Western Theory’s Chinese Transformation


In the field of theory of literature and art (i.e., the discipline of Wenyi xue) in contemporary China, the post-1930s and the post-1950s generations (scholars who were born between 1930 and 1939 and between 1950 and 1959, respectively) are the most influential ones. They are father and son generations both in a physiological and a sociocultural sense; both occupied or are still occupying important positions in Chinese academia. Their profound differences in life experiences, educational background, intellectual structures, cultural stances, and literary perspectives significantly affect their knowledge production in Chinese literary theory. This article attempts to use Karl Mannheim’s theory of generations to analyze the knowledge production in literary and art theory in contemporary China and to explore the sociohistorical reasons for the formation of the differences between the two generations of scholars. In order to demonstrate their differences in literary conceptions and cultural positions, by reviewing the “aesthetic ideological debates” that took place in the 1990s within the post-1930s generation, as well as the history of textbook compilation, this article explores how their views on the aesthetic properties and the autonomy of literature are a matter related to “generations.”