China and the Nobel Prize: Four Essays on Classic Chinese Authors




China and the Nobel Prize: Four Essays on Classic Chinese Authors by Brendan O'Kane, Paul French, Charles W. Hayford & Julia Lovell

On Lao She, Pearl S. Buck, Qian Zhongshu, and Wu Cheng'en

October 13th, 2013 reset - +

JOURNEY TO THE WEST (c. 1580) is one of the masterworks of classical Chinese writing. It recounts a Tang Dynasty monk’s quest for Buddhist scriptures in the 7th century AD, accompanied by an omni-talented, kung fu-practicing Monkey King called Wukong (one of the most memorable reprobates of world literature); a rice-loving pig-spirit able to fly with its ears; and a depressive man-eating monster from a sand dune. It is a cornerstone text of Eastern fiction: its stature in Asian literary culture may be compared with that of The Canterbury Tales or Don Quixote in European letters... [More]

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QIAN ZHONGSHU is a tougher Nobel pitch than some of the other authors profiled in this series. He’s dead, for starters — traditionally an obstacle to many things, including winning Nobel prizes — and his total creative output consists solely of a few essays, several short stories, and a single novel. On the other hand, that novel,
Fortress Besieged, seems to me to be the high-water mark of something significant, if hard to explain, so I’m going to make my best case for it being enough to secure Qian’s place in history. The book takes its title from a French proverb, sets its action in the China of the 1930s, and tracks the misfortunes of Fang Hongjian, a feckless, cowardly student returning from Europe with a mail-order doctorate in Chinese from an American university that exists only in the imagination of a crooked Irishman. It may be one of the most cosmopolitan books ever written; certainly it is, as literary critic C. T. Hsia said, one of the greatest Chinese novels of the 20th century... [More]

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IT’S HARD to get Pearl Buck right. She was the first Nobel Prize winner to have lived in China, having been there for over half of her life at the time she won the prize, and only the third laureate, after Rudyard Kipling and Rabindranath Tagore, to have strong ties to any part of Asia. She’s a figure of obvious stature, but it’s easier to list the ways in which she has been overpraised or underrated, misunderstood or misjudged, than to say just where she should fit into the ranks of American writers... [More]

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THE CHINESE WRITER Lao She didn’t wrap up his stories with tidy endings. You can always run the unwritten sequels in your head. This was one of the many ways he differed from mainstream Chinese writers... [More]

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