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·Yang Yi

Yang Yi, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in August 1946, is a native of Dianbai, Guangdong Province and a member of the Communist Party of China. In July 1981, he graduated from the department of literature in the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and became a postgraduate. He is currently a Director of the Institute of Literature Research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Director, Researcher and PhD student advisor of the Institute of Ethnic Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a chief expert of the literature group of the Central Project of Marxist Research and Construction, and a Chief editor of Literature Review. His academic expertise is Chinese contemporary literature and ancient literature. In 1991, he started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council. In 1991, he won the “Postgraduate Degree Owner of Outstanding Achievements” title awarded by the State Council Degree Office. In 1994, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award.


Redraw Chinese Literature Map


Zhao Xifang (hereinafter referred to as Zhao): Teacher Yang, in 1980s you were popular because of your modern Chinese literature research. Now, we think that your A History of Modern Chinese Fiction is still valuable. With broad cultural view, excellent aesthetic intuition, and abundant materials, it has become classical and been handed down. It is known that American Mr. Wang Dewei has ever highly praised you’re the cultural research method of your Fiction History in an article. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction has been published for more than ten years, and can you talk briefly about conditions at the beginning?


Yang Yi (hereinafter referred to as Yang): Nobody was able to write a fiction with several volumes through the power of one person in 1980s. At that time, they wrote History by collective, maybe one or two teachers leading one or two decades students, or several colleges and universities joining up to write. Just at that moment, I was young and inexperienced, graduated as a postgraduate student, and was only thirty, but I wanted to write a literary history, which was unconvinced to everybody. And I began this project in others’ doubtful eyes. As for old paperback books in Literature Institute, many of which were only read by me, some of which may be read by me as the first person. At that time, an old teacher said that some in modern literature books were not worthy of reading and asked why I made up my mind to read these books. I said: “in so big a country, there must always be one or two or three persons to read them completely and nicely, so it is unnecessary for others to read them. If all of us don’t read them, some things may be buried, and it is unclear for some matters to be evaluated in previous state. Therefore, this reading is actually a hard job, with a kind of professional attitude rather than a kind of appreciatory and sportful attitude.” Beginning from writers and works, I tried my best to read systematically and mastered the place of each writer in that whole era through comparing vertically and horizontally and experiencing subtly. I read original editions and newspapers and periodicals of that era, gradually reading out original flavor. After I have read books of writers of several schools, overall features and literature changes of the whole era emerged.


Zhao: why this book has had a lasting effect overseas?


Yang: if a foreign scholar or foreign doctoral student is about to research China, for example, researching Shen Congwen, Hu Feng, or Lu Xiang. And this scholar or student can know clearly conditions around them, such as in this whole era, what was Chinese literature structure and who were around them, the same as them, similar to them, and contrast to them. Or you want to use what subject matters, such as matters about families or cities, and you can find in this book. What resources does modern literature have? Reading this book, you can find answers. In addition, as for the connection of this writer with classical literature and foreign works, speeches delivered by him, and what reflections were made in his books, you can find many materials and clues by the large although they are not researched and analyzed professionally. You can not use your own thinking to replace others’ thinking, which is the writing style of historical essays. As for writing history, you shall present the most original materials to others through your description and structure, so that people can gain the initial starting point from all kinds of angles. It is felt that this book is too long, with 1.5 million words. They have asked why it can not be shorter. I think that as for multi-generation history, several comparatively completed histories shall be written by one or two people, so that people of later generations can save some efforts and have more bases in the further research. For example, if you are about to research the history of Hang dynasty, without writing styles of Records of the Grand Historian and History of the Han Dynasty, everybody makes a lot of political comments like Jia Yi whose comments are highlighted and outstanding, who is ok as a political commentator, but as a historian, you don’t keep the most original materials, it will be troublesome for us to research the history of Hang Dynasty. You can not find the most original materials, so you can only make empty talks. Therefore, we must retain this character of history, which is realistic. Of course, we provide the most initial starting point and a large quantity of materials, you can rethink and reintegrate, and you can also read these materials again. However, sometimes, some histories may think of too much about themselves, and they think that they are special in aesthetics, female criticism, or others. And they think that our histories are rewritten with these viewpoints, and it is like a breakthrough and a new stage. But when others aren’t interested in this viewpoint or when this tide is over, people read this book again, if this book is written from the angle of female, and they can gain nothing or gain little from this book when they want to talk about literature of this era from other angles, because all materials of this book are colored by the author. Therefore, as for writing history, a historian and a political commentator are different. On the basis of accumulating, settling, and analyzing a large quantity of documents, I wrote it as an actual history book. On the contrary, it is simple and direct, and it can keep a kind of overall feature and original condition, which can provide more thinking space and research possibility for readers after reading.


Zhao: Teacher Yang, it is not easy for you to make determine to research with great concentration for ten years. And now you have achieved great achievements in the field of modern literature, why you concentrate on the research of classical literature all of a sudden? And then you are to be a great master. What motives make you change?


Yang: thirty years of modern literature is an critical and important era, but it is short, and many issues can be seen clearly only after the time slot is lengthened. When I research modern fictions, sources for the development of modern fictions shall be sought. However, after entering into, I shall not only seek sources but also operate according to its internal logics. After my research on classical fiction, I think it is also a kind of excess towards traditional subject structure, and it is challenging. The person who researches on modern literature researches on classical literature, in the past, the difference in profession makes one feel worlds apart, and the subject segmentation is rigor. The scientific principle of classic literature pays much attention to real evidences in academic methods, and at the same time it can not bring the sensitivity of modern scholars for modern meanings of classical resources. What modern meanings does classic have? What things can interlink ancient times and modern times and be enjoyed at home and abroad? As for a profound scholar, he is certain to think this problem because he has the knowledge structure of modern literature. Exploring the wisdom of interlinking ancient times and modern times and being enjoyed at home and abroad with life concentration from the research of classical literature, and confirming modern values of classical literature.


After entering into the filed of classical literature, I made the project of Historical Theory of Classical Fiction at first. I have seriously devoted myself to the research of classical fiction. And I have set a record. Unexpectedly, six of seven articles of Historical Theory of Classical Fiction have been published in Social Sciences in China, and one or two articles have been published in Literary Review and Literary Heritage. In an academic seminar about one-hundred-year retrospect and prospect, it was reported by Literary Review that there are seven excellent books for classical fiction research in the field of classical literature and my book was ranked as the first one.


Zhao: I observe that you have an entirely new feature at the time of discussing ancient Chinese narrative literature and the art of Chinese poetry. When discussing this issue, modern scholars usually apply mechanically and directly western narratology theories and take Chinese works as examples, but in your book we rarely see these matters. Therefore, we always put forward this matter when we are discussing cultural identities and the relationship between modern and tradition. How do you compare Chinese arts of poetry and western arts of poetry on the research of Chinese classical literature?


Yang: it may relate to academic experiences. I come to the science of culture from a literary historian. I have read a large quantity of Chinese ancient books and records, and then I have thought about identities, words, appraisal systems, and power systems of Chinese literature and Chinese culture from this point. In this way, I always adopt a kind of conversational attitude, referring and querying, when I contact western theories. For example, when I research on Chinese narratology, I always think that Chinese narrative theory shall has its own explanation system and its own conversational system because I have read thousands of Chinese ancient and modern narrative literature books, which are used to have a discourse with western theories.


Western theory system has been evolved gradually from a kind of cultural experience or literary experience of ancient Greek, Roman, and ancient Hebrew, and each term of this theoretical system has its own life course, inheriting theory of the previous generation, varying theory of the previous generation, or overturning theory of the previous generation. In western world, each term has its own ins and outs and life course of evolution, that is to say, it is a kind of wisdom state in western world and growing continuously. When we Chinese people import this theory, this theory is separated from its historical and cultural contexts for its original occurrence, existence, development, and vibration, and it becomes a kind of knowledge, namely it becomes a kind of result. Wisdom is a kind of life course which can become results, but knowledge is a kind of solidified wisdom which has become results, so we shall get it and combine it with Chinese literary experience and cultural experience, and the process for wisdom generation and recreation shall be had, namely the process of digesting and absorbing foreign terms and bringing them into new life bodies. These two things can not be consistent simply and completely, and new lives shall be formed in the process that a kind of equal discourse is carried out with references and queries. Western theories are formed in particular environment and they don’t rely on a large amount of Chinese literary and cultural experience and literary life forms, so some western theoreticians don’t know may about China.


Well then, under this kind of condition, we Chinese literary theoreticians and cultural scholars are completely qualified and enabled to generate our own discourse system on the basis of our own wisdom when looking for common topics with western countries. However, we must seek attentively common topics. Without common topics, we can only talk our own things and talk to ourselves, and they will not understand you, and then we can not blend into the overall academy of the world. Seek common topics, and re-combine a life entity with different wisdom discourses on common topics. Therefore, when I researched Chinese narratology, I have put forward four sentences as my academic methods: going back to the original point of Chinese culture, referring to modern theories of the western world, having a thorough knowledge of ancient and modern cultural history, and mixing to create new system. It is vitally important to find the original point of Chinese culture and to find the most original, core, and essential wisdom, and then to build the logical starting point for our thinking and footings of scientific principles; referring to modern theories of the western world, namely having a conversation with western theories. There is a large distance between this starting point and western theories, and this distance is the space for our original creativity. Only in this way, we can transfer Chinese wisdom from the ancient times to the modern times, and interlink of ancient times and modern times and being enjoyed at home and abroad can be realized. Therefore, I think that this kind of thinking process can bring modern wisdom to us and add some life compositions to human wisdom.


Zhao: Teacher Yang, your research involves ancient times and modern time, which makes people astonished. And now you have begun to set foot in literature of national minorities and contacted many unknown academic spaces. Whether the literature of national minorities has brought new viewpoints and new meanings for our research or not?


Yang: the reason why I contact the literature of national minorities is professional requirement. I am the director of both Literature Institute and Institute of Literature of National Minorities, so I have a responsibility to know the literature of national minorities. I contact some issues as a scholar. If I only make some empty conventional talks, so as a director, I can not help them greatly in academy. Because I have come prepared, people of Institute of Literature of National Minorities say that I have gotten into the character actually. I work hard. Besides administrative work, I also read a large quantity of materials, because I can not say layman’s terms, and the development of any academic fields is begun from a large quantity original of materials. It should be mentioned that the research of literature of national minorities has actual and essential meaning towards the research of overall Chinese national literature. When we are talking about the history of Chinese literature for thousands of years, we don’t speak a word about the literature of national minorities and only talk about the history of Han literature, which doesn’t fit for Chinese multinational unit-in-diversity cultural structure and literature development process, so we must take the part of national minorities into consideration, which is a responsibility provided by history. This kind of literary history is authentically and completely history of Chinese literature and can restore authentic and complete Chinese cultural spirit.


Take a simple example, in the 11th century, in the times of Ouyang Xiu and Su Dongpo of Song Dynasty, in Central China, or in within the territory of Song Dynasty, scholars were still writing short poems and slow poems, a kind of lyrical rhyme works with scores of words or more than one hundred words. However, in present Kashgar Prefecture of Xinjiang, at that time a kingdom was built, named Kalahan Kingdom. A poet, named Yusup Xas Hajip, wrote a long poem with 13 thousand lines (named Kutadgu Bilig) with ancient Uygur characteristics, namely Uighur Script. Of course, this long poem was influenced by culture of central China, but it was affected more by Persian culture and Indian culture, which was a combination of Chinese and western culture, and at the same time it was influenced by Greece culture, especially Greece love-wisdom. A story is written in this long poem, and there are four characters, a king, two ministers, and a hermit. Conversations among them are written in the form of dialogue style with 13 thousand lines, involving various philosophies, how to manage a country, how to treat our life, and all kinds of issues. As for such poem with 13 thousand lines, unexpectedly, it isn’t mentioned in our literary history, is this literary history a complete Chinese literary history? Taking another example, in Yuan Dynasty, there was a book named The Secret History of the Mongols in Mongolia, which is a family education book that is inherited within Genghis Khan Family, and it is written with the combination of rhyme and prose, with historical nature and epic poetry nature. And it was collected in Yongle Encyclopedia. If it is translated with contemporary Chinese language, there are 300 thousand words. In addition, it is written from the 22nd generations of ancestors of Genghis Khan, and his first ancestors are a grey wolf and a white deer if translated with contemporary Chinese language. Wolf and deer are totems of hunting and nomadic people, the fierceness of wolf and benignity of deer compose characters of this nation. In previous literary history, except there were one to two thousand words of introduction in Zheng Zhenduo’s Illustrated Edition of Chinese Literature History, this book was not introduced in other literature histories. Epic of King Gesar of the Tibetan nationality, Epic of Jangar of the Mongolian nationality, and Epic of Manas of the Khalkhas nationality have tens of thousands lines. In addition, Epic of King Gesar is more than 500 thousand lines, which is the longest epic poetry in the world. We shall add these matters, only through this we can make our literature history complete.


And at the same time, we can not understand why the literature of Chinese nation is like this if we don’t inspect the literature of national minorities. The form and development of the Chinese nation is a very big issue, in ancient times, it was mainly the collision and fusion of agricultural civilization and nomadic civilization. This issue, in the past thousands of years, doesn’t say Shang and Zhou Dynasties, as for Huns after Han Dynasty, and other nationalities, such as Turkic peoples, Khitan, Mongolia, and Jurchens, has made a significant effect on the fate of the whole Chinese nation and made great change on the form of Chinese civilization. If we don’t research their cultures and a series of issues brought about by the collision and fusion of these cultures, we can’t say clearly the historical process of Chinese nation and actual states of its character and fate. For example, one of issues in the subsequent development of Chinese nation was the intervention and participation of the Northern barbarian tribes in ancient China and these nations in northern border districts led to fusion of Hu culture and Han culture. Han culture tended to learn something from Hu culture, which was very serious at that time. The Han nationality isn’t as pure as what we think, for example, as for rhymes in central China, there aren’t entering-tone words. We had entering-tone words before Tang Dynasty, but now these entering-tone words are in the south. At that time, when national minorities entered into the Central China, many intellectuals of China moved to the South, so entering-tone words are still kept in the southern language. The historical change of the whole Chinese nation can not be said clearly if factors of national minorities and nomadic nations are not added. And at the same time, we shall see that national minorities have played a very important part in the construction of the whole Chinese nation, namely the culture of this nation hasn’t broken off for five thousand years, and we are very proud. We think that our nation is unique in this world, and the ancient civilization has still kept strong self-renewal capacity and tenacious vital forces for five thousand years after having experienced many things. As for this issue, we only have talked hyper-stable structure and the complementation of Confucianism and Taoism in the past, but we have forgotten a kind of existence, namely the existence of national minorities. Our frontier civilization and vitality are the vitality given to the Central China by border districts. When central culture and dynasty culture rigidify, how to break down this kind of rigidified situations? Cultures in border districts input new factors, so that the central culture will become a kind of wild strong force, a kind of primitive life, and a kind of fresh blood. And a new storming and fusion of cultural factors of Chinese civilization is generated after the input.


Zhao: you were a great master in modern literature, and now you have dipped into ancient literature and the literature of national minorities. If you survey contemporary literature of China, what new feelings and discoveries you will have? Are there any suggestions for the research of modern literature a present?


Yang: actually, I haven’t paid special attention to the research of modern literature for these ten years. The boundary of my research has been opened. Now if I am required to care about modern literature again, I will consider the ancient and modern interlink of the culture of Chinese nation, the integrity of multination and multi-zones, and its cultural attitude and strategy when facing the advance with the times of globalization background in the course of modernization. The value of modern literature is in inheriting and transforming so big a civilization, and at the same time it absorbs modern wisdom of the western world to activate its creative potentials. And this kind of potential relates to the existence of so abundant ancient resources in modernization transform, but the hardship is here too. It is an enormous structure, so scholars of modern literature research classical literature think more about modern values of ancient literature. On the contrary, in order to talk about modern and contemporary literature, we also can consider the place of this kind of literature towards the whole literature of a nation. And we also shall think what to do and how to do as for building a literary great power for a great nation with a long history of about five thousand years. After getting through, it is not one-plus-one, but it need have a conversation mutually. Some people say that the development of modern fictions is very great, but none of them can exceed A Dream of Red Mansion! A Dream of Red Mansion is the product in narrative literature of our civilization for thousands of years. And then after we have accepted some enlightenments and influences of western world, how to rebuild our great country civilization shall we? What matters can this civilization accept from the tradition? What matters can this civilization accept from the western? We may consider more about these matters, some matters of cultures and among cultures, and the integrity issue of the whole civilization and literature. So far, it is stated that some modern poems of us and some poems written through imitating foreign translation poems, written by intellectuals or common people, are greater than poems in the past. If you have the knowledge structure of ancient and modern interlink and references at home and abroad, you will think that is not the point. We have researched new poems for one hundred years, where is the way? We may feel anxious about this and seek for this, rather than that this kind of new poem is unprecedented. I care more about how to possess a kind of atmosphere and attitude of great country, including combining academies in ancient and modern times, and how to become the academy of a great country. However, how to do? This process can not be understood through thinking only.


Zhao: I think that people researching modern literature and people researching classical literature are closed. For example, modern literature is built in so-called anti-tradition, so people researching modern literature would like to emphasize anti-tradition.


Yang: as for the research of some modern literatures, the fiercer the objection is, the higher the value will be. Values of modern literature may be viewpoints of advance and fall-behind, innovation and conservation, and evolution, while values of classical literature may be that of ups and downs, elegance and vulgarness, and dignity and lowliness. And the classical literature talks more matters about cultural contexts. Classical literature pays more attention to the classic, while modern literature cares more about advancement.


Zhao: people researching modern literature don’t know much about classical literature, while scholars researching classical literature also think that modern and contemporary literature is not knowledge.

Yang: a nation shall have a kind of cultural tension: classic and advancement, respecting classic and at the same time possessing advancement, so as to combine the ancient and modern times and elegance and vulgarness. If we only have classic, our culture may be solidified; on the contrary, if we only have advancement, our culture may don’t have the base. Therefore, with the combination of classic and advancement, we may give the advancement a taste, a spiritual family, and cultural support, and the classic a motivation for advance, and forward looking. If we really combine traditional wisdom and contemporary wisdom and the rereading of classic and exploration of advancement, I think this is very important for the whole world civilization.


Zhao: there were many anti-traditional aspects in the May 4th Culture. In Human Literature of Zhou Zuoren, he has criticized many excellent ancient Chinese fictions.


Yang: this issue shall be treated from two aspects: historic significance and scientific principle. Historic significance means if people of that generation in that era would like to absorb fresh air of modernization, they shall proceed without hesitation, go to the battle-front without any burden, and broke all waste matters. After walking out this tight encirclement, when you look back, you may see that there are some valuable matters among these matters abandoned by you. Only after you walk out this era, in modern civilization construction, you can re-find their values with world eyes and historical reasons. If you are still immersed and surrounded, for example, there are a group of people in an ancient city, if they still live according to ancient life style, as for them, this ancient city doesn’t have heritage value. However, after walking out this ancient city, when they look back this city, it is their family, and it has heritage value. Therefore, people of that generation of “May 4th” have done what they should do --- walking out. People of our generation shall inherit the enlightening spirit, opening eyes and the attitude for innovating culture and recreating new culture of people of that generation of “May 4th”. We shall not let this kind of huge ethos fade. Culture is a kind of dynamic process, and a strategy can not be regarded as an azoth all the time. When culture is surrounded by many ancient and traditional dirty things, the urgent affair is walking out; after walking out, when you stand in an open field, you shall change these affairs to new resources to be developed and transferred. Because of different historical and cultural environment, you shall adopt different cultural strategies, attitudes, gestures, and philosophies, which shall be a dynamic and advancing process. Talked from the angle of culture, “May 4th” has its rationality, a kind of epochal rationality. However, epochal historicity is great only in this era. One hundred years later, no country will crusade against heritages of their ancestors. Japan has not done like this. America wants to carry forward its traditional culture although it only has a history of two hundred years. It wants to create its own Yankee spirit and Puritan spirit, and it thinks that it is the closest to the god. When America begun the Renaissance movement during the first half of 19th century, it declared to be independent from English literature. After it is independent, it will have a conversation with you equally. When it doesn’t independent, it can only stay there and say that American literature is a part of English literature. Therefore, Emerson was outstanding because he learned English Romantic literature and was influenced greatly by John Keats and William Wordsworth, but when he made a speech in Harvard University, he declared that American literature shall be independent from English literature. Be independent, and then it can have a conversation equally, without this step, American literature and American cultures don’t like this. Therefore, without the step of “May 4th”, our culture doesn’t like this. With that step, after walking to the place connecting with modern world, we shall re-think what we shall do at present. Not say everything in “May 4th” is truth, we make excessive demands to it. It brought a kind of anxious psychology. When the country fortune was so serious, it roused with a kind of extreme mood, which is completely understandable. However, in peaceful period, you shall not hit and kill people everywhere like Li Kui, which is not reasonable. Therefore, on one hand, these issues shall be seen in the big vision of history, on the other hand, they shall be treated in the big vision of the world, and many issues shall be explained again. People of our generation are in an open field, and old gates are far away from us. New gates may be other gates, not that kind of gate in “May 4th”. Keeping all bad things in accounts of ancient people only indicates that we modern people are incapable. People of each generation have their own values. We have individual value for every one, and don’t people of each generation have their own values? People of that generation of “May 4th” completed things of that generation, and they had values of that generation. Current people shall complete things of this generation, so I put forward: inheriting “May 4th” and walking out “May 4th” several years ago.


Zhao: at present, you have widely involved each field of modern literature and classical literature and all kinds of different literature categories, narratologies, and poetics, and a new kind of literature history viewpoint is contained when compared with the past. Do you plan to research Chinese literary history again?


Yang: I have gathered and cleared up matters related to classical literature for sixteen or seventeen years, including reading documents and field investigation. The range for drawing collection is wide, including illustrations of ancient books, unearthed cultural relics, museum collections, local historic sites and documents, and collections in foreign museums. After collection, the scale effect is formed. For example, there are more than five hundred kinds of books and drawings about Su Shi before Ming and Qing Dynasties, and more than one hundred about Wang Wei. And then I can make a comparison between them on original change between them and customs and habits of scholars reflected between them. The basic feature of this research is connecting literary history, artistic history, and civilized history. This kind of literary is no longer a closed system, but using words, drawings, historical relics, and live-action photos to activate feelings, reasons, sensations, and comprehensions in the process of reading. When mentioning the history of civilization, the western world always refers to colorful ancient Greek sculptures and drawings in the Renaissance. When we Chinese people state our magnificent literary history, why can’t we see other things except characters? We shall put in time and energy in literatures, more than that, we shall read out new meanings, thoughts, interests, and lives from ancient literatures, which is indubitable. However, in so big a country, there always be one or two or three scholars to adopt new forms and methods, for example, investigating meanings and historical processes of literature form the angle of history of civilization with the help of the interaction between literature and drawing, so that the research regarding appreciation of the beauty as the object can shine with charming of beauty appreciation. I have said: “when we measuring the development level of a kind of civilization, we shall pay attention to its innovation ability and its share degree. If modern meanings of literary literature can be explained with distinguish spirit with the use of this kind of modern method, and the charming of share can be brought out with original theories, isn’t this a kind of academic state dreamed by us?”



Zhao Xifang: male, born in Wuhu city of Anhui province in January 1964. He gained his doctor’s degree of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1998. From 2000 to 2001, he visited the Oriental Institute and Trinity College of Cambridge University, and British Academy follow. From 2005 to 2006, he visited Yenching Institute and East Asia Department of Harvard University as Fulbright scholar of American State Department. At present, he is a researcher of Literature Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Professor of the Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Doctoral Supervisor, the Deputy Director of Modern Literature Room of Literature Institute, and the Director of Chinese Literature Youth Commission.


(Translated by Xu Jin)


Editor: Wang Daohang

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