Han pointed out that “localization” is actually a large and complex narrative in terms of the history of Chinese literature over the past century. Because of the change of context, it will continue to evolve new propositions. Recognizing the changes and differences in context helps to clarify the connotations and essence of literary “localization,” sort out and evaluate past literary achievements, and examine and guide current literary creation.

Literary consensus favors re-evaluating Chinese literature to draw more knowledge from it. However, finding ways to truly understand and preserve the tradition requires in-depth discussion. He Zhongming, a professor from the School of Arts and Literature at Jinan University, is concerned with the relationship between Tao, the metaphysical, and Qi, the physical. He argued that the May Fourth school of literature has successfully transformed the Qi of traditional literature, but there is a certain degree of simplification in understanding and criticizing the Tao. Only Tao can truly reflect the uniqueness and depth of national literature, and Qi is easier to change from time to time. In returning to the trend of traditional literature today, it is particularly necessary to deeply explore and inherit the spirit of Tao, rather than one-sidedly drawing on forms and techniques, He said.

Zhang Guangmang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese New Literature at Nanjing University, said that academic circle either closely followed Western cultural trends, explaining China’s problems with popular Western theories, which led to the dislocation of research theories and objects; or, in contrast, tried to build resistance with localization to resolve the “anxiety of influence” of the West, which has, to a certain extent, led to conservative and cultural narcissistic complexes within the local context, yet still fails to escape the Western theoretical trap.

Zhang added that “localization” must not fall into the trick of nationalism. To try to counteract globalization with localization and to exorcise Western modernity with nationalism, the “antiWestern” cultural strategy is more likely to obscure the dualistic opposition of its inner ideological approach and to give the cultural community a false sense of encouragement. The deeper crisis of such “localization” theory lies in the fact that its theoretical consciousness is more derived from the revelation of Western discourse, lacking the theoretical originality in the same way as “Westernization.”

“Native” and “literature” are not simple descriptive relations, but contain complex patterns of multiple imbalances. Attempts at true “localization” face more problems. Liu said transcending the local must not regard the external form of literature as a measure of transcendence, but must go from the literary internality to explore accumulation of local tradition, personality composition, and cultural psychology, excavating the story core and deep internal heritage rooted in the local spirit.




(Edited and translated by SUI JINGJING )









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