Post-1980 writers lack substance?

Updated: 2011-08-26 07:56

By Yang Guang (China Daily)

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The post-1980 generation of writers have survived and prospered since emerging from the New Concept Writing Competition, an annual event initiated by Shanghai-based Mengya magazine in 1998.

Winners of the competition, such as Han Han and Guo Jingming, are sought after as pop idols.

Even so, they are also criticized for being literary lightweights.

Post-1980 writers lack substance?

Tao Dongfeng, professor of Chinese literature at Capital Normal University, criticizes some of the post-1980 generation of writers for their lack of social conscience and reliance on fantasy elements.

Zhao Changtian, chief editor of Mengya magazine, comments their writing is more of a rebellion against and an escape from the current education system.

"From the outset, it was not literature per se, but a means of expression and even complaint," he says.

While admitting these writers first hit the market instead of literary circles, Bai Ye, literary critic and researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says their writing has potential.

According to Bai, Yan Ge has become "the best pure literature writer of her generation", with her most recent novel The Symphony of Sound.

Yan, 27, started writing and publishing while in senior high school. She was recognized as one of the "Top 10 Young Fiction Writers" by Lu Xun Literature Academy in 2001, and won first prize in the New Concept Writing Competition in 2002. She is now a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Sichuan University in Chengdu.

The Symphony of Sound is Yan's eighth novel. Set in a small town called Yong'an, it revolves around the death of novelist Liu Rongrong.

Liu fell from the balcony and died after attending a Gustav Mahler symphony concert, while her novel Symphony of Sound was being published in installments in the local newspaper. Her cousin, an editor in a publishing house, finds a mysterious connection between Liu's literary creation and her life.

A quick writer who finished her previous novel, the 3-million word May Queen, in 23 days, in 2008, Yan says The Symphony of Sound was a turning point.

It took her three years to plan and finish the polyphonic structure with four sub-stories interwoven while forming a whole.

Yan does not accept the monolithic label "post-1980 writers", saying it is absurd to brand people with different backgrounds and experiences as the same.

"After the competition, it's like we have been sent to be processed in a commercial machine," she says. "But the machine will finally crush us."

"I wish to cultivate and maintain a calm mind through writing."


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