Reviving realism

Source: China Daily (2/13/18)
Reviving realism: Experts discuss 2017 Chinese literature
By Cheng Yuezhu |

Realism was a keyword of the 2017 Chinese literary scene. Carrying on the emphasis of “realistic themes” raised in the 19th CPC National Congress, literary experts discussed literary realism in the Dangdai Bimothly Magazine Novel Forum recently in Beijing.

Experts agreed 2017 is a year of prosperity for Chinese literature. According to Bai Ye, researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2017 was a landmark, as the number of novels published last year exceeded ten thousand.

Yan Jingming, vice-president of the China Writers Association, said: “The trend of mutual development between online literature and print literature as well as online circulation and print circulation is obvious. Recalling the literary creations from 2017, the achievements in novels and realist themes have impressed us deeply.”

The forum announced the winners in the 19th Dangdai Literary Rally, including The Light of Liang Guangzheng by Liang Hong, which won the Novel of the Year award.

“Liang Hong, in her novel, recalls the sorrowful life of a father named Liang Guangzheng and portrays an unusual image of a peasant… With persevering struggle and effort, he lives towards the light,” the award committee said.

The Light of Liang Guangzheng is the first-ever novel from Liang, a literary critic at Renmin University of China, long renowned as a non-fiction writer.

Explaining why he transferred to novel writing, Liang said “I hope to use my knowledge and feelings of life over the years to re-write the life I faced and understood.”

Others award winners this year were On Art at the Imperial Palace by Zhu Yong for the Prose of the Year award and Cattle by Liu Qingbang for the Short Story of the Year award.

“Under the accelerated urbanization, Liu’s exploitation of rural themes reflects the capability of realist writers in expressing reality with literature,” the committee said.

The Dangdai Novel Forum is co-hosted by the China Publishing Group, People’s Literature Publishing House and Dangdai Magazine. The forum is known for its awarding principles, “zero prize and full transparency”.

This year’s forum again strives for a more regulated process. Seven critics are invited to comment on the 21 candidates, before results are selected through an open ballot.

The top five works of the year were A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling, You Touched Me by Yan Geling, Plainsman by Li Peifu, The Light of Liang Guangzheng by Liang Hong and The Eye of Chongqing by Fan Wen. With the highest vote count, A Single Swallow won the Best Work of 2017 award.

“Writing realistic themes, novelists strive to portray the sophistication of reality, but meanwhile they often walk towards simplicity,” said critic Zhang Dinghao, vice chief editor of the Shanghai Culture Journal. “The narration of A Single Swallow is especially complex…but I feel that the love of the three men for this woman is not out of sexual attraction, but because of the requirements of the novelist.”

The theme of gender relations was also pointed out by Yang Qingxiang, professor of literature at Renmin University, who questions what is true literary realism. “A basic replication of such a structure will ultimately fall into kitsch…True realist writing should disintegrate the popular ideology or unconscious structure through writing, and recreate a new structure, new consciousness and new people.”

The award was presented by Wu Yiqin, an official from the China Writers Association. “Dangdai Magazine stands out from major domestic literary periodicals with its persistence of realistic themes,” Wu said. “All of the five novels we selected today are also representatives of realistic themes.”

However, Wu also pointed out that there was still a long way to go to achieve realism. “We cannot simplify realism to realist themes,” he said. “It is difficult to sublimate real-life experience into realist literature. From these works, we can see contemporary writers still face great challenges.”

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