Chapter Three


The developmental situation of contemporary prose writing and important prosateurs and works



Scholarly prose and essay

    One of the notable phenomena in prosaic  writing in 1980s and 1990s is the emergence of the term titled “scholarly prose” or “cultural prose”. Authors of these kinds of prose are mostly scholars engaging in humanities or social science research. Besides specialized research, they composed articles harmoniously blending rational thinking and personal sentimental expression. The appearance of “scholarly prose” demonstrates the new trend of intellectuals’ concern in realistic problems and participation in cultural exchange. In ancient times, the distinction between “articles of writers” and “articles of scholars” were ambiguous. Yet with specialization of modern knowledge and the development of fields of learning’s construction, the boundary of the two has become more distinct. Regarded as the domain of “thinking in images” for perceptual experiences expression, emotions for instance, literature differs in term of “category” with “abstract thinking” for scholarly research. Whereas, this clear-cut division might bring possible harm to both the progress of literary  writing and humanities. Therefore, the “border crossing”  writing by scholars was notable. In the 80’s, senior scholars such as Jin Kemu, Zhang Zhongxing, etc. participated into the prose  writing comparatively earlier, while in early 1990s, Yu Qiuyu, who pursues his studies in artistic cultural history and drama esthetics, published series of prose in a column of the magazine Harvest (Shouhuo), and those prose were later compiled into books like Painstaking Journey of Culture (Wenhua Kulv) and Fragments of Civilization (Wenming de Suipian) evoked resounding response. Some important publications and presses also purposely recommended the  writing of this style to prosper “scholarly prose”.

    Authors of “scholarly prose”, usually of relatively richer culture, frequently integrate academic knowledge and rational mentality with prosaic expression. They withdraw attentions on “standard” of this literary style, but take it as another form for self-expression and realistic concern besides specialized research. For example, Yu Qiuyu styled himself “an amateur performance” (note: Yu Qiuyu, Follow-up Visitations of Prosaic  writing in the 90’s (90 Niandai Sanwen Xiezuo Suifang), Belle-lettre (Meiwen). 1998 (10)), and Chen Pingyuan titles short commentary writing as “the special solution to maintain ‘secular mood’” (note: Chen Pingyuan Author’s Preface · The Secular Mood of A Scholar (Xuezhe de Renjian Qinghuai·Zixu) Guangdong: Zhuhai Publishing House. 1995, p2. Zhu Xueqin has delivered a similar version: “The left hand writes academic long-length papers regardless of seasons and time, while the right hand works out short commentaries might as well involved in simultaneous events”. (refer to Be forgotten and criticized – Zhu Xueqing’s Talk of Books (Bei Yiwang de yu Bei Piping de – Zhu Xueqin Shuhua), Zhejiang People's Publishing Agency. Version 1997.)). Regarding may similar prose, the attacking point is not the pattern of discourse but the discussed contents. Yet for the integration of authors’ cultural concern and individual feelings, the vivid individuality in expression is assumed. Therefore, the  writing of these writers is relatively free which, yet, melts new factors into prose  writing. “Scholarly prose” is moderate in style and frequently adopts resourceful humor to balance sentimental elements. Moreover, the infiltration of knowledge of scientific principles enables it to have special ideological depth and emotional thickness. It distinguishes “essay” from the more focus on “sentiments” and “reasoning” but not “knowledge”. Thus, some critics name this kind of prose as “cultural prose”, “philosophical prose” or “theory intervention” in prosaic  writing.

    Zhang Zhongxing (1909-), a native of Xianghe City Hebei Provience, graduated from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature Peking University in 1936, and later took the position as a teacher in middle schools and institutions of higher learning. After 1949, he was made the editor of People's Education Publishing House. His major works are treatises Classical Chinese and Vernacular (Wenyan yu Baihua), The ABC of Classical Chinese (Wenyan Jindai), Buddhism And Chinese Literature (Fojiao yu Zhongguo Wenxue) and Discussion on Unreserved Living (Shunsheng Lun) and prose anthologies Trifling Talks负暄 (Fuxuan Suo Hua), Sequel to负暄 (Fuxuan Xuhua), The Third Talk 负暄 (Fuxuan Sanhua) and Fragmentary Words in Fleeting Time (Liunian Sui Ying). Zhang graduated form Peking University in the 19930s. In the early 1980s, he wrote some essays in succession that recalled old acquaintances and past events centering Peking University in early 30’s. The publication of these works, collected as Trifling Talks负暄 (Fuxuan Suo Hua), raised attention, followed by the publication of collections Sequel to负暄 (Fuxuan Xuhua), The Third Talk 负暄 (Fuxuan Sanhua) and Fragmentary Words in Fleeting Time (Liunian Sui Ying) with essays of the same kind. Zhang adopted archaism “负暄” (sunbathing while chatting), which could generally conclude the style he pursued, as the title. The style is to convey the free and leisurely and warm savor by styles of “poem” and “history” (note: Zhang Zhongxing Foreword Trifling Talks负暄 (Fuxuan Suo Hua·Xiaoyin). Heilongjiang People’s Press. Addition in 1986.). Majoring in research of language and writing, Zhang has broad interest and read extensively knowledge in works of classic, history philosophy and belles-lettres, past and present, and at home and abroad. And he is reputed as an “eclectics”. This feature in his essays is the intimate knowingness of various knowledge and “anecdotes” of people and things as well as rational and quietly elegant cultural taste in annotating and commenting on people and events. These essays of him were of great renown in a certain period, and were even similized as the “modern New Opinions on Things in Secular World (Shi Shuo Xin Yu)” (note: Lv Jiping. (1986). Foreword Trifling Talks负暄 (Fuxuan Suo Hua). Heilongjiang People’s Press. Addition in 1986.).

    Jin Kemu (1912-) is a native of Shouxian City Anhui Providence. He studied at private school in childhood, and then entered middle school. In 1930 he arrived in Beijing, and later in 1935 took a position in the library of Peking University. In 1941 he went to India for study. Then in 1948, he began to teach in Department of Oriental Literature of Peking University.  Jin, a Sanskrit expert and translator, profoundly researches the Indian religion, philosophy, literature and language with works counting as collections of translation Selective Collection of Essays on Artistic and Literary Theories in Ancient India (Gudai Yindu Wenyi Lilun Wenxuan) and Selective Collection of Ancient India poems (Gudai Yindu Shixuan), treatises literary History of Sanskrit (Fanyu Wenxue Shi), Collection of Papers on Indian Culture (Yindu Wenhua Lun Ji) and Collection of Papers on Comparative Literature (Bijiao Wenhua Lun Ji), collection of prose and essays Past Events in India (Tianzhu Jiushi), Illustration of Cultural (Wenhua de Jieshuo), Doubts in Culture (Wenhua Lieyi) and Sketches of Jin Kemu (Jin Kemu Xiaopin), as well as poetry anthologies Bat Collection (Bianfu Ji) and Collection of Sleet (Yuxue Ji). He is also a prominent one among “modernist school” poets. His prose after 1980s includes the recall of old acquaintances and past events, yet mainly counts ideological essays referring to notes of reading, random notes on culture and even the extensive contents such as document examination. These works, mingled with rich knowledge, frequently develop form a certain issue, and display the author’s active thinking, abundant wisdom and humorous and leisurely literary style. The issues he discussed mostly obtain academic direction and develop freely according to his life experiences as well as knowledge of east and west history, philosophy, religion, literature and other fields, with considerably rigorous cited materials and concluded outcomes. This characteristic is named as “academicalization of prosaic sketch” (note: Xie Mian (1996). Preface Selective Collection of Jin Kemu’s prose (Jin Kemu Sanwen Xuanji·Xuyan). Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House. addition 1996.). The language of his prose is simple and similar to spoken language yet with naturally integrated vocabularies and sentence patterns of classical Chinese. He doesn’t reveal emotions lightly, but the seemingly lose and casual style conveys the openness and penetration as a worldly wise man.

    Prose of Yu Qiuyu (note: Yu Qiuyu (1946-), a native of Yuyao City Zhejiang Province, began to study in Drama Literature Department of Shanghai Theater Academy in 1966 and then taught in the school. His major works are treatises Manuscript of History of Play Theory (Xiju Lilun Shi Gao), Esthetic Psychology of Play (Xiju Shenmei Xinlixue), Discourse on History of Chinese Play Culture (Zhongguo Xiju Wenhua Shi Shu) and Artistic Constructs Project (Yishu Chuangzao Gongcheng), as well as prose anthologies Painstaking Journey of Culture (Wenhua Kulv), Fragments of Civilization (Wenming de Suipian) and Prose of Qiuyu (Qiuyu Sanwen).) such as the ones in Painstaking Journey of Culture (Wenhua Kulv) and Fragments of Civilization (Wenming de Suipian), are mostly travels bearing cultural meditation. While recording his travel and feelings of a certain place of historic interest and scenic beauty, he introduces relative cultural and history knowledge, and conducts his thoughts on national culture, which, thus, “chaotically integrate man, history and natural together” (note: Yu Qiuyu (1992). Author’s Preface “Painstaking Journey of Culture (Wenhua Kulv)”. Knowledge Press. Addition 1992.). Obtaining strong sense of cultural introspection, Yu Qiuyu’s prose either sighs with emotion at the cultural and scenic prosperity and decline when recalling history, or ponders over intellectuals’ mission and destiny when searching for ancient civilization trails. Massive cultural and historical knowledge as he conducted, he never simply compose prose as “culture” plus “scenery”, whereas the “human spirit” is stressed, namely the permeation of the author’s cultural thinks and personal experiences to the facing landscape, which was called by himself as “the contending with scenery by an individual” (note: Yu Qiuyu. About Prose, Reading and Artistic Accomplishment – Responding to New People's Daily Xinmin Evening News, Liberation Daily, etc. (Guanyu Sanwen, Dushu he Yishu Xiuyang – Da “Xinmin Wanbao”, “Jiefang Ribao” deng). Referring to Interview of Chinese Writers (Zhongguo Zuojia Fangtanlu). Edited by Shen Wei and Wu Hong. Xinjiang Juveniles Publishing House. Addition 1997.). Yu pursues elegance in prose language, which could be demonstrated in titles like “Trials and Hardships of Tianyi Pavilion (Fengyu Tianyige)”, “The Lonely Tienzhu Mountain (Jimo Tianzhushan)”, “The Sight of a Dynasty’s Back (Yige Wangchao de Beiying)” and so on. His writings are mostly of directly spoken minds, but the sentimental expression is over exaggerated sometimes. And some articles are similar in structuring.

    Essays of Wang Xiaobo (note: Wang Xiaobo (1952-1997), a native of Beijing, went to countryside in Yunnan and settled in the communes where he was occupied as a non-state employed teacher and a worker in 1968. In 1978 he began to study in Department of Accounting and Business Renmin (Peoples) University of China, and later in 1984 he studied in USA and received the degree of MA. After returning he taught in Peking University and Renmin (Peoples) University of China in succession. He became a freelancer in 1992. Then he passed away of illness in Beijing in 1997. Major works of him are listed as novel collections Golden Age (Huangjin Shidai), Bronze Age (Qingtong Shidai) and Silver Age (Baiyin Shidai), prose anthologies Pleasure of Thinking (Siwei de Luqu), My Spiritual Home (Wode Jingshen Jiayuan) and The Majority of Silence (Chenmo de Daduoshu), as well as sociological research treatise Their world – Perspective on Communities of Chinese Male Homosexual (Twmen de Shijie – Zhongguo Nantongxinglian Qunluo Toushi) (co-wrote with Li Yinhe).) drew wide attention in 1990s for his persistence in rational and casual cultural standpoint as well as lively and vivid literary style. His short written works, which were composed aiming to a concrete cultural ideological problem, with strong sense of “consciousness of problems”, are approximate to “essays”, and made to display his attitude in bantering and scolding in jest. His train of thoughts is extremely unique, which serves to touch the discussion on the problem through a story or one of his personal interesting experiences with tactful and vivid insertion of commentaries and elaboration punctually. Wang laid special emphasis on the “taste” in  writing. His articles are of humorous sentences with frequent interlarding of Beijing spoken language, which modes his incomparable way of discourse.

    Other major scholarly prose counts The Secular Mood of A Scholar (Xuezhe de Renjian Qinghuai) and Bookish Disposition (Shusheng Yiqi) by Chen Pingyuan, The “Fears” and “Love” of this Generation (Zhe Yidairen de “Pa” yu “Ai”) by Liu Xiaofeng, Under the Window (Chuangxia) by Zhao Yuan, The Observer’s Illusion (Guanchazhe de Huanxiang) by Geng Zhanchun, Sparrows Chatter (Maque Zhoujiu) by Lu Jiande, Man and Eternity (Ren yu Yongheng) by Zhou Guoping, etc..

    (extracted from “A History of Chinese Contemporary Literature” by Hong Zicheng)