Literature, Politics and National Identity in Modern China (PG)

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
China and Inner Asia Section

Module overview

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

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.

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.

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 modern literary field, and analyse the most prominent literary texts of the time
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the significance of key historical events to reading and interpreting Chinese literature of this period
  3. Demonstrate awareness of the various possibilities of interpreting the selected literary texts in relation to relevant historical and social contexts
  4. Demonstrate ability to work individually in researching, synthesizing theoretical approaches.
  5. Show confidence in articulate ideas and knowledge for seminars and written course work.


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

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

1. Introduction to Basic Concepts

2. The Literary Field in Modern China

3. Nationalism

4. Gender

5. Country-City Divide

6. New Poetry

7. Ideology and Realism

8. Modernism

9. Wartime Writing

10. Towards Socialist Realism

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

  • Yu Dafu, “Sinking”
  • Lu Xun, “A Madman’s Diary”
  • Chen Hengzhe, “One Day”
  • Ding Ling, "Miss Sophia’s Diary"
  • Ling Shuhua, “The Night of the Midautumn Festival”
  • Shen Congwen, “Xiaoxiao”
  • Poems from the period 1918-1949
  • Mao Dun, “Spring Silkworms”
  • Mu Shiying, “Five in a Nightclub”
  • Shi Zhecun, “One Evening in the Rainy Season”

All primary readings are available on the Lau, Joseph S.M. and Howard Goldblatt (eds.) The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, New York: Columbia University press, 2007

Additional Reading

Wendy Larson, Women and Writing in Modern China. Stanford” Stanford University Press, 1998.

Bonnie S. McDougall, Fictional Authors, Imaginary Audiences: Modern Chinese Literature in the Twentieth Century. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2003.

Lloyd Haft, A Selective Guide to Modern Chinese Literature. Volume 3: The Poem. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989.

Marston Anderson, The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China 1930-1945, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Edward M. Gunn, The Unwelcome Muse: Chinese Literature in Shanghai and Peking, 1937-1945, New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Mao Zedong, "Yan'an Talks"

All the secondary readings are already available in SOAS library.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules