Item description for Questions of Style: Literary Societies and Literary Journals in Modern China, 1911-1937 (China Studies, 2) by Michel Hockx, Lessie Jones Little, Jerry Pinkney, Richard Pevear, Simon Perry, Esther Beaton, Arthur Nersesian & Scott Silsby...
Dealing with the central issue of style in literature, this groundbreaking study is a must for sinologists, but also for all students of comparative literature.
Michel Hockx takes as a point of departure the observation that most writers of the Republican period adhered to a distinctly traditional practice of gathering in literary societies, while at the same time displaying a marked preference for publishing their works through the modern medium of the literary journal.
The first part of the book analyses different types of societies and their journals. The case studies in part two convey the wider impact of literary collectives and journal publications on literary practice.
Convincingly breaking with the 'May Fourth' paradigm, the author proposes a radically new way of understanding the relationship between New Literature and other styles of modern Chinese writing.
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Restoring Other Styles in Modern Chinese Literature Apr 29, 2005
Restoring Other Styles in Modern Chinese Literature Michel Hockx. _Questions of Style: Literary Societies and Literary Journals in Modern China, 1911-1937_. (China Studies, 2) Brill Academic Publishers, April 1, 2003. x + 310-pp. $69 (hardcover). ISBN: 9004129154 Reviewed by: Yuxin Ma, Dept. of History, Armstrong Atlantic State University
A major breakthrough of Hockx in this book is that he studies the literary production in Republican China by exploring the activities of the people involved in literary production rather than analyzing the texts they produced (6). Hockx examines sources and material which are often considered `non-literary.' He argues that in the literary production process, literary journals and societies constructed alternative literary practices in which competition and aggression rather than cooperation and tolerance were the norm. There are eight chapters in this book, with Chapter 1 as the introduction and Chapter 8 the conclusion. Chapter 2-4 studies modern literary societies, literary journals, and the aesthetic dimensions of those journals. Chapter 5-7 studies various alternative styles to the "New Literature," such as Liu Bannong's new poetry and Zeng Jinke's abusive criticism, and the role of censorship in establishing literary cannon and value. Hockx argues the practices of literary societies and of journal publication in China in 1911-37 were particular of time and place. He defines his project as addressing the issue of "how did literary community establish and maintain distinctions, between itself and other communities, and amongst its members." On the one hand, he finds in modern literary societies the continuity of traditional literary societies, which employed different strategies to cordon off a relatively independent literary field; on the other hand, he argues that modern literary societies engaged in new practices-editing and publishing literary journals. He examines how the term wenxue was redefined in 1911-1937 with an emphasis on the academic credentials of writing. Hockx notices two distinctive features of modern literary societies: first, those societies were more professionalized-their members involved in publishing industry; second, those societies were more specialized-they took the literary field as their main sphere of activity. Hockx argues for the literary autonomy in 1911-37-literary community was able to withstand or redirect political influences, which suggests the existence of a literary public space. Hockx takes literary journal as a product of modern print culture, a meeting place where members of literary societies "meet" each other. He finds in literary journals a variety of styles that often transgress the boundaries between traditional literature, popular literature and the New Literature. Hockx's definition of "style" not only refers to language, content and form, but also to life style. He finds there were distinguished styles among rivaling groups, as well as within publications, and argues that the mixture of the personal, the societal, and the textual was essential to the reconstruction of literary styles of the Republican period (30). Hockx questions the canonization of the New Literature (the politically progressive writings) as the May Fourth style, arguing that the New Literature must be seen "as but one style of modern Chinese writing, coexisting and competing with other styles throughout the prewar decades."(5) He points out that even the style of the New Literature itself is much less of a unity. By studying Liu Bannong's alternative styles in his early writing career and his later conversion to the New Culture Style, Hockx finds in Liu "a self-conscious process of limiting one's choice of new possibilities to those considered most suitable by the intellectual leadership of the [Literary] Revolution." (160). Hockx argues that the New Literature paradigm was never the dominant form it was supposed to be within the Modern Chinese literary field. For example, new poets' predilection for free verse and prose poetry was repeatedly countered with a call for a return to "national forms" (186). One contribution of this book is that Hockx resurrects Zeng Jingke and his journal Xin Shidai in the Shanghai literary scene in the 1930s. Zeng Jinke's style was categorized as "abusive criticism." Hockx recaptures the ambivalence of abusive criticism in Republican-era: on the one hand, abusive criticism was "deplored and considered distasteful;" on the other hand, "virtually all literary figures of the time employed it regularly as part of their critical vocabulary" (190). He argues that ad hominem criticism was an alternative style to the New Literature in the 1930s, representing a mixture of modern and traditional elements (221). Viewing censorship as a central part of literary practices, Hockx brings up an inspiring and convincing point by arguing that the censorship in the 1930s was not simply a repressive governmental measure, but rather the result of negotiation and interactions between literary community and the state agents within the literary fields (236). He finds the arrival of censors on the Shanghai literary scene in the 1930s caused the literary community to close ranks and demonstrate its ability to "refract" those political forces, bringing them as much as possible in line with the principles of the relatively autonomous literary field. Throughout the book, Hockx argues that literature is "an independent, non-political, culturally valuable activity" (244). I find the literary autonomy-literary community was able to withstand or redirect political influences- suggested by Hockx is worth further investigating. Although literary societies and their journals had certain agency in their literary practices in 1911-37, it is hard to imagine that such agency was not checked by political forces, especially under the reinforced central government in the Nanjing decade.