Frank Kraushaar (University of Latvia, Riga) “Literary Tradition as “Alternative View” in the PRC and Taiwan”


For almost a century tensions between “modernity” and “tradition” have produced a dynamic but unsteady transformation of cultural life in East Asia, with imperial China’s literary culture at the core of what used to be either disregarded or praised as “Eastern tradition”. Western academic discourse on East Asian culture has been strongly affected by this until today; especially sinologists struggle to overcome the gap between “classical” and “modern” studies created by their own institutional politics for decades.

In the meanwhile voices from both East Asia and the West increasingly challenge the paradigm of the 20th century that likens “tradition” to historic and “modernity” to contemporary times. Xiaofei Tian wonders whether ”perhaps the time has come, as a number of Chinese scholars begin to realize, for a different sort of history of modern Chinese poetry, one that incorporates both new-style and old-style poetry.”  (Tian 2009). I will go a step further and question in general the relevance of the historic method with regard to modern-age literary life. Instead of setting a historic frame, I will rather select some striking adaptations to present the multifaceted spiritedness of literary tradition in contemporary Taiwanese and PRC art-scenes.

Among the examples to be discussed will be the Taiwanese modern-dance group’s雲門 (“Cloud Gate”) adaptations of the “Nine Songs”, a famous chapter of the “Songs of the South “  楚辭 (4th cent. BC), some works of the Shanghai artist Yang Yongliang (born 1982) referring to the traditional Qu Yuan (340 – 278 BC) iconography, contemporary poetry in Lüshi-style and an edition of modern Taiwanese seal art using modelled on selected Tang verse.

I will develop the term “alternative view” out of a discourse of cultural politics in and between the two Chinas during the lecture.