Sunday, 16 September 2012

Chinese Catholic Literature Then and Now

There have been - and still are - some wonderful Chinese Catholic authors. One of the best known of these writers is Wu Li, who was not only one of the orthodox masters of early Qing-dynasty painting but also a poet and Jesuit priest.

The most comprehensive guide to Wu Li can be found here (with further details here) but a more accessible introduction to his work can be found here. According to Chaves, his poetic sequence "'Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church' succeeds in achieving Wu Li's goal of creating a Chinese Christian poetry, true to Chinese traditions of allusion, parallelism, and other familiar poetic techniques and true also to orthodox Christian theology, piety, and liturgical solemnity." Rather than do him the injustice of a brief quotation, I'll try to return to some of the poems themselves (in Chinese and in English translation) in a later post.

Another great Chinese Catholic writer who is only now beginning to be given her due is Su Xuelin. This article from Harvard's Divinity School is encouraging, though also a little baffling. Although Su Xuelin converted to Catholicism in the 1920s while studying in France, Zhange Ni argues that the religion her alter-ego embraces in Ji Xin, the novel Su Xuelin wrote about her conversion, "is not Catholicism or Western religion per se, but a not-so-readily-available, still-struggling-into-being Chinese discourse of religion, which cannot be reduced to a slavish adoption of modern Western concepts of religion."

However, the importance of Catholicism to Su Xuelin cannot be overestimated: as Zhange Ni herself points out it affected her personal life - she never divorced her husband despite their separation - her scholarship - "The main thesis of Su Xuelin's Chu-Ci scholarship gradually took shape during the 1940s, guided by her Catholic beliefs" - and her later peregrinations - "Unwilling and unable to accept a Communist regime in China, she decided to give up her position at Wuhan University and leave the country. The Catholic Church in Hong Kong offered her a position as editor and translator. ... In 1950, still supported by the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, she sailed to Europe, first to make a pilgrimage to the Vatican, and then to settle in Paris." This was a writer for whom Catholicism mattered - and not the rather etiolated version of Catholicism that secular scholarship often seems to be imply - but Catholicism is all its richness. 

But what about today? I've written before about Fan Wen and the good news is that the first volume of his 水乳大地 trilogy is due to be published in French translation in January 2013. Maybe an English translation will follow?

No comments:

Post a Comment