‘The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature’ Opens Doors Hitherto Closed to Us

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Yunte Huang grapples with some monumental subject matter, and the results are spellbinding. A thrilling journey into the literary soul of today’s China.

Yunte Huang has his work cut out. You could say that the author, translator, and academic has set himself the impossible task. In the introduction to The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature, he describes his project as a “search of the soul of modern China”; an endeavour hampered by the fact that there is no such thing as a single modern China, but several.

Huang is well aware of this. His search begins in 1911, with the 20th century still just an infant, but with one of history’s most enduring dynasties lumbering to a close. The Great Qing, founded by Nurhaci in 1616, is sputtering towards its death throes. Child-emperor Puyi sits precariously on the Imperial throne, and republican fervour is in the air.

Is this the beginning of modern China; the Xinhai Revolution which saw Sun Yat Sen bring an end to thousands of years of imperial rule? Or did this transition to modernity occur later, when combined Nationalist, Communist and international forces drove the invading Japanese from China? Or was it later still, when Mao Ze Dong’s communist PLA achieved total control in the country?

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