Chinese Literature Post-Mao

Richard King

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Chinese Literature Post-Mao

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
  • East Asian Philosophy
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Chinese culture changed dramatically following the death of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in September 1976. The final decade of the Mao era, the Cultural Revolution, previously hailed in the Chinese press as Mao’s crowning triumph, was castigated as a time of brutality, irrationality, and economic stagnation. Art in the Mao era, particularly that final decade, had focused on struggles along class and political lines, dominated by heroic figures utterly loyal to Mao, with their adversaries exposed and humiliated. By contrast, the fiction, drama, and poetry of the late 1970s and early 1980s concentrated on the victims of the previous years and their physical and psychological sufferings. A policy of reform and opening led to the influx of foreign culture previously condemned as pernicious; Chinese writers encountered Western works from the classical to the contemporary, and by experimenting with techniques learned from them broke away from the confines of socialist realism, and experimental writers were seen to lead a Chinese “avant-garde.” The 1980s saw a serious reexamination of China’s own customs and traditions, or “root-seeking,” and a reevaluation of Chinese civilization by comparison with that of the West (“high culture fever”). In the 1990s, reductions in state sponsorship of the arts obliged writers to look increasingly to the market for endorsement, while still taking care to avoid state censure. Many preferred to set works in the first half of the 20th century, both for the glamour that period offered and to avoid contentious contemporary issues. The post-Mao era has seen a number of authors build celebrated and lucrative literary careers. Translation into English and other languages and publication by leading commercial presses have assisted in the international recognition of contemporary Chinese literature, along with literary awards, notably the Nobel Prize, won in 2000 by the playwright and novelist Gao Xingjian, by then a French citizen and shunned by the Chinese authorities, and by the novelist Mo Yan in 2012. Contemporary authors have benefited from the international success of Chinese cinema; many of the films made by the leading Chinese director Zhang Yimou have been adapted from fiction. This bibliography privileges fiction, the major literary form, while also addressing poetry, theater, and other prose. Concentration is on critical and literary works available in English, so authors whose work has been translated are given preferential treatment. The process of selection inevitably excludes some remarkable and important work by accomplished writers.

Article.  11972 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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