To be specified published in:Landscapes of Realism: Rethinking literary realism in comparative perspectives. Volume II: Pathways through realism
Edited by Svend Erik Larsen, Steen Bille Jørgensen and Margaret R. Higonnet
[Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages XXXIII] 2022
► pp. 909–929
Is there a notion of ‘realism’ in traditional China?
Realism has been the main genre of fiction in twentieth-century China, with critical realism and socialist realism (in the Soviet sense) as its two main forms. It is usually implied in manuals of Chinese literature that realism was a Western import, and that the adoption of Western realism was a defining characteristic of the ‘new literature’ that broke with tradition, classical Chinese and ancient culture around 1920. But while there is no question that there had been no concept of ‘realism,’ and no realist literary school in traditional China, one can however find in ancient texts ample evidence of descriptions that can be labeled ‘realist,’ moreover with social concerns that to some extent antedate the spirit of modern Chinese literature. In this case study, examples taken from classical fiction and poetry will substantiate the idea that realism was perhaps not a complete newcomer when it prevailed in its Western form at the beginning of the twentieth century. A possibility is that modern Chinese realism was indeed influenced by ancient notions of literature or, at the least, that ancient forms of realism helped modern authors to adopt Western realism. In more general terms, this essay will also contribute to the idea that the break between ancient literature and modern literature was not as thorough as Chinese orthodox manuals of modern literature routinely present it.
Keywords: ancient Chinese literature, modern Chinese literature, Chinese historiography, Sima Qian, Ban Gu, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, realism
- 2.Ancient forms of ‘realism’ in Chinese historiography
- 3.Texts and theories in ancient China
Published online: 16 March 2022
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