Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

The Lost Books of Modern China: Moral Censorship and the Preservation of “Obscene” Texts, by Michel Hockx

By Helen Wang, published

Paper given at the Crafts of World Literature Conference, Oxford, 28-30 September 2012.

Abstract: This paper draws attention to linkages between the craft of writing and its legal context, as well as to the sometimes long-lasting consequences of legal restrictions for the preservation of literary material. The focus is on magazines and books published in China in the early twentieth century. In recent years, a wide variety of early modern Chinese print publications has resurfaced and been digitized. Yet it seems clear that a powerful combination of political ideology, moral taboo, and scholarly bias is excluding some types of publication from the emerging digitized canon. Whereas political censorship in China has been studied extensively, the effects of moral taboos and scholarly bias on the preservation of printed material are unknown. There is evidence that persisting taboos (for instance on nudity or description of sexual acts) are having a direct impact on decisions made by Chinese scholars, librarians, and digitizers to ignore certain historical source materials, or to treat them in biased ways. Taking the example of China’s first literary magazine edited for and by women (founded in 1914, banned in 1916, reprinted in 2004, and since then partially digitized), the paper will draw attention to obscenity legislation as a relevant context for literary production and preservation, not just in China but throughout the world.

Michel Hockx is Professor of Chinese at SOAS, University of London. Born and raised in The Netherlands, he obtained his PhD in 1994 from Leiden University for a thesis on modern Chinese poetry. His later work has dealt with various aspects of the sociology of modern Chinese literature, including the study of early modern literary societies and literary magazines and, more recently, the study of Internet Literature. His monograph Internet Literature in China is forthcoming with Columbia University Press.


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