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The Problematic of “High (-Brow) Literature” and “Low (-Brow) Literature”: Some Thoughts on the Origins of Modern Chinese Literature

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

This paper discusses the criteria according to which literature is categorized as “high (-brow) literature” or “low (-brow) literature” in modern China. I suggest that these standards change over time and are intimately tied to the problematics of canonization, legitimization, and cultural hegemony. In modern China, the criteria are also closely related to class differentiation. Furthermore, I contend that, in the Chinese academic world, there is often a tendency to interpret certain forms of middle-brow literature as belletristic literature that breaks though the boundary between “high (-brow) literature” and “low (-brow) literature.” In discussing “middle-brow” literature in modern China, this paper takes “Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly” literature as the object of its analysis and proposes that middle-brow literature is essentially the moralization of political and social issues, which serves to displace social-economic and political concerns. This is usually accomplished through the glorification of conservative ethical-moral viewpoints.


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