SOAS University of London

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

Literature and Social Transformation in Contemporary China (PG)

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

This module will focus on modern Chinese literature from the 1950s to today. It provides an opportunity for students from a wide range of academic backgrounds to gain a solid understanding of contemporary Chinese literature. Taught in English, and based entirely on translated texts, the module is open to students with all levels of Chinese language proficiency, from no Chinese at all to Chinese mother-tongue.

For students from Chinese-speaking countries or graduates of Chinese studies programmes, the module offers both basic training in theories of literature and guidance in using Chinese-language materials for research, thus providing a firm foundation for further research into an exciting field. 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 contemporary 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 contemporary period, through the Sinophone intervention, intersecting with themes as nationhood, gender, the urban/rural divide, globalization, nobel prize, and more.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. Recognise and discuss the main themes circulating in the contemporary literary field, and analyse the most prominent literary texts of the time.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

1. Socialist Realism

2. The Trauma of the Cultural Revolution (fiction)

3. The Trauma of the Cultural Revolution (poetry)

4. Root-Seeking

5. The Avant-Garde

6. Glam-Lit

7. The Nobel Prize

8. Diaspora

9. Science-Fiction

10. China Dream

Method of assessment

A reaction paper of 750 words to be submitted on day 1, week 5 in the term of teaching (20%); an essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1 in the term following teaching (80%).

Suggested reading

Core Reading

  • Li Guowen, "The Election"
  • Zhao Shuli, "Temper Yourself"
  • Yang Wenzhi, "Ah, Books!"
  • Liu Xingwu, "Class Councellor"
  • Poems by Bei Dao, Shu Ting, Yang Lian, Mang Ke, Gu Cheng
  • Han Shaogong, “The Homecoming”
  • Can Xue, “Hut on the Mountain”
  • Yu Hua, “On the Road at Eighteen”
  • Wei Hui, Shanghai Baby
  • Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain
  • Xiaolu Guo, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
  • Ma Jian, China Dream

All primary texts are available in the SOAS library.

Additional Reading

  • Rudolf G. Wagner, Inside a Service Trade: Studies in Contemporary Chinese Prose. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Council on East Asian Studies.
  • Perry Link, The Uses of Literature: Life in the Socialist Chinese Literary System. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • Maghiel van Crevel, Language Shattered: Contemporary Chinese Poetry and Duoduo. Leiden: CNWS, 1996.
  • Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker, Ideology, Power, Text: Self-Representation and the Peasant “Other” in Modern Chinese Literature. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
  • Xudong Zhang, Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms: Cultural Fever, Avant-Garde and the New Chinese Cinema. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997.
  • Deirdre Sabina Knight, “Shanghai Cosmopolitan: Class, Gender, and the Cultural Citizenship”, in Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby”. In Journal of Contemporary China. Vol. 12, No. 37 (2003), pp. 639-653.
  • Julia Lovell, “Gao Xingjian, the Nobel Prize, and Chinese Intellectuals: Notes on the Aftermath of the Nobel Prize”. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. Vol. 14, No. 2 (Fall 2002), pp. 1-50.
  • Rey Chow (ed.) Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory: Reimagining a Field, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2000.

 All the secondary readings are available in SOAS library.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules