SOAS University of London

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

Literature, Politics and National Identity in Modern China

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

How did modern Chinese literature come into being? How did Chinese literature contribute to the making of a modern nation-state and reveal contested visions of national identity? This course introduces the main Chinese intellectual traditions, representative literary texts and authors in the Republican era (1912-1949). Major topics include literature and nation, ideology and realism, women’s literature, as well as wartime writing.

This module is one of two survey modules on modern Chinese literature. There is no language prerequisite for this module. For students who would like to read original texts, they are advised to take Reading Modern Literary Texts.

This module offers a survey of modern Chinese literature from the 20th century.

Taught in English, and based entirely on translated texts, the module is open to students with all kinds of Chinese language proficiency, from no Chinese at all to Chinese mother-tongue.

For students with a high proficiency of Chinese, the module offers both basic training in theories of literature and guidance in using Chinese-language materials for research. For students with no previous knowledge of Chinese and Chinese literature, the module provides with the necessary skills to read, interpret and analyse English translations of modern Chinese literary texts, and their context.
The module is thoroughgoing and wide-ranging, and whilst seminal texts by core writers constitute its fundamental structure, the module is equally concerned with the general literary field, and the key movements that have shaped the Chinese literary landscape. As a result, the range of material explored is eclectic, and ranges from the canonical greats of the Republican period, through the high Communist period, intersecting with themes as nationhood, gender, the urban/rural divide, ideological interventions, war, and more.

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


Total taught hours: 20 hours. 1 hours of lecture and 1 hour seminar per week for 10 weeks.

Independent study: 130 hours

Total hours for module: 150 hours

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • Week 1: Introductoin: contextualizing modern Chinese literature
  • Week 2: National Language and New Vernacular Literature
  • Week 3: The Rise of Modern Chinese Fiction
  • Week 4: Masculinity and Nation
  • Week 5: Ideology and Realism
  • Week 6: Reading Week
  • Week 7: Women's Literature
  • Week 8: The Literature of Leisure
  • Week 9: Narrating Nostalgia
  • Week 10: New Urban Culture and Modernist Fiction
  • Week 11: Writing and Domesticity in Times of Love and War

Method of assessment

Research exercise of 750 (20%); a 2000 word essay (80%).

Suggested reading

  • Chen Duxiu, “On Literary Revolution” in Kirk A. Denton ed., Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature 1893-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 140-145.
  • Lu Xun, “A Madman’s Diary,” in Joseph Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 7-16.
  • Yu Dafu, "Sinking" in Joseph Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 44-69.
  • Mao Dun, “Spring Silkworms” in Joseph Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 70-88.
  • Ding Ling, Miss Sophia’s Diary, in Tani E. Barlow with Gary J. Bjorge (eds.), I Myself am a Woman: Selected Writings (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 49-81.
  • Lin Yutang, “My Turn at Quitting Smoking”, in Joseph Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 616-620.
  • Shen Congwen, “Husband”, in Jeffrey Kinkley ed., Shen Congwen: Imperfect Paradise, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995) 29-53.
  • Mu Shiying, “The Shanghai Foxtrot (a Fragment)”, Modernism/Modernity, vol.11, no.4 (November 2004), 797-807.
  • Zhang Ailing, “Love in a Fallen City”, in Renditions, no.45, 229-246.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules