Comparative Poetics in Chinese: Problems and Prospects

Xiaolu Wang and Yan Liu in their article “Comparative Poetics in Chinese”, point out two major problems in studying comparative literature. They are: the issue of translation of Western theories and the approaching foreign scholarship with narrow minded nationalism. The first problem related to the issue of translation is that not many Chinese scholars are able to read Western theories in the original language. As translation often regarded as a form of recreation, research based on translation will naturally lead to misunderstandings and misuse of western theories in the Chinese context. Second problem with study of comparative literature is discipline’s nation based orientation or even “narrow minded nationalism”. It’s because most of the concepts and notions are translated from the western language. As a result, an anxiety is seen among scholars about the theoretical discourses as they insist that there is a lack of such discourse in Chinese scholarship.

Xiaolu Wang and Yan Liu describe the development of comparative poetics, its current status and the core problems by sketching major publications and the general institutional situation of the discipline in China. The history of comparative poetics in China can be divided into three phases: the phase of translation and introduction of the parameters of comparative poetics, the phase of adoptation to adaptation of European and Anglophone forms of comparative literature to the study of Chinese literature and the phase of adaptation with stress on cross cultural interaction. In the first phase, from early 20th century to the 1930s, Chinese scholars in the field employed Western conceptions of philosophy and concepts from aesthetics in the study of literature. Similarly, in the second phase, during the 1930s to mid 1960s, the Chinese scholars attempted to find out the common effects behind the different Chinese and Western conceptions. Finally in the third phase, studies in the comparative poetics almost became suspended because of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In this phase overseas Chinese scholars’ work remains considerable even though they became influential after 1976 in Mainland China. Similarly, after 1990s, the publication of works in comparative poetics increased.

Wang and Liu posited that the role scholars working in Chinese ought to knowledge from the ways of how the issues and questions studied would cross cultural boundaries. It seems necessary for them to establish a Chinese School of comparative literature with its own Chinese based theoretical and methodological frameworks and taxonomy. However, the writers see such so-called “Chineseness” in comparative poetics makes no sense because, the importance and relevance of comparative poetics is to study and explore different cultures and literatures, thus maintaining and transferring knowledge.

Finally, the writers conclude that in comparative poetics, the issues and questions themselves are not ‘what’ are relevant; rather it is ‘how’ these issues and questions become subject of study. They have suggested that the role of scholars in China ought to play in the humanities in general and in comparative poetics in particular is to bring about knowledge from the ways of how the issues and questions studied would cross cultural boundaries.

Work Cited:

Wang, Xiaolu, and Yan Liu. “Comparative Poetics in Chinese.” Companion to Comparative Literature, World Literature, and Comparative Cultural Studies. New Delhi: Cambridge UP India, (Foundation ), 2013. Print.