A Cultural History of Modern Chinese Literature review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Thomas Moran’s review of A Cultural History of Modern Chinese Literature, by Wu Fuhui, translated by Rui (Myra) Ma. Too long to post here in its entiretly, find a teaser below. The entire review can be read at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/moran/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

A Cultural History of Modern Chinese Literature

By Wu Fuhui
Translated by Rui (Myra) Ma

Reviewed by Tom Moran
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2024)

WU Fuhui, A Cultural History of Modern Chinese Literature. Translated by Rui [Myra] Ma) and with Introduction by David Der-wei Wang. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. xliv + 813 pp. ISBN: 9781107069497 (hardback).

An Illustrated History of the Development of Modern Chinese Literature (插图本中国现代文学发展史), published in 2010 by Peking University Press, is the culmination of the life’s work of Wu Fuhui 吴福辉, who died January 15, 2021. The Cambridge University Press 2020 English translation by Myra Ma, titled A Cultural History of Modern Chinese Literature (hereafter, History), is the subject of this review. The 813-page translation follows the 480-page original exactly; paragraphs break in the same places in both books, and all the footnotes in the original are in the translation, as are all the illustrations. The English version adds an index, which is unfortunately incomplete, and includes Chinese characters for names and titles on first mention, albeit inconsistently. The translation is an admirable achievement, but to make full use of the English version, one needs to also have read the Chinese original, as I discuss later in a detailed look at the translation itself, which will include attention to citation issues and other matters. I start with a brief biography of the author and then offer my take on his book, which is followed by a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book’s contents. I end by explaining why Wu Fuhui says writing his history was not like playing a record album and not like knitting a sweater, but was like creating a mosaic.

Wu’s conception of “modern Chinese literature” begins in a chapter on 1870s Shanghai, entitled “Wangping Street – Fuzhou Road: The Changing Scene of Chinese Literature” and concludes with the chapter “A Chronicle of Literary Events in the Year 1948 (An Era of Transition).” Even given this approximately seventy-five year parameter, History covers so much and in so much fascinating detail that it is an essential resource for experts and advanced students of modern Chinese literature. It is easily one of the best single-volume English-language references on modern Chinese literature that we have. I anticipate consulting it regularly. The book, it should be cautioned, is for readers who know the history of twentieth-century China and who know at least something about modern Chinese literature.  For example, to fully understand chapter 20, a reader has to already know what the Beiyang government was, who Duan Qirui was, what the Northern Expedition was, what the April 12th and March 18th Incidents were, and what the Shanghai concessions were and why they offered some measure of freedom of expression. The book also assumes readers already have some familiarity with the lives and careers of the more well-known May Fourth writers. This means that the book is not for beginning students or general readers, as does the $211.00 price.

Wu Fuhui was born in 1939 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. In 1950, Wu’s family moved to Anshan, Liaoning province and, in 1959, Wu graduated from teacher’s college, after which he taught middle school Chinese language arts for almost twenty years. In 1978, at the age of thirty-nine, Wu enrolled at Peking University, where he studied modern Chinese literature with Wang Yao 王瑶 and Yan Jiayan 严家炎, graduating with a Master’s degree in 1981. Among Wu’s classmates in the same 1978 enrolling class—the first after the end of the Cultural Revolution—were Qian Liqun 钱理群and Wen Rumin 温儒敏. In 1987, Qian, Wen, Wu, and Wang Chaobing 王超冰, daughter of Wang Yao, published Thirty Years of Modern Chinese Literature (中国现代文学三十年). The revised edition by Qian, Wen, and Wu was published in 1998. Wu’s other books include a biography of Sha Ting 沙汀 (1990), a collection of critical essays titled Smiling in Shackles (带着枷锁的笑, 1991), Shanghai School Fiction in the Urban Vortex (都市漩流中的海派小说, 1995), and a book of essays on the literatures of Beijing and Shanghai, Travels in Two Cities (游走双城, 2006). In Chen Pingyuan’s 陈平原 view, Wu’s major contribution as a scholar before History was his work on the “Shanghai School” (海派) writers.[1]  [READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW HERE]

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