Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Catholic Herald & Contemporary Chinese Literature

I have an article in this week's Catholic Herald about Christianity and contemporary Chinese literature in which I argue that Christianity not only had a powerful impact on 20th Century Chinese literature but also that this fascination with Christianity, and often specifically with Catholicism, has continued into the 21st century. 

In recent years several writers, including Liu Enming, Yiwen and Su Liqun, have written novels about Jesuit missionaries to China, while Hua Zi’s biography of Mother Teresa, Walking in Love, is not only a bestseller but is now required reading in schools from Shanghai to Guangdong.

There are a number of literary converts working in China too. One of the leading figures of the Chinese avant-garde, Bei Cun, converted in 1992 and has since written a number of novels in which his Protestant faith looms large. Another convert from atheism, this time to Catholicism, is Fan Wen, about whom I have blogged before.

I also write about movies such as The Flowers of War, Back to 1942, and If You Are the One in order to make the point that what we see in contemporary Chinese literature and film is not rampant anti-Catholicism but something much more complex and nuanced. The position taken by individual writers varies enormously, but overall there is a fascination with religion in general and Christianity in particular that might surprise many readers in the West.

This is not to suggest that the Church in China has no problems, but what Chinese literature can show us is that the situation is neither as simple nor as bleak as an examination of Church politics might lead us to believe.

And the good news is that there is still more to come. We only need to look at South Korea to see what potential is unrealised in China. If Claudia Lee Hae-in, a Korean Benedictine nun, can sell more than two million copies of her most recent poetry collection and if Kyung-Sook Shin, another Catholic author, can win the Man Asia Literary Prize and sell over two million copies of her novel, Please Look After Mother, what sort of impact might Chinese Catholic writers still be able to make on world literature?

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