China and the Nobel Prize: Four Essays on Classic Chinese Authors
JOURNEY TO THE WEST (c. 1580) is one of the masterworks of classical Chinese writing. It recounts a Tang Dynasty monk’s quest for Buddhist scriptures in the 7th century AD, accompanied by an omni-talented, kung fu-practicing Monkey King called Wukong (one of the most memorable reprobates of world literature); a rice-loving pig-spirit able to fly with its ears; and a depressive man-eating monster from a sand dune. It is a cornerstone text of Eastern fiction: its stature in Asian literary culture may be compared with that of The Canterbury Tales or Don Quixote in European letters... [More]
QIAN ZHONGSHU is a tougher Nobel pitch than some of the other authors profiled in this series. He’s dead, for starters — traditionally an obstacle to many things, including winning Nobel prizes — and his total creative output consists solely of a few essays, several short stories, and a single novel. On the other hand, that novel, Fortress Besieged, seems to me to be the high-water mark of something significant, if hard to explain, so I’m going to make my best case for it being enough to secure Qian’s place in history. The book takes its title from a French proverb, sets its action in the China of the 1930s, and tracks the misfortunes of Fang Hongjian, a feckless, cowardly student returning from Europe with a mail-order doctorate in Chinese from an American university that exists only in the imagination of a crooked Irishman. It may be one of the most cosmopolitan books ever written; certainly it is, as literary critic C. T. Hsia said, one of the greatest Chinese novels of the 20th century... [More]
IT’S HARD to get Pearl Buck right. She was the first Nobel Prize winner to have lived in China, having been there for over half of her life at the time she won the prize, and only the third laureate, after Rudyard Kipling and Rabindranath Tagore, to have strong ties to any part of Asia. She’s a figure of obvious stature, but it’s easier to list the ways in which she has been overpraised or underrated, misunderstood or misjudged, than to say just where she should fit into the ranks of American writers... [More]
THE CHINESE WRITER Lao She didn’t wrap up his stories with tidy endings. You can always run the unwritten sequels in your head. This was one of the many ways he differed from mainstream Chinese writers... [More]
Brendan O'Kane is a host at Popup Chinese, a translator at Paper Republic, a contributing editor to Pathlight magazine, and (more recently) an MA student at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on twitter at @bokane
Born in London and educated there and in Glasgow, Paul French has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a widely published analyst and commentator on China and has written a number of books, including a history of foreign correspondents in China and a biography of the legendary Shanghai adman, journalist and adventurer Carl Crow. His book Midnight in Peking won the 2013 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category, was a New York Times Bestseller and a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and will be made into an international miniseries by Kudos Film and Television. Twitter: @chinarhyming
Charles W. Hayford is an Independent Scholar who has recently stepped down from editing Journal of American-East Asian Relations. He started to take Pearl Buck seriously when writing his book, To the People: James Yen and Village China (Columbia University Press, 1990), which told the story of liberal reform alternatives to Mao's rural revolution.
Julia Lovell teaches modern Chinese history at Birkbeck College, University of London. An active translator of modern Chinese literature, she is the author of several books, including, most recently, The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams And The Making Of China. She is currently researching the global history of Maoism and working on a new translation of Journey to the West.
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