> Features > Culture

Summary of Chinese literature in 2020

LIANG HONGYING | 2021-01-21
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A Late Bloomer by Mo Yan Photo: XINHUA


In 2020, an unusual year, Chinese writers made remarkable literary achievements. Vitality can be found everywhere, from novels, reportage literature, poetry, and prose, to children's literature, the Chinese ethnic minority literature, and translated literature. These works play a unique role in meeting people's spiritual needs. 
 
Two major themes 
Good literary works always have their finger on the pulse of the people and are in touch with social reality. The united efforts and determined will of the Chinese people in combating COVID-19 were recorded in reportage literature. When COVID-19 was rampant in China, writers including Li Chunlei, Li Zhaoquan, Ji Hongjian, Pu Xuan, and Zeng San, formed a representative team of the China Writers Association and went to Wuhan to conduct interviews and write on the front line. In such a special context, they completed several works, such as Zhang Dingyu: The "Iron Man", A Volunteer Named Dalian, and Willingness. These works, together with Zhong Nanshan: The People Are Above All by the writer Xiong Yuqun, and Dr Zha's Diary of Fighting COVID-19 by Zha Qiongfang, a doctor from Shanghai that came to the aid of Wuhan, witnessed China’s response to the epidemic and shared those touching moments with readers. 
 
The author Li Di passed away in 2020. In the last year of his life, Li travelled around the country, visited rural areas, and wrote about China's anti-poverty efforts. Li was not the only one who did this. Many writers have begun to focus on "why write" rather than "what to write." Some excellent literary works on poverty alleviation were published in 2020, such as Li Di's posthumous Eighteen Stories of the Shibadong Village and Guan Renshan’s Taihang Fertile Soil. These works explored the reasons for poverty based on rural culture as well as historical context, and gave a detailed account of how rural people tackled poverty nationwide through their talents and hard work. 
 
Writers of different generations 
In 2020, writers from different generations have contributed to a prosperous scene in Chinese literature. The Chinese novelist Ma Shitu, who was born in 1915, published A Sequel to the Records of Evening Chats in 2020. It is a collection of short stories written in Sichuan dialect that recount people's interesting experiences in the "Old Society." Wang Meng, at age 86, launched the expanded version of his novel Smiling Wind, which depicts the joys and sorrows the Chinese people experienced over the decades of changes and social development. 
 
The young writers also did well in 2020. Their works were deeply refreshing, such as Li Hongwei's novel A Brief History of the Man in Gray, and Lin Sen's novel The Island. 
 
Exploring human nature 
The Chinese novels of 2020 stood out from the past few years. Eight years after he won the Nobel Prize in 2012, Mo Yan released a new publication, entitled A Late Bloomer, a collection of twelve novellas which portray changes in the people and the environment of the narrator's hometown from a contemporary perspective. He introduces a deeper level of thought into the witty and humorous creation of fiction. Another renowned author, Jia Pingwa, published his 17th novel, Sit For A While, which presents difficulties encountered by a group of middle-aged women in a city when pursuing economic independence and spiritual freedom, and tracks the complexities of humanity in difficult situations. Wang Anyi's novel A Knife, Thousands of Words starts with the middle-aged life of Chen Cheng, a master chef of Huaiyang cuisine, who migrated to Flushing, New York, and explores the complex bonds among individuals, kinship, times, and history. 
 
In his novel The Artists, the author and artist Feng Jicai unfolds the lives and creations of a group of artists spanning more than half a century, fully presents their spiritual world, and allows readers to get a glimpse of the development and changes in their artistic careers and social environments. Liu Qingbang's Portraits of Female Miners takes the vicissitudes of female miner Hua Chuntang's life as the main storyline, while also revealing the different destinies of many other female miners. Their vigorous youth, longing for love, and mixed feelings on fate are thought-provoking.
 
Documentary literature 
The wildlife activist and writer Hu Donglin passed away in 2017. His diary, written between 2007 and 2012, a period when he lived in the Changbai Mountains in Northeast China, entitled Notes from the Mountains and Woods was published in 2020. It presents the marvelous creatures in the Changbai Mountains that inspired the author, reflecting Hu's enjoyment and celebration of nature and the human world, as well as his enthusiasm for maintaining harmony between man and nature. 
 
In his documentary literary work Zou Taofen in Wartime, Huang Guorong depicts the life of Zou Taofen (1895–1944), a well-known Chinese journalist and media entrepreneur, who developed Life Magazine into a pioneering media outlet that mobilized strong resistance to Japan's invasion during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. A Record of Vicissitudes of Jiangnan Area, a collection of essays by Xu Feng, reveals that the Jiangnan area, or the land to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, is more than idyllic water towns, bridges and rivers—this land has experienced hardship and suffering. The folk culture depicted in this book speaks directly to the people in the Jiangnan area. 
 
Children's literature 
The year 2020 also witnessed the prosperity of children's literature. Bright Black Eyes by Zhao Lihong is made up of 25 letters to young readers, themes of which range from patriotism and family bonds, to encouragement and growth. Zhao tried to nourish children's inner worlds with stories which combine his own experiences and feelings while reading classics. 
 
Lu Mei's new book A Fantast named Lao Shengen, together with her previous books As Free as a Butterfly (2016) and The Hydrangea (2019), focuses on the psychological and moral growth of girls from youth to adulthood, calling children to listen to the rhythm of life and to immerse themselves in nature. 
 
In her novel Elephant-foot Drums, the author Yin Jianling focuses on the lives of disabled children. The elephant-foot drum is a traditional musical instrument used by the Dai ethnic people. It serves as a metaphor in the novel, because children who have lost hearing can still perceive the sound through the vibration of the elephant-foot drum. Based on the childhood experience of the famous deaf dancer Tai Lihua, this novel highlights the positive spirit of seeking bliss in incompleteness and creating miracles from ordinary life. 
 
The article is edited and translated from Guangming Daily. Liang Hongying is the editor-in-chief of Literature and Art Newspaper. 
 
Edited by REN GUANHONG