The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity

The Chinese essay is arguably China’s most distinctive contribution to modern world literature, and the period of its greatest influence and popularity—the mid-1930s—is the central concern of this book. What Charles A. Laughlin terms “the literature of leisure” is a modern literary response to the cultural past that manifests itself most conspicuously in the form of short, informal essay writing (xiaopin wen). In The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity, Laughlin examines the essay both as a widely practiced and influential genre of literary expression and as an important counter-discourse to the revolutionary tradition of New Literature (especially realistic fiction), often viewed as the dominant mode of literature at the time.

“More than any scholar in the field, Charles Laughlin has placed the prose essay at the heart of modern Chinese literary production and reception—where it rightly belongs. As a whole, his work demonstrates both the variety of approaches modern Chinese writers have taken to the prose genre and the essential interconnectedness of political literature and the literature of leisure. With this volume, the field seems to have matured to the point that we no longer need to obsess about ‘alternative modernities’ as counterweights to the ‘hegemony’ of the May Fourth mainstream. Since xiaopin wen (little prose pieces) were explicitly associated with the prose writing of late imperial China, Laughlin’s book also shows us how the rigid dichotomy between tradition and modernity has been a false construct in the scholarship on modern Chinese literature. Finally, organized around schools of prose—Yusi, White Horse Lake, Analects, and Crescent Moon—the book contributes greatly to our understanding of prose’s critical place in the shaping of a Republican-era literary field. Important on so many levels, The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity is a must-read.” —Kirk A. Denton, The Ohio State University

March 2008 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3125-7 / $55.00 (CLOTH)