Full Citation

  • Title The Influence of Western Culture on Modern Chinese Literature*
  • Author Wong, Y. W.
  • Publication Title Educational Review
  • Date Jan. 1925
  • Volume 17
  • Issue Number 1
  • Page Number 15
  • Place of Publication Shanghai, China
  • Language English
  • Document Type Essay
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library National Library of China
The Influence of Western Culture on Modern Chinese Literature* Y. W. Wong Y. W. Wong (3£ # $) Editor-in-chief of the Commercial Press, Shanghai. Literature, being changeable, is readily influenced by any new element with which it comes in contact. European literature as a whole has been deeply influenced by Greek and Latin; French literature and English literature have been influenced by each other now and again during many centuries. In China, literature received its foreign influence first from the Hindoos through the introduction of Buddhism, then from the Mongols and other Northern tribes through the “ vulgarization” of songs and novels, and lastly from Europeans and Americans through the introduction of western culture. Although the influence of Buddhism has been deeply rooted during the past eighteen centuries, that of western culture is equally far-reaching in spite of the comparatively short period of only half a century which has elapsed since it was first introduced. It is true that western culture had been introduced to some extent during the Mongol Dynasty and the early part of the Manchu Dynasty, when the Catholic fathers brought to China some of the western arts and sciences ; it is nevertheless true that it was only after the Opium Wars, when China was compelled by necessity to seek for western culture actively, that the influence of the latter began to show its significance. Let us first consider the various agencies through which western culture has exerted its influence on modern Chinese literature. I. Through the Translation oe Western Works As an outcome of the Opium Wars, China gave up her “isolation policy” and began to learn something of the outer world. In the year 1867, the Tung Wen Kuan (|pj It) was founded for the training of Chinese students in foreign languages. A little later, a translation bureau was created in connection with the Kiangnan Arsenal, which rendered into Chinese a number of volumes of western standard works on sciences and arts. Owing to the dryness of these works, very little influence * Commencement Address at Shanghai College, June 1924. was exerted on Chinese literature, until the famous translations of Yen Fu (jg and Lin Hsa ($; |f) appeared during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Mr. Yen Fu was an Anglo-Chinese scholar of highest renown. At first he took up naval studies in England ; but after his return to China, he devoted himself to the study of philosophy and sociology. With the greatest care, he successively rendered into Chinese some of the world’s greatest classics, such as Huxley’s “Evolution and Ethics,” Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” Herbert Spencer’s “Study of Sociology,” Montesquieu’s “Spirit of Laws,” and John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” His style of writing is so fine that his translations are accorded high respect from students of the old school and are ranked at the same level as the works of the classical Chinese philosophers. It was mainly through his efforts that the Chinese people began to appreciate western thoughts and ideals; hitherto they had admired only western arts and manufactures. The other scholar, Mr. Lin Hsii, however, directs his attention to a different line, namely, fiction and belles lettres. In spite of his own ignorance of any western language, he has with the help of some collaborators rendered into Chinese more than one hundred volumes of the world’s masterpieces from the mighty pens of Alexandre Dumas and his son, Charles Dickens, Oliver Goldsmith, Washington Irving, and many other writers. As Mr. Lin Hsii is a writer in the classical style, all these translations are very readable to students of the old school, who hitherto did not know any foreign literature or considered it inferior to the Chinese. Besides, in Chinese literature there was no long story written in the classical style, although there were many in the easy literary, or vulgate, style {pei hua) ; thus Mr. Lin Hsu’s translations have created a new phase in the history of Chinese literature: These two scholars have introduced into China more of the substance of foreign literature than of its form. It seems to be their common purpose to give free translation and to preserve the Chinese form as much as possible. It is only within the last few years, since the vulgate style became prevalent, that writers have begun to emphasize exact translation and have gradually introduced a European style of writing into Chinese literature. 11. Through the Medium oe Journalism Journalistic writing in the form of government gazettes began its existence in China as early as the Tang Dynasty ; but journalistic writing in the modern form did not exist in the country until China was formally opened to foreign trade:. The earliest dailies and periodicals were started by westerners in Hongkong and Shanghai, and were followed by those conducted by the Chinese themselves. At first they were mostly confined to a commercial bulletin combined with that of a government gazette. It was only after the crushing defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War that journals were devoted to the discussion of political problems. The first magazine claiming as its aim and end the advocacy of political reforms was the Shih Wu Pao (iff under the editorship of Mr. Liang Chi-chao one of the principal figures in the Reform Movement of 1898. When the reformed government was overthrown by the reactionaries led by the Empress-Dowager Tsi Hsi (gt ||), Mr. Liang Chi-chao took refuge in Japan. There he started the Sin Min Tsung Pao g 31 making it his organ of propaganda. In order to make his preaching popular and attractive, he was bold enough to free himself from the yoke of the classical style, and practically created a sort of journalistic style. This liberated spirit of writing, together with the important topics under discussion, induced many Chinese students in Japan to follow Mr. Liang Chi-chao’s example ; so that at one time there were no less than fifty periodicals published by these students with the uniform object of advocating political reforms. But while the goal may be one and the same, the ways of reaching or approaching it are quite diversified., Hence there arose long and bitter arguments among these magazines. The two most conflicting platforms announced by them were constitutionalism and revolutionism. The former, under the leadership of Mr. Liang Chi-chao and his teacher Mr. Kang Yu-wei ff jSj) , advocated a constitutional government under the Mancliu Emperor ; while the latter, under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen considered the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty and the establishment of a republican form of government the only means of China’s salvation. The, leading organ of the Revolutionary Party, as Dr. Sun’s followers were called at that time, was the Min Pao (]£ fg), which published many a memorable article expounding its own platform and criticizingthat of the other party. Among its writers the name of Mr. Wong Ching-wei (££ |jif must not be ignored. His writing and his personality are recognised with respect even among his opponents in politics. Since the advocacy for political reforms has engaged the energy of so many Chinese scholars in journab'stic writing, it is no wonder that after these reforms have been nominally secured, i. e., after the foundation of the republican form ot government, journalistic writing was for a time in vogue all over the country, and argumentative essays appeared almost incessantly in newspapers and periodicals. The most distinguished writer along this line during the first few years of the Republic was Mr. Chang Hsi-chao (i|t M)- Being a logician and grammarian, Mr. Chang Hsi-chao arranges his ideas in strict logical form and pens his passages in forceful classical style in conformity with" -European grammar. His writing appears mostly in the Min Lih Pao ( js[ fU) of Shanghai and “The Tiger” (Ep g[) monthly. It has been acknowledged unquestionably as the model of argumentative essays. Contemporaneous and equal in influence with Mr. Chang Hsi-chao’s writing are the journalistic writings of Mr. Liang Chi-chao and Mr. Huang Yuen-yung (|qf jg; /,|f). Mr. Liang Chichao, rightly called the forerunner of journalistic writing in China, was at that time editor of the Yung Yen Monthly uff wm- Instead of the sensational and somewhat reckless style in which he used to w r rite twenty years ago, he resorted to logic and legal theories and penned his passages more carefully. Mr. Huang Yuen-yung, a very influential newspaper writer in Peking, had also something to do with the shaping of Chinese journalistic literature. The last and latest step of progress has brought Chinese journalism from the political field to the social field, laying stress upon what is called the “New Culture” (0j fL). For the shifting of the centre of journalism, a great deal is due to the “New Youth” (flj ip), a monthly magazine of immense influence on the new culture, especially on the epoch-making topic of the “literary revolution.” The most prominent writers in this magazine are Mr. Chen Tu-shiu ( [h]l and Dr. Hu Shih jjg), both professors of the National University of Peking. Their propaganda has wide-spread effects and has entered deeply into the student circle. In consequence, many new magazines have been started, and new sections have been set aside in existing papers for the discussion and recommendation of the new culture. Thus one can easily see what an important position journalistic “writing, an import from' the west, has occupied in modern Chinese literature. 111. Through the New System of Education The wounds received by China during the Boxer Uprising of 1900 were too severe for the government to rfesist the cry for reform any longer. In the year 1902 an Imperial Edict was issued, causing the conversion of all shu yuan or old academies (iSF Be) into schools and colleges of the western form; and in the next year followed another memorable edict, abolishing the eight-limbed composition which was a compulsory requirement in all literary examinations since the Ming Dynasty. Thus began what we call the new system of education. Since then, the system has been modelled and remodelled until we come to the existing form, which is very similar to that prevailing in the United States. Instead of the rigid form of the eightlimbed composition, the subject for which was entirely confined to the interpretation of a single passage or phrase of the Confucian Classics, students have - now much more freedom to express their thoughts in a wider field; instead-of-tire-researchnature of the shu yuan which might do good only to postgraduates of abstract sciences, students have now been admitted to the whole field of learning from the very elementary to the highly professional grade. No doubt, the widened scope of learning and the liberated spirit of writing have jointly contributed a great deal to the revolution of Chinese literature. Moreover, with the advent of new educational institutes, textbooks for various subjects and grades are urgently needed. To meet the new demand, a great many educational books, which occupy a very important place in recent publications, have been issued from time to time. The earliest supplier of these educational books was the Commercial Press, now the largest publishing house in China, which in addition to many other publications and products, has put out no less than three thousand different volumes of textbooks for schools and colleges within the last twenty years. Modern textbooks are not only different in substance from those that existed in the past; they are radically new in style and arrangement. It is evident, therefore, that the advent of modern textbooks alone creates a new phase in the Chinese literature. So much for the influence of western culture in its general aspects. We have now to turn our attention to some of the specific ways in which this influence manifests itself. These are (1) the introduction of phonetic symbols, (2) the adoption of the pei hua or vulgate style, and (3) the systematization of ancient literature. A reference to each of these points is necessary. The introduction of Chinese phonetic symbols has -long been suggested, at first by missionaries, and then by far-sighted Chinese scholars. Realizing the great difficulty and enormous number of Chinese characters on the one hand, and discovering the extremely high percentage of illiterates among the people on the other hand, this method was advocated chiefly for the promotion of popular education. During the last twenty years of the Manchu regime, various systems of phonetic symbols were invented by scholars and educators; and private schools, as well as at least one government institute at Nanking, were established for training students in reading and writing with these symbols. At the beginning, the symbols were sometimes pronounced according to local dialects; but, in the later part of the period, when the need of a unified national language became very urgent, generally accepted that only the Peking dialect should Tie followed in pronouncing the symbols. In the second year ol the Republic, a national conference on the unification of pronunciation was called at Peking by the Ministry of Education. This conference with seventy-nine delegates from the twenty-two provinces as well as Mongolia passed several radical resolutions, amdhg which were the adoption of a unified system of thirty-nine symbols and the rectification of sixty-five hundred sounds. Since then the standardized kuo yii or national spoken language, consists of over ninety per cent of the Peking dialect, with only a few per cent taken from the second elements of different provinces, in order to make the symbols and sounds comprehensive and complete. These resolutions, however, were not enforced until tfte end of the fourth year of the Republic, when the Ministry of Education applied to the President of the Republic for approval of a semi-official institute at Peking for training students in the use of the unified symbols and sounds adopted by the conference. But the formal promulgation of these symbols was further withheld, until an order to that effect was issued by the Ministry of Education in November of the seventh year of the Republic. The adoption of pei hua, or the vulgate style, is another step of first importance towards the progress of modern Chinese literature. As every one knows, the Chinese language is divided into the classical and the vulgate style, the former being the language of the dead past, or of the aristocratic class, while the latter that of the living present, or of the populace. Although efforts have long been made to introduce the pei hua literature to the people, the recognition of pei hua as the legitimate heir to the classical language is an issue of very recent date. This seems to be one of the results of the comparative study of languages, as such a movement found its root in the controversy started by a few Chinese students studying in America, Like Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio of Italy, who made the Tuscan dialect the national language of the Italian people as the substitute of Latin, the champions of the Chinese literary revolution, with a new standard acquired from the comparative study of languages to remeasure the real value of their own language, are bold enough to make pei hua not only the language of and for the people, but also that of and for the literati. In the year 1917, the first declaration of these champions was published in the “New Youth.” It consisted of an article by Dr. Hu s£ili bn “Some Suggestions for the Reform of Chinese Literature,” which was followed by another one on “A Revolution in Literature” by Mr. Chen Tu-shiu. In both of these articles, the classical language was openly declared to have outlived its usefulness and to have been responsible for the utter poverty in literary masterpieces during the past twenty centuries. As a matter of course. • anything new is sure to arouse some opposition. It was only natural that students and followers of the old school, who had long esteemed or were used to the classical style, should bitterly oppose the pei hv.a, which they regard as the writing of and for the vulgar classes only. On the other hand, scholars of the new school and younger generation were strongly in favour of the vulgate style and did a great deal to help spread the propaganda. Hence there arose long and bitter arguments, which lasted for two or three years, and resulted in the final victory for the new party, as shown in the order issued by the Ministry of Education in 1920, requiring that the reading lessons for the first two grades of primary schools should be in the vulgate style. This official recognition of the literary revolution has far-reaching effects. The requirement of pei Mia in primary schools necessitates the training in pei hua in the normal and middle schools, which in turn creates a tendency of writing in this style in colleges and higher normal schools, where teachers of these secondary schools are trained. Such a requirement, as well as the simplicity of handling pei hua, has, in the past few years, produced many books and periodicals in this style. Not only prose but also poems are written in pei hua. The most popular among the poems are Dr. Hu Shih’s writings collected in a booklet called^ ‘ The Trial” (Up Dr. Hu Shih used to be a talented poet in the classical style ; but his poems in the vulgate form are no less beautiful and attractive, according to the judgment of impartial critics. Thus pei hua has proved omnipotent and is bound to become the dominating style in the expression of thought. The systematization of ancient literature is a revival of the work of the Han Hsueh ipi) scholars with the aid of western methods. By Han Hsueh we mean a school of research students, beginning at the end of the Ming Dynasty and continuing almost throughout the whole Tsing Dynasty, who were dissatisfied with the subjective method of interpreting the ancient classics by the philosophers and scholars of the Sung Dynasty, and who based every conclusion on the evidences obtained mostly from the study of ancient phonetics or from other substantial references. Through the efforts of this school, many books which were hitherto believed to be authentic were found to be spurious, and a vast amount of material for ancient history was proved to be of pure invention and utterly unreliable. In spite of the valuable service rendered, this school, however, was condemned during the last decade of the Tsing Dynasty as having taxed too much the students’ energy for trifling evidence. But the work of this school has been recently re-valued by some of the foremost scholars who have dipped into western culture. They consider it no less scientific in principle than the methods used by historians and archeologists in the West; and with the aid of logic and other sciences from the West, they have reentered into this research in a new spirit. It is interesting to note that the very leaders of the pei hua movement are the ones who take the lead in the systematization of ancient literature. Apparently the two kinds of work are contradictory; but in fact they have to go hand in hand, because systematization of ancient literature helps the ordinary readers to understand the time-worn,.texts more readily, just as vulgarization” of writing helps beginners to read and write more readily. The facts given above show clearly how the changes in modern Chinese literature are directly or indirectly due to the influence of western culture, which has, in turn, been brought to the Chinese directly or indirectly, through the good office of the missionaries in China. Among the numerous achievements of the missionaries, that of educational work must be accorded the highest credit. Through their early efforts in school education, they set an example to the Chinese Government and therefore helped to put through the new system of education; through their early efforts in popular education, they became the forerunners in such radical changes as the introduction of Chinese phonetic symbols. Their work in the past is remarkable, and their work in the future must be equally or even more hopeful. I am especially impressed with the fact that some of the missionary institutes of higher education, with a view to bringing up men and women more useful for China, are paying special attention to the teaching of Chinese language and literature. This is certainly a highly commendable act, because only those who are well educated in Chinese are capable of introducing western culture into China. If men like Mr. Yen Fu, Dr. Hu Shih, and others had not been so well equipped with the learning of their own country, they would not have been able to do so much for China, in spite of the learning they had acquired from abroad. Recently the tendency towards the study of Chinese literature is also growing stronger and stronger among students of the new school and younger generation. I am in a position to know the growing demand for books on this line. It is not my experience that students in modern Chinese schools, especially in missionary schools, are less attentive to the study of Chinese than to any other subjects. Nor is there ground for the undue apprehension of most people that with the prevalence of pei Mia the study of Chinese will be even . more slighted. The result of my observation is just the contrary. This may be due to the fact that the door to original writing has been opened, following the prevalence of pei Jma, and the barrier to research has been removed, following the systematization of ancient literature. With this tendency to uphold Chinese studies by school authorities as well as students, and with so many radical changes already realized, it is safe to say that modern Chinese literature Wfacing a bright future.