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Exploring classicization of network literature

Author  :  LI YONGJIE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-04-07

Although online literature has become a force to be reckoned with within contemporary Chinese literature, mainstream literary circles and critics have continuously debated over online literature since its arrival. Recently, the topic of “classicizing online literature” has become a focus. 

Literary classics

Academically, classics usually refer to exemplary and authoritative works, said Fang Wei, a professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Soochow University. Literary classics are time-tested works with strong vitality and eternal linguistic charm, such as Shijing (Classic of Poetry) and Chuci (Words of the Chu). Literary classics and classicization in the modern sense emerged with the construction of new criticism discourse.

Literary classics are an important concept in Chinese and international literary theories, which refer to highly intellectual and artistic literary works that are recognized by readers from different eras, said Xiao Jinghong, a research fellow from the online literature center at the China Writers Association. 

The biggest difference between online literature and traditional literature lies in their media, said Xia Lie, deputy director of the Institute of Network Literature at the China Writers Association. Literature is essentially a reflection of human development, since it has aesthetic and textual forms and creations typical to each historical stage. These typical creations have achieved the classicization process and traditions through continuous competition, interpretation, and adjustment.

Network media

Literary classicization requires a process. The process of classicizing online literature has network characteristics, Xiao continued. Literary content is guided by aesthetic values, with ideological and artistic qualities as internal standards, and public reception as external conditions. The aesthetics of network literature also belongs to literary aesthetics, which cannot be separated from the paradigms and standards of mass cultural aesthetics, and from readers’ consensus on aesthetic values. The network-based nature of internet literature brings interactions among the links of publication, dissemination, creation, and reception, shortening the classicization process.

Network media features higher levels of communication efficiency, greater equality, and strong interactivity, Fang noted. The production, dissemination, and reception methods of online literature differ greatly from those of traditional literature, and serve to weaken authors’ authoritative identity and enhance readers’ participant identity. Despite this, the basic standards of literary classics remain unchanged, such as rich interpretability, repeatedly readable literary works, and engaging characters and story models. 

Shao Yanjun, an associate professor from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, put forward the standard of exemplarity, inheritance, originality, and transcendence for “classic network fiction,” based on traditional literary classic standards and combining features inherent in network literature. Exemplarity means that the work conveys the most central mental anxiety and value orientations of this era, loads the text with rich and full realistic information from the era, and casts them into one of the most expressive genres of online literature.

Inheritance requires that the work is a masterpiece that well integrates a literary genre’s previous writing skills, representing the peak level of its time. Originality means that the work has formed a prominent literary style unique to its writer, on the basis of fully realizing the functions of its literary genre. In terms of transcendence, a literary work that has reached the ultimate state of exemplarity, inheritance, and originality can break through limitations of eras, groups, and literary genres and enter a more interconnected historical literary context. It becomes a paragon for the era, the group, and the genre, offering a more permanent and universal literary representation. 

In Xia’s view, online media provides a brand new classicization channel. For example, film and television adaptations of online literature are generally regarded as market- or entertainment-oriented industrial developments. Actually, the process offers a classicization path. Nevertheless, adopting a classicization approach does not guarantee a classic work of literature. In the process of generating online literary classics, the text and literary traditions play a dominant role.

Evaluation system

Some believe that future classicization of online literature will rely primarily on the production and evaluation mechanisms of online literature, while academic research will only play a supplementary role. In this regard, scholars have different opinions.

Online literature is not “simplified literature.” The classicization of online literature is determined by combined forces of production, dissemination, evaluation, and research, Xiao argued, adding that evaluation itself is an integral part of academic research, as well as an indispensable starting point and foundation for classicizing online literature. It is critical to build a complete evaluation system to classicize online literature. 

Internet literature is different from traditional literature in terms of the length of writing, the number of works, the speed of dissemination, and the interaction between creation and publication links and reading and evaluation links. These differences make classicizing internet literature more complicated and difficult. Thus, visionary scholars are needed to innovate and establish—in the spirit of fieldwork—a complete evaluation system, Xiao suggested.

In Fang’s view, traditional academic research and literary criticism cannot adapt to new changes in producing and disseminating online literature, especially changes in literary aesthetics. Motives for effectively linking and applying traditional academic discourse models to online literature are also absent, partly due to scholars’ prejudice. More efforts are needed for better linkage and application, for example, to study the internal connection between literary traditions and new phenomena in online literature. 



Editor: Yu Hui

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