Nicholas Jose reviews 'A New Literary History of Modern China' edited by David Der-Wei Wang

Nicholas Jose reviews 'A New Literary History of Modern China' edited by David Der-Wei Wang

A New Literary History of Modern China

edited by David Der-Wei Wang

Harvard University Press (Footprint), $110 hb, 1,025 pp, 9780674967915

In his searching introduction to this immense volume, the editor, Harvard scholar David Der-Wei Wang, refers to the ‘architectonics of temporalities’ by which the project re-maps and re-chronicles Chinese literary history. A New Literary History of Modern China follows the model of the provocatively kaleidoscopic slice histories of French, German, and American literatures produced by Harvard University Press in recent years. The title of Wang’s introduction, ‘Worlding Literary China’, signals the scale of the ambition.

There are 160 bite-size essays by 143 contributors that focus on key moments on the timeline that reveal larger meanings. Some are by famous Chinese authors – Mo Yan, Yu Hua, Wang Anyi from China, Chu T’ien-hsin from Taiwan. Others are by leading scholars and thinkers in the field, including Wang himself, whose lineage goes back to Taiwan via Columbia University. Some essays are personal, others are written in what Perry Link calls ‘irrefutable academese’. A couple are by Australians, but it is mostly the view of China from North America. An appealing piece by Boston-based author Ha Jin imagines how Lu Xun wrote his first story, ‘A Madman’s Diary’, under the pressure of a deadline in Beijing in 1918, creating a new kind of vernacular fiction and launching the pseudonym that posterity would know him by, all in one night: the story’s theme, ‘eating people’.

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Nicholas Jose

Nicholas Jose

His seven novels and two collections of short stories include Paper NautilusThe Red Thread and Original Face. His acclaimed memoir Black Sheep: Journey to Borroloola appeared in 2002. He was general editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009) and has written widely on contemporary Australian and Asian art and literature. In 2002-05 he was President of Sydney PEN. He was Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University, 2009-10, and is an adjunct professor with the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. He was Chair of Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide 2005-08, where he is now Professor of English and Creative Writing

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