Literary masters shed light on the tradition and development of Chinese creative writing

Grace Ho

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Facing the challenges of globalization, how should Chinese literature develop in the 21st century? How should it incorporate its cultural traditions and scale new heights? What challenges are currently facing Chinese creative writing? Ten distinguished writers and scholars from across the Strait and overseas tackled these questions at a symposium held 22-23 June entitled “Cultural Traditions and Chinese Creative Writing." CityU has hosted several similarly successful literary events since 2001 and this two-day programme, co-organized by CityU’s Cultural and Sport Committee and the Chinese Civilisation Centre (CCIV), attracted an enthusiastic audience of more than 150 staff, students and literature-lovers from the general public. CityU strives to provide a lively study ambience and a rich cultural environment to help students and staff better understand and appreciate the profound culture of China.

Professor Cheng Pei Kai, CCIV Director, and Professor (Chair) Zhang Longxi, Director of CityU’s Centre for Cross Cultural Studies, co-hosted the symposium, and the  distinguished panel consisted of Professor Pai Hsien-Yung, celebrated Chinese writer and Emeritus Professor of the University of California at Santa Barbara;  Professor Lee Ou-fan, Professor of Humanities at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Dr Li Yu, a renowned writer from New York University; Mr Li Rui, a respected novelist from Shanxi Province in mainland China; Professor N G D Malmqvist, Emeritus Professor from the University of Stockholm who has served as an adjudicator for the Nobel Prize for Literature; Professor Leung Ping-kwan, Head of Department of Chinese, Lingnan University; Mr Chen Ying-chen, a well-known Taiwanese  writer; Professor Chung Ling, Dean of Faculty of Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University; Mr Huang Zi Ping, Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and  Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University; and Professor Liu Zai Fu, literary critic and currently Honorary Professor in CCIV. 

The writers discussed their unique writing experiences, personal reflections, the development of cultural and literary traditions, and the challenges facing Chinese creative writing in the 21st century.

“For over a century, the ultimate concern for China has been cultural traditions,” Professor Pai said. “Undoubtedly, the ancient civilization is still there. But how do we obtain intellectual nourishment from it? As a matter of fact, cultural tradition is deeply rooted in China.  It exists in the DNA and cells and sub-consciousness of every Chinese.”


These cultural traditions are highly significant for all Chinese writers. “The more distant I am physically away from my motherland, the closer my heart feels towards it,” said Dr Li Yu, who has lived in the US for many years. Chinese language and writing is her home and a way for her to get closer to her motherland, she said.  


Mr Huang agreed. “As a Chinese writer, cultural traditions are naturally deep in my blood and bones.”


In response to the recent trend that sees Chinese creative writers writing in English so as to conform to international practice, Mr Li stressed the importance

of working in Chinese. “For over a century, we have regarded tradition as a lofty mountain, as tall as Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth. But now if we want to scale new heights, the ideal way is to return to creative writing at the sea level.” Abolishing Chinese words and characters was dangerous, he added. “I will insist on using Chinese ideogram characters to express myself.”


Mr Chen pointed out that the problem of de-Sinicization, the disrespect of cultural tradition, was becoming “deplorable”, while Professor Pai criticized the way political power was being used to replace the

standard Chinese language used by most Chinese with a vernacular. “This is not reasonable. The situation is worrying,” he said.


The symposium concluded that under the influence of globalization the problem of how to deal with national cultural traditions concerns all Chinese people.

The next generation of Chinese writing will go multi-media and writers will use different media to express their creativity, Professor Lee said.


“Creative writing must be oriented towards life itself instead of concepts or markets or whatever passing fads or trends,” Professor Liu stressed.


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