The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good #5

5. Chinese Literature

There’s a lot about graduate study in China I can’t stand. Most of the system, really. But when it comes to what we actually study, it’s hard to get cynical. It’s a crying shame to me that so few Chinese writers of the past thirty years have found an audience in the West because I would put many of them on a par with the greatest writers the West has ever produced. I’m writing my master’s thesis on an epic poem by the poet Hai Zi, and even though it remains unfinished (Hai Zi killed himself before he completed it), and is therefore not particularly polished, it’s easily the most ambitious literary project in Asian literature. Incredible. I’d summarize it for you, but I can’t. It makes Ezra Pound’s Cantos look like a Peanuts comic. Then there’s the dark humorist Wang Xiaobo, an absolute master of hilarious, pointed social critique. His story “The Golden Years,” about an illicit tryst in a Communist collective in the 1960’s, will make you want to weep and laugh out loud, often at the same time. And the list goes on. I count myself fortunate to have begun an academic career that will include people like this.

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