The Essay Tradition and the Reconstruction of Modern Chinese Prose Theory

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No. 2, 2022


The Essay Tradition and the Reconstruction of Modern Chinese Prose Theory



Wang Weidong


Prose theory is the most likely area for a breakthrough in building a discourse for literary theory with Chinese characteristics. Modern Chinese prose originates from a long tradition of the essay (wenzhang 文章). In the shift from a literary field dominated by the traditional essay to that of modern literature, the essay was transformed into prose, achieved through a complex historical process. The transformation has resulted in the atypical nature of the modern prose genre and its marginal position in the modern literary setting, but at the same time it has created the possibility of breaking through the dilemma faced by modern literature. The reconstruction of Chinese prose theory should have “human/writing” \[the characters composing humanism\] at its heart and should construct an overall theoretical structure that covers four levels: knowledge and experience, thought and emotion, spirit and realm, and style and language. The evaluation system should incorporate the historical features of the essay, this is, being based on the Dao and connected with history, touching upon real things, and highlighting ideas through literary composition. It should fully incorporate the wisdom of traditional Chinese thought and art, and build a practical discourse system rich with Chinese characteristics and operability for evaluating prose.