Organizer and Discussant: Michel Hockx, University of London
Chair: Kirk A. Denton, Ohio State University
This panel reports on the preliminary results of an ongoing international project about literary societies in Republican China. A full project description is available on the project website:http://www.cohums.ohio-state.edu/deall/denton.2/litsoc.htm
Literary societies as agents in cultural transformation have conventionally received much attention in the study of Chinese literature of the Republican period (19111949). So far, most scholarship on this subject has not gone beyond the overarching identification of literary groups as schools of literary thought. The participants in this panel will take a fresh look at these societies and their role in literary production. They will move away from the canonical view that stresses the shared literary or political ideology among the individual members of the society. Instead, they will reassert a historical and sociological orientation, not one that reads its texts as sociological documents reflecting historical realities, but one that looks at the web of social relations behind textual production. Through such an approach, the study of literary societies will contribute directly to our understanding of some of the deeper motivations underlying modern Chinese literary creation.
The individual papers discuss the League of Left-Wing Writers and the Lunyu (Analects) group of the 1930s, the Xueheng (Critical Review) group of the 1920s, and the Spring Willows Stage drama society of the 1910s. All papers touch upon the membership and organization of the collectives and on the conflicts between their literary programs and actual literary practice, especially as it is reflected in their journals. The discussant will put the individual papers in context by commenting on the long-term effects of collective organization on the structure of the literary field of twentieth-century China.
New Drama and Shanghai Drama Societies from 19131915
Dietrich Tschanz, Rutgers University
While experiments with spoken drama took place before the founding of the Republic, it was only between 1913 and 1915 that New Drama (xinju), as the art form was called at the time, came to the fore and reached a considerable level of sophistication. Although many New Drama plays were printed, New Drama remained mainly a performance genre. That is why the history of early spoken drama cannot be severed from the history of the societies and New Drama enthusiasts who participated in these societies.
In my presentation, I will shed light on the development of New Drama societies in Shanghai during the period between 1913 and 1915. The focus on Shanghai and this particular time period is accounted for by the fact that Shanghai was the center of New Drama before 1919 and that New Drama societies were at their apogee during the years between 1913 and 1915. Based on material from select newspapers and drama journals of the time, I will reconstruct the field of New Drama societies during this period and investigate the ways in which New Drama societies positioned themselves in the larger field of contemporary Chinese drama and literature. I will pay particular attention to one society, namely the Spring Willows Stage (Chunliu juchang), which was almost universally acclaimed as the best drama society of the time. I will show how this society gained its dominant position and how the field of New Drama was structured around it.
Reconsidering Xueheng: Neo-Conservatism in Early Republican China
Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker, University of Michigan
The Xueheng (Critical Review) circle, long denounced as die-hard conservatives opposed to the May Fourths New Culture Movement, has become a subject of considerable interest. Two conferences (1992 and 1994) on Wu Mi, its long-time editor, and numerous "reappraisal" (zaipingjia) articles attempt to reexamine and reevaluate its role in Chinas problematic transition from tradition to modernity. Most of the journals founders had studied with Harvards Irving Babbitt before teaching at Nanjings Dongnan University where the journal began in 1922. Babbitts "neo-humanism" provided support for arguments to preserve literary tradition and encouraged the search for analogies between Chinese and Western classical cultures. After the founding members dispersed to teach elsewhere, Wu Mi continued his editorial responsibilities from Qinghua until the journal ceased publication in 1933.
Many contributing members were faculty and students in the humanities from the two universities. In addition to analyzing Xueheng itself, we need to consider factors of "intellectual genealogy," the members educational backgrounds, academic careers, curricular experience (particularly the impact of the U.S. during formative years), institutional and personal affiliations, relations with rival publishers. Much information has emerged from newly published diaries and correspondence. The revival of interest in Xueheng arises from new perspectives on the New Culture Movements self-image and on the relation of cultural radicalism to Communist ideology. As globalization proceeds apace, it is also seen as raising questions about the relation between Chinese culture and national identity, and indeed about the nature and conception of culture itself.
The Lunyu Group: Attracting the Modern Style of Gentlemen
Jun Qian, Hamilton College
This paper presents a socio-cultural reading of the literary group known as the Lunyu (Analects) group. My main argument is that the success of this group in the 1930s relied on its identification with and promotion of a distinctive gentlemanly attitude, suggestive of a middling modernity. This attitude was attractive to a readership experiencing the anxieties of rapid social modernization. After tracing the composition of the Lunyu core group and discussing its editorship of a series of journals both in Chinese and English, I shall examine the following three aspects of its attitude:
Social Attitude. The Lunyu core group represent an elite sensibility of Western-trained scholars, who, unlike Leftist writers, were interested in evolutionary, not revolutionary, social critique and in social commentary on everyday life.
Cultural Attitude. While the members of the Lunyu group were strongly Westernized, they also initiated cultural moves considered regressive at the time. These moves can be seen as an attempt to achieve a middling style of modernity.
Literary Attitude. I will discuss two unique literary principles of Lunyu in terms of speech and genre, namely the promotion of yuluti and xiaopinwen. Lin Yutang, one of the leading members of the group, claimed that yuluti was the real baihua (vernacular) spoken by the commoners, but I shall demonstrate that what he really meant by yuluti was a Chinese version of the "familiar style" common in Western journalistic writings, which he claimed would be best achieved through writing the type of familiar essay know as xiaopinwen.
A Literary Organization with a Political Agenda: The Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers
Lawrence Wang-chi Wong, Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Chinese League of Left-wing Writers was formed in 1930 under clear directives from the Chinese Communist Party. Although it was a writers league in name and attracted most of the left-wing writers of the time, it was very different from most other literary groups. Right from the start, it was charged with a political agenda: to propagate Marxist theories and to assist the political cause of the CCP, at a time when it faced annihilation by the Nationalist Party. Many of the League members were also CCP members, and there was a party group within the League, whose secretary was the de facto leader of the organization. Members were required to take part actively in political activities, joining mass demonstrations and distributing anti-government pamphlets.
The League vowed to promote proletarian literature. Sub-committees were formed to take charge of literary and theoretical matters. But as they believed that all literature was propaganda, most works produced by members bordered on the non-literary, raising questions about the dividing line between literary and political practice in the 1930s.
This paper attempts to look at the special features of the Left League that marked it different from most of the other literary organizations in modern China. We will analyze the nature of the organization from its origin, its structure, its membership and its activities. Contrary to earlier studies, we will emphasize the way in which this literary organization functioned as a political body and impacted the development of Chinas twentieth-century politics.