SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Literature and Social Transformation in Contemporary China

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This module is a survey of Chinese literature from Mao Zedong’s Yan’an Talks to the present day. Special attention will be paid to the ways in which literary works respond to the changing geopolitical condition and reshape social values in the second half of the twentieth century. Major topics include socialist modernization and realist literature, nativist literature in Taiwan, Chinese avant-garde fiction, urbanization and popular fiction, as well as Chinese literature and new media.

This module is the one of two survey modules on modern Chinese literature and culture (the other is Literature, Politics, and National Identity in Modern China). There is no language requirement for this module.  

This module is available as an open option to students on any other undergraduate programme within SOAS.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. demonstrate a knowledge of the important developments in the modern Chinese society and Chinese literary tradition
  2. articulate the significance of key historical events to reading and interpreting Chinese writing in this period
  3. demonstrate an awarenss of the various possibilities for reading literature in relation to relevant historical contexts and a range of theoretical ideas
  4. demonstrate an ability to work individually in researching, synthesizing, and preparing for seminars and written course work


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with a 2 hour lecture per week.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1: Towards Socialist Realism: The Yan'an Forum
  • Week 2: Socialist Realist Literature
  • Week 3: Reinventing National History in Mid-Twentieth Century
  • Week 4: Nativist Literature in Taiwan
  • Week 5: Rediscovering Humanism in Post-"Cultural Revolution" Literature
  • Week 6: Reading Week
  • Week 7: Root-Seeking Literature  
  • Week 8: New Historical Fiction
  • Week 9: Avant-Garde Fiction
  • Week 10:  Marketing Chinese Women Writers in the 1990s
  • Week 11: Youth Writers and the Internet

Method of assessment

A reaction paper of 700 words to be submitted on day 1, week 7, in the term of teaching (20%); an essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following teaching (80%).

Suggested reading

  • Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art,” in Kirk A. Denton (ed.), Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature, 1893-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).
  • Excerpt from Hao Ran, The Golden Road (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981), 272-298.
  • Excerpt from Hsien-Yung Pai, Taipei People (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2000).
  • Wang Zhenhe, “An Oxcart for a Dowry,” in Joseph S.M. Lau, ed., Chinese Stories From Taiwan: 1960-1970 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), 75-99.
  • Lu Xinhua, “The Wounded,” trans. Geremie Barme and Bennet Lee, in The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979), 9-24.Han Shaogong, “The Homecoming,” tr. Jeanne Tai, in Tai, ed., Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories (New York: Random House, 1989), 19-40.
  • 7.Ge Fei, “The Lost Boat,” trans. Caroline Mason, in Henry Zhao, ed., The Lost Boat: Avant-garde Fiction from Chin (London: Wellsweep, 1993), 77-100.
  • 8. Wei Hui, Excerpts from Shanghai Baby, trans. Bruce Humes (London: Robinson, 2003),1-56.
  • 9. Zhu Tianwe, "Fin de Siecle Spelendor," trans Eva Hung, in Joseph Lau and Howard Goldblatt edsl, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, 388-394.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules