MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Yu Zhang’s and Calvin Hui’s interview with Cai Xiang, professor of modern Chinese literature at Shanghai University. Too long to publish in full here, you can find the entire interview, along with the original Chinese version, at http://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/zhang-hui/
Kirk Denton, editor
Interviewed and Translated by Yu Zhang and Calvin Hui
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June 2018)
Time: July 3, 2016
Location: Bodao Café, 1420 Meichuan Road, Putuo District, Shanghai, P. R. China
Notes from the Interviewers and Translators: Cai Xiang is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature in the Department of Chinese at Shanghai University and the director of its Research Center for Contemporary Literature. His book Revolution and Its Narratives: China’s Socialist Literary and Cultural Imaginaries, 1949-1966 was translated into English by Rebecca E. Karl and Xueping Zhong and published by Duke University Press in 2016. In this interview, Cai Xiang shares his thoughts about the contemporary Chinese writer Lu Yao (1949-1992) and China in the 1980s, the revival of realism, pure literature, the relationship between the subaltern and the middle class, literary and cultural studies in China, and finally his research on socialist literature and culture. Cai Xiang stresses the importance of rebuilding an ideal mainstream society and looking for a new kind of certainty in this fragmented world. He also introduces illuminating new concepts such as “intellectual laborer,” “cultural proletariat,” and “petty bourgeois-socialism” to understand the cultural politics of postsocialist China. For the Chinese version, see below. The interviewers would like to express our gratitude to Kirk Denton and Xueping Zhong for their support and to Gao Ming for his assistance.
Interviewer: In the past few years, the Chinese writer Lu Yao (1949-1992), the author of the novel Ordinary World, has regained broad attention and huge popularity in China. The airing of the TV serial Ordinary World (2015) made his work even more appealing to contemporary Chinese readers. I heard it has become one of the most widely read novels among college students in China. Your career as a literary critic started with the publication of an essay about Lu Yao’s well-known novella “Life” (1982). Could you tell us about the writing of this essay?
Cai: That was about thirty years ago. Now, looking back, I think what motivated me to write about Lu Yao’s “Life” was several factors: first, “Life” suggests the possibility of changing one’s destiny, even though the male protagonist’s effort fails in this tragic story. This was probably one of the key issues in the 1980s. It was precisely in the 1980s when everyone felt there was a possibility to change their fate. China’s “planned economic system” had lasted for thirty years, but then the system started to be shaken up. The reason I used quotation marks for “planned economic system” is that the concept permeated the entire society, including every aspect of individual life. Therefore, it is not merely an economic concept; an individual’s destiny was determined by the society within the planned economic system. Of course, the planned economy also brought with it a sense of security and even warmth from inside the community. Published precisely at this historical juncture, “Life” implied that the nature of human fate is changing, which actually refers to what is commonly called social mobility (such as the migration from the countryside to the city that takes place in the novella). Moreover, this change can be determined by the individual, yet it comes with high risk and a strong sense of insecurity, and even causes an inner fear. In Lu Yao’s novella, the fear is manifested in the realm of morality. . . [Read the rest of the interview here]