Chinese Modern Literature (960-1911)

By | October 20, 2021

The modern times began with the official state of the Song era. The subsequent conquest by the Mongols certainly led to a major setback in literature, but at the same time also to a huge innovation. The yuan -Time knows no outstanding poet or essayist, but it does know a perfect theater, the mixed theater (zaju), the so-called Mongolian drama. However, what came to us as pieces that were perfect in terms of content and form comes from the edition and thus certainly from the processing by writers of the Ming period, so it very likely represents something more developed that should not have existed before. What is striking is the repeated theme of mental life. In terms of love, this is already hinted at in Tang times, but only in the poetry and by no means as excessively as we do with Bai Pu (13th century) in his play “Rain on the Wutong Tree” (Wutong yu). An emperor cries so much because of a deceased concubine that one has to speak of chain weeping, as is known much later from the Werther period and with consequences also for China, a country located in Asia according to In comparison, the much better known and more popular love drama “The West Room” (Xixiang ji, around 1250) with its theme of free love, which then ends in marriage, between a beautiful woman and her studiosus appears to be quite harmless.

The origin of the Chinese theater can be found in the religious field. The first performances were games of the gods, that is, games in honor of the early protective deities. Later every Buddhist monastery had a stage to convey beliefs theatrically. The imperial house, which was involved in theater-like exorcistic rites until the Middle Agesinvolved, maintained a permanent theater in his palace since the beginning of the Ming period. Later it became common that private ensembles were not uncommon up to the wealthy merchant class. The Chinese drama was not only a play of gods but also a ruler’s play, which means that after all conflicts had been resolved, it would end with praise of the ruler, but its most famous plays offered a lot of new things. For example in the »Peony Pavilion« (Mudanting) of Tang Xianzu (* 1550, † 1616). In this new genre of romance (chuanqi) love is celebrated as an all-determining feeling. It is the power that makes life possible, even beyond death. Only with modern literature (1912–49) under the influence of the West will the sensual and spiritual love in China end its triumphant advance and continue from 1979 onwards. The reason for this long incubation period has to do with the genre. The theater and storytelling were not necessarily recognized as appropriate expressions of the Chinese spirit. This was only to change to a large extent with the republic.

The Chinese novel, which, in its translation by F. Kuhn, is so popular that the German version of “Dream of the Red Chamber” (Honglou meng, 1792), with more than 200,000 copies sold, is already the history of German literature It should be added that this novel has the most readers in Germany as far as the reception of Chinese literature from its beginnings to the present is concerned. The same can also be said for his transcriptions of the stories by Pu Songling († 1640, † 1715) or Feng Menglong (* 1574, † 1646). The success is not only due to the fact that the translations are easy to read, because the Chinese poetry had in Günther Debon (* 1921, † 2005) and the Chinese theater in A. Forke are also great translators, but also with the German publishing industry, which in some cases still maintains the reading offer even after decades.

Despite its sensational sales success, the story of a Chinese youth and their love afflictions, “The Dream of the Red Chamber” has not become a real part of German intellectual history. The “moral painting” of Jinpingmei (first printed in 1618), which takes place in the merchant’s milieu, or “The Robbers of Liang-Schan-Moor” (Shuhuzhuan, first printed in 1589) enjoy greater popularity. This is due to the simplicity of the fabrics. Here the hearty love affairs of a Ximen Qing or the brawls of upright warriors can be understood without much knowledge of Chinese intellectual history. The “dream of the red chamber”, on the other hand, requires a vast amount of knowledge in order to be able to understand the numerous allusions, soul troubles and storylines.

Chinese Modern Literature