30 Years of… Literature?

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

The Olympics Games and multiple national disasters aside, 2008 is an historic year for another reason: it marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's 'reform and opening up' (改革开放) economic recovery plan. Inevitably, this year has seen a pile of retrospectives and "where-are-we-now" type articles and TV programs, most illustrating just how far China has come in 30 years, while simultaneously reviving rhetoric and imagery from a more Socialist past.

The publishing world is no exception: this article (Chinese only) is an announcement of the impending publication of a series of the 300 "most influential books" of the past 30 years. Here's the second paragraph of the report:

According to the introduction provided by Nie Zhenning [聂震宁], president of the China Publishing Group [中国出版集团], the group has planned out 115 major themes and 16 major activities having to do with the 30 years of reform and opening up [henceforth "30RO"], and the publication and promotion of the "300 Most Influential Books of the 30RO" series, led by the China Book Business Report is one of the most important of those activities. "These 300 books provide a broad, deep, and true record of the magnificent surge of history over the 30RO. They are an earnest summary of the practical experience of 30RO. They explore 30 years of Sino-Marxist historical progress and fully reflect the deep changes that Chinese society and the Chinese people have gone through over the past 30 years under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. They proclaim the achievements of 30RO and the contributions which China has made to the development and progress of human society, thereby providing readers with rich resources regarding the history of the 30RO, and adding one more priceless jewel to the cultural treasure-stores of the Chinese nationality," said Nie Zhenning.

Update: The greater list is now online and you, citizen of the interwebs, have the chance to vote for your favorite authors! The 30-year criteria turns out to have meant, 'published within the past 30 years', which includes recent reprints of old books, which makes the criteria mostly meaningless. You can vote for as many books as you like, as many times as you like (we've voted four times so far), so get clicking! It's digital democracy; it only works if you believe!

The books will first be nominated by a committee of experts and the list will be publicized in the media. Readers will have a chance to vote on them, and then the experts will settle on the final 300. No mention is made of genre or type of book, but the books will: "provide healthy guidance to thought and morality, have positive, uplifting content, be conducive to the creation and promotion of advanced culture" etc etc etc.

On the one hand it's unfair to single this article out, as this kind of language is entirely obligatory and in some sense can be simply ignored. On the other hand, major publishing resources and publicity are being put into this series, resources that could have been spent elsewhere. And people wonder why Chinese literature can't quite pull itself together…


# 1.   

As a Chinese, I cannot help feeling shameful about those words--they look banal in the original, but downright stupid in the translation.

paul , September 27, 2008, 6:01p.m.

# 2.   


Micah Sittig, September 29, 2008, 6:45p.m.

# 3.   

I wouldn't worry too much about it! I think everyone's aware that language like that is the verbal equivalent of a national-flag lapel pin, and should be overlooked. You're right, though, it seems a lot worse when you single it out for translation :)

Eric Abrahamsen, September 29, 2008, 8:53p.m.

# 4.   

Thanks Micah!

Eric Abrahamsen, September 30, 2008, 11:01a.m.

# 5.   

No prob. And not post-worthy, but funny:


Micah Sittig, October 2, 2008, 6:37a.m.

# 6.   

A very odd selection of books! Two different versions of Fortress besieged, for instance. And it makes absolutely no sense at all to put Ba Jin Jinpingmei on the list. Also, it would have been much more interesting without all the translated books. But was'nt there a similar list a few years ago, when people got upset because Jin Yong was voted as one of the most important writers of the last century?

Anna GC, November 3, 2008, 4:31p.m.

# 7.   

Sorry about the spelling, my computer omits some letters and refuses to obey...

Anna GC, November 3, 2008, 4:32p.m.

# 8.   

Eric, it made my heart lighter to read "an historic year."

Canaan Morse, November 4, 2008, 6:06a.m.


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