Chinese writers fail to find global voice

Wed Apr 22, 2009 10:50pm EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Hobbled by censorship at home and ignorance of China abroad, Chinese writers are failing to make a major impact globally, 90 years after a landmark literary revolution.

The May 4 Movement of 1919 started out as student protests against a decision at the Paris Peace Conference, after World War One, to award Japan control of German concessions in China's Shandong province. It soon encompassed a broader debate about how China should modernize.

It spawned a host of writers famous throughout the Chinese world, including Lu Xun, who, like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China.

Yet to this day, works by leading lights of the movement such as Lu and others who wanted to reinvigorate an ancient but stagnant cultural tradition, remain largely unread abroad, despite their continued influence on the modern Chinese psyche.

Modern Chinese literature is at best a niche interest overseas, breaking through only occasionally in the form of books like Mo Yan's "Red Sorghum," later made into a film by Oscar-nominated director Zhang Yimou.

Chinese authors bemoan the lack of interest abroad in its literary treasures.

"When Western literature first started coming into China over that period of the May 4 movement, there were lots of people translating their books into Chinese," said Feng Jicai, whose most famous novels explore the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

"But there is hardly anybody in the West translating Chinese works. It's important to introduce Chinese literature to the West, but it's not the fault of the Chinese that it's not happening," the towering, wild-haired writer told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>A Chinese man sits between shelves of books as he reads at the 'Utopia' bookshop in central Beijing in this March 25, 2009 file picture. REUTERS/David Gray/Files</p>