> topics > Literature

The role of ecological literature in contemporary era

By Wang Yuming | 2015-05-15 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Peach Blossom Spring is an ideal world that represents the author’s imagination of a utopian society. It was written by Tao Yuanming (365–427), a Chinese poet who lived in the middle of the Six Dynasties (220-589) period and led a reclusive life after rejecting an official position. He found inspiration from nature, and most of his works depicted an idyllic life of farming and drinking in the countryside.

Blending science and humanity, conservation culture pursues a common development that transcends industrial civilization to put an emphasis on the harmony between man and nature, man and society, and man and his inner self.

In the Report to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, ecological progress has been incorporated into the national development strategy with the aim of striking a balance between sustainability and human desire. According to the report, the key is to cultivate a sense of environmental responsibility among the people.

In addition to technical and institutional reform, it is vital to step up the transformation of the socialist value system. In this context, ecological literature that seeks to inspire people will shoulder the historical responsibility to improve aesthetic appreciation, enrich ethical values, reflect on survival culture and aspire to a harmonious co-existence for all beings.

Displaying natural beauty
Originating from ancient writers’ appreciation of natural beauty, ecological literature came into being concomitantly with a growing awareness of conservation during a time of reflection on modern civilization. It has further developed and continued the legacy of traditional literature while it is also an extension of modern and contemporary literature. Whether one is speaking of early natural writing or present-day ecological literature, the fundamental characteristic of the genre is a love of nature.


Nature has always been an important area of inquiry in literary works throughout history. In British pastoral writing, wilderness writing in American literature, the utopian concept of Arcadia in Western literature as well as the oasis hidden from the outside world called Peach Blossom Spring  (Tao Hua Yuan) depicted by ancient Chinese poet Tao Yuanming, authors have demonstrated a strong affection for nature while establishing a sense of belonging in these works.

Early nature writing described the beauty of landscapes, such as fields and gardens, as well as the cozy countryside life, showcasing the authors’ inspiring perspective of nature. These authors indicated the path for experiencing the unity of nature and their own lives, linking the literary meaning to the lives and souls of readers.

However, the advent of modern civilization has caused the harmony between man and nature to break down. At the same time, nature writing is gradually fading and giving way to materialism and commercial civilization as modern people become alienated from nature and an idyllic living environment.

In this context, ecological literature not only carries on the traditional aesthetic qualities of nature writing but also transcends the boundaries of modern aesthetics. It possesses a unique aesthetic value that is conducive to the comprehensive development of mankind. In addition to depicting the beauty of nature and the strong attachment of people to it, ecological literature contains the warnings, criticisms and reflections of modern civilization.

Enriching ethical value
Embedded with positive intrinsic ethical appeals, ecological literature promotes the “literature of life,” which stands as a correction and improvement from the deeply rooted anthropocentric literature.
Ecological literature stresses the importance of respecting life, gives a priority to the interests of the entire ecosystem and awakens people’s long lost love for nature, which coincides with an effort to cultivate ethics in ecological progress.

In the traditional ethical value paradigm of industrial civilization, man and nature are opposed to one another, with man being the master of the earth, while nature falls victim to human plundering and enslavement, causing frequent natural disasters.

In the face of such a perilous environment, ecological writers demand respect for not only humans but all life. After thoroughly examining human behaviors and reflecting on modern ethics, they put forth the proposition that mankind must not behave simply in accordance with human needs and desires. In other words, the ethical value that ecological literature upholds goes beyond the moral concerns for humanity to include the well-being of the environment as well as the common interest and destiny of the earth.

Ecological literature does not merely depict picturesque landscapes with enthusiasm. Instead, it translates the worship of nature into the salvation of the human race by planting the seed of noble morality in the natural world in order to advocate an ethical attitude toward nature and establish a harmonious relationship between man and his environment, also known as “environmental ethics,” in ecological conscience.

The new ethical value system extends to nature the morality that was formerly reserved for man, recognizing nature’s intrinsic value and rights while re-examining the relationship between man and nature, breaking utilitarian and materialistic mentalities, restoring the respect and love for the land, and achieving a change in ethics.

Reflecting on materialism
It is not hard to see that the ecological crisis is rooted in the human spirit and culture. To overcome this crisis, human beings need to delve deeper into their lifestyle and cultural concepts. As a reflection on modern civilization, ecological literature focuses on positively shaping human souls, improving the human spirit and rebuilding the ecosystem of the human mind.


It is apparent that there is a correlation between materialism and the crisis of the human spirit. For a long time, the materialism and consumerism engendered by modern industrial civilization have led to man’s unrelenting exploitation and utilization of nature. The culture created in the process of human survival is now threatening the living environment as well as spiritual ecology of human beings.

Ecological literature in the contemporary era gives voice to writers’ concerns about the fate of the earth while analyzing and reflecting on the historical tragedy of the human environment from multiple perspectives to expose and criticize the consumption patterns, lifestyle and development mode.

In an era characterized by abundant material wealth, ecological literature conveys dire warnings and constructive connotations by constructing a real and artistic overview of ecological crisis, and criticizing and reflecting on modern values and lifestyles, so that human beings are inspired to redefine the value of the nature, gradually overcome their desires, and gain spiritual enlightenment.

Idyllic living environment 
Ecological literature has a harmonious vision. First, it completely overturns the “enslaved” state of the nature under the modern value system, with the hope of building harmony between man and nature and achieving a prosperous common development.

Second, in the utopian view of ecological literature, man and man are no longer simply bound by material relations. Rather, they are a community that shares moral standards and noble values. Lastly, ecological literature believes that ecological crises that spread around the globe are attributable to the rapid expansion of materialism and imbalanced ecological spirit. Therefore, ecological literature hopes to restore spiritual ecology and realize harmony between man and himself.

Committed to calling for the symbiosis of man and nature, ecological writers are poets of the earth and protectors of all beings. Ecological literature contains the inner appeal for an “idyllic living environment,” which refers to the myriad life forms dwelling in the limitless vicinity of nature with main concerns, which are, grasping the interactive relationships between man and nature, understanding how nature affects human survival and the soul, and exploring how human beings obtain a sense of belonging in nature.

Ecological literature views nature from the perspective of ecological aesthetics that motivate humans to be close to the nature, love nature, thereby bringing people back to nature, settling down. In the idyllic land, all beings coexist and thrive generation after generation.

In conclusion, ecological literature does not simply record and highlight the plight of man and nature in the text, but rather questions this life-threatening situation and strives to present an answer. The genre explores the wilderness in terms of imagination of the natural environment, marking a major literary theme of expansion and transformation, which suggests that the literary circle has taken up the cause of ecology.

Ecological literature is the unity of perceptual and rational, objective and subjective. It contains a wealth of natural aesthetics, which permeate the author’s evaluation and critique of human behavior while symbolizing the author’s life ideal and moral appeal. We are convinced that the genre will play an active role in making ecological progress.

With ecological literature, we will come closer to recognizing the roots of ecological crisis, more effectively correct the path of human existence, optimize the model of economic development and build a harmonious community with an idyllic living environment.

Wang Yuming is an associate professor from the School of Foreign Languages at Anhui Agricultural University.