(1) Мао Тun
Mao Tun’s endeavor to seize and communicate reality is characterized by his preoccupation with topical reality. Few are the number of great writers in the world whose oeuvre is so closely and constantly bound up with the immediate present, with important contemporary political and economic events, as is that of Mao Tun. As the subject of his narrative, Mao Tun takes for the most part events from the just receding present and molds into a work of art happenings whose first immediate impression has not yet faded from the minds of his contemporaries. Thus his first trilogy, Shih or “The Eclipse,” recording experiences from the Great Revolution, was written a bare few months after its bloody suppression by Chiang Kai-shek, in April 1927. The first part arose in August 1927, the second in November and December, and the third part in April to June of the following year. Mao Tun created the picture of one of the most revolutionary events in Chinese history less than a year after it was over. His greatest work, the novel Tzǔ-yeh or “Twilight,” depicts in a broadly conceived fresco the clash of economic and political forces in China in the spring and summer months of 1930, a work which occupied him from October 1931 to December 1932. Again between the events described and the taking in hand of the work there is an interval of little more than a year. Similarly, too, Mao Tun’s third major work, Fu-Shih or “Corruption,” which was published in 1941, describes life in Chungking in the period immediately preceding. The same is true of the majority of his short stories, which regularly deal with recent events. And even when Mao Tun writes historical tales, it is evident that it is not the past that attracts him as such, but its value as elucidating certain contemporary tendencies. The work of Mao Tun is firmly linked with the most topical events, as if he wanted to record on the instant the stormy times through whkh his country was passing.
This close connection in time between the rise of his works and the events described in them shows us that Mao Tun’s aim is, above all, to record the immediate experience, as long as it is fresh and undimmed. To grasp reality instantly and with the utmost accuracy, before it becomes history, is the basic principle of Mao Tun’s art.
I think it is necessary to give deep thought to this trait in the work of an artist so extraordinarily sensitive and so well versed in literary theory as is Mao Tun. If we find this tendency represented so strongly in just his work, we must presume it to be a striking symptom of the time, the expression of a certain necessity, which put its mark on the whole of this generation. I think that what is behind this striving to give artistic form to events that are just passing is, above all, that feeling so excellently expressed by Wen I-to in his critique of Kuo Mo-jo’s Nü-shen or “Goddess.”1 It was the need to find outlet for the feelings and impressions of which this generation was so full and which would have driven them to madness had they not been able to give them expression. It is, indeed, cogent proof of how suggestively and overwhelmingly Chinese writers of that time were affected by reality. This is apparent especially in Mao Tun’s first work, the trilogy “The Eclipse,” in the feverish haste with which the work was written.
It is probable that this need to express experience at once and directly also explains why the new Chinese literature as a whole was hardly affected at all by the various fashionable Western literary trends of the time such as deeply influenced, for example, Japanese literature. The principal Western literary trends then prevailing paid special attention to the manner of presentation, stressed the role of the subject and method of narration, and pushed into the background the question of how best to seize the typical features of reality. In fact, in the attitude to reality expression is often given to the uncertainty and subjectivity of all perception, to the importance of who is observing reality and on the basis of what experience and to the manner in which it is expressed. The relation between the artist-subject and the object of his creation appears to be something extremely complex and is solved by a variety of artistic methods determined by the equally varied philosophical trends professed by this or that author.
In opposition to this shifting attitude characteristic of Western literature, Mao Tun consistently upheld the view that perception, insights, are both possible and necessary, and emphasized the need for scientific preparation for the work of authorship. In an article published as early as 1922, he writes: “We must learn from the naturalist writers the need to make use in the novel of the laws revealed by science. Otherwise we shall hardly be able to avoid superficiality and shallowness of thought.”2 A deep study of old Chinese literature and of European theories made it clear to him that the weakness of the old literature lay above all in an insufficiently developed ability to depict reality objectively, and so Mao Tun strives first and foremost to achieve a strictly objective presentation of his experiences. And even though his work—as we shall see—is as much an explosive unburdening of his spirit as the work of his more subjectively inclined contemporaries, Mao Tun aims at maximum objectivity in the presentation of his materials.
Mao Tun’s striving after objectivity is apparent in the painstaking care with which he excludes the author’s person from the narration. There is no trace of the story’s being related by anybody. The author’s aim is for us to see everything, feel and experience everything directly, to eliminate any intermediary between the reader and what is described in the novel. The reader participates in the action of the story, as an eyewitness of all that goes on.
This method, employed mainly in the pre-War period of his production (of which “Twilight” is the high point and, at the same time, his greatest novel) may also be characterized as the consistent application to the Chinese novel and short story of the method of the European classical realistic novel and the novella. Our description of Mao Tun’s work corresponds exactly to the description of European realistic classics as summed up by our literary scholars: “Classical prose was based on epic objectivity, strove after a preservation in the epic work of the greatest possible measure of objectivity in the presentation: facts, whether ‘material’ or psychological, are presented to the reader as if he actually saw them. It would seem—though it is not so—that the narrator has at most the function of a photographic lens in a camera or of an accurately recording instrument.”
The method employed by Mao Tun is the exact opposite of the old narrative method prevailing in the old Chinese novel and short story. We might say, too, that the narrator’s role, clearly expressed and stressed in the old novel (but weakened following the appearance of the classical Chinese novel in the eighteenth century), is taken over by the modern epic first person, not bound to a single person or place, but omnipresent, omniscient and allseeing, and with a constantly shifting viewpoint.
At the same time Mao Tun’s method is also the absolute reverse of the tendencies generally accepted in art literature, namely, that literature should be the propagator of a philosophy and ethical code or an expression of feeling. What Mao Tun aims at, however, is the rendering of reality and he altogether eliminates from his work the author’s feelings or views, or rather, he expressed them not directly, but only through the medium of his pictures.
The third main trait in Mao Tun’s writing is his remarkable powers of description, especially the gift of creating a scene charged with action and evoking the perfect illusion of reality. It is closely bound up with the two preceding characteristics: in drawing attention to the moment which, so to speak, is just passing and therefore, the main weight in artistic creation must be placed on the description of each individual scene and on the suggestive force with which the given moment is recorded. The same aim must be pursued by the artist consciously substituting for subjective narrative the creation of objective pictures and the rendering and presentation of reality.
Mao Tun carries the description to a new high point along the path on which Chinese literature entered at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the domain of the critical novel. Already in the oeuvre of Liu О we find exceedingly well worked up and complicated descriptions, in which the author seeks to present the most diverse aspects of reality. Liu O’s descriptions are, without doubt, one of the milestones on Chinese literature’s road to modern realism, to the analytical rendering of many֊ faceted reality. Mao Tun’s work then represents the crowning of this endeavor and we may say also its surpassing. Mao Tun, in respect of the art of description, had a complete mastery of the procedures of the European classical novel, as exemplified for instance in the works of a Tolstoy, and even carries them farther. It is also an example of how amazingly rapid and telescopically contracted was the rhythm of cultural life in China at this time.
In order to demonstrate the quality of Mao Tun’s descriptions, I shall first cite several characterizations of modern description in novels and then give at least one example of how Mao Tun makes use of the same literary devices. The Czech literary scholar, L. Doležel, in attempting to characterize the basic tendencies in modern prose, speaks of the activization of inner monologue.”3 The effect of this activization of the characters is, in his view, “the subjectivization of the narrative, in the sense that it is transmitted through a certain character, is coloured by that character’s participation and aspect, passes through the prism of that personality. In other words, a certain figure takes over to a certain extent the role of narrator.” And so modern narration is broken down into a number of sections and “each of these sections has a different subjective coloring,” the sections of the story being narrated from the point of view, and with the participation of, the various characters figuring in it.” The linguistic device employed in this kind of subjectivization is “mixed speech,” in which the voices, or more exactly intonations, of the various subjects are interpolated into the narrative stream. This leads to a constant intermingling of inner monologue with narration, which implies a “constant confrontation of ‘outer’ epic reality with the ‘inner’ spiritual world of the character, and it is in this confrontation that the tension is constantly charged and discharged between the character and the milieu in which it moves.” “Inner monologue interwoven with narration makes it possible for the character to react instantly to epic reality.” The inner monologue is as a rule expressed in semi-direct speech.4
This constant oscillation between the objective description of a reality, the description of the same reality, as seen by a character in the work, and then the inner monologue of the same person, is well illustrated already at the beginning of the novel “Twilight” where the drive is described of the father of the principal hero, the manufacturer Sun-fu, through Shanghai at night, after flight from the village where he lived.
Let us begin our analysis at the point where a brief sketch is first given of the life story of the father, old Mr. Wu. The story is presented in the form of an objective piece of information, but into it already signals enter from the old man’s sphere of thought and expression, especially signals of a subjective, emotional evaluation.
It is stated in connection with the relation of the old man to his son that it would have been better if his son had died than for him to lead such a “wayward and rebellious life”—li ching p’an tao . This traditional phrase is at once identifiable as belonging to the vocabulary of a conservative man of letters. The stream reproducing the old man’s thoughts is in confrontation with the stream of Sun-fu’s thoughts, ending with a sentence in which is clearly audible a note of self-justification: “After all, this is also a son’s duty.” There follows a short section of objective narration expressing the old man’s views. (Here already we see how in a single narration two contrasted streams of thought proceed from two participating characters, so that a kind of imaginary dialogue arises.) “The old man, however, did not believe in robbers or in any Red Army,”—and alongside this description, without any intonational or syntactical division, is set this passage in semi-direct speech: “that they could in any way harm him, an old man, who so highly esteemed the divine Wen-ch’eng and had acquired such merit through his piety! But what could he do, dependent in every movement on human help and himself unable to make the smallest step? He had no alternative but to let them carry him out of his castle, place him aboard the paddle streamer ‘Yun-fei’ and, finally, put him into this monster ‘of which the Master never spoke’—into a car. It would seem that this accursed, half-dead body . . . was now again the reason why he could not accomplish his pious work. . . .
“But he still held in his hand the Prayer to the Highest, his talisman, and above all he had at his side his fourth daughter, Hui-fang, and his seventh son, A Hsiian. With this pair, a ‘boy of gold,’ and a ‘girl of jade’ beside him, he was not yet obliged to renounce altogether his virtuous deeds, although he had entered the ‘devil’s lair.’” And this inner dialogue is followed again, without any break, by objective narration: “And so the old man, having spent awhile in gathering up his spiritual forces, slowly and almost calmly and contentedly opened his eyes.”
The passage that follows alternates sections recording outer reality, as seen through the old man’s eyes, along with his reactions (expressed in one instance in direct speech and in the other in semi-direct speech), with sections objectively describing reality.
It at once occurs to us that here we may apply to Mao Tun’s descriptions what the Soviet linguist Vinogradov wrote of the language of Tolstoy: “The author’s language keeps changing its expressive coloring, as if lighting up through it the instruments of thought, perception and expression of the heroes described; thus it becomes semantically many-colored and, while preserving the syntactical unity of a single stylistic system, opens up at the same time perspectives of meaning of an unusual depth and complexity. . . . The narrative style of War and Peact is an agglomerate in which the author’s standpoint, the author’s language, mingles and clashes with the sphere of speech and thought of his characters.”
This reference to the art of Tolstoy in connection with the art of Mao Tun is by no means accidental. Mao Tun himself says that as a writer he was attracted by the works of Tolstoy: “I like Zola, but I am also fond of Tolstoy. At one time I enthusiastically (though unsuccessfully, for I met with misunderstanding and opposition) propagated naturalism. But when I tried to write novels, it was Tolstoy I came closer to. . . .”5 This shows us how the new Chinese literature arose in a context of constant comparison with the experience and achievements of the foremost European writers, especially the great novelists of the nineteenth century.
Mao Tun consistently confronts the reality described with the feelings of the characters portrayed. In illustration, I shall cite one more scene, where Sun-fu talks with his employee, T’u Wei-yü: Objective description: “But when his finger was already upon the bell, Sun-fu suddenly drew back his hand and looked at the young man.” Subjectivized description: “Intelligence, composure, strength—all that was reflected in his face.” Monologue in semi-direct speech: “Only get them onto the right track and these young lads would go far. Sun-fu felt that none of the clerks in his factory could hold the candle to this youth. But was he to be depended upon? These young men, the more capable, gifted and courageous they are, the more restless are the thoughts in their heads.”
It should be noted in connection with this analysis of Mao Tun’s descriptions that the endeavor to see reality through the eyes of the person described is not wholly without analogy in old Chinese literature. I shall give an example, although a careful search would no doubt produce many more. In Ch. XIV of the novel Ju-lin wai-Shih, or “The Scholars,” the walk is described of the dry, conservative man of letters, Ma Ch’un-shang, along the margin of the famous Western Lake. First it is stressed that the scenery of the Western Lake is among the finest in the world, but then, in describing what the scholar saw, mention is made only of the unattractive country women, of the quantities of meat and various foods in the shops, of coffins bespattered with mud, and so on. The description, without a word of comment, makes it clear that the old pedant saw only single things—facts—and that the beauty of the scene had totally eluded him. The irony of the description is further underlined by the conscientious noting of what and where the scholar ate or drank. It will be necessary to examine both the old and the new Chinese literature from this aspect in order to discover to what extent the new procedures have precedent in the old literature and, on the other hand, so as to show in what measure they became the common property of all the writers of a certain epoch.
If we stress, on the one hand, Mao Tun’s striving after topicality, after recording happenings just passing, the examples of complicated descriptions which we have cited show us, on the other hand, the difference between Mao Tun’s work and the method of reportage, which also registers a sequence of pictures from the immediate past, but only pictures lightly sketched in, symbolizing reality rather than accurately depicting it. As we shall show below, Mao Tun’s pictures produce, thanks to their elaboration and complex build-up, a static rather than a dynamic impression, such as is the main aim of reportage. And even though Mao Tun tries to see reality in motion, from a variety of perspectives and differently subjectively colored, his method has nothing in common with Impressionism, content only to record percepts without exploring their relations.
Numerous descriptions of the inner states of persons and the frequent use of inner monologue, in short, that “activization” of the figures in a literary work of which we spoke above, show the special course which Mao Tun’s description takes from outer to inner reality, to the thoughts and reflexes of the participating persons. Undoubtedly we cannot but see in this a method consciously opposed to the methods of old Chinese literature, which as a rule recorded, as noted above, merely visual and aural perceptions and did not penetrate to the spiritual states of the persons depicted. Thereby, with Mao Tun, an impression of transience is at the same time evoked, we might even say of the ephemeral character of all things, and in places the sharp line of action is weakened and obscured. Instead of a clear stream of events, instead of happenings with well-defined contours, we can discern only their shadows and reflections darkly and confusedly mirrored for a while in human consciousness, perceptions rapidly changing into feelings, judgments and moods, only to merge again into a chaos of spiritual processes and states. This method would seem to tend to weaken the epic character of the work.
The directing of attention to the inner states of the figures portrayed is a trait already clearly present in Mao Tun’s first trilogy, “The Eclipse,” where he gives a perfect picture of the confused and hopeless feelings of Chinese youth disillusioned by the Great Revolution. It also comes out very strongly in his last great novel of the war period, Fu-Shih or “Corruption.” There the above-described “activization” of the principal character is carried so far that the whole novel is cast as an inner monologue, the heroine of the novel communicating her experiences, recollections, thoughts and especially feelings, in diary form. The author’s direct narration is confined to a brief introduction.
The circumstance that Mao Tun makes use in this novel of the form of direct narration by the principal person is not, however, any kind of retreat from the endeavor to create the most precise and objective picture of reality, that is, from realism. Mao Tun does not choose this form in order, perhaps, to bring into prominence the personal or individual manner of presentation—the formal aspect—but, on the contrary, his aim is to conjure up, with perfect fidelity, the atmosphere of the milieu he is describing. In this novel, too, Mao Tun continues to take his stand on the principles of the classical European novel, which is familiar with similar procedures, as Doležel correctly points out in the abovementioned study: “in classical, especially realistic, prose, direct narration served above all to create the image of a narrator, clearly non-identical with the author, thereby still further strengthening the illusion of objectivity. . . .”
Nevertheless, it must be said that with this procedure, even though for quite different reasons and from a different position, namely, as the result of the activization of the character figuring in the narration, Mao Tun adopts a form which was the expression of quite a different trend in the literature of that time, namely, the tendency to express the personal experiences and feelings of the author (that is, activization of the narrator). An author striving after maximum objectivity employs a form which, as we shall see further on, was peculiar to his purely subjectively inclined contemporaries. I think we must regard it as a symptom of the time, as the expression of a general tendency toward subjectivism, as the need to express very intensive emotions. At the same time it is also a proof of the growing importance of the individual liberated from the old feudal regimentation and now devoting the closest attention to his own self. It is clear that the prevailing mood of the time leads to a preference for certain literary types. It is also necessary to note that similar trends toward subjectivization appear everywhere also in European fiction, so that there is general talk of a crisis in this literary form. It would appear that Mao Tun, sooner than others, reacted to the general trend in world literature.
On the other hand, the choice of the diary as the form of presentation is also the indication of a weakening of Mao Tun’s interest in the story or plot. A diary is better suited to record impressions, experiences, is always a sequence of pictures—a form unfavorable for expressing the dynamics of a plot. Nor does it serve, despite its seeming subjectiveness, to show the continuous process of an individual’s growth, but rather atomizes it, breaks it down into single experiences, impressions, percepts and feelings. And so, from Mao Tun’s novel, too, we learn far more about the environment in which the heroine lives than about her personal character, in which much remains obscure and conflicting. That, however, was the real purpose of Mao Tun’s novel; his aim was to give a picture of social conditions and the heroine’s true function was to record, and react to, outer reality.
All that we have so far said shows that Mao Tun’s interest was focused first and foremost on a certain situation, on a certain characterstic phenomenon and not on an individual happening or personal story. He depicts rather than narrates.
Confirming this basic tendency in Mao Tun’s art is also the fact that a number of his books are presented as unfinished or without a conclusion. Thus the novel Hung , or “Rainbow,” as also “Twilight,” remain torsos, Mao Tun himself saying of the latter that it is only “a rough outline, which failed to receive a careful working out and that his original plan was much more comprehensive. . . .” But Mao Tun’s finished novels are also in the form of stories without an end. An example is the novel “Corruption” cast in the form of a diary ostensibly found by the author in an air-raid shelter and breaking off at the moment of highest tension, when only a matter of hours or minutes will decide whether the girl-author of the diary and her protégée will escape from the net of the Kuomintang secret service or whether they will be trapped in it. Equally abruptly, and with no intimation of “how it ends,” are concluded all three parts of the trilogy “The Eclipse,” and also the majority of Mao Tun’s short stories. It is, as it were, a kind of parody of the traditional scheme of Chinese novels, when the story always breaks off at the moment of greatest tension and the reader is directed in a conventional phrase to the next chapter, where he will learn all. Only with Mao Tun there are no further chapters.
Still, it should be noted that the reader of Mao Tun’s novels, whethef “unfinished” or “without conclusion,” does not feel them to be uncompleted in the sense of something being missing. The exceptional force of the author’s descriptions, the suggestive quality of each scene, makes the reader feel as if he was present and taking part in it, as if the happening were in the true present, and so it does not even occur to him to ask “how it turned out” or what happened then. The reason must be sought in that actualization of which we have spoken, that focusing of attention on the section of the plot or happening described, or on the scene taking place which, like every moment of living experience, is complete in itself without any reference to what comes after, if anything does.
A detailed analysis of the oeuvre of Mao Tun shows that not only his novels as a whole have no end, but that the same is true of the greater part of the strands of which the plot is made up. The author picks up one such strand, carries it forward for a while and then, suddenly, lets the story and its heroes drop out, as if forgotten, thus leaving a loose end. This is the fate, for instance, of almost all the figures in the novel “Corruption,” whether they be the victims of persecution by the Kuomintang secret service or its agents. All take the stage, become the actors in some plot, but before they finish their role the author’s lens turns away and we see no more of them. The same procedure is followed in “Twilight,” where one strand after another is taken up and then dropped, till suddenly the novel comes to an end: in this case, however, the main strand in the plot, the story of the industrialist Sun-fu, is carried to its conclusions, that of financial ruin on the Stock Exchange.
This method of letting the strands of the story drop before they have worked themselves out strengthens still more the impression of the transitory character of all happenings—they are like film strips carried forward to the present moment, or seemingly carelessly snapped off. . . .
And it is just this breaking-off as if by a higher power that gives us the impression that the story after all is not of any great significance, or, more precisely, that the actors in the story are handicapped by a certain weakness and impotence. They are not the contrivers of the plots in which they figure, they appear and disappear without their decisions having seemingly much effect; one cannot help thinking that matters would have taken the turn they did, even if they had done the exact opposite of what they did do. If we examine all Mao Tun’s major works, from his first trilogy, “Eclipse,” and follow them through “Twilight” and his outstanding trilogy of tales from village life, Ch՛un-ts’an or “Spring Silkworms,” Ch’iu-shou or “Autumn Harvest” and Ts’an-tung or “Cruel Winter,”6 to the novel, “Corruption,” we discover that this presentation of the plot is the basic scheme and ground plan of his works; I should say that here we are at the true emotional source of the author’s personality from which his whole art springs. Let us give one example: In “Twilight,” one of the main strands in the plot is the social struggle in the factory of Wu Sun-fu. The women workers are asking for a raise and go on strike; the owner on the other hand makes use of every means to break the strike, for he must keep his delivery terms. He manages to end the strike by means of terror, but the Stock Exchange collapses and Wu Sun-fu, reduced to bankruptcy, closes the factory. The whole struggle was decided at a higher level—in the domain of financial speculation. But the fate of this speculation was not decided alone by the struggle of a group of industrialists fighting the financiers, but factors affecting the end result included the penetration of American capital into China, the world economic crisis, the expansion of Japanese industry, the agrarian revolution in the Chinese countryside, and others. These are the decisive forces that determine both the fate of individuals and of whole collectives; it is they who put the actors on the stage, assign to them their roles and sweep them aside when they are no longer needed. They are the true actors of the piece, and the stories which the author narrates only illustrate—let us note this word which will recur again and again in our further analysis—the might and omnipotence of these forces in the background. As compared with them, the individual and his strivings are insignificant, his fate transient as the flowers of the field.
Thus it would seem that Mao Tun’s oeuvre springs from the same roots as the tragedies of Antiquity, from the feeling of the tragedy of human life, crushed between the grindstones of fate, against which it is vain for the individual to protest or revolt. Moreover, this feeling of tragedy is raised to gigantic dimensions by the fact that it is never the fate of an individual or of a single family that is at stake, but of immense human collectives, of whole classes, and even of a whole nation. Mao Tun, as a rule, describes whole collectives, and even when he tells the story of an individual human fate we always feel that it is the personification of the fate of a whole group, that the situation is typical not of the one, but of the many. The story of Sun-fu in “Twilight” is the story of a whole class of Chinese industrialists, and the same is true of the women workers in his factory, of the peasants in the village of T’ung Pao, the principal hero of the “Village Trilogy,” to give only a few examples. What Mao Tun depicts in his works is the fate of the hundred millions of China. Nor can there be any question that he has succeeded perfectly in bringing out, in an acutely observed and realistic picture, the features characterizing the whole of contemporary Chinese society.
We must draw special attention to this feeling for the tragic aspect of life, which was typical of the literature of the time and undoubtedly colored the outlook of the new intelligentsia. Here Mao Tun, with superlative art, expressed what a whole generation felt, and so his very first work, the trilogy “Eclipse,” was an immense success and placed the barely thirty-year-old author among the most notable Chinese writers. This new tragic feeling, as we pointed out above, is what divides most sharply the new literature from the old, it is the result of “seeing through” the “daring rebel” of which Lu Hsün speaks in his sketch Tan-tan-ti hsüeh-hen chung , or “Faint Traces of Blood.”7
It would seem, too, that this feeling for the tragedy of human existence, when men are crushed by forces often incomprehensible, or at best inadequately explained—a typical example of this nonunderstanding of reality is contained in Mao Tun’s “Village Trilogy,” where he describes the feelings of the chief character, the conservative farmer Tung-pao—points to a certain affinity of view with the naturalistic perception of the world. The naturalist also believed that life was determined—usually tragically—by forces far higher than the human will, only with the difference that he believed these forces to lie in biological determination, in heredity. For this reason their attention was focused on individual cases, on individuals or on a family, and their observations and insights could not be generalized, or where such generalizations were made, as in Zola’s “Earth,” they are altogether wide of the mark, for they are based on false premises.
On the contrary, Mao Tun, who from the first was a near-Marxist and soon was politically active in the Communist Party, seeks the forces determining the fate of the individual and also of whole collectives not in natural determination, but in social reality. And, indeed, we can explain the whole development of Mao Tun’s art in terms of this dialectic of the individual and social forces, and the striving after their ever more adequate presentation. In the growing precision with which he lays in that background, the social forces determining the course of history in the China of that time, we can follow on the one hand the maturing of his art and then also his political development, his striving after a Marxist interpretation of reality.
In the trilogy “The Eclipse,” these forces still form a kind of vague background atmosphere, the feeling that everything is in dissolution, that there is no certainty, that the traditional order and values are breaking up, leaving behind only overwhelming chaos. What can the individual do in this world of upheaval and overthrow, in these streams and currents, so dark and unfathomable, which swallow up everything and carry it away no one knows whither? Bewildered and terrified by the general confusion and disintegration, Mao Tun’s heroes, all of whom belong to the petty bourgeois intelligentsia, try to shut out this complete debacle of their world by plunging into some adventure—whether of love or fighting—try to fill their days with antlike industry or seek contentment in the narrow circle of family life. All these attempts, however, are vain, over all surges the flood—we cannot say of revolution, but rather of social overthrow and disintegration, which sweeps away everything in its path. Possibly in this work, at his very beginnings, Mao Tun was nearest to the school of naturalism, with its feeling of tragedy, crushing destiny and uselessness of all effort. It is particularly marked in the first and third parts of the tragedy, but traces of naturalism are present in several brutal scenes in Part II, for instance, in the description of the end of the revolution in a small town, in the scene of the horrible killing of women workers by hooligans, of naked women tortured by soldiers and, finally, in the apocalyptic finale, where an erotic scene is overlaid by a vision of general ruin and devastation.
Nevertheless, the second part of this trilogy, entitled Tung-yao , or “Vacillation,” endeavors to give a more objective view of the revolution and is, at the same time, a document of the stubborn inner struggle waged by Mao Tun for a more just evaluation of contemporary reality. There already Mao Tun shows in his analyzing of the situation in the small town that all happening is not governed by mere blind forces, but that reactionary forces and also progressive forces—the forces of the people—are at work, only the National Party at that time, the Kuomintang, to which fell the role of organizing the revolution, vacillated between these forces, now sympathizing with the people, now afraid of them, and so was unable to draw upon the support of the progressive elements and put a stop to the terrible excesses of the hooligans that were threatening even the functionaries in the Kuomintang personally. They are weaklings tossed about in a storm they have not the strength to ride out. The end is undiluted tragedy: the reactionary soldiers take the little town and a terrible slaughter ensues. This, however, somewhat undermines the force and conviction of Mao Tun’s analysis. The reader asks himself whether the end would have been any different, no matter what the protagonists of the revolution had done or how they had acted. Moreover, at the very end of this volume the question is mooted: was all this necessary, was there any sense in unleashing this storm?
Like the greater part of Chinese youth, Mao Tun, too, was stunned by the terrible end to the Great Revolution, an end which filled him with pessimism, bitterness and loss of faith, and these feelings come out undisguised in what he wrote at that time. But just as the revolution could not be smashed by the use of terror and force, the tragedy they had gone through could not break the Chinese revolutionary writers, nor dull the sharpness of their perceptions with gloomy self-pity or despairing pessimism. A new positive will made itself felt in Chinese literature with the founding of the League of Leftist Writers in 1930; in Mao Tun’s literary output, too, from 1929 onwards, we can follow the victorious struggle for an objective view of Chinese society, culminating in the novel “Twilight,” of 1931–32, and in a number of outstanding short stories.
Mao Tun remains true in his succeeding works to the attitude of a painter who accurately and uncompromisingly renders a truthful account of the reality around him—or, perhaps, more apt would be the comparison with a surgeon who, with sure hand and unerring eye, performs an autopsy on the social organism, laying bare all the diseases that are consuming it. Mao Tun does not wish to delude the reader with the illusion that the situation is, after all, not so bad and that the cure is already at hand. Nor must we forget that the Kuomintang censorship prevented writers from expressing themselves openly, and that especially of the revolutionary movements among the people they could write only indirectly and in hints. Mao Tun himself expressly states in the Preface to the Czech edition of his novel “Twilight”: “In order to bluff the Kuomintang censorship, I was obliged in many cases to renounce direct description and characterize my figures and certain phases of the plot in an indirect way and by the method of allusions and symbols.”
Already in “Twilight,” however, forces are shown opposing this flood of destruction and overthrow threatening to engulf the Chinese people. In “Twilight,” there appear upon the scene peasants in revolt, workers on strike, and even—though obviously for censorship reasons in somewhat distorted form—organizers of the popular struggle—Communists. It is clear that the consciousness of these forces colors the background of all Mao Tun’s ensuing works, even though he continues to show how people are crushed by the grindstones of economic and social processes. Running through all of them is the basic conviction that any individual effort to change a personal destiny is vain, that only a general revolution can at the same time solve the problems of the individual. His last great novel, “Corruption,” shows on the one hand that it is impossible to live in an environment poisoned to the core by Kuomintang bestiality, but on the other hand it is clear that the Kuomintang monster is only running amok in a premonition of its own end and thereby hastening its own imminent and inevitable destruction.
Mao Tun’s striving to identify ever more precisely the forces at work in society determines to a great extent the way in which he organizes his materials. The main pillars of his literary art are carefully worked up individual scenes documenting the operation and varied manifestations of these basic social forces, or mirroring a certain social situation. They are, as a rule, scenes packed with action, the culminating points in social processes, when as in a storm all social tensions reach breaking point and basic contradictions and antagonisms come to an open clash. Thus in the novel “Twilight,” such scenes are the taking of a little town not far from Shanghai by peasants who have risen in rebellion, the struggle of strikers with yellow strikebreakers, the street demonstrations of May 20, financial speculation, the collapse of the Stock Exchange, and so on. I think that this concentration on moments of supreme tension is, in general, one of the main features characterizing Chinese literature of this epoch, the best works of which show a maximum concentration tending toward a single supreme moment, usually of tragedy. Writers evidently felt that only by trying to render the highlights of human destiny could they do justice to their time. Proof of this concentration is the fact that in Mao Tun’s greatest work, “Twilight,” a great number of themes, a wide variety of human characters from all kinds of social groups, an almost complete panorama of all the most important social processes in contemporary China, are brought within the limits of nineteen chapters, of which the last is actually only an epilogue. Thus in no more than eighteen frescos, of monumental dimensions and rendered with consummate art, a modern author succeeds in depicting the main outlines of what is the most revolutionary period in China’s history. If we compare it with the 108 chapters of Wu Wo-yao’s novel, Strange Events of the Last Twenty Years, with the sixty chapters of Li Po-yüan’s Exposure of the Official World, or with the sixty chapters of the same author’s History of Modernity, we see how a truly modern artist can create a synthesis, is able to “donner au particulier l’illusion du général,” as the great French critic, Marcel Schwöb, has put it. Mao Tun’s short stories also repeatedly seize and record such high points of tragedy in the life of the individual or of whole groups. Thus, for instance, in the village trilogy already referred to a number of times, he depicts the collapse of the whole village economy as the result of a general economic crisis, of speculation, of drought and other contributory factors. We may say that if Mao Tun’s works are always tragedies, the principal scenes in them describe that tragedy in its culminating phase. It is not surprising, therefore, that in Mao Tun’s novels we rarely come across descriptions of nature, his whole attention being directed toward the working out of the social process, though there can be no doubt that Mao Tun had a perfect mastery of scenic description, had he wished to employ it.
The variety of the social milieu described in his novels is reminiscent, however, on the other hand, of the above-mentioned works of the old novels of social criticism of the school of Wu Ching-tzü. The authors of the end of the Manchu era also aimed at embracing the largest possible sector of reality and not at depicting the story of a single life, as Tseng P’u explains in the Preface to his novel Nieh hai-bua) .8 It would seem as if Mao Tun, at least in his most outstanding works, endeavored, too, to embrace the social reality of his time on as broad a canvas as possible. However, as we have shown above, the anecdotal type of story favored by these authors is replaced by extraordinarily careful and detailed scenes and mainly what, in them, is a mosaic and accidental agglomeration of details, with Mao Tun is an amazingly and skillfully contrived construction, in which every detail is drawn in with a penetrating knowledge of the basic social problems, so that the whole gives a deeply considered and exact picture of Chinese life. Unquestionably, the novel “Twilight” gives a more exact, fuller and more authentic picture of the problems relating to conditions in the China of the 1930s than even the most exhaustive study.
Reflected in this careful selection of facts and their buildup into an integrated work of art is clearly apparent Mao Tun’s world outlook, his philosophical view. He shows that no individual effort is of any avail, that what is needed to sweep away all the terrible existing chaos is a widespread revolutionary rising and that only then will it be possible to live. His work is a perfect example of how a great literary work is of exceptional value for the insights it provides, often deeper and more comprehensive than those furnished by scientific investigation, and therein lies its revolutionary significance. Mao Tun, with his finely sieved and objectively presented facts, must convince every reader thai the old order was doomed.
From the artistic point of view, it should be noted that this skillful construction of carefully elaborated episodes to form a whole evokes the impression of an immense fresco, as if the whole social processes were suddenly to freeze into immobility or a sequence of significant episodes peopled by a huge cast were to turn into a gigantic still-life Despite the dynamism of the individual scenes, the general impression is static, being more a picture than a film. The method employed by Mao Tun is, in fact, synchronic rather than diachronie. And this follows from what we have repeatedly affirmed above, namely, that Mao Tun creates a scene rather than tells a story, that his attention is centered more often upon a typical situation than upon some single happening or individual fate. This is also borne out by the ease with which, as we have noted above, he lets some thread of action run to one or two episodes and then drops it.
Another indication of this relatively small interest in the individual and his inner development is a certain vagueness or even contradictoriness in the characters which stand at the seams of social tension. For whereas Mao Tun sharply contours the antagonistic forces in the social context and equally sharply draws in the protagonists on either side of the front—the capitalists, speculators, blacklegs on the one side, and rebel peasants, strikers, and others on the opposite side—those figures occupying a position where the fronts merge or belonging to groups not divided by a clear-cut line are not convincingly portrayed, because in their case it would be necessary to trace their inner development and demonstrate by means of their orientation and attitude to different problems the social ferment of the time. But that would probably have broken up and obscured the whole conception of the work and made it impossible to present the nexus of social problems on such an enormous scale. So these figures appear now on one side, now on the other, of the opposing fronts, seen each time from a slightly different angle, the ensuing impression remaining ambiguous and indistinct. This is true, for example, of the figure of T’u Wei-yü “Twilight.” Perhaps Mao Tun wished to show the impossibility of the intellectual’s attempt to preserve independence in the struggle of classes and even to think of acting as a kind of mediator. But the figure remains sketchy.
Similarly the figure of the principal heroine of the novel “Corruption” is not altogether clear. On the one hand, she commits acts of incomprehensible callousness, as when she deserts her child, is reconciled to the killing of her lover, betrays his friend, yet on the other hand she does not hesitate to risk her own life to save a strange girl. As we noted above, for the author the figure of the heroine is above all a pair of eyes observing what is going on around her, and in this context there is no room for the analysis of complicated mental and spiritual transmutations.
It is also possible that the diary form is an attempt to overcome the system of independent episodes which tends to disrupt the unity of the work, and to give it the maximum homogeneity, while retaining the possibility of recording in it the results of a wide range of observation and experience.
I think that it is in this focusing of attention on social facts of general validity and in the small interest taken in the development of individual personalities lies the chief difference between Mao Tun’s realism and the realism not only of the nineteenth century, but also of his time. We stated above that the school of naturalism was limited by its theoretical premises — though these were seemingly possessed of universal validity—to individual cases, eventually to the life stories of a small group of people. And so the author, if he was to illustrate his theses with respect to a specific human fate, would usually have to describe the whole history of an individual from the cradle to the grave, and, indeed, the history of an entire family. For this reason, for instance, Zola creates a complex of novels around the Rougon family. The method of the naturalist writer is always diachronie, as compared with the more synchronic method of Mao Tun. Similarly, we might point to basic differences in the perception of reality. Nowhere do we find in Mao Tun—or naturally anywhere else in Chinese literature—that love for material reality, that delight in the abundance and variety of nature’s forms which is so notable in Zola’s descriptions and which stems from the legacy of the Renaissance and, even more, from the Baroque view of the world, from the joy in shapes and colors, which gave birth to the whole genre of still life in European painting. Actually, admiration for nature and her prolific creative power, though sometimes monstrous and terrifying, is at the back of the whole body of naturalist literature, and this is a feeling entirely alien to Chinese literature, whether old or modern. Certain indications of it are perhaps present only in the work of Chuang-tzǔ.
The principal difference in my view, however, is in the stress on the individual. In the center of Zola’s imaginative world is always the romantic hero who alone—and therein lies the pathos of his fate—takes up the cudgels against society. It is a reflection of the revolutionary who, with a banner in his hands and a few faithful friends at his side, defends the barricade, and it is also the expression of the time—the culminating phase of capitalism. The individual is still everything in people’s minds: he leads, his enthusiasm carries others with him. On the contrary, the romantic hero has no place in new Chinese literature, individual action has had no significance in Chinese life since the 1920s, and so it has no place in the country’s literature either. It is a further indication of the weakness of the Chinese bourgeoisie: the individualism characteristic of the bourgeois view of the world had no influence at all on the Chinese way of thought.
Those features which we have pointed out as being divergent in Mao Tun’s work as compared with the naturalist school is true also of the great realists of the nineteenth century, especially the Russians. With them, too, attention is centered above all on the individual, and in a confrontation of his attitude to life and the reality around him is sought the key to an explanation of the social problems of the time. As a rule, the whole history of the individual is again presented. Very correctly, if we allow for a parodist’s exaggeration, is this tendency in realistic literature defined by Karel Čapek, in the book Marsyas or “On the Margin of Literature,” where he jokingly enumerates the differences between romantic and realistic literature: “Further, romantic literature tells a story, beginning with the fact that Angelica, now grown into a fair maiden, meets M. d’Evremonde; realistic literature, on the other hand, tells the story of a life, that means, as far as possible, of a whole life“ (Průšek’s emphasis). The reduction of a work to a single significant experience is typical for the first time of Chekov’s art. But it would perhaps be superfluous to point out the differences between Chekov’s bitterness and the tragic feeling of Mao Tun, between Chekov’s stories of individuals and the collective scenes of the Chinese writer, and so on. The backcloth to Chekov’s work is the growing unrest and incipient disintegration of Russian society: with Mao Tun it is actual civil war, foreign aggression, revolutionary storms. Hence the striking switchover from description to the dramatization of the whole presentation.
At the end of these thoughts on eventual connections between Mao Tun’s oeuvre and foreign literatures, I should like to halt for a moment at the fact that in respect of a certain mosaiclike character and in the interweaving of various strands of plot, Mao Tun’s works are reminiscent of the novels of certain European and, more especially, American writers of the period following the first World War, as, for example, Dos Passos. In the latter’s novel Manhattan Transfer, the texture is made up of several threads of plot, a device enabling the author to bring within its compass the exceptionally wide span of city life in New York. But apart from the quite different use of reality—w ith Dos Passos it is the expression of the actually physical, that is, mainly the biological, feeling for life—the reasons for such a complicated structure are altogether divergent in the two authors. With Dos Passos, it is the endeavor to overstep the tradition of a unified and oversimplified single-rail plot, and also perhaps the striving to render adequately the polyphony of city life, combined with the desire to create a more complex composition; in the work of Mao Tun, the main purpose is to show the principal forces determining the course of history in China. His motives are, first and foremost, political and analytical.
An analysis of Mao Tun’s oeuvre shows us clearly that both the content and form of his works are determined primarily by his attitude to reality and not by his attitude to the preceding literary tradition or to foreign influences. It is important to establish this for, as we have stressed more than once, it would be difficult to find any other writer so thoroughly acquainted with the whole of European literature and European literary theories—and of course with his native literature—as was Mao Tun. Having mastered the possibilities and gained from the experience of European literature, his work occupies a place of equality in world literature, but on the other hand he did not succumb as a writer to the influence of any particular European school, but found his own original attitude to, and view of, reality, as the basic ingredient of his work, and shaped in his own way his experience and insights into a work of art.
(2) Yü Ta-fu
In certain respects the work of Yü Ta-fu provides the sharpest contrast to that of Mao Tun, and the comparison of the output of these two writers brings out sharply the basic differences between these two trends in new Chinese prose and, on the other hand, also certain traits symptomatic of the whole epoch.
It would seem at a superficial glance that no two artists could be more dissimilar than Mao Tun and Yü Ta-fu. Opposed to the extreme objectivism of Mao Tun’s work stands the extreme subjectivism of the work of Yü Ta-fu. Whereas Mao Tun almost completely excludes his person from his works, the subject matter of Yü Ta-fu’s writings is almost exclusively his own experiences and feelings. And we shall discover more such differences.
On the other hand, we shall also ascertain a number of features which they have in common: the work of Yü Ta-fu draws, as does that of Mao Tun, on personal and still fresh experiences; he, too, tries to record the reality that is just passing. In a number of his works, a living experience is immediately transformed into a work of art. Thus, for example, the short story Shih-i yüeh ch’u san , or “November the Third,” describes the happenings of what was the author’s birthday, and was written the very same day.9 Similarly, the story I-ko jen tsai t’u shang , or “A Lonely Man on a Journey,”10 was inspired by events just experienced, and this is true of a large part of his literary production. It is probable that, as in the case of Mao Tun, so also in that of Yü Ta-fu, we must see in this urge to record the fleeting reality around them a strong personal identification with reality, though each with a different kind.
I think that we may speak in connection with Yü Ta-fu also of a striving to record reality as objectively and truthfully as possible, of his endeavor to achieve objective truth and true understanding. Because the subject of his artistic insight is, especially, his own self, he approaches it with the same determination to lay bare the naked truth as does Mao Tun. And if we compared Mao Tun to a surgeon dissecting the diseased body of Chinese society, the same comparison is equally apt for Yü Ta-fu, who, however, dissects his own mental and spiritual world. None of his own living experiences, his habits, weaknesses and passions is too humiliating or shameful for him not to speak of it with complete frankness. He writes repeatedly of his drunkenness, of how his lusts turn him into a beast and drive him to visit brothels, of how he was tortured to the point of exhaustion by his erotic perversities, describes his masochism, finding satisfaction in letting himself be kicked and beaten by the woman to whom he is attracted, and in a passion of erotic desire drives a needle into his face. He imagines for himself the role of a thief, sees himself in the part of the most despicable of human beings. The openness of these confessions have earned him the condemnation of a number of critics, as reflected, for instance, in the study by van Boven.11 On the other hand, his works are full of descriptions of the beauties of Nature, sympathetic observation of the finest nuances in the workings of the human soul and especially in the psychology of women, lovingly understanding descriptions of the child mind and, mainly, few can rival him in the delicacy of the pictures he sketches not so much of love as of erotic desire, of erotic dreams and visions.
Undoubtedly the most characteristic trait in the personality of Yü Ta-fu and in his writings is the instability of his temperament, which is forever running through the whole gamut of emotions, from the lowest and most pitiable to the highest delight in beauty and the nobility of self-sacrifice. This peculiar disposition enabled him to “get inside” his characters, especially female characters, for whose psychology he showed a quite remarkable understanding, and so he has created several splendidly sketched portraits of women, for instance, in the short stories, Kuo-ch’ü , or “The Past,”12 and in Сh’un-feng ch’en-tsui-ti wan-shang , or “Intoxicating Spring Nights.” The interest of Yü Ta-fu, as of Mao Tun, was directed above all toward man’s inner life, except that with Yü Ta-fu, in keeping with the general subjective coloring of his work, it is actually introspection.
This focusing of attention on his own inner self, on his own feelings, spiritual states and mental processes finds a commensurate form for its expression. Yü Ta-fu repeatedly makes use of the diary, notes, letter—all forms specially suited for direct communication and, actually, nonliterary, being vehicles of expression designed for his own use or for that of a very intimate circle. These forms themselves point to the subjective bias of his work, the author implies that he is presenting his experiences, so to speak, “off the cuff,” without an eye to any reader and without any editing for his benefit.
On the other hand, the fact that the author himself—and immediately after writing—publishes these things confirms that they were intended from the first for a reader, that they are not real diaries, notes, and so on, as was the case in the old literature, but merely a form designed for a reader, just as is any other. Moreover, in Yü Ta-fu’s work a striking trait is observable. A. Vlckovâ has shown that a great part of his literary production is of autobiographical character, that it works up his personal experiences and that we can relate every work, also in respect of content, to a certain phase of his life and to events affecting him personally.13 But this basically same material is treated in two different ways:
A number of these works are presented in the first person—as diaries or notes—whereas others are written in the third person, thus having the form of a narrative or even of a novella. More striking still is the fact that the majority of Yü Ta-fu’s works, which we should regard from the point of view of European literary forms as the most perfect works of art, as perfect examples of the short story or novella are related in the first person; those which remain in rough sketch as notes recording experiences are often, on the contrary, in the third person. Without a detailed knowledge of Yü Ta-fu’s life, we should say that he wrote, on the one hand, perfect novellas, in the form of Ich-Erzählung, on the other, freehand sketches, probably with strong subjective coloring, sometimes in diary form, or again as a report of the experiences as a literary hero. I think that this statement entitles us to speak of the belletristic processing of personal experiences as the basic artistic principle of Yü Ta-fu’s creative output. The author’s intention was not to record his experiences for himself or for his friends, as did certain old Chinese authors—of which more below—but to shape them into works intended for an anonymous reader. Therein, as we shall see, exists an important difference between the works of Yü Ta-fu and similar works in old Chinese literature.
First we shall give an example of a work presented as a diary or body of notes. The work we have chosen is the sketch “November the Third” which arose the same day in Peking and so we can suppose that in it the link between the experience and its recording is exceedingly close. First the contents in brief: The author awakes and calls to mind his wife, her care and love. The recollection plunges him into a mood of sadness and despair: He is alone, deserted like a telegraph pole gleaming in the cold wind, he has not a single friend, he has an empty heart, whose fire has gone out, he would need to change to stone, deaden all his feelings, in order to become like other people. The description of his feelings becomes ever more passionate till it ends in a cry of despair.
He discovers that it is his birthday. He is shaken by new feelings of despair. It is the birthday of a scurvy frog, of a dog that mumbles a few phrases, he is not even written into the family tree. He compares himself with the man in the tale his friend gave him, and finds that he is much more unhappy; he wanders through the streets and recalls the words of a Russian revolutionary, that a man if he is to be content in life must devote himself to religion, or make a revolution, or drink. And so he goes and drinks, but alcohol cannot dissipate his bitterness and grief.
He goes to the theater, listens for a while to the play, and then begins to think things over. He realizes that most of the people here to entertain themselves are, in reality, as sad as is he. His thoughts are interrupted by a blast of music. He leaves the theater and is considering where he should go. At that moment a car stops in front of the building and a woman steps out, elaborately made up and bejewelled. He says to himself—here comes another swine to sell herself in small change. A new spiritual crisis breaks out.
A lovely description of an approaching sandstorm follows. Another crisis in the rickshaw. The author plays with the thought that if all the world were a stage everybody would be an excellent actor; he alone would be ch’ou , a despised clown, buffoon, the partner of servants, serving as the foil for the beauty of the principal players. His own ugliness is others’ good fortune. He shouts out that he praises this role of a small clown assigned him by fate. He then likens himself to one half of a pair of scissors of which the central screw has been lost. Thus rendered useless, it eternally seeks the other half, but it is nowhere to be found. He exclaims that he would speak of love, only that it no longer exists.
Let us halt here for a moment. We see that so far the narrative consists of a stream of specific experiences, punctuated by outbursts of emotion. A special characteristic is then the lovely lyrical description of Nature, which colors the mood of the narrative and creates a sharp contrast to it.
We have no reason to doubt that the author in this sketch records the spiritual states through which he passed, that his inner life was continually shaken by these passionate outbursts, that emotionally he was extremely high-strung and was constantly slipping into moods of despair and depression and self-torture.
But on the other hand we cannot overlook the fact that his works written in the third person are composed in a similar way, that, indeed, the emotional gradation is still steeper. Already Yü Ta-fu’s first such “story,” Ch’en-lun , “Drowning,”14 ends with the tragic culmination of a spiritual crisis, with the hero’s suicide. Even though we may concede that the author’s production was also determined by his natural disposition, that he projected into it his spiritual states and depressions, the example of “Drowning” shows us that in his work this trait is intentionally underlined. We might speak of the strong dramatization of these narrative strips, spiritual experiences are always presented as a dramatic ascent culminating in an outburst of despair or even in a suicidal mood. It would seem that this construction which he employed in his works of a series of waves, where narrative alternates with descriptions of dramatic spiritual crises, aimed to introduce into the diary-form notes action and life, create sharper contrasts and so enliven the stream of prose, which lacks any real theme. The same end is served also by descriptions of Nature, which also break up the simple relation or record. I think that here we have one of Yii Ta-fu’s methods of recasting in belletristic form what is noted down or entered in a diary so as to make it interesting for the reader.
We can point to a whole group of Yü Ta-fu’s works employing exactly this method. A single explosion of despair is, for instance, the sketch Ling-yü-che , or “A Superfluous Man.”15 Its content is nothing else than a reproduction of the moods he passes through on a walk outside the ramparts of Peking. (The tale was written on January 15, 1924.) The author etches in the picture of a winter evening, the grey ramparts, the frozen-over river, the empty sand-blown fields and a few gaunt trees. He imagines to himself how splendid it would be if his body could melt away like a heap of snow in spring. He has lived his life and all that remains is a feeling of emptiness. As he walks on the thought comes to him that he is a superfluous man, a useless man, as he says, using the English expressions. He has done nothing, he is no good for anything, he is not even of any use to his family; had he not married his wife, somebody else would have done so, another man would have begotten his son. He shouts for a rickshaw, jumps into it, drives he knows not whither, and is furious that the rickshaw man does not go quickly enough.
The work which illustrates most strikingly this method of dramatizing personal experiences is the long stream of memories entitled Huan hsiang chi , “Reminiscences on Returning Home,”16 to which the author then wrote a continuation.17 It is in the first person and describes the author’s return from Shanghai to his native Fu-yang, in Che-chiang, not far from Hang-chou. Let me give at least one example of his typical dramatization of a personal experience. The author, seeing at the station how every traveler is accompanied by his family or friends, is overcome with sadness at the realization of his own desolateness. He pictures to himself that he is waiting for a lovely girl who is coming to see him off. His vision is so vivid that it makes him wish to help a girl with her luggage who is going by the same train. But her surprised gaze confuses him, fills him with panic and, with a hasty inward apology, he flees from her. Afraid she may catch sight of him again, he does not even dare to buy his ticket. In his agitation, he then buys a second-class ticket and sneaks into the train. Here a small incident is worked up into a quite complicated spiritual drama. And so one experience after another is dramatically recast. The author reproduces a dream in which he acts the part of a thief, enters a woman’s bedroom and steals a pair of satin shoes and a handbag, attempts to commit suicide, when he compares his futile life with the happiness of a peasant family. Plunged in the dark mood of an evening on the ramparts of Hang-chou, he declares that all that was lacking was the sound of bells and he would have thrown himself down from the battlements, and so on. The narration keeps oscillating between the objective description of things and scenes and agitated monologues, spiritual confession, rhetorical questions, the author apostrophizing people and things around him and carrying on with them passionate and stormy dialogues. The actual incidents of the journey are practically submerged beneath this truly fantastic whirl of emotions and imaginings. Again and again we get flashes of the sharp contrasts between the real or imagined picture of others’ happiness, the contented fulfillment of peasant life, the beauties of Nature and the author’s feelings of despair, between his own outbursts of almost ecstatic joy and the deepest plungings into despair. We find here, too, the romantic dramatization of his own fate, which as we shall see is so characteristic of the work of Kuo Mo-jo. On the margin of the Hang-chou Lake, the author weaves a dream-story of his meeting in his youth with a lovely girl, of their falling in love and the amazing happiness they enjoyed until, having lost all his money, he was deserted by her, too. On returning to that place, old and in rags, he caught sight of her once again, more beautiful than ever, splendidly robed and in the company of a rich man.
In the chaos of emotions which continually convulse his soul, we hear occasional sharp words of contempt for the intelligentsia who serve the militarists, and of hate for those who destroy the happy life of ordinary folk.
The style of this narrative strip is in keeping with its contradictory character. On the one hand, we have very complex and artistic descriptions, whether of natural scenery or of the author’s dreams and visions, for which the vehicle is a configuration of complicated sentences. These well-balanced and effectively modeled descriptions are then interrupted by a whole battery of exclamations, rhetorical questions and interjections, from which it is clear that Yü Ta-fu is still seeking his own path to self-expression and is still experimenting with different expressive means.
On comparing this stream of reminiscences with Mang-mang yeh , or “Deep Night,”18 which is cast in third-person narrative, but under an easily discerned pseudonym, we find no great differences. Again it is a rosary told over by the hero of his own spiritual dramas, perhaps described with greater objectivity and a greater effort at a still more accurate description of the settings and of the incidents described. On the other hand, this narrative strip descends most deeply into the obscure domains of the human psyche. In it the author describes his love for a man, the ecstasies of masochism and the beastlike instinct which drives him to the brothels. A number of scenes end abruptly with his hero leaving the brothel he has sought out; the deserted streets evoke in him the picture of a “Dead City,” and with it the image of himself as a “living corpse,” as he says to his friend in English.
To use a simile, Yü Ta-fu’s experiences and those of his friends are like the balancing feats of a tightrope dancer; every time he sways he risks a fatal fall into the abyss that yawns beneath him, and we realize that any stronger tremor will end his desperate attempt to keep his balance, and actually, perhaps, spell for him his release. This consciousness of danger underlying the states and incidents described, creates a certain dramatic tension and stimulates the reader’s attention, thus providing a substitute for the tension achieved elsewhere by subjectmatter and intricacies of plot. Whether intended or not, this tension is a notable means in the belletrization of personal experiences, of which we spoke above.
We might add that this feeling of the imminent tragedy of life lived continually on the brink of disaster and destruction is yet another link between the work of Yü Ta-fu and the atmosphere that permeates the work of Mao Tun. With different means and in another context, Yü Ta-fu tries to express the same feeling of life’s tragedy as is expressed in the work of Mao Tun. Only in nuances that are passive, more despairing and more hopeless, for Yü Ta-fu’s subjectivism is lost in the misery and confusion of contemporary life, the author being unable either to analyze the happenings around him or see the forces which are preparing to emerge from the surrounding darkness and usher in a brighter future.
But let us go back to the prose piece “November the Third.” Placed in immediate juxtaposition to the author-hero’s wanderings through the unlit city and his outbursts of despair is an episode completely different in character from anything that has gone before. Because the rickshaw man does not wish to take the author to some brothel outside the Ch’ien-men Gate, he goes with him to his house beside the P’ing-tse-men Gate. He wants to see once more the home of the girl from Hung-maokou , or the Ditch of Red Rushes.
And now the author unfolds the story of how he laid eyes on the girl the previous autumn when he first came to Peking and was suffering from repeated attacks of nervous depression. Once on a moonlight night, shortly before daybreak, he stole away to the P’ing-tse-men Gate and out of the city. Everything was covered with a thick layer of hoarfrost and thin ice. He saw the bare fields, the cairns, the gaunt trees, heard the sound of the wind in their tops, and how the whole earth seemed to breathe. He was approaching a group of well-kept buildings when, on the ridge beside the winch of a well, he saw a girl of about fifteen. She was simply, but tastefully, dressed. The newly risen sun lit up her beauty, and no Beatrice or Mona Lisa could have been more beautiful. The author describes this beauty in detail and stresses that she had a Greek nose. The girl carried away her bucket of water and, on entering the gate, looked around, whereupon a light blush colored her cheeks. The author goes to the well, looks down into it and he imagines he sees there the girl’s reflection. He goes to the house, looks in at the window and only the whirr of a pair of birds in flight brings him back to earth again.
Once more he caught a glimpse of her in spring, when he stopped there on his way to a friend. He went up to the window and saw her. He was inexpressibly happy. Now he was going there and such a sandstorm was blowing that he thought he would have to turn back. But the wind subsided a little, a crescent moon appeared in a clear sky and it seemed to him that, on such a night, the dead might well rise from their graves. At the house, he found the shutters closed, nor did any ray of light shine through. He stood there until driven away by the barking of a dog. Full of grief he returned home, remembered and longed for his wife, and wrote this piece.
Here, a string of freely linked episodes, dramatically punctuated by explosions of feeling, is followed without transition by a romantic scene of great beauty. From the point of view of literary craftsmanship, it is a masterly grouping of carefully laid in and inwardly related pictures, forming as a whole what is really a highly artistic novella. Its structure is determined by the fact that there are projected into the single level of a present experience a number of other levels created by past experiences. Each level has its own emotional sphere, is differently emotionally colored and is related to a different point of time and pattern of relations. Thus arises a kind of web of many-colored threads and this is the basic structure of Yü Ta-fu’s psychological prose. Or, to use another simile, they are like the various gleaming facets of a cunningly cut stone, their varying coloring contrasting one with another and at the same time adding depth to the whole. The author, without attempting to develop his motifs into some connected story, by the mere art with which he stratifies his reminiscences and weaves them into the situation he has just experienced (which also forms the framework in which they are mounted) creates a highly organized and unified composition.
Thus, alongside autobiographical strips, enlivened and interrupted by emotional outbursts, descriptions of Nature, recollections, thoughts, dreams and images, we see another much more complicated method in use, one designed to work up personal experiences into an elaborately constructed complex, which we are fully entitled to call a novella. This is the author’s alternative method of giving his personal experiences belletristic character. At the same time the “Reminiscences” show how a few small motifs suffice Yü Ta-fu for the creation of a picture full of profound inner meaning and perfectly evoking a certain keenly felt experience. Undoubtedly, this concentration on a certain experience through which he has passed and its suggestive description while it is still fresh in the memory can be linked up with the thought expressed in the “Reminiscences,” namely, that life is made up only of experiences that we have just passed through and that we must try to taste their flavor to the full.
The most striking example of this method of complicated stratifica tion of various time and emotional levels is Yü Ta-fu’s perhaps most tragic story, issuing from the deepest springs of human feeling, I-ko jen tsai t’u-shang , or A Lonely Man on a Journey,” telling of the death of his little son, Lung-erh . Let us list here at least a number of these levels:
(1)Setting of the story—train from Peking to the south. Situation: the author has just bidden his wife farewell.
(2)Recollections: teaching in the south. News of his son’s illness, return to Peking and meeting with his wife, who informs him of their son’s death.
(3)Recollections of his family life, with wife and son. His departure, return, parting again, the last time he heard his son’s voice. Various personal happenings and his return to Peking after his son’s death.
(4)Recollections of his little son, projected into his present sorrow.
(5)His wife tells him of his son’s illness.
(6)Sequence of recollections of the time before the boy fell ill and his waiting in vain for his father’s return.
(7)Description of the author’s state of mind during this relation.
(8)Recollection of times when he struck him.
(9)Continuation of the description of the child’s illness. His wife thinks that the child cannot die, because he is waiting for his father, and herself begs him to stop breathing.
(10)Recollection of his meeting with his wife after his return from Peking. They return to their home and see the boy’s things. They go to visit his grave. The recollections gravitate to the time of his departure and to the moment when the novella is born.
Each of these motifs is a fragment of heartbreaking grief and highly sensitive observation. For instance: when the boy was alive the author used to shake down dates for him from the tree in the courtyard. After his death, when he is lying in bed with his wife, he is afraid of the sound of falling dates. He and his wife go to their son’s grave to burn pictures of money, as the custom is. But his wife remembers that they have only banknotes, and what good are they to a little child? So she goes to buy pictures of little copper coins.
We noted above that a characteristic feature of old novels and tales, as well as of other popular productions, was their small degree of homogeneity, for they broke up as a rule into a series of independent episodes, inwardly unrelated. Our example then shows how a modern author is able, on the contrary, to work up into a single whole a great number of motifs, situations and time levels. He weaves them into a unified tapestry of emotions and moods, in which each detail is related to all the others, supplements and colors them, and, at the same time itself first acquires full meaning and significance in the context of the whole. The work of Yü Ta-fu shows a similar striving after compactness and homogeneity in the new novel and short story, as we remarked in the work of Mao Tun, a striving which culminated in the great achievement of Lu Hsün.
There can be no doubt that, by means of this complex interlining of a variety of motifs belonging to different timestreams to produce a unified texture, the writer creates a picture rather than an epic sequence, the resulting impression being static rather than epic. Here again we come across a characteristic which we discovered in our study of the work of Mao Tun, namely that the strongly emotional quality of these pictures would entitle us to speak of a lyrical picture. We shall do no more here than state the fact, to a discussion of which we shall return later.
The integrating method described above both strengthens the homogeneity of the picture and, at the same time, loosens its connections with the rest of the context. This comes out very clearly in the previous “Recollections . . .” in the description of the meeting with the girl. This episode, linked only very loosely with the preceding chain of narrative could, indeed, very well stand by itself. But through this inner compieteness the scene is isolated not only from the given context but from any context at all; it ceases to be fixed in time or space; its meaning need no longer be sought in relation to any other reality, but solely in itself. Figuratively speaking we might say that all the levels of the picture aim to converge at the center and do not tend toward some outer point, whether in time or reality. The picture ceases to be part of a narrative action and becomes a symbol which may be brought into connection with any reality. By this procedure, Yü Ta-fu points the way to the creating of pictures with many planes of significance, such as Lu Hsün was then to paint with such supreme skill.
A very instructive example of this procedure is Yü Ta-fu’s prose piece Li ch’iu ch’ih yeh or “A Night in Early Autumn.”19 First there is sketched in very suggestively the mood of some dark deserted corner of a city, shrouded in almost complete darkness. Here two friends meet, one dressed in a Chinese robe, the other in European clothes, and that is all that we are told about them, except that both are unemployed. Twice they exchange the same questions, to which the interrogator never gets an answer. The circumstance that everything else is suppressed, that the scene is literally enveloped in darkness, so suggestively described that it is almost palpable, every moment, every word, is endowed with special significance compelling the reader to try and plumb its hidden meaning. Our first impression is of an impressionistic picture deftly sketched in, as if the author aimed only at the very precise recording of a visual phenomenon. But then the fact of the friends being unemployed links up with the obvious aimlessness of the two men’s movements and the scene acquires a new significance: the symbol of the vague, aimless trailing about of the unemployed intelligentsia. Further on, these movements in the obscure gloom evoke the impression of the aimlessness of human life lost in darkness, its traces covered up by windblown sand. It is an excellent example of the method generally favored in the new literature which, by leaving part of the picture in darkness, evokes the impression of tension and of a number of layers of meaning, eventually of mystery. Each fills in the detail of the picture for himself and interprets its symbolism in his own way. It is a method employed with remarkable success by Lu Hsün.
The methods described above acquire special significance when Yü Ta-fu applies them not only to his personal experiences, but to a certain social reality and so opens up a new approach to its expression.
A similar procedure to that we described in our analysis of the piece “November the Third” is followed in the tale “Intoxicating Spring Nights.” Here, too, the recording of a sequence of dark and gloomy personal experiences, punctuated by the usual outbursts of despair, builds up to a picture of exceptional beauty, purity and refinement. Only what in “November the Third” was a skillful interplay of moods and delicately tinted perceptions, in this contact with the most cruel living reality, rendered with unusual expressive force, becomes charged with quite new meaning.
The tale is extremely simple: the author, having fallen into the most hopeless poverty, is obliged to live in a derelict garret in the Shanghai slums, its sole furnishings being a heap of old books. Separated from it by a thin partition is another in which a young woman worker from a tobacco factory lives and to which access is only through the author’s garret. Only twice do they come into closer contact; the first time the girl invites the author to a poor little meal, the second time he invites her in return on receiving some small fee. Both meetings are limited to a short conversation: in the first, the girl tells of her lately deceased father, a worker in the same factory where she is employed, of the terrible conditions of work, of the foreman’s lewdness, and so on. The second time she tries to persuade the author to start a new life, for she suspects him of going out at night to work with thieves. The real reason, however, for his nocturnal habits is that his clothes are already so shabby that he dare not show himself in the streets in daylight. The author explains this and also that the money he got was for a translation. The girl weeps with compassion and the author, who then spends the night walking the streets, realizes more poignantly than ever his utter misery.
It is difficult to imagine a more simple episode, and yet the whole narration is illuminated with a strange brightness and reaches almost metaphysical heights. Above the unmitigated misery of a Shanghai hovel, above the dirt and brutality of life, above the hopelessness of the author’s existence, spent the whole day in a dark hole lit by a candle in gazing into emptiness, with hunger gnawing at his vitals, a picture of flawless purity lights up of a human being, full of deep feeling and goodness, always thinking of others, who, in the midst of misery and filth, strives to preserve her humanity and human dignity. Truly pathetic is the care with which the girl tries to make the kennel of a lodging into a decent and homely place, and with which she prepares a few poor dainties for her guest.
Here again we meet with the romantic antithesis of poverty and despair on the one hand, and the cherishing of a high ideal on the other. The author, on comparing himself with the girl, is overcome by despair, in a fit of self-humiliation he would wish to take his own life, recalling how the bus driver had cursed him for a yellow dog. But the antithesis to this is not a vague chimera of womanhood, the beauty of a Beatrice or Mona Lisa, but a factory worker. The author in his descent to the lowest depths of human society comes into contact with the Chinese proletariat and draws with unusual art, sensibility and truthfulness a picture of its representative. The girl’s portrait acquires symbolic meaning: only in the purity and honesty of the proletariat, in its dignity and labor, is salvation to be found, and release from present misery and gloom.
A. Vlčková has shown in her study how Yü Ta-fu worked his way through to a Marxist view of literature. In this prose piece, we see his sensibilities being trained in this direction. For him the path to the artistic representation of the proletariat was not by way of theoretical abstractions, but above all, through his own living experience. Yü Ta-fu lived among the Chinese proletariat, himself more miserable. The realism to which he attained in these tales, through the mists of romanticism and the slough of his personal decadence, is the outcome of bitter firsthand experience; he not only wrote about the proletariat, but he knew the life of the proletariat, because he had lived it.
I have repeatedly pointed out similarities between the work of Lu Hsün and Yü Ta-fu, which at least in part explain Lu Hsün’s liking for him. These correspondences are particularly striking in the narrative Po-tien , or “A Humble Sacrifice.”20 I have not here in mind the similarity in subject matter with Lu Hsün’s I-chien hsiao Shih , or “An Insignificant Incident,”21 but rather the approach to the theme. Like a large part of Lu Hsün’s tales, this tale of Yü Ta-fu’s is presented in the form of a reproduction of reminiscences. In this case it is the reproduction of reminiscences of three different meetings of the author with a rickshaw man. All that we learn about the rickshaw man stems from the reproduction of three short talks with him, one of which is nothing more than a recollection. Everything else is enveloped in obscurity. The story is reduced to a minimum and fragments of it are almost submerged in the author’s emotional outbursts. These not only provide a contrast to the narrative action, as in his other stories, but also contain a false interpretation of the facts which the author learns about the rickshaw man’s life, and so add force to the shattering impression of the final exposure.
First we are confronted with the rickshaw man’s remarkable kindness. Although he is driving the author at night for a fare that another rickshaw man would not accept, he returns him the money, saying that after all they are neighbors. Only after long insistence will he take the fare. The author envies him: the rickshaw man has a proper job, is now returning home and the author pictures to himself the happy family scene no doubt being enacted. The discovery of how far from the reality were the author’s illusions comes out later, when the author happens to be passing the rickshaw man’s house and he hears a noisy bickering and the rickshaw man pouring out abuse. The author finds it strange, knowing him for an extraordinarily kind man. Into this tense situation, the author mounts as a reminiscence a description of the rickshaw man, his account of the poverty with which he wages a ceaseless struggle, for all his profit is swallowed up by the rent for the rickshaw, besides which his wife, so he says, is not a good housekeeper and he cannot save money to buy his own rickshaw. The author would like to jump down and embiace his poor friend.
It is yet another example of that skillful interweaving of various timestreams and various motifs in a single piece, so that, instead of a series of loosely linked episodes, a homogeneous whole arises such as we spoke of above.
Then the author relates how he entered the rickshaw man’s house and saw how angry the rickshaw man was with his wife for having spent three of the dollars he had laid by on a piece of material. The author secretly leaves him his silver watch, but the rickshaw man brings it back to him. The author is then ill for a long time. When he gets better and goes for a walk for the first time chance takes him past the rickshaw man’s house. Outside a crowd is gathered and the sound of sobbing comes from inside. The author thinks that there has been a quarrel again and wants to help them. This time he has money. On going inside he finds the rickshaw man dead. He was drowned in the floods at South Swamp. His wife had also wanted to drown herself, but they saved her. And now she laments bitterly: Her husband had always longed to have his own vehicle and now she hasn’t even enough to buy him a paper rickshaw and burn it on his grave. The author buys a paper rickshaw and takes it to the grave. The gaze of the idle onlookers infuriates him: “Their staring curious eyes maddened me. I cursed them inwardly, and felt a feeling of almost irresistible rebellion rise within me. Oh, those rich people in their cars, and the uncaring passersby! ‘Swine! Dogs!’ I wanted to shout. ‘Do you know what you are looking at? We are going to the grave of a poor rickshaw man, my friend, who was driven to death by such as you! It is his memorial you are staring at!’”
This emotional outburst, provoked not by a personal feeling of despair, but by indignation at the injustice of the world, concludes the story.
As in Lu Hsün’s stories, the actual tale forms only a kind of pentimento, visible only in its main outlines. Those parts of the story which show through evoke in us the impression that what remains hidden is possibly much more terrible than what we see, that we know only a small part of the whole tragedy. Somewhere in the shadows is a whole vain life, full of toil and hardship. We do not even know how the rickshaw man met his end, nor is it impossible that he may have committed suicide; at least the possibility is hinted at by his wife. A terrible mystery surrounds everything. Against the dark background of this ghost picture, certain features stand out in highlighted contrast: the extreme kindness and honesty of the man, and this notwithstanding, after a whole life of labor, not enough remains for a paper rickshaw to be burned on his grave! And this tragedy is matter to gratify the vulgar curiosity of a gaping crowd. Another point that underlines it is that, in his wife’s mental picture, the rickshaw man is to remain a rickshaw man even beyond the grave—with the one difference that he will own his vehicle!
His aim, like that of Mao Tun and also of Lu Hsün, is not to tell a story, but to throw light on a certain typical social situation, which reflects the whole state of society at the time. It is an illustration of how a certain historical situation leads to the rise of a certain literary method, and also of how a certain artistic method is not the work of an individual, but constitutes the common work of a whole generation, if not of whole generations. It is necessary in this connection to stress especially the realism of the story, or more precisely, the fact that the story is an exact reproduction of reality: nothing is added or changed, and yet the story is not a kind of impressionistic genre picture, but embodies in a simple tale the whole essence of contemporary reality. This piece of narration is undoubtedly a quite exceptional testimony to the artistic and ideological maturity of the literature of the period to which it relates.
The piece is also instructive as demonstrating the author’s approach to reality. The narrator in Yü Ta-fu’s stories is not an unidentified and all-knowing epic first person, as in the classical realistic European novel or as in Mao Tun, but always the author himself, or the person who represents him in stories narrated in the third person. For this reason, we can speak of the markedly subjective coloring of his work, for the author—or his representative—is almost always the principal hero of the story, the plot being based as a rule on his personal experiences, and the subject of his narrative are his own spiritual processes, everything being described from his subjective angle. We learn no more about the other characters and the milieu in which they move than the author or the author-hero knows or sees. We can take any story related in the third person in confirmation of this; for instance, the story “Drowning,” where we see and experience everything from the standpoint of a hero who is anonymous—and that is typical. In the tale “Deep Night,” the chief actor of the piece—the author—is concealed beneath a very obvious pseudonym, Yü Chih-fu . Even in the historical tale Ts’ai Shih chi , or “The Colored Cliff”22 the action is centered on the poet Huang Chung-tse , whose whole character is, as it were, that of the writer’s double, and everything is seen through his eyes. I think that it is in general characteristic of Chinese fiction that we know very precisely who relates and what he relates and what he can know. Either the author speaks in his own person, or he is the narrator, sometimes the chronicler who, however, makes no attempt to conceal his role, but rather stresses it, as we noted above. The Chinese author does not as a rule try to obscure the fact that in every story, no matter what attempt is made to evoke the impression of reality, it is always a matter of reproduction, the reflection of a reality (usually complexly), and not the reality itself.
By presenting the narrative as the author’s personal experiences or recollections, or those of his double, in spite of its not seldom complicated character, to which we drew attention above, it usually forms a unified whole, actually a single monologue, into which are mounted reminiscences, descriptions, the speeches of other persons recalled by the hero or interpolated by him. Everything is viewed from a single angle; that ever-shifting dynamic perspective which we discovered in the work of Mao Tun has here no place.
We might define the whole artistic development of Yü Ta-fu as the creative endeavor to reshape personal experiences in increasingly artistic and homogeneous wholes. At the beginning of this path stand freely linked episodes describing the stream of the author’s feelings and impressions, as in “Drowning” or “Reminiscences on Returning Home,” and culminating in complex psychological pieces such as “A Lonely Man on a Journey” or “The Past.” At the same time Yü Ta-fu works his way through to an understanding and expression of social reality, whence arise those works which are a significant contribution to modern Chinese realistic literature, such as “Intoxicating Spring Nights” and “A Humble Sacrifice.”
This process is very clearly reflected in the development of his style. Naturally, we can only touch on this question, for without previous analytical studies we cannot do more than indicate several obvious traits. We have already said above that these narrative strips are strongly dramatized and that in keeping with this, too, is the style, in which the even tenor of the description of some reality is constantly interrupted by a barrage of highly emotionally colored sentences, rhetorical questions and often direct exclamations. It is evident that the author is aiming at the greatest possible liveliness of style, whose dynamism is designed to overcome the monotony of diary-form notes; he seeks sharp divisions and contrasts. His style is marked by pathos and rhetoric, with the accent on personal, emotional elements.
On the contrary, in his stories, his style throws off to a considerable extent the ballast of these emotional elements, or at least limits them to mere inserts occasionally interrupting the flow of the narrative or coneluding it. It has a clear tendency toward objectivization, strives after the greatest possible homogeneity and avoids sharp breaks. A characteristic feature of this tendency is the reduction of the dialogue to the reproduction in direct speech of the utterance of one person, whereas the replies of the second person are summarized in the description. This is the procedure repeatedly adopted by the author, for instance, in “Intoxicating Spring Nights” (pp. 168-172, the second conversation of the girl with the author).23 Only the girl’s talk is reproduced, whereas the author’s replies are reported. Actual dialogue is limited to two questions and answers, throwing light on the basic facts of the situation. Thus the whole text has actually the character of a monologue: The relation is really the author’s monologue, the girl’s speeches are monologues to which the former link on.
Another typical trait of the same tendency is the insertion of direct speech—usually only short sections—into the unified stream of the narrative. This is the case in the repeatedly cited piece “A Lonely Man on a Journey,” which is altogether presented as the author’s reminiscence—that is, as monologue. This monologue is interwoven with the recollections and recounting of his wife, the latter in its turn containing the reproduction of their son’s utterances. We see that the wife’s reminiscences are, for the most part, incorporated in the stream of narrative as the simple stating of certain facts; sometimes indirect speech is used and the reproduction of the son’s utterances is limited to short sections, really exclamations, which do not break up the unified stream of narrative. I cite here at least a fragment from the most deeply affecting passage to illustrate the method, the punctuation being left as in the original: “My wife told of how for five days preceding his death, after several nights in the hospital, he cried out, Daddy, Daddy! When she asked him: “Why are you calling for Daddy,’ he made no sign of having heard and very soon began crying out again. Then on the third day of the fifth month, according to the old calendar, he seemed to have fallen into a death stupor, and when the doctor took a marrow specimen, all he could do was call out, “what are you doing?’ The tube in his larynx gasped for breath, his eyes were starting out of his head, a little white foam trickled from his mouth, but his breathing did not stop. His Mummy, weeping, called to him: ‘Lung! Lung!’ Tears streamed from the corner of his eyes and then his Mother, seeing how he suffered, said to him: . . .”24 Only then does a longer speech by the wife follow.
It would be necessary to confront with this description the psychological novella composed by Liu О in the second part of his novel The Travels of Lao Ts’an25 to show what a remarkably long distance Chinese literature had covered in the twenty years separating the two works. Liu O’s novella takes the form of a narration by the young nun, I-yün, of her unhappy love and initiation. Interpolated into the nun’s monologue in direct speech are long speeches of her lover and of other persons, also in direct speech, and within these again are cited the words of yet other persons, so that in spite of all the freshness and charm of the narration an extremely unnatural construction arises of a whole nest of inserts, yet despite the complexity of the construction the text is not adequately varied and articulated.
An interesting attempt to achieve a smooth transition from narrative to the reproduction of speech is a passage in the tale “Humble Sacrifice,” where the author recalls his meeting with the rickshaw man. There, separated from the narrative section by a row of dots, follows a group of sentences reproducing the rickshaw man’s speech. All the sentences are introduced by the same formula, t’a-shuo , “He said,” thereby stressing their uniformity and continuity and indicating that they are sections of a single homogeneous stream. This series of reproduced statements is then linked up with the continuation of the narrative by another row of dots.
The tendency toward homogeneity and smooth flow in the relation is apparent also in the way one sentence is linked up with the next, which is particularly noticeable in the tale “Intoxicating Spring Nights.” In quite a number of cases we see that two sentences are separated by a full stop, though a comma could have been used equally well. The second sentence links up very closely in meaning and also in construction with the first of the pair. Here at least is one example. First sentence: “Seeing this expression of mine, she probably took me for a homeless vagrant.” Second sentence: “Lien-shang chiu li-Shih ch’i-la i-chung . . . piao-ch’ing . . . . . . . “And in her face there instantly appeared an expression . . . of compassion. . . .”26 The conjunction chiu, as well as the adverbial phrase li-Shih, show that actually it is a clause depending on the premise contained in the first sentence. Usually the second sentence is introduced by a preposition, so that the division is not so strongly marked as if at the beginning of the complex sentence stood a main clause; the same effect is achieved by beginning both sentences with the same word or word-group, as for instance the adverbial phrase of time: yo Shih hou , or “sometimes,” which underlines their forming part of a single thought-unit.
Already in these tales we find very complex sentences, although here the gravity and strongly emotive character of the theme did not call for an overcomplicated style. For this reason, probably, especially in “A Lonely Man on a Journey,” short sentences predominate, the author in general not departing from the style of simple narrative.
On the other hand, where Yü Ta-fu goes back to the recording of personal experiences, where the story as such practically disappears and the author’s main preoccupation is with the creation of a certain atmosphere, we find a singularly complicated style, characterized by elaborate periods. This we can illustrate by means of a seemingly very simple sketch or tale entitled Yen-ying , or “The Shadow of Smoke,” written in 1926.27 The tale begins with a sentence which no translation can fully express. We shall try only to reproduce the individual sections: “Every day he thought about returning, thought about returning. But for one thing he had a terrible cough, so that he was afraid that as soon as he moved it would precipitate some catastrophe, and for another the fee for several sheets was not sufficient to cover the expenses, so that in the long run he remained in his lodging on the first floor, in front, with a family that had somehow come down in the world.” This complicated sentence pattern is really only a group of relative clauses, in attribution to the subject. The subject and predicate then follow: “Wen p’o, on this afternoon, again languidly and aimlessly set out on his lonely walk in the street, K’ang-ma t’o-yeh, full of whirling grey dust.”
Two things stand out in this sentence: first of all the remarkable number of facts incorporated in a single semantic and syntactic whole. It is, in fact, a whole story told as it were in a single breath, a single sentence. We are given here a brief character sketch and history of the hero-author, the milieu in which he lives comes to life and he is pictured in a certain situation. Secondly there is a clearly marked tendency to obscure the hierarchy of the sections of this complex sentence. The subject of the whole sentence is completely submerged beneath an accumulation of attributes and also by a fairly complex predicate. Thus no part has a predominating position, all are somehow reduced to a single level, all being equal parts of a single complex. Thus a configuration arises with a balanced intonational pattern, the first part coupling up with the second without any sharp breaks in the rising intonational line, and not until the end of the whole complex sentence do we reach the full conclusion.
The basic structural units of this text are long complex sentences of this kind, with an occasional shorter sentence. As a result, the text acquires a high degree of homogeneity, further supplemented by the methods mentioned above, such as the reduction of the dialogue and the suppression of all direct affective expression in passages strongly charged with emotion. Unlike the earlier dramatized narrative strips, Yü Ta-fu makes no use here, not even in the most agitated passages, of exclamatory sentences or rhetorical questions, but presents them as a mere statement of certain facts. For instance, on page 4 of our sketch, he relates that the hero cannot leave for the north because everywhere hordes of soldiers are on the rampage, and adds: “If Wen-p’o, who under normal circumstances was not too careful of what he said, had set out for the north, heedless of the dangers of war, there is no doubt he would have been killed by the ravaging troops. True, the question of life or death was not, in Wen-p’o’s view, one to be regarded as terribly important. . . . But rather than be murdered by these Chinese soldiers, worse than beasts, it seemed to him more glorious to die of snake-bite. . . .28
I think that this endeavor to build up unusually complex sentences, containing in a single unit a great many facts of very varied and dissimilar character, so that a very condensed and uniform context arises, has its origin in that tendency to belletrize personal experience of which we spoke above. In this case, however, the author tries to achieve his aim by a method which is the exact opposite of that which he uses in his narrative strips. Here he attempts to overcome the chaos of atomized percepts and impressions which personal experiences always in essence are, merge and shape them into an artistic whole and so create, instead of a mere stream of notes and entries tending to flow on unendingly, a carefully worked out and structurally perfectly integrated psychological novella. It is yet another example of the striving to supersede the free structure of the old literature and replace it by more complicated forms. Stylistically it assumes the preference for more complex sentence units in place of the earlier parataxis and rhythmization.
It is also probable that the author wishes, by the use of a more complicated style, to raise the theme—a purely personal experience—to a higher level, to give it weight and importance, to make it of general interest. There is no doubt either that he has succeeded in his aim; out of purely individual experiences arises a tale laying bare with a fine probing touch the whole gloom and tragedy of the old family life. The everdarkening mood enveloping the description of the journey home from Shanghai concludes with a shattering scene in which are reproduced only the drunken babblings of his mother, who thinks of nothing but money, and the warring conflict of feelings experienced by the hero, in whom revulsion at the miserly, vulgar old woman contends with the natural love of a son. If some of Yü Ta-fu’s sketches sometimes remain material in the raw, elsewhere he creates narrative pieces of subtlety and refinement, perfectly reflecting changing nuances of mood and reminiscent in this respect of the work of Katherine Mansfield.
Finally, it remains to be noted that the descriptions of the author’s emotions remain on the traditional level of logically expressed feelings. So far as I know, we do not find in Yü Ta-fu any attempt to penetrate to the domain in which emotions are generated, to the domain of the subconscious and of not more exactly definable feelings such as modern literature seeks to describe.
The tragic schizophrenia of Yü Ta-fu’s nature, the permanent tension between the ideal and the beautiful, seen by him in revealing flashes, and the dark stream of lusts into which he bogged down, between his desire to sacrifice himself for a cause and the feeling of the futility of all effort, indeed of the futility of life itself, the ever-present shadow of death that falls on all his work and life, these would justify us in speaking of expressly romantic traits in his creative personality. His work, and also his life, recall figures in European romanticism of the beginning of the nineteenth century—a Byron, or a Czech Mâcha, including their tragic end. And perhaps it is just Yü Ta-fu’s end that hints at the still more cruel circumstances under which his life ran its course, and at the reasons why his work has also a different quality. Whereas Byron died of an illness contracted in making a supreme gesture in which was summed up his lifelong rebellion against any form of bondage, whereas the Czech poet was cut down by an equally chance illness, Yü Ta-fu was murdered, far from his native land, unknown, and even the circumstances of his death are wrapped in obscurity. Perhaps that is why the romanticism of Yü Ta-fu has only a tragic aspect, the consciousness of the futility and the vanity of life, and why only seldom do we hear the note of revolt and never is he able to give his personal tragedy a universal perspective, project his personal time-bound fate into infinity. The life he lived was too cruel for a man weak and sick, and the individual in the social chaos of the China of that time was of little or no account.
The Preface to his collected tales, Han-hui chi , or “Cold Ashes,” of 1926, is permeated with feelings of impending dissolution: “I am thirty this year and this spiritual suffering, suffering for the destruction of my intellect, is never absent for a moment from my consciousness. Moreover, since last year when I contracted lung disease my body has become daily weaker and thinner. . . . In the mutability of human life, death is something very common and, so far as the Chinese are concerned, living as they do in constant chaos and confusion, for them death and annihilation are the best fulfillment of their wishes the gods can grant them. But such despair at the destruction of one’s intelligence before the body perishes, is the greatest punishment, worse by far than hell itself, and one to which it is difficult for a man to reconcile himself. Half my life has been altogether needlessly wasted. I have done absolutely nothing of benefit to humanity, to society or to myself. What will my dissolution, the dissolution of my spirit, signify in this world of millions . . . ?” And in order to underline this almost pathological preoccupation with the thought of death and dissolution, he cites in the original a long poem from the book The Autobiography of Mark Rütherford,29 in which the author revels in the physical image of his own body lying.cold in the grave, making food for worms.
Another ingredient in the work of Yü Ta-fu is the usual romantic contrast between the misery of town life and the happy life of country people, as we saw in the above-mentioned sketch, “Reminiscences on Returning Home.” The feeling of the emptiness of an intellectual’s life is one that is voiced in Yü Ta-fu at every meeting with working people, whether peasant, worker or rickshaw man. Here the consciousness comes into sharp relief of the loneliness of the intellectual and the longing to overcome it by closer contact with the working people, which was undoubtedly one of the factors that drew the intelligentsia into the ranks of the Communist Party.
Important for Yü Ta-fu and, indeed, I think, for the whole situation in Chinese literature at that time, is the fact that the romantic consciousness of the estrangement between the writer and Nature, between the life of the intellectual and country life, does not lead to a sharp opposition of individual and society, to individualism and solipsism, as among the European romantics. Already in his first tale, “Drowning,” where Yü Ta-fu expressed perhaps most strikingly the antithesis between the individual and his milieu, he explains this opposition not on individualistic grounds, but on social or, eventually, pathological grounds, thereby blunting its sharpness. The environment which the hero feels to be hostile is created by the Japanese, who look upon the Chinese with contempt, and the hero himself is an obviously pathological case, suffering from a persecution complex. The writer clearly wanted to express the then undoubtedly important conflict between the individual and society, a conflict perfectly natural in an anti-feudal revolution, yet he felt the necessity partially to disguise it. Thus in “Drowning” he stresses and even exaggerates the conflict between the hero and his elder brother who, it is affirmed, assumes the right to decide about the hero’s life. The conflict is given pathological coloring. Proof of the very real importance of this problem in the contemporary social context was the exceptional popularity of “Drowning,” which cannot be attributed solely to its artistic qualities.
The above-mentioned scene in “Reminiscences on Returning Home” then shows us how, in the mind of Yü Ta-fu, the romantic contrast between himself and happy country life is at once interpreted as a social phenomenon, in keeping with the general tendency of the time. Along with the picture of the peasant’s happy life, Yü Ta-fu sees in his mind’s eye those who ravage this happy life—the politicians and soldiers—and he abuses and shows his contempt for the intellectuals who toady to them. It is evident that not even for Yü Ta-fu did the front of that time divide the individual and society, but rather the individual is driven into isolation by the general misery and chaos, the blame for which he lays at the door of those who at that time wielded power in China.
We have dealt more widely with the work of Yü Ta-fu, because in many respects he seems to us to be typical of the literary situation of his day. We have seen that even as objective a writer as Mao Tun employs a form usual in works bound up most intimately with the person of their author, namely, the diary, and the infiltration of personal, subjective and autobiographical elements into the literature of the time is characteristic of all contemporary writers. We shall have opportunity to return to this point in connection with Kuo Mo-jo; the close tie between Pa Chin’s most notable work and his personal experiences has been shown by O. Krai;30 M. Boušková has demonstrated the subjectivity of the work of Ping Hsin in a study devoted to this author;31 the form of a diary is also used by the woman writer, Ting Ling,32 and elsewhere I have already drawn attention to the exceptional fondness for autobiography and personal reminiscences in the literature of this period.33 I think that this fact is deserving of special attention.
It is particularly striking that this trait is not only characteristic of Chinese literature, but was a mass phenomenon somewhat earlier in the literature of Japan. There the spread of autobiographical literature was linked up, at least by some scholars, with the influence of naturalism. Thus Yoshikazu Kataoka, in the Preface to his book An Introduction to Contemporary Japanese Literature,34 maintains that Japanese naturalism, “instead of developing into a thorough-going objectivism burying the author’s ego, tended largely towards autobiographical or confession literature, which sought to project the writer’s sincerity. Inevitably, it became to a marked degree a vehicle for rendering the author’s personal affairs into subject matter, eventually producing the sort of result wherein the term naturalism came to be associated in one’s mind with an author’s miscellaneous notes respecting his private life. At the same time, even in a case of taking a broad view of phases of life, the Naturalist writers were incapable of objectifying them purely as social phases. The consequence was that they descended to articulating, for the most part through the medium of their own feelings, merely the conflict of harmony or sentiments. Accordingly, instead of achieving objective thoroughness, they constantly wrote narratives of exclamation, describing their individual sentiments.”
The character of these tendencies in Japanese literature, as defined by the Japanese scholar, certainly calls to mind several traits which we have observed in the work of Yü Ta-fu and which are proper to the works of other authors of this epoch. If we remind ourselves that a considerable number of Chinese writers studied in Japan at a time when these tendencies were very much to the fore in Japanese literature, we might well suppose that the Japanese environment worked upon them, that Chinese parallels are the reflection of Japanese patterns, or at least that Japanese influence possibly strengthened certain leanings already existing in Chinese literature.
On the other hand, it seems to me that the interpretation of the Japanese scholar oversimplifies the situation. The influence of naturalism can explain a certain liking for sexual themes, for the portrayal of uprooted characters and persons with a hereditary taint, for dark and gloomy coloring, such as characterize several works of this genre in Japan, for example, some of the works of Katai Tayama, Doppo Kunikida, and others, and in some measure also the oeuvre of Yü Ta-fu, as we saw above. We could hardly, however, attribute to the influence of the writings of Zola, Maupassant or the Goncourt brothers—the writers whom the Japanese scholar holds to be the patterns of Japanese naturalism—that tendency “towards autobiographical or confession literature,” referred to in the passage cited above. The works of the French writers just mentioned are rather an example of attempts to give the most objective possible picture of reality, and it is, after all, Kataoka himself who reproaches the Japanese representatives of naturalism with insufficient objectivity and as lacking the ability to make a scientific study of reality. I would only add that his further criticism of these authors as turning their works into “miscellaneous notes,” as he puts it, stresses the formal looseness of structure of these works. But that, too, would speak against an overestimation of the influence of naturalism on this literary genre, for it is certainly not possible to observe in the works of the French naturalists any tendency away from structural cohesion, rather the opposite.
A marked tendency toward the conscious breaking up of the traditional literary structure is, however, observable in European romanticism, whose whole significance after all rested in a revolt against the artificial, stylized and petrified art of the end of the feudal epoch, represented by fussy Rococo and the sober regimentational tendencies of the Age of Enlightenment. The free play of feeling, the natural and spontaneous new way of life of the rising middle classes, were reflected in literature and in art, in a rejection of all convention, regularity and prescribed rules. It seems to me that, alongside the undoubted influences of European naturalism, we must see in this fondness for a literary work, with strongly subjective coloring and having the form of a free expression of feelings and emotions or of a record of personal experiences, above all, the very palpable influence of European romanticism; or, more correctly, a similar social situation evoked similar literary tendencies. Indeed, the Japanese scholar, too, points to the “marked emotional and egoistic tendency” of this genre and attributes it to romantic influences which were pushed into the background by the predilection for the naturalistic school.35
We called attention above to the very strong romantic elements in the work of Yü Ta-fu; undoubtedly his works are the expression of the same Weltschmerz that permeates those of the European romanticists. In respect of formal aspects, we can then find numerous parallels between the records of Yü Ta-fu’s various experiences, punctuated by emotional outbursts, and the classic of European romanticism, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. There, as we know, the story of young Werther is in the form of a collection of heterogeneous materials in which the hero’s letters preponderate. It is thus the freest of forms and aims to create the impression that these are documents left intact by the author. There is no doubt that in Die Leiden we have the prototype of those subjectively colored “miscellaneous notes” of which the Japanese scholar speaks.Die Leiden was translated by Yü Ta-fu’s fellow writer, Kuo Mo-jo, when he was still in Japan, and the book was tremendously popular among Chinese youth.36 It is not unlikely that it also made a great impression on Kuo Mo-jo’s close friend, Yü Ta-fu. It is, indeed, probable that the whole “Creation” group grew up under the strong influence of romanticism, as we shall show in our study of Kuo Mo-jo. It would probably not be difficult to find parallels in mood and structure between Die Leiden and Yü Ta-fu’s “Drowning” and other early works. Again and again Yü Ta-fu returns to the description of the aberrant mental states of a young man and also the tragic conclusion of “Drowning,” motivated only by emotional disturbance and gloomy moods, recalls the suicide of young Werther. It seems to me, too, that we could find a certain connection between Yii Ta-fu’s production and the oeuvre of the great Russian writer Turgenev, who, as A. Vlckovâ has shown, was one of Yü Ta-fu’s favorite authors. Especially striking are the analogies between Yü Ta-fu’s tale Kuo-ch’ , “The Past,” and Turgenev’s novella “First Love,” in the portraying of women of strong personality, dominating their environment and especially their admirer, who subordinates himself to their will with devoted humility. And then also the predilection for describing love’s craving and dreams rather than an actual erotic experience is a further link between Yü Ta-fu and the Russian author. We may say that these connections appear especially in the romanticist elements of the work of the two authors and that they confirm our view of the strong influence of European romanticism of Yü Ta-fu. But Yü Ta-fu lived in the twentieth century and so we could equally well find in his work naturalistic elements, as for example in the daring dissection of perverse and pathological human states and, finally, in links with the whole legacy of the nineteenth century.
It should be noted here that by literary influence we mean only that foreign literary production shows an author certain possibilities and paths for the solution of his own problems and the problems of his time. If the artist is not faced with the same questions and tasks as was the artist or whole artistic school of a different time or place, no “influence” will be truly operative; at best it will only be a formal imitation, without deeper significance for the receiving literature. This is very well expressed by the Czech poet Vitězslav Nezval: “This alone is what I understand by the term literary influence: it lies in this that the poem of some poet affects us deeply, because it illuminates and verifies for us at the same time, from a position outside us, our most intimate and deepest insights and experiences and because it teaches us to try and seize and give expression to them ourselves.”37 And so, if we wish to explain the connection between the literature of the China of that time with European romanticism, we must in the first place see the similar social situation, which made a certain part of the Chinese intelligentsia—and evidently also of the Japanese—accessible to the influence of moods which beset European youth at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which achieved prominence in the literature of the whole first half of the nineteenth century.
As I have already said above, the soil out of which, in both Europe and Asia, such romantic moods developed was the struggle for the liquidation of the feudal order. In Europe, this struggle is exclusively the business of the bourgeoisie, which drew over to its side the whole mass of the national collective in opposition to a narrow aristocracy. It is an economic and political struggle, which is particularly strongly reflected in the domain of the arts; there the antithesis between feudal regimentation and the unrestrained outbursts of a free man comes out very sharply. In the Far East, a similar struggle was being waged, but its aspects diverged considerably. The main difference lay in the weakness of the Chinese bourgeoisie. In Japan, the bourgeoisie never succeeded in winning the victory over the old gentry and what emerges is a symbiosis of monopolistic capital with the top stratum of the aristocracy; in China, the fight against the old gentry was not fought out by the bourgeoisie, but by the working class under the leadership of the Communist Party and having the support of the masses of the peasantry. That in itself means that bourgeois ideals, especially in strong individuals, not feeling bound by any considerations or obligations, could not develop at all, or could not mature into the various extreme forms in which they appeared in Europe, from the early romantic rebel and outlaw, by way of the solipsism of German romanticist philosophy, to all those types of superman evoked by the degenerate moods of the end of the nineteenth century. In the Far East, the individual intellectual still felt much more that he was crushed and threatened by his environment, in which he never found any support for his revolt so long as he remained in his own class, in that of the petty bourgeoisie, eventually in the small gentry. The first support he found was in the revolutionary working class and, later, in the revolutionized peasantry, but that meant accepting quite a different, nonromantic ideology, and substituting for the ideal of individual revolt the theory of class struggle and the class-conscious proletarian revolution. The wave of individualistic, romantic revolt of the individual could thus only be something of a passing character, only the blaze of a prairie fire which rapidly spreads, but equally rapidly dies down. And so in China, too, the romanticist writers of “Creation” soon moved over to the Marxist position, as did Kuo Mo-jo, and indications of a similar trend of development are observable, as we saw, in Yü Ta-fu.
On the other hand, it must be stressed that the questions of the individual life, of personal happiness and of individual morality were much more urgent at this time in the Far East than in Europe in the epoch of romanticism, for in the Far East feudal oppression and regimentation were inseparably bound up with patriarchal oppression, in which the whole life of the individual was determined, step by step, by the will of parents, husbands and brothers, older people and superiors, and all these demanded from those to whom the individual was subordinated, blind obedience to the point of complete self-immolation. These patriarchal ties, wu-lun, “the five human relationships,” were the main pillar of the feudal order for they turned people into obedient automatons and were the heaviest fetters constricting the life of the individual. Moreover they were hallowed by a thousand-year-old Confucian ethic and etiquette. It is important here to realize that this morality was based on completely fallacious ideas about human beings. It maintained that children joyfully sacrifice themselves even for evil or worthless parents and older relatives, that a wife endures with love every brutality and villainy on the part of her husband, herself being without any needs, and that every subordinate longs for the opportunity to sacrifice himself for his superior.38 It was not possible to consummate the revolution against feudalism without destroying the patriarchal family and, especially, without utterly rooting out all these false ideas about human nature on which patriarchal morality was based. We must bear in mind that an important part of the anti-feudal revolution in China was the breaking up of the patriarchal family and the complete emancipation of women. It is my belief that in the revolt against the old morality and false ideas about man lies the main significance of this autobiographical, subjectivist stream in the literature of China and of Japan, and therein, too, the chief importance of the work of Yü Ta-fu, as well as of the similarly keyed works of Pa Chin, Ting Ling, and others. It was necessary to show that the individual has his own life, his personal needs, that his conduct is often determined by forces which are stronger than his will. The task was to show man as he really is, light up his inner life and probe its most hidden corners. This was not only necessary for literature, so that it should be capable of describing the intricate psychology of the human being, which so far it had not been able to do adequately, but it was a necessity for society to be able to check up on, and reassess its ideas about, human nature and create a new conception of morality based on a realistic knowledge of human psychology.
It is clear that, even though this trend was stimulated by impulses from outside, its true origins were implicit in a certain social situation.
Moreover, not even in the domain of literature did the main filiations of the trend lead abroad, but to the native literature, and this not only in China, but also in Japan, where it linked up with a very rich literary tradition. In many respects, however, though of course at a newer and higher level, it is a continuation and culmination of the preceding literary output in the written language, wen-yen. In my article “Subjectivism and Individualism,” I tried to determine the main features of this literature and here I shall therefore confine myself to an enumeration of its characteristics. I shall leave out of account the tales, notes and anecdotal episodes which were only part of the marginal output of the literati and were not included in their chi , or “collected works.” I have in mind their poetical works and then those designated in the collections as ku-wen, old art prose, even though this term rightly applies to only a single trend in this genre. The main hallmark of this literary production is its subjectivism. The author’s personal experience, his views, thoughts and feelings, are the sole source of its inspiration. A considerable part of the work of the old literati are notes written down for personal communication, diaries, letters, and so on—works of the most intimate nature. The outer world figures in his work only as the object of his personal perceptions. Another trait is the lyrical quality of this literature. In it is always expressed only a percept, a feeling, a single picture or experience. Plot, story, epic, has no place in it.39 Connected with this, undoubtedly, is its limited scale. These works are, as a rule, shorter pieces, which for the most part appear in various collections, but not linked up to form a work of larger dimensions. The character of this production is purely static and not dynamic, it is always a single picture or emotional complex, which does not unfold in time. Everything in this literature is strongly stylized and normative: the choice of vocabulary derived exclusively from the old written language, the rhythmic layout of the text, the fixed structure of the whole work, whether poem or prose essay, and then also the selection of theme—nothing ugly or coarse, at least in theory, was admissible in this literature. This normative and artificial character goes hand in hand with a certain degree of improvisation and dilettantism; the author, having learned his craft with boundless industry and over many years, then turns it to account on a single occasion, under the impression of a deeply felt experience, and sometimes actually to order. This quality of improvisation no doubt also explains the limited scale of these works, in which, as we pointed out above, a short poem and a very concise essay or sketch predominate. These productions are not designed for some anonymous reader, but as a rule only for the author himself or a very small circle of friends. Beyond this circle, and when the impulse that called them into life vanishes, they lose their significance and meaning. For the most part it is literature of a purely intimate, non-heroic character. The author speaks of himself usually with a certain irony, the portrait he paints being of a man weak, sick, poor, and beset with many troubles and hardships. We can point to a number of sociological and philosophical reasons for this kind of autostylization; as far as its literary significance is concerned, it seems to me that it is part of the tendency to evoke the impression of intimacy, of spontaneity. It is an attempt to enter into the closest possible emotional contact with the reader and so compensate for that stylized and normative character which produces a cold and impersonal impression. (Let us not forget that the literati wrote not in their own personal, natural style, but in a style they had acquired and into which they could introduce little that was personal. We may also add that this strong subjectivism also begins to color the Chinese novella and novel, when these genres become the main vehicle of expression of the Chinese literati in the eighteenth century. To this, too, we have drawn attention in the above-cited study.)
As regards literary structure, we can note that in this genre we commonly find the combination of a lyrical tableau with the record of a personal experience, eventually with commentary: in fact, the typical ground plan we repeatedly find in the works of Yü Ta-fu.40 In this genre, too, there exists a very artfully constructed novella, expressly lyrical in character, where tension is achieved by the contrast of various emotions, and unity is maintained by means of a basic thought, which is successively illuminated from various angles, and by a unified mood or atmosphere. Examples are furnished by the crowning works of Ou-yang Hsiu, such as Ch’iu sheng fu , “Ode on an Autumnal Note,”41 or of Su Shih , for instance his celebrated Ch’ih-pi-fu or “Excursions to the Red Wall.’42
The culmination of these tendencies in the old literature, in wen-yen, is the rise of the lyrical autobiography, represented by the work Fousheng liu-chi , or “Six Stories of Transient Life,” by Shen Fu .43 And even though several parts of this autobiography have outspokenly narrative, epic character, as cannot be otherwise in autobiography, the whole is not organized as a unified epic work, borne along by the stream of events, but rather as what is actually a catalog of mainly lyrical pictures and diverse notes. The material is, namely, divided according to the content into six “relations,” chi. (For a more detailed analysis, I refer the reader again to the above-cited study.) Nevertheless, the work is not a sheaf of quite unrelated pieces, as were the old “collections”—chi or sketches—pi-chi , but is held together by a single central motif, the death of the author’s wife. This tragedy is the ostinato running through all the parts, giving them a new significance and binding them into a unified whole. It is characteristic of the situation in Chinese literature that the creation of such larger units is not achieved by epic processes, but above all by lyrical processes, by imbuing the parts with a unifying mood. It is the same method as we discovered in the works of Yü Ta-fu.
Still more important is the fact that in the “Six Stories” we also find sharp transitions from feelings of greatest tragedy and despair to outbursts of unrestrained gaiety, the contrast between the unsullied beauty of Nature and the grief of human life, dreams of escape into the mountains and of a hermit’s life opposed to the misery and dullness of everyday life. All this would entitle us to speak, too, of the strongly romantic coloring of this autobiography. Here we may note further that romantic moods inspire a great part of Chinese poetry, beginning with the poet Ch’ü Yüan.
All that we have said so far justifies the statement that if Yü Ta-fu’s work and similar works of his contemporaries are influenced by European romanticism, they had their roots, at the same time, firmly in the old production of the literati. I think it is typical of the then situation in Chinese literature that an author who was so well versed in European literature and whose thought was so saturated with European ideas and pictures should show in his work such strong ties with the traditional native literature. In Yü Ta-fu, we find the diverse forms of literature cultivated by the literati—the diary, notes and the letter; his work is strongly subjective and romantic in character, permeated with lyricism and frequently contrasts the magnificent beauty of Nature with the petty misery of the life of the individual, as in the aforementioned works of the old literature. However, the fact that the shackles of feudal morality had fallen enabled the modern author to render in his work a whole scale of feelings and experiences which for the old writer were taboo. Inspired by the example of naturalism, he was able to investigate those obscure corners of his subconscious which formerly were strictly out of bounds. His work thus acquired strong dramatic and dynamic force as well as increasingly epic character.
One trait, however, must be particularly stressed in this confrontation of Yü Ta-fu’s work with old traditions: Yü Ta-fu, like the older literati, conscientiously limits his artistic production to the circle of his own experiences, fights shy of pure fantasy, even should it be based on experience and observation. For him something imagined is something “empty”—hsü, as the old literati defined it. And so if he wishes to penetrate to reality, the one path open to him is by way of personal experience, what he writes of must be known from first-hand, not merely grasped by the intellect or conceived by the imagination. In this, too, is something of that honesty and truthfulness which characterized the notable works of the old literature and which we come across especially in Lu Hsün. Here, too, we find the requirement so often demanded of the contemporary writer, namely, that if the writer is to grasp the new reality, he must live it, must change his way of life, that the decisive factor for his art is his living experience, not merely cognition or fantasy.
Finally, it must be made clear that these traditional elements acquire in the new environment also a new significance, their aim is not to evoke some moment experienced either by the author or by his friends. These works are above all an appeal to the public, and the most intimate experience serves as propaganda against the misery and poverty of contemporary life. An instructive example of a change of function in a certain order of literature is Yü Ta-fu’s Kei i-wei wen-hsüeh ch’ing-nien-ti kung-k’ai chuang , “An Open Letter to a Young Writer.”44 With biting irony, Yü Ta-fu shows the uselessness of education in contemporary society, an educated man can at best pull a rickshaw or be a thief. Instead of the intimate thoughts which the old literati expressed through the medium of a letter, with Yü Ta-fu even a letter becomes a public indictment of social evils. At the same time this letter reveals the deep bitterness with which the society of his day filled him, a bitterness which had brought him into the ranks of Leftist writers.
From Three Sketches of Chinese Literature (Prague: The Oriental Institute in Academia, 1969), 10-98.
1Wen I-to ch’üan-chi, Shanghai 1949, Vol. III. Shih yü p’i-p’ing , p. 185, Nü-shen chih shih-tai ching-shen.
2O. Král, Mao Tun’s Quest for New Scientific Realism, Acta Univers. Carolinae 1960—Philologica Suppl., p. 98.
3L. Doležel, O stylu moderni činské pŕozy (On the Style of Modern Chinese Prose), Praha 1960, p. 151.
4Under semi-indirect speech we understand what in French is called “styl indirect libre”; in German, “Verschleierte Rede” or “erlebte Rede.” It is a form of speech which is on the borderline between narration and the spoken utterances of the characters. Grammatically it is in conformity with narrative passages, its connection with direct speech is indicated by stylistic and semantic elements.
5See J. Galik, Mao Tunove poviedky (Mao Tun’s Tales), typescript thesis, p. 14.
6Mao Tun tuan-p’ien hsiao-shuo chi , Shanghai, K’ai-ming shu-tien 1949, Vol. 1, p. 159; Vol. 2, p. 3, p. 36.
7Lu Hsün ch’üan-chi, Jen-min wen-hsüeh ch’u-pan-she, Peking 1956, p. 208.
8This Preface was published in the revised edition of the novel Nieh hai-hua, of 1927. In it, Tseng P’u explains that he obtained the subject of the novel and a sketch of the first 4-5 chapters from his friend, Chin T’ien-ke, but stresses the difference between his conception and the original plan of his friend: “Only Mr. Chin’s original manuscript devoted too much attention to the principal hero and described only [the life of] a celebrated courtesan and only lightly sketched in several events connected with this . . . My aim was quite different, I wanted to make [the life story] of the principal hero the thread [connecting up the plot] of the whole book and introduce into it, in an exhaustive way, the whole history of the past thirty years [and in such a way] that I would avoid [the description] of external events and concentrate on the small details and less well known happenings, in order thus to illuminate the background of great events and give greater breadth to the whole conception of the work . . .” See Ah Ying , Preface to Nieh-hai-hua, Peking, Pao-wen-t’ang shu-tien, 1955, p. 2.
9Ta-fu ch’üan chi Vol. 1, Han-hui-chi, Shanghai, Ch’uang-tsao ch’u-pan-pu 1927.
10Ta-fu ch’üan chi , the end.
11Henri van Boven, Histoire de la Littérature Chinoise Moderne, Peiping 1946, p. 75.
12Ta-fu tai-piao tso , Hsien-tai shu-chü 1933, p. 235 et seq.
13A. Vlčkovâ, Pokus O zhodnotenie Yü Ta-fuóvej tvorby a načrt jeho vyvoja so zvla zretelom k autorovu dielu do roku 1930 (Attempt at an evaluation of Yü Ta-fu’s work and a sketch of his development, with special reference to the author’s work up to 1930), typescript thesis.
14Ta-fu ch’üan-chi, Vol. 2, Chi le chi, Ch’uang-tsao ch’u-pan-pu 1927, beginning.
15Ta-fu san-wen chi , Shanghai, Pei-hsin shu-chü, undated, p. 125.
16Ta-fu tai-piao tso, p. 65.
17Hou-chi , id, p. 109.
18Ta-fu ch’üan-chi, Han-hui-chi, first tale.
19Ta-fu san-wen chi, p. 49.
20Ta-fu tai-piao-tso, p. 175 et seq.
21Lu Hsün ch’üan-chi, p. 43 et seq.
22Ta-fu tai-piao-tso, p. 20 et seq.
23Ta-fu tai-piao-tso, p. 147 et seq.
24Op. cit., p. 7.
25Lao Ts’an yu-chi erh chi , Shanghai, Liang-yu kung szu 1946. Partially translated into English by Lin Yutang, under the title A Nun of Taishan, in the book Widow, Nun and Courtesan, New York 1951, p. 111, et seq. Complete Czech translation in Putováni, Stareho Chromce, Praha 1960. (The Travels of Lao Ts’an.)
26Op. cit., p. 157.
27Ta-fu tai-piao-tso, p. 215.
28Op. cit., pp. 218-219.
29The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford is the work of the writer William Hale White (1831-1913), and was published in 1881; its continuation is Mark Rutherford Delivered, 1885.
30O. Krái, “Pa Chin’s novel, The Family,” Studien zur modernen chinesischen Literatur, Berlin 1964, p. 97 et seq.
31M. Boušková, The Stories of Ping Hsin, Studien, p. 113 et seq.
32Ting Ling, So-fei nü-shih jih-chi, Hsien-tai Chung-kuo hsiao-shuo hsüan, Shanghai, Ya-hsi-ya shu-chü 1929, Vol. 1, p. 1.
33“Subjectivism and Individualism in Modern Chinese Literature,”ArOr 25 (1957), p. 261 et seq., especially p. 266.
34Edited by the Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, Tokyo 1939, p. XII et seq.
35Op. cit., p. XI.
36I pointed out in my article “Subjectivism,” p.263, how highly Chinese youth valued this book and saw in it a direct reflection of their own feelings.
37Vitězslav Nezval, Ζ mébo života (From My Life), Praha 1959.
38Evidence of the propaganda of this feudal morality is to be found in the greater part of the tales written by the literati for the people, with the one aim of spreading this morality.
39See Hirth, Das Formgesetz der epischen, dramatischen und lyrischen Dichtung, 1923, p. 194: “ . . . die lyrische Situation ist eine Schau, ein Bild, aber die Sachlage ist nicht anders zu umschreiben, denn lebendige Verhältnisse können nur geschaut und in Bildern dargestellt werden.”
40A typical example is the description of a festival on Tiger Hill, Hu-ch’iu , by Yüan Hung-tao (1568-1610), see Yüan Chung-lang ch’üan-chi , Shanghai, K’ai-ming shu-tien 1935, yüan Chung-lang yu-chi, p. 1. There the description of the festival is all at once linked up with a relation about personal problems and considerations.
41See G. Margouliès, Le Kou-wen Chinois, Paris 1926, p. 259 et seq.
42Op. cit., p. 292 et seq.
43Shanghai, Hsin-wen-hua shu-she, undated. For a full survey, see Šest historif prchavého života (Six Tales of a Fleeting Life), translated into Czech by J. Průsek, Praha 1956.
44Ta-fu tai-piao-tso, p. 301 et seq.