The Chinese Translation of Russian Literature:
Three Studies
The Reading of Russian Literature in China:
A Moral Example and Manual of Practice


Both by Mark Gamsa

Reviewed by Roy Chan
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2012)

Book cover for The Chinese Translation of Russian Literature

Mark Gamsa.
The Chinese Translation of Russian Literature:
Three Studies.
Leiden: Brill, 2008. 430 pp.
Hardcover ISSN: 0169-9563 (hard);
ISBN-13: 978-9004168442 (paper).

Mark Gamsa’s two monographs on the travails of Russian literature in twentieth-century China, published within two years of each other, mark the most groundbreaking achievement in English-language study of this important transcultural phenomenon. While there are articles and chapters devoted to the Chinese reception of Russian literature, save Mau-sang Ng’s 1987 The Russian Hero in Modern Chinese Fiction and Rudolf G. Wagner’s 1992 Inside a Service Trade: Studies in Contemporary Chinese Prose, precious few monographs have been devoted to this topic. Gamsa, who teaches Chinese history and literature at Tel Aviv University, has indeed rendered a great service to those of us interested in reading and exploring this still understudied facet of modern literary history. The first book comprises a set of case studies of the complex channels of translation and cultural exchange during the Republican period through which three modernist Russian writers—Boris Savinkov (1879-1925), Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927), and Leonid Andreev (1871-1919)—reached Chinese readers. The second book attempts to understand post-1949 Chinese reception of Soviet and nineteenth-century Russian literature as a process whereby Russian literary texts became ideological weapons vital to the CCP’s goal of mass political indoctrination.

Book cover for The Reading of Russian Literature in China

Mark Gamsa.
The Reading of Russian Literature in China:
A Moral Example and Manual of Practice.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 277 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0230623491 (hard).

The development of good scholarship on Sino-Russian literary relations has been obstructed, perhaps foremost, by the linguistic difficulty of the endeavor. There are precious few scholars who are equally at home working in both Russian and Chinese sources, a task made more arduous when the scholar in question is neither Russian nor Chinese. Beyond issues of linguistic difficulty, however, is the problem of having a sufficient grasp of the national literatures of either Russia or China and the cultural, historical, and methodological problems that accompany the concept of the national. Linguistic expertise cannot gloss over a ham-fisted sense of literary terrain in either the Russian or Chinese context, especially considering how the latter are bound up with contentious ideological and political struggles. In the face of these daunting challenges, Mark Gamsa’s admirable control of the major issues that underlie both Russian and Chinese literatures, together with his encyclopedic ability to pull together numerous sources and facts, makes him the envy of anyone who attempts the treacherous study of transcultural literary and textual history. While I have some reservations about points of framing and interpretation (particularly with regard to the second book), these two books chart the course for future studies and different perspectives. For these reasons, Gamsa’s contributions deserve to be recognized as nothing short of trailblazing.

My sense of what binds the two projects as a whole is a concern with the contest of two competing literary modernities. The first book rediscovers the “repressed modernity” (to use David Der-wei Wang’s term) of Russian modernism, in particular as embodied by the “Silver Age,” a term associated with the fin-de-siècle and early decades of the twentieth century and encompassing such styles as symbolism, modernism, futurism, acmeism, and so forth. These modernists saw themselves as heirs to the Golden Age of Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) and at times thought themselves to be secondary incarnations of their early nineteenth-century forbears as well as a counterweight to the moral and aesthetic dominance of the later nineteenth-century realists. Their vision of cultural modernity correlated with a high degree of moral and aesthetic autonomy. The second current is one inspired by nineteenth-century realism, a view of literature as engaged in political agitation and evincing a high degree of social commitment. Much previous scholarship about Sino-Russian literary relations have pointed out the purported shared political dimension of their literary endeavors. Gamsa seeks to reverse stereotypical notions of a Chinese readership always already primed to read Russian paeans to the “people” and manuals of revolution. As he claims, much previous scholarship on the subject has been “biased, impressionistic or simply uninformed” (Chinese Translation 15). What he uncovers in the first book is a far more complicated and ambiguous literary field, where what seemed to be in demand by the Chinese readership was the more avant-garde, modernist fiction of the Silver Age; this literature emerged against the background of a realist mode that presumed the individual’s subsumption within the collective and focused on one’s moral relation/obligation to collective history. Modernism’s introspective, and for the most part politically uncommitted, tone reflected an obscured, and poetically sophisticated, Chinese literary modernity that was swept away after the Communists decided to establish a retrograde literary style harking back to the outdated realists and positing a continuum extending from their work to the tendentious, pious work of the socialist realists. In Gamsa’s retelling, it seems that the real “degeneration” (to use the title of Max Nordau’s 1892 indictment of modernist aesthetics and a term appropriated by the modernists themselves) occurred not with the reception of the Russian Silver Age, but with the importation of Soviet propaganda through its Chinese “agents” who colluded with a brutal Stalinist regime. His frequent allusions to the religiosity of the PRC’s treatment of Russian literature lead me to think that at the heart of his narrative is an account of a failed secularization of the literary field away from sanctimonious dogma, and thus, a fatal hobbling of modern reasoning (of which the most prominent symptom was the lack of distinction between Chinese fictive and historical modes). The Chinese reading of Russian literature post-1949 constituted, then, a pronounced relapse into superstition, as well as the snuffing out of more genuinely modern precedents.

The bulk of the first book is comprised of three meticulous case studies involving some particular facet of literary translation: technique, ideology, and practice. In Gamsa’s rendering, “technique” involves the minute craft of translating itself, encompassing such issues as literalness, fidelity, and choice. “Ideology” seems to concern the motivations (both personal and political) that lie behind the act of translation. “Practice” denotes translation as a social praxis, involving actors in particular social contexts. In addition, there are chapters that detail the “channels” of translation in Republican China and translation work as a profession, and a conclusion that more fully situates the ultimate significance of the Russian “Silver Age” in helping reconstruct modern Chinese literary history.

Chapter 2, the chapter on translation “technique,” focuses on the sheer difficulties faced by Zheng Zhenduo (1898-1958) in trying to render into Chinese Boris Savinkov’s (known by his pen name V. Ropshin) 1909 The Pale Horse (Kon’ blednyi) via an intermediary English translation by Zinaida Vengerova, a prolific translator between Russian and a number of European languages. Much of Russian literature, as is well known, was rendered into Chinese via intermediary translations in languages such as English, French, Japanese, and German. The introduction of an intermediary translation between source and target languages further complicated the task of making the Chinese rendering commensurate with the Russian text. If the intermediary translation was wrong, or misguided in some choice of rendering, this error risked being redoubled in the repeat translation. Gamsa details Zheng Zhenduo’s prolific and creative efforts to produce a text that would be intelligible to Chinese readers while still adhering to a standard of “near-scientific precision” (79). Gamsa’s narrative of the heroics and agonies of the translator makes for a compelling, enjoyable read. I recently attempted to analyze the translation of a Russian novella into Chinese via its French translation and found the process of keeping track of the minute changes while simultaneously attempting to interpret these changes (if they mean anything at all) particularly challenging; with this experience in mind, Gamsa’s handling of these issues is even more admirable.

Chapter 3 touches on on the “ideology of translation” with respect to the writings of Mikhail Artsybashev, whose decadent 1907 novel Sanin was quite controversial. Gamsa focuses on Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) translation, via German translation, of Artsybashev’s short stories, including Worker Shevyrev and The Doctor. Lu Xun’s fascination with Artsybashev, as well as Leonid Andreev, both writers who were either exiled or marginalized by the Soviet literary establishment, sheds light on the complicated personal and political terrain of Lu Xun’s own thinking—Gamsa convincingly suggests that Lu Xun’s obsession with isolation and despair might have been gleaned in part from his engagement with the Russian modernists. Gamsa’s account of Lu Xun’s translation activity thus adds to the scholarly arsenal that has tied the author more firmly to modernism than to realism. Gamsa acknowledges Lu Xun’s stronger political leanings toward the end of his life. Lu Xun’s increasing left-wing commitment and his political support for the Soviet regime is ascribed to his transformation into a “credulous victim” of Soviet ideology. As such, Gamsa argues that Lu Xun was only one of many international writers that similarly adopted a rosy-eyed view of the Soviet Union (186). While Sanin created waves when it was published in Russia in 1907, Artsybashev and his work virtually disappeared from Western (not to mention Soviet and Chinese) mainstream scholarship; Gamsa, however, notes that while Artsybashev’s work vanished in his homeland, it survived, and perhaps had greater influence, in translation. Gamsa pointedly notes the role of translation in keeping certain authors alive and read when they have disappeared in their original context (173).

Chapter 4 uses the work of Leonid Andreev as a channel through which to excavate the complex social networks among Chinese translators as they pursued translating work in a collective mode within which personal, and even familial, relationships were key in securing such work and getting it published (286). Gamsa also illuminates a kind of liminal space in which translators often congregated between and within the literary and political societies and circles of the Chinese intelligentsia. This chapter thus offers a wonderfully thick description of translation as an increasingly professionalized and institutionalized endeavor, one heavily dependent on reliable social connections.

One cannot underestimate the invaluable contribution of this volume in establishing the significance of Russian modernism in the Republican Chinese attempt to understand and take stock of Russian literature. The Silver Age was virtually ignored in Western Russian literary scholarship until researchers returned to it in recent decades. It should not be a surprise that the Silver Age’s importance in China was similarly obscured, or that its significance was so broad. Gamsa’s erudite command over Silver Age literature helps in bringing to life this fascinating intercultural engagement between China and Russia. However, while modernists of the Russian Silver Age were being read and translated in 1920s and 1930s China, another Russian literary school, that of realism, was also making inroads into the Chinese literary scene. And although the Silver Age modernists had reacted against the dominance of nineteenth-century Russian realism, Gamsa shows us how the potent arguments of the realists would return to displace the modernists and become enshrined in CCP literary dogma.

Realism’s ascendance over modernism—with the particular help of Soviet patronage and Chinese Communist literary orthodoxy—resulted in the almost total oblivion of the latter. Gamsa’s second book takes on this second genealogy, and how it culminated in a far more rigid form of literary indoctrination in the People’s Republic of China. The first thing that strikes the reader with the second volume, published two years after the first, is its relative brevity, being half the size of the previous study. It consists of an introduction, four relatively short chapters, and an afterword. The chapters touch upon such topics as the significance of classical Russian literature for radical Chinese intellectuals, Chinese writers who sought knowledge through pilgrimages to the Soviet Union, and the uses (and abuses) of literature under a socialist regime.

The reader will also notice a more acute, polemical tone. We get a foreshadowing of this in the end of the first volume, where Gamsa prefigures the “hypermoralism” of the socialist realism to come. In the second book, Gamsa does not mince words: the Chinese adoption of Russian realism and Soviet socialist realism was part of a totalitarian state’s effort to engage in mass “brainwashing” (12) and “social engineering” (48). The advocates for politically committed literature were victims of the “delusion” of thinking themselves “entitled and qualified” to foment social change through culture (54). The attraction that the Soviet Union held for radical Chinese intellectuals was built upon a “poisonous lie” that masked a “grotesque reality” (76) created by a “terror state” (75). In making clear what he believes to be the considerable moral failings of radical Chinese writers and their political sponsors, Gamsa’s discourse in this book tends toward the tendentious and can be distracting to readers familiar with such rhetoric and its effects.

In Gamsa’s account, the Chinese who adopted Russian realism and socialist realism were a strange breed. Moved by their ostensible belief in the moral power of literature, they nevertheless subscribed to a morally bankrupt ideology of socialism. While assuming for themselves the authority to enlighten the masses, they treated their Russian models with an almost slavish deference; influenced by deep-seated Confucian ideals of learning and moral improvement, they treated their Russian teachers as sages whose preeminence was “incontestable” (7). Their worship of Russian humanist literature constituted a woeful “fetish” for the book (83, 141) and inaugurated a form of pious religiosity and bad faith. Gamsa employs tropes of the “fetish” throughout his account–its most provocative instantiation is in Chapter 4, where he argues that PLA soldiers going off to war were given Soviet literature not because they were expected to read it, but rather because the holy Soviet word served as a symbolic talisman that might even have protective value (114-5). Gamsa’s point is clear–the model of literature as practiced by the Chinese Communists was but a thinly veiled form of quasi-religion and cultural indoctrination, and as such constituted a step backward from a truly secular liberal modernity. As Gamsa laconically skewers his deluded characters’ moral pretentiousness, it is striking how he himself occasionally assumes the very stentorian tone he ascribes to those “teachers of life.”

There is no denying that literary education in the PRC was very politicized, and Gamsa’s book illustrates, in lugubrious detail, how deeply the state penetrated into the sphere of cultural production. The Communists certainly had no hesitation mixing a good dose of politics into their art. While the regime played a much too authoritarian role in the process, writers were not wholly without agency–they were expected to participate, reflect, and engage in a manner filled not only with passion but with critical spirit. This in no way makes the reality of literary education any more palatable, but the addition of some dispassionate reflection on the context would be helpful here. The recent work of scholars such as Wendy Larson and Peter Button aim to demonstrate that socialist aesthetics in China were not just empty, politicized rhetoric, but constituted actual models of thinking and feeling that writers, philosophers, students, and readers took seriously.[ 1 ] If these aesthetics displayed elements of what some critics might term “mind control,” they also attempted to seriously articulate (alternate) models of consciousness and subjectivity that would befit a society no longer ruled primarily by market logic and its concomitant ideology of individualism. Larson and Button’s studies attempt to provide more substantive descriptions of how such modes of aesthetic creation worked in the Maoist state, and to grant them the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging they were not always mere variations on rote indoctrination.

Critical of the idea that literature and fiction might have any relation to social or historical outcomes, Gamsa resolutely rejects any notion of literature as life; to think otherwise is for him to uphold the irrational idea that there is no division between fiction and history. In his afterword he invokes the example of two writers who have not only been on the receiving end of authoritarian literary policy, but earned Nobel Prizes for their considerable sufferings: Joseph Brodsky and Gao Xingjian, champions of the autonomy of the individual against the masses. But for many readers, the literary is neither a reflection of life nor a pale imitation–it is part of the social process itself, and intervenes within social, historic, and political events. To take such a view does not necessarily constitute a subscription to the idea that the literary is somehow “decisive” in the shaping of human events; while military, political, and economic factors probably contribute more to historical transformation, it is hard to imagine that ideas, often in the shape of the written word, do not also partake in the process. Certainly the Communist regimes took the purported power of “The Word” to tendentious extremes, and Gamsa is right to point out the extravagant faith of the Russian realists in the power of literature to reflect and transform life; let us not forget, however, the somewhat bizarre faith in aesthetic transfiguration and even physical resurrection from the dead touted by such Silver Age writers as Nikolai Fedorov (1827-1903), Vladimir Solov’ev (1853-1900), and Vasily Rozanov (1856-1919). True, the Soviet regime suppressed the sometimes wacky work of these philosophers, but some scholarship has suggested that Soviet socialist realism’s claims to induce social transfiguration may have been more indebted to the theurgic texts of this generation than to the realists.[ 2 ] The realists’ elevation of literature as an institution with social import (one that, regrettably, sometimes circumscribes the variety of possible literary expression) was not wholly without sense or logic. And it seems far too easy in hindsight to lambaste them for their blind faith. Susan Buck-Morss’ study Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West strives to explicate the modern utopia of collective happiness engineered by both mass industrialization and the mass production of culture. This mechanized utopia had both capitalist and socialist iterations and, in the end, both proved bankrupt and left a wake of disillusionment, destruction, and ruin. While the socialist iteration of the modern dreamworld is shocking for the level of brutality that was involved, it also needs to be understood within the larger context of twentieth-century experiments in mass modernization.

Gamsa makes frequent reference to the radical critics of the 1860s such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) and Dmitry Pisarev (1840-1868) as self-appointed, hypermoralistic “teachers” who condescended toward the masses they professed to support, who in turn became forerunners for the overweaning literary tsars in both the USSR and PRC. Both the USSR and PRC adopted the moral mission of literature advocated by these realists and turned it into ironclad state policy, with deleterious effects on both the masses and literature itself. However, other than repeatedly bringing up Chernyshevsky’s line that art should serve as a “textbook of life” (uchebnik zhizni), Gamsa spends little time explicating these critics’ ideas and works.[ 3 ] Are we to understand Chernyshevsky’s “textbook” merely as a blueprint that dictates exactly how one should behave, an instruction manual of sorts? If so, how would any novel be capable of doing that? Gamsa’s account of literature as hermetic social engineering leaves little room to acknowledge the limited or malleable power of narrative art. Granted that fictional narrative can provide a sort of soft template for human behavior—as evident in such diverse cultural texts as Three KingdomsPeony PavilionPride and Prejudice, and even recent popular television serials such as Sex and the City (are you a Miranda, or a Samantha?)—but it is hard to imagine how narrative can serve as an ironclad instruction manual for any endeavor. Inherent in nearly any narrative is an improvisatory quality, an openness to adaptation and recontextualization.

Chernyshevsky’s infamous (more for its style than its politics) 1863 novel What Is to Be Done? (Chto delat’?) is full of ethical and mathematical quandaries that his protagonists earnestly strive to resolve (of which my favorite is Lopukhov’s attempt to figure out how many pills of morphine will cancel out the strength of four cups of coffee). More important than the various, and sometimes absurd, solutions the characters conjure up is the temporal narration of their efforts to come to a solution—what forms narrative’s power is not so much its ending as the process by which it gets there. I am inclined to think that despite the considerable political constrictions placed upon reading, writing, and interpretation during the socialist period, the “unfinalizable” (to use Bakhtin’s term) nature of narrative art itself required from writers and readers a modicum of creativity and improvisation.[ 4 ]

Gamsa is correct in pointing out a certain obsession with the articulation and reflection of “life” in both Russian and Chinese modern literatures (in particular among the realists),[ 5 ] but one should be careful not to automatically conflate “life” with some kind of amorphous, vague, and clichéd moralizing. The constant affirmation of “life” in socialist regimes did become a hackneyed exercise in banality[ 6 ]; but for both the Russian intelligentsia of the 1860s and the Chinese May Fourth intellectuals, “life” was itself interpellated within a field of scientific knowledge and endeavor. Many a Russian realist was influenced by advances in the biological sciences, and the neurological theories of Ivan Sechenov (1829-1905) in particular were of great importance to that generation (his Reflexes of the Brain [Refleksy golovnogo mozga, 1863] exerted a powerful influence on many literary authors—Sechenov also happened to be an inspiration for Ivan Pavlov, who in turn was influential in the USSR, PRC, and the US). For the Chinese, Darwinism and other discourses of developmentalism precipitated a radical epistemic change. As the Chinese began to better understand the biological and technological mechanisms by which life was created and maintained, they understood that “life” was not merely a field for morality, philosophy, and literature, but in a properly Foucauldian way, a site of governance and collective sovereignty. Andrew F. Jones’ study Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture and Lydia Liu’s essay “Life as Form: How Biomimesis Encountered Buddhism in Lu Xun,” detail how developmental and biological ideas helped to inaugurate a literary discourse of life that was tied to issues of governance, geopolitics, and social change.[ 7 ] Zhou Zuoren’s (1885-1967) 1918 “Human Literature” (Ren de wenxue, which Gamsa translates the title as “Literature of Man”) attempts to reorient literature’s role with an understanding of the human as a developing species.[ 8 ] For Zhou Zuoren, literature can reflect the universality of human emotions and, yes, human morality. Insofar as Zhou touts morality, daode, he reiterates “traditional” notions of literature’s moral mission. At the same time, indispensable to Zhou’s vision is an understanding of the human not as a philosophical or cosmological category, but as a universal species-being, and his arguments are as much indebted to discourses from the natural sciences as they are to “traditional” Chinese notions of literature. Literature was thus seen as mutually imbricated with the sciences and with politics—whether or not that was, in the end, a bad idea, is certainly up for discussion. The way literature was viewed and appropriated by modern Chinese intellectuals was as akin to something that may be termed a “cultural technology,” one with aesthetic, political, and social potential. Outlining this particular and historically conditioned use of literature, and situating it within its intellectual context, would go a long way toward giving nuance to Gamsa’s strident view of literature as a moral-ideological tool in the hands and minds of the realists and their readers.

Gamsa’s own arguments seem to derive from a liberal strand of developmental rhetoric, one that sees pre-1980s Russian and Chinese twentieth-century political and cultural experiences as a shared misadventure. Acknowledging the power of the concept of nation-state (and its aesthetic corollary of “national literature”) in Western Europe, he argues that the contemporary West has abandoned its reliance on nationalism, while Russia and China have stubbornly stuck fast to an outdated notion:

Yet, the above terms [“national character,” “national literature,” etc.] remain alive and in frequent use in Russia and China as part of a cluster of positivist notions, centred on the nation-state, which both these cultures have proved reluctant to abandon. Latecomers to the gospel of the European Enlightenment, they are now being late in adopting the alternatives of individualism, cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism and political correctness that have challenged self-identification with the nation in the postwar democratic West. (48)

Many contemporary Russian and Chinese intellectuals, such as Aleksei Navalny and Liu Xiaobo, would surely agree with such vocal statements. But we are also witnessing increasing questioning of such uncontextualized liberal beliefs and commonplaces in both countries as well, and these other viewpoints may well lead to different interpretations of the twentieth-century experience.

I agree with Gamsa insofar as literature has lost its position of centrality and moral authority in Chinese state and society. But, unlike Gamsa, I see the ebbing of literature not so much because it is essentially a personal, individual enterprise congenitally resistant to collective utilization (and if it is thus utilized, automatically becomes indoctrinating propaganda), but because it has increasingly found itself crowded out by a cultural ecology marked by a superabundance of new media forms and distractions (including sitcoms, film, telenovellas, and role playing video games). This embarrassment of cultural riches is in large part the result of transformations in late capitalism, and it is amusing to contrast the way contemporary youth are now seemingly jaded by their overwhelming choices in cultural consumption against the options available to a populace barely half a century ago, for whom literature constituted a precious and hard to obtain cultural treasure. In this sense, it is important to understand the rise of modern literature in China as a form of cultural/ideological technology that by the end of the 1970s was already showing wear and tear. We have now reached a situation in which literature will no longer serve the functions of, in Peter Button’s parlance, an “eidasthetic” cultural “absolute,” an institution whose function is to embody the current quintessence of historical and cultural development. This does not mean that literature is done with and we scholars should now switch to film studies; just as podcasts have revived the old genres of the radio show in a digital format, so will literature continue to operate in new guises in the cultural semiosphere. It is unlikely, however, to regain its position as the ultimate aesthetic paradigm and primary tool of modern social engineering in any nation (and I do think this is a welcome evolution).

While I have offered some reservations about the way Gamsa frames the discussion in the second book, this perhaps goes to show that almost any attempt to narrate a time of tumultuous, radical, and even cruel social and cultural transformation will always open itself to contentious polemic, to competing claims of moral, social, and other universals. What we study are, ultimately, not disinterested matters, but are inexorably linked to the pasts that we, as critics and scholars, have experienced, as well as to the futures that we envision. Leon Trotsky, himself a sensitive reader and a ruthless military commissar, in introducing his 1930 History of the Russian Revolution, remarked upon the essentially agonistic nature of revolutionary accounts:

How can you take as a whole a thing whose essence consists in a split? . . . The serious and critical reader will not want a treacherous impartiality, which offers him a cup of conciliation with a well-settled poison of reactionary hate at the bottom, but a scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies–open and undisguised–seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movement.[ 9 ]

While Gamsa will probably not agree with my choice of historical personage, I do take his considerable contribution to our study of Sino-Russian literary relations in a similar spirit as the old “prophet” outlined. I also look forward to reading the future scholarship that Gamsa’s work will no doubt stimulate.

Roy Chan
The College of William and Mary


[ 1 ] See Wendy Larson, From Ah-Q to Lei Feng: Freud and Revolutionary Spirit in 20th Century China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); and Peter Button, Configurations of the Real in Chinese Literary and Aesthetic Modernity (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

[ 2 ] For a fuller account of this claim, see Irina Gutkin, The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realism Aesthetic: 1890-1934 (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1999).

[ 3 ] The phrase “textbook for life” derives for Chernyshevsky’s 1853 master’s thesis, “The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality.” The initial publication apparently garnered so little attention that Chernyshevsky published a review essay on his own dissertation in 1855. Zhou Yang (1908-1989) translated the dissertation from an English translation in 1948.

[ 4 ] Ilya Kliger, explicating his notion of “veridiction” in nineteenth-century realism, argues that the binary behind the notion of mimesis (i.e., its discursive “verisimilitude” of and against a real world “out there”) misses the point of realism’s truth claim. Realism should be understood not so much for its simulation of the world, but its attempt, through the temporality of narration, to arrive at a truth that can only be accessed within the protean flow of time itself: “Translating this into the language of novel criticism, we recover an important difference between asking, What do we find out from the novel about the essential characteristics of the world depicted in it? and asking, What do we find out about what it means to find out anything at all in or about the world that is being depicted in the novel?” (33) See Ilya Kliger, The Narrative Shape of Truth: Veridiction in Modern European Literature (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).

[ 5 ] A good summary of the Russian realists’ articulation of the relationship between life and literature can be found in Irina Paperno’s Chernyshevsky and the Age of Realism: A Study in the Semiotics of Behavior (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 8-20.

[ 6 ] I cannot help but think of the well-known “May There Always Be Sunshine” (Pust’ vsegda budet solntse) which featured such saccharine lines as “May there always be mommy / May there always be me!” sung in an irritatingly cheery voice and accompanied by the high end of a piano treated like the pavement beneath a jackhammer.

[ 7 ] Andrew F. Jones, Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Liu, Lydia. “Life as Form: How Biomimesis Encountered Buddhism in Lu Xun,” Journal of Asian Studies 68 (2009): 21-54.

[ 8 ] Appears in English translation at “Humane Literature” in Kirk A. Denton, ed., Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature, 1893-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 151-61.

[ 9 ] Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution. Tr. Max Eastman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1932), xxi.