From June 7 to 9 2014, the Literature Creation Symposium for Writers born in the 1970s, launched jointly by the BNU International Writing Centre and the Institute of Chinese Literature and Culture of Shenyang Normal University, was held at Shenyang Normal University. Writers born in the 1970s, including Liang Hong, Ji Wenjun, Fu Xiuying, Shi Yifeng, Wen Zhen, Yu Yiming, Wu Yuan, Wei Wei, Zhu Wenying, Dai Lai and Zhang Chu were in attendance. Well-known critics like Wang Shuanglong, Cheng Guangwei, Bai Ye, Chen Fumin, Meng Fanhua and He Shaojun presided over the symposium, where in-depth discussions on writing were held.
Writers born in the 1970s discuss the writers of their generation
In their speeches, the writers spoke a lot about the existence of the concept of “writers of the generation of the 1970s” and explored the identity of this generation of writers as well as their particular characteristics.
Liang Hong said that the concept of the “1970s generation of writers” has been around a long time. She said that at one time she criticized the “intransitiveness” of the writers of her generation, believing that their estrangement from history led them to pay far more attention to individual experience than to history and culture. But she has now amended that view and feels that the definition of “history” itself has undergone a sea change: history formerly described large-scale stories but is now an accumulation of personal experience. The works of the writers of the 1970s perfectly integrate personal experience with the vagueness of “history”. Liang also pointed out that aesthetics in journalism, a new type of aesthetics, has come into being and that it is of great significance for journalists to transmute large amounts of news into narrations that have both aesthetic and literary features.
Fu Xiurong, meanwhile, did not agree with the basic concept of a “1970s generation” of writers. She noted that foreign literary society pays little attention to the idea of generation, and this is in sharp contrast to the way in China. Although she granted that writers born in the 1970s do share some characteristics in common, nevertheless she said she believes that this lacks scientific basis. In her view, it is more important to give prominence to the characteristics of individual writers and not to the characteristics they share.
Shi Yifeng analyzed the different categorizing of writers at various times, maintaining that the title “writer” not only applies to those who create literature but also implies some degree of responsibility, moral duty and cultural inheritance, all of which remind writers to bear it in mind the reasons they write.
In his presentation, Li Yunlei emphasized his identity as a writer for the first time. He said that the 1970s generation has to deal with another important issue: how to interpret the world in a broader context after breaking through the disciplinary limitations of modern literature. Using the theory of “the Decisive Moment” in photography, he proposed advice to writers, saying we should “catch the decisive moment to present the world artistically through our eyes and minds.”
Unlike the other speakers, Yu Yiming presented his ideas as a writer of the 1960s: he said that compared with the fast-food-style culture hatched by modern western literature, Chinese writers born in the 1970s have a down-to-earth manner and de-utilitarian attitude. He said their ideas are generated from within rather than in imitation of their western counterparts.
As a writer of the 1950s, Jing Yongming doesn’t find distinctive common features among the writers of the 1970s. He does, summarize, though, the unique features of that generation: first, that this generation has experienced social institutional changes in a period of emotional enlightenment and this took their literature to new heights; second, that this generation has accumulated a rich literature creation experience, and they are in their prime as writers.
About the concept that certain characteristics of the writers of the 1970s generation are shaped from the correction and avoidance of the tendency toward the exaggerated idealism of the writers of the 1950s, Wei Wei does not agree. She holds that as the 1970s generation moves into its 40s, both the background and their worldview are in flux. She feels they need the talent to describe, rather than evade, those changes.
Zhang Qinghua, Executive Director of the BNU International Writing Centre, responded to Wei Wei on this issue. He argued that the conflict in personal writing comes from a fear of death. To avoid the loss of his/her experience after death, the writer should transmute the personal experience to the collective experience, thereby gaining resonance among the public. Our time, however, is fragmented, which forces writers to write fragmentally, and so there is rare occurrence of the collective experience in the writing.
Cheng Guangwei presented his ideas on how to understand the literature creation quandary from which the 1970s generation of writers suffers. First, we should know how to view the young writers who come after the classical writers. Second, by no means should we take a negative attitude toward or escape from our times and history. Echoing the idea of Zhang Qinghua, he noted that, “regrettably, so many writers are not able to abstract their personal experience to the collective social experience and so they fail to find a resonance among the public.”
The literary development of the writers born in the 1970s
Meng Fanhua, Director of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Culture, said that the 1950s and 1960s generations belong to the same community, for their work concerns grandiose narration and ideology; that the 1980s generation lacks a memory of history but builds an emotional community; and that the 1970s generation to a large extent interprets a community identity. He said that critics need to find a new way to more effectively understand and interpret the writers of the 1970s generation.
Zhang Li, Professor at Tianjin Normal University, summarized the characteristics of the writers of the generation of the 1970s, that is, that they perform best when dealing with rural-urban changes. “This indicates that writers of the generation of the 1970s, facing reality and history, made a sudden change in direction in writing” and that this is closely related to their own growth and the drastic social changes around them. She said that writers born in the 1970s should write in their own way, to contribute to a tradition of literature. Her figurative expression – “the 1950s generation ran away from fire while the 1970s generation runs toward the fire” – made a deep impression on the gathering.
Critic Zhang Liqun said that the term, “writers of the 1970s generation,” works if it refers to a whole writing community or to a generational context of literary history but may not make sense when individual writers are analyzed because the latter gives prominence to unique features. Zhang interpreted this by giving the example of how family planning policy affects the memories of different generations.
Yang Qingxiang, Associate Professor at Renmin University of China, noted that it is normal to fail to produce good novel or become a writer in one or two years, but critics may have cause to worry. This era sets a higher standard for contemporary writers: they cannot gain social recognition and attention quickly with the help of public and commercial resources. So writers should have enough readable and delicate topics, rather than social topics, to write about. “This is the fundamental premise on which to discuss future writing.” Yang also pointed out the weakness of young writers. For one thing, they write roughly, lack imagination and poetic and literary sensibility. For another, they deal with emotions roughly – the lack of their own psychological development and experience is reflected in the writing.
Ma Chunhua, a teacher at Ocean University of China, said that the 1970s was the first generation as the market economy began to change China, and this can be interpreted as follows: first, China experienced a transformation from political revolution to economic reform. Second, the emergence of a consumer culture began to affect people’s daily and artistic life. She praised the “rural-urban change” writing developed by the writers born in the 1970s, maintaining that from their work western readers can understand new Chinese new literature though lacking Chinese culture.
When it comes to writers of the 1970s generation, what shall we say?
Cao Xia, a teacher at Nankai University, stressed in the second half of symposium that writers of the 1970s generation are rootless; they have to face the issue of immigration. Cao noted that the “stranger in a new place” is an eternal theme from which they can’t escape. “People of the 1970s generation are strangers – they can neither return to their home towns nor can they consider the city in which they live a hometown. As a result, they can only live in a rootless manner.” And so the rootless writers of the 1970s generation bring a truly new aesthetic to writing about city life; they suffer from that endless loneliness as experienced by Kafka.
He Shaojun, a renowned critic, said that since the founding the People’s Republic of China literature has became one of the gears moving social and political life, which asks that literature be organizational and purposeful. Writers, however, must stand up against this requirement, and this in turn creates a kind of tension and results in some special developmental features in contemporary literature. The value of the literature created by the 1970s generation lies in the shaping of a new aesthetic status, signifying that contemporary literature is undergoing transition. He Shaojun does not agree with the idea that the 1970s generation has no memory of history, arguing instead that life today is a small part of history overall. The change from the macro historical concept to the micro is definitely prompting changes in the writing.
Gu Guangmei, a teacher at Shandong Normal University, spoke of a long-time perplexity: how people born in the 1970s treat their own histories and identities. From the time of the Cultural Revolution, they witnessed how complicated and entangled history can be. From various oral folk histories they are good at this empirical-styledepiction. She exhorted writers of the 1970s generation and critics alike that it is of vital importance to review and face our own histories and identities to avoid getting lost and losing in daily life.
Zhai Wencheng emphasized the heights of urban literature that writers of the 1970s generation have reached, saying that they bring the urban experience to literature. That urban experience, however, is wholly a paradox. To begin with, we see the confrontation between the pursuit of new experience and the loss of a sense of safety. Moreover, we see the wrestling between loneliness and social demand. “From the collectivism of the past to individualism in the city, we have been reflecting on the problems brought about by individualism. I think this is a new concept.”
Participants also discussed the contributions that writers of the 1970s generation have made to Chinese literature.
The symposium concluded in ardent discussion. This symposium also affords a precious opportunity for writers to reflect on themselves and their work.
(BNU International Writing Centre)