Book Review: A History of Modern Chinese Fiction by CT Hsia


Those with an academic interest in Chinese literature are undoubtedly aware of the CT Hsia classic History of Modern Chinese Fiction which has just been reissued by the Chinese University Press. Those who aren’t might find the thought of a 600-page tome of literary criticism to be more than a little daunting; that would be a pity, for the volume is an example of erudition and clarity of expression.

Given that this edition follows the 1971 second edition, the “modern” in the title is a relative term. One won’t find here any of the recent flowering of Chinese fiction: there’s no Mo Yan, Yu Hua, Su Tong or Han Shaogong. Further, names are in the Wade-Giles transliteration, so a writer like Lu Hsün may not be immediately recognizable to those familiar with the more currently common spelling of Lu Xun. It was only when I read that Yü Ta-fu became a newspaper editor in Singapore in 1938 and fled to Sumatra in 1942 that I linked him to the Yu Dafu who figured in a number of Ng Kim Chew’s stories in Slow Boat to China.

This is as much a history as it is a work of literary criticism and analysis. Given the intermingling of literature and politics, everywhere but especially in China in the turbulent 40 years covered, it is inevitable that the book should itself been the subject of political analysis, a subject treated in detail in an introduction by Harvard’s David Der-wei Wang. Read more