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On Cao Wenxuan’s Literary World

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Source of information: Xinbao.com

Text: Xu Yan|

Edit: Hillstone | Editor in charge: Zhiyuan

In the history of modern and contemporary Chinese literature, the realist literature with the son of “earth” as the narrator and the modernist literature with the son of “fire” as the narrator have always been in the mainstream position. At the same time, the classical literature with the “son of water” as the narrator is not only always marginalized, but also forced to belong to the category of “local literature”. In fact, although classical literature is compatible with realism and modernism, its literary concept of “replacing religion with aesthetic education” is fundamentally different from the two. Therefore, Chinese classical writers are often a group that is difficult to classify in the history of modern and contemporary Chinese literature. Not to mention modern and contemporary famous artists such as Waste Name, Shen Congwen, Wang Zengqi, etc., the contemporary scholar writer Cao Wenxuan is a typical example. In a general sense, Cao Wenxuan is indeed a famous Chinese children’s literature writer with worldwide influence since the new era. But he’s not a typical children’s writer. To be more precise, Cao Wenxuan’s growth novels, fantasy novels, fairy tales, essays and other texts created as the narrator of the son of “water” not only continued the flow of Chinese classical literature that existed on the margins like an undercurrent, but also broke through. Based on the two mainstream literatures of Chinese realism and Western modernism, he established his own classical “waters literature”.

1. Son of “Water”: A Different Writer Raised by “Water”

Cao Wenxuan was born and raised in the water town of Yancheng, Jiangsu. He lived by the water until 1974, when he became a student at Peking University at the age of twenty. The relationship between the water town and childhood is just as he recalled many years later: “My family lives by the riverside of a big river in front of my house. Zhuangshang’s family also lives along the river.” In this seemingly calm and indifferent tone, overflowing It is a deep emotion that a son of “water” wants to talk about when he looks back at the hometown of “water” many years later. If you taste it carefully, there is a sense of gratitude and an element of destiny. This entwined secret emotion towards water may be the spiritual code that entered Cao Wenxuan’s person and his writing. It can be said: for Cao Wenxuan, everything is in “water”. Furthermore, his childhood, his personality, his writing, his works, his aesthetic tastes, his literary ideals, his loneliness, his stubbornness and perseverance were all born of “water”, and accompanied by “water” peers. In particular, his vigilance against realism being too rigid in “reality” and his rejection of the “evil” and “dirty” aesthetics advocated by modernism all originated from the life philosophy of a son of “water”.

It is precisely because of the long-term support of “water” that Cao Wenxuan has obtained a long-term support for life, and was born as a different kind of writer, the son of “water”. What is “different”? Different. People who are not caught up in “trends”. A person who travels upstream along the edge of the “water”.

We need to go back to the different creative process of Cao Wenxuan’s birth as the son of “Water”.

In the early 1980s, Cao Wenxuan started his “Waters Literature” creation. The water town that was sticky, bitter and fragrant like a bud was revived because of his memory. From 1983 to 1989, Cao Wenxuan published and published a series of “growth novels” from the perspective of children: the novella “The Cow without Horns” (Children’s Publishing House, 1983), the novel “The Ancient Wall” (Jiangsu People’s Publishing House) Publishing House 1985 edition), short story collection “The Castle in the Clouds” (Chongqing Publishing House 1986 edition), short story collection “Dumb Cow” (Children’s Publishing House 1986 edition), short story collection “Ancestral Hall Shrouded in Twilight” ( China Children’s Publishing House 1988 edition), short story collection “Melancholy Pastoral” (Beijing October Literature and Art Publishing House 1989 edition). As an important branch of Western modernist novels, “Grow-Up Novel” has been continuously explored by famous Western modernist writers.Henry·Western writers such as Fielding, Mark Twain, Hemingway, Salinger, and Jack Kerouac have all created “coming-of-age novels” in different cultural backgrounds. But if you carefully read Cao Wenxuan’s coming-of-age novels in the 1980s, it is not difficult to find that Cao Wenxuan did not follow the modernist characterization principles to which Western coming-of-age novels belong, nor did he follow the typical creation methods of realism to which contemporary Chinese children’s literature belongs. Instead, the roots of “growing-up novels” are deeply rooted in the vein of Chinese classical literature explored by Fei Ming, Shen Congwen, and Wang Zengqi. However, in the 1980s, Chinese contemporary mainstream literature was alternately led by “scar literature”, “reflection literature”, “reform literature”, “educated youth literature”, “root-seeking literature”, “avant-garde literature” and “new realism”. Constituted by wave after wave of literary trends, Cao Wenxuan’s “coming-of-age novel” is obviously detached from various “trends”. In other words, when contemporary Chinese literature in the 1980s collectively described the drastic changes of the times, Cao Wenxuan began to establish a “waters literature” that belonged to a son of “water”.

After the 1990s, Chinese contemporary literature became more unpredictable. “Family novels”, “Realism Shockwave”, women’s “private writing”, Wang Shuo phenomenon, Wang Xiaobo phenomenon, Eryuehe-style historical writing and other dizzying novel trends, although partially blossomed, all belong to realism or under the banner of modernism. However, the root memory of the son of “Water” gave Cao Wenxuan a tough and quiet personality. As usual, he studied novels while continuing to work on the establishment of “water literature”. From 1991 to 1993, he published and published the following representative works: the novel “Goats Don’t Eat Paradise Grass” (Jiangsu Children’s Publishing House, 1991 edition; Taiwan Minsheng Newspaper, 1994 edition); short story collection “Green Fence” ( Education Science Press, 1992 edition); short story collection “Red Sails” (Anhui Education Press, 1993 edition). These works show that: Cao Wenxuan has already started to develop long-form novels when he is writing short-form growth novels. In 1993, the ideological circle launched a great discussion on the “humanist spirit”, which quickly collapsed. Subsequently, the marketization and popularization of literature arose in the debates in the contemporary Chinese literary circles. Cao Wenxuan did not break away from the past main trend of traditional realism like many contemporary Chinese writers, or plunged himself into various realist trends, or jumped into the banner of postmodernist literature. Still adhere to the aesthetic spirit of Chinese classicism. From 1994 to 1999, Cao Wenxuan’s published works include: a collection of short stories “Red Gourd” (Taiwan Minsheng Newspaper, 1994 edition); a collection of short stories, “The Cabin Under the Snow” (Taiwan International Youth Village, 1994 edition); short stories Novel collection “Rose Valley” (Fujian Children’s Publishing House, 1996 edition); short story collection “Triangle” (Taiwan Minsheng Newspaper, 1997 edition); short story collection “Dashui” (Hebei Education Publishing House, 1998 edition); Grass House” (Jiangsu Children’s Publishing House, 1997 edition; Taiwan Lianjing Publishing Company, 1998 edition); novel “Red Tile” (October Literature and Art Publishing House, 1998 edition); novel “Root Bird” (Chunfeng Literature and Art Publishing House, 1999). The above works accurately convey that Cao Wenxuan has reached a stage of “water literature” as described by his “water” son. There are three signs: first, in the depths of literature, the paradise of the children of “water” and the hometown of mankind – “Yu Ma Tei” by the water, which is the core image of the Chinese classical aesthetic spirit; second, Cao Wenxuan Not only are the achievements fruitful and representative works gathered, but also the masterpieces with a deep classical aesthetic style – “The Grass House” and “Red Tile”; The chapter “The Son of the Dyeing House” in “Red Tile” has become the content of Korean middle school textbooks.

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After the new century, Cao Wenxuan has gradually become a writer with worldwide influence. In early 2003, Writers Press launched his nine-volume anthology under the “brand” of “scholar writers”. In the autumn of 2010, the People’s Literature Publishing House also published his 14-volume anthology under the “brand” of the famous “scholar-type writer”. However, his maturity is also his confusion period. If in the 1980s his “waters literature” was generated from a single to pluralistic cultural environment, and his “waters literature” was strengthened by the experience of traveling to Japan in the 1990s, then the disorder of the cultural environment after the new century will inevitably make a believer in classicism. The “water” sons generate deeper anxiety. Where will this “water literature” originating from the hometown of Yau Ma Tei flow to? How to flow? How Chinese classical literature intervenes in reality, etc. Of course, these anxieties build up gradually. At the beginning of the new century, Cao Wenxuan still guarded the quiet days like a “nerd” as usual: when he was reading, he continued to write down his experience, and he had an academic essay collection “A Rope Burned Out”; when he was teaching, he continued to study novels, the theoretical work Novel Gate and the academic work “Research on Chinese Literary Phenomenon at the End of the 20th Century” were published; while writing a book, I continued to look back at the water town, and then there was the novel “Ximi” (Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing). Society 2003 edition). He does not seem to have changed the direction of his “waters literature” because of the emergence of “bottom-level literature”, “worker literature” and “historical themes” in the New World Chinese literature. But, by 2004, the calm of his “waters literature” was shattered—the powerful influence of Western modernism severely impacted a classicist’s aesthetic belief in the balance of beauty and truth. To this end, he fought back. In fact, while adhering to the spirit of classical aesthetics, Cao Wenxuan also gets along with Western modernist aesthetics day and night. He wanted to see what kind of smell would be produced if the two aesthetics were mixed? Is it a modernist scent as strong as durian, or a classic scent as fresh as lemon? In 2005, the novel “Bronze Sunflower” (Jiangsu Children’s Publishing House) and the novel “Heavenly Scoop” (Changjiang Literature and Art Publishing House) were published in the same year, which not only satisfied his childlike curiosity, but also realized a “water”. “The Son of Literary Transformation.” If “Bronze Sunflower” is a typical coming-of-age novel with the core of Chinese classical aesthetics as always, “Heavenly Scoop” is a work with too much room for interpretation. However, at the juncture of this deep transformation, the crisis in the prosperity of children’s literature in the book market is highlighted. Commercial light reading has seriously damaged the reading ecology of Chinese children. And among all the readers, who needs Cao Wenxuan more than child readers? What’s more, Cao Wenxuan’s view of children’s literature has always been placed in the perspective of modernity, and he is convinced that “children’s literature bears the bounden duty of shaping the future national character!”. To this end, he once again placed more focus on “children’s literature”. His long series of fantasy novels “The Book of Kings” (the first volume “Huang Liuli” Relay Publishing House 2007 edition; the second volume “Red Yarn Lantern” Relay Publishing House 2008 edition) not only realized his long-awaited “big fantasy literature”, It also achieved a dialogue with another western classic writer Tolkien’s long fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings”. Since then, he has also created a series of novels “My Son Pika”, “Ding Ding Dang Dang” and excellent fairy tale books with classic quality. Recently, Cao Wenxuan has created several short stories such as “The Howling of Wheat” and “Little Tail”, which once again proves his creative concept: excellent literary works are both for children and adults.

2. The evolution of “water literature”: from pure to vigorous and grand

Readers who are familiar with Cao Wenxuan, close their eyes, can perceive the words, images, sentences, stories and the mint-like cool smell that the characters in Cao Wenxuan’s works can exude. The reason? Of course there are many, but the main reason is: Cao Wenxuan established his own “water literature” with the words by the water, as he said: “I am a person who grew up by the water, my house It was built on the edge of the water.” Of course, in the history of modern and contemporary Chinese literature, there is no shortage of literary worlds with “water” as the core image. Lu Xun’s novels “Hometown” and “Social Opera” imagine the water town scenery in eastern Zhejiang from the perspective of children as the future world of “people’s country”. It’s just that Lu Xun’s novels often go back and forth between “water” and “land” based on the mission of enlightenment. Waste Name, Shen Congwen, and Wang Zengqi came from the water, with “water” as the source. But it is very regrettable that due to the limitations of a specific historical context, they either “closed” the best age in the Dacheng period, or the best age has passed away when they come back. Cao Wenxuan continued the “waters literature” flow created by Lu Xun’s “Hometown” and “Social Opera”, and has been devoted to exploring the poetic meaning of his own “waters literature”. That is, in Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature”, his unique understanding of history, reality and future is deposited.

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In the 1980s, although Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature” did not directly cut into the trend of literature in the 1980s, it still revealed the unique sincerity, pure, bright and full atmosphere of the times in the 1980s. However, Cao Wenxuan chose the method of Chinese classicist writers: from the perspective of a young child, he made a gentle and poetic observation of history and the times. In Cao Wenxuan’s literary works since the 1980s, the scenery, characters and animals such as white fences, reeds, ponds, floods, white sails, fine tea, Achu, dumb cows, manatees, and fragrant lings are all elegant and fresh. Look at the characters first: As a coming-of-age novel, most of its protagonists are handsome boys and light girls. Especially young girls, pure and clean, exuding the softness and nobility of classicism. The girl protagonist Xicha in “The Melancholy Pastoral” “wears a white cloth jacket that other girls only wear when they go out as a guest. The cuffs are gently pulled up only once, but after a day’s work, there is not a single star stain on the white cloth jacket.” . Obviously, the image description of Xicha has the charm of the girl Xizhu in the novel “The Story of Bamboo Forest”, but it adds an extraordinary sense of clean beauty. Look at the scenery again: “The dense reeds are like gold bars growing all over the ground, endless as far as the eye can see. The water here is blue and the sky is extraordinarily high.” (“White Fence”) This reed is like a god of nature exist. It can be said that characters are like landscapes, and landscapes are characters. As Cao Wenxuan said, “a character in a novel is a tree”. Even animals pervade the classicist aesthetic. For example: “The ducks are very clean, white as snow, cloud, and suet. All of them have golden-red webbeds, pale yellow mouths, and their eyes are as black as black dots.” (“Loach”) Special Yes, Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1980s also echoed the melancholy melody, that is, the tragic spirit of Chinese classicism. Furthermore, the tragic narratives of Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1980s mainly accepted the fatalism in the works of Wa Ming, Shen Congwen, and Wang Zengqi, but did not directly undertake the social and historical factors of realist literature. Because of this, Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1980s still have a lingering charm when social, historical and other factors become the past. For example, “Bow” tells the fateful tragedy of the genius violinist “I” who wants to cultivate the adopted mediocre boy Heidou into a genius; A lifetime; “There is a City Underwater” tells the story of Brother Huai Zi’s fateful disappearance in the process of searching for his dream. This way of dealing with fate can be said to transcend time and country. However, Cao Wenxuan’s literary works in the 1980s did not eliminate the elements of history and society, but chose his unique way of dealing with them. That is to say, in Cao Wenxuan’s literary works in the 1980s, the coming-of-age novel is like a river that gradually widens, “history” is like the “distant mountains” standing on both sides of the river, and “reality” is like constructing the “land” along the river. The aesthetic spirit of ism is like the background color of the river, and the aesthetic spirit of classicism is like the soul pouring into the river. This kind of unique processing method makes Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1980s reverberate with the quiet Jiangnan minor.

After the 1990s, Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature” still retains the touching and pure aesthetics of his works in the 1980s, but increasingly complex modern connotations are added, and its narrative aesthetics has changed from simplicity to richness. The main reason is that after the 1990s, the classicist current flowing quietly in Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature” encountered the rushing torrent of modernism. The two sides met face to face and competed with each other in the depths of Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature”. As a result, Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1990s not only did not agree with the modernist literary concept of “judgment of ugliness” favored by the mainstream Chinese literary circles at that time, but he was more convinced of the redemptive power of literature and people’s hearts contained in Chinese classicism, and furthermore, he was in harmony with China. The literary concept and literary action of the mainstream literary circles have formed a relationship from difference to confrontation. However, the concept of modernist literature is not without influence on Cao Wenxuan’s novels in the 1990s, but constitutes another reference for his works in the 1990s. To put it in an analogy, modernist literary concepts are like lights on the other side, which contrast with the still water sinking fish in Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1990s that are full of the spirit of classical aesthetics. It is precisely based on the contrasting aesthetics of mutual reference between classicism and modernism that Cao Wenxuan’s works in the 1990s continued to widen and deepen. Therefore, after the 1990s, in addition to expressing the noble side of human nature in his “water literature” as always, Cao Wenxuan also began to stare at “the dark river of human nature”. This subtle change was evident in the short stories “Loach” and “Tianluo” in the early 1990s. While showing the good side of human nature, the two novels do not hide the desire of human nature. For example: Shi Jinzi and He Jiu have both increased the proportion of human sexual desire. And Cao Wenxuan’s novel “Goats Don’t Eat Paradise Grass” in the early 1990s can be understood as the tragic process of how innocence confronts the desire of human nature. In particular, in the most representative novels “The Grass House”, “Red Tile” and “The Root Bird” completed by Cao Wenxuan in the late 1990s, it can be said that the modern connotation of his “water literature” has been comprehensively broadened, and the realization of the classical The two-way exploration of the noble aesthetics of ideology and the “underworld of human nature”. “The Grass House” not only tells the growth process of the protagonist Sang Sang from “little person” to “human”, but also enters into the “underground river” of human nature of Bald Crane. Bald Crane is a bald man. He is often ridiculed by his classmates and trampled on his dignity, so he resorts to revenge. Similarly, “Red Tile” not only tells about Lin Bing’s noble beauty, but also about the unpredictable fate and secret loneliness of Lin Bing and other teenagers. The reason why the young Root Bird in “Root Bird” embarked on a long journey to find his dream is to overcome the loneliness in the “underground river of human nature”. So, why are people destined to experience loneliness all the time? A fundamental reason is: in modern society, the “underworld of human nature” makes people always lack “a solid and reliable sense of autonomous identity”, and the most embarrassing thing in life is that individuals will lose their own identity in various connections. identity. The resulting fear is known as the fear of engulfment. In particular, after the 1990s, Chinese intellectuals were once again “thrown” in an era of no conversion, and the “underground river of human nature” was once again unrestrainedly released by modernist literature. However, many characters in Bald Crane, Lin Bing, Genniao and Cao Wenxuan’s novels are very different from those in modernist novels: although they are all caught in the “underworld of human nature” that cannot be extricated from themselves, but at the same time they are trying their best to rely on classical Self-rescue in the spirit of ideology.

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After the new century, Cao Wenxuan’s “waters literature” has been sublimated from a strong atmosphere to a magnificent atmosphere. Surrounded by the various “chaos” of Chinese literature in the new century, Cao Wenxuan not only explored a variety of classical literary forms – novels, short stories, fairy tales, series of long-form fantasy novels, picture books, but also used classicism. The aesthetic style of the novel resists the vulgarity and commercialization of the new century literature. Of course, Cao Wenxuan’s resistance action did not happen instantaneously, but experienced a gradual process from mild to intense. The novel “Slime Rice” published in the early new century was as usual calm, and as usual, consciously continued the self-sufficient aesthetic spirit of classicism. Even in the novel “Bronze Sunflower” published in 2005, Cao Wenxuan did not seem to have changed the water quality and flow in his previous “water literature”. “Water Literature” seems to have suddenly encountered a whirlpool of reverse currents. Behind all these changes, there is a message that Cao Wenxuan has always regarded the Chinese classicism aesthetic spirit as quasi-religious and the variant of the modernist aesthetic taste in the special background of China in the new century. Through the confrontation between classicism and modernism in “Heavenly Scoop”, in “Book of Kings”, Cao Wenxuan has transformed the negative energy of modernism into the positive energy of classicism, and strongly stimulated his imagination in the depths of his life. Therefore, in addition to becoming a training ground for good and evil, beauty and ugliness, “The Book of Kings” has become a place where literary imagination can fly infinitely. In “The Book of the Great King”, Cao Wenxuan let his imagination run wild and unrestrained to fall from the world to hell, then from hell to the world, and then from the world to the golden temple. The fantasy sky is sometimes covered with dark clouds and strong winds; sometimes it is bright and dazzling, and it is gentle and low; sometimes it is majestic and heavy, with swords and swords, and dangers are everywhere; But it is also when the author’s imagination soars that “Book of Kings” undertakes the destiny that a classicist must undertake: to change the hybrid and suspended state of fantasy novels in the new century; The pattern of modern and contemporary Chinese literature is reversed; and many philosophical issues of modern society and modern people are questioned. In addition to “Book of Kings”, Cao Wenxuan also created fairy tales such as “The Hound with Ringed Legs”, “Chrysanthemum Doll” and “The Call of the Sky”. “Infused with new classicism “living water”. The long series of children’s novels “My Son Pika” and “Ding Ding Dangdang” also provided his “waters literature” with a humorous new quality of classicism; his recent short stories such as “Little Tail” and “The Howling of Wheat” have connected to the sky. The spirit of nature, land and people in “water literature” has acquired the same spirituality and divinity.

All in all, Cao Wenxuan’s “Waters Literature” started from his hometown of “Yu Ma Tei”, and was reborn from the source of Chinese classicism. In the 1980s, it resurrected the childhood archetypal image that slept in our hearts with the simple and beautiful “water”, and then, in the 1990s. The era fatefully encountered the two-way impact of the two major literary trends of Chinese traditional realism and Western modernist literature. After several bends, it entered the confluence of the two major water systems of classicism and modernism in the new century, forming an infinitely open “midstream”. zone. However, in this area, no matter how many excellent works Cao Wenxuan has created, they are faced with what Roland Barthes said is still in the “middle” stage of writing. Not to mention, no matter who it is, the danger of retreating under fame is always lurking, and every step forward after Dacheng is also full of danger: Can Chinese classicism, as always, integrate Cao Wenxuan’s increasingly contradictory literary world? How do Cao Wenxuan’s works compete with the trend of Western modernism after saying goodbye to the protection of Chinese classicism in “Heaven Scoop”? In this era of entertainment and commercial shallow reading, will Cao Wenxuan’s future writing become an exception? Generally speaking, due to the limitation of many factors, it is often difficult for contemporary Chinese writers to regard literary creation as a lifelong career. Even if the constraints of external factors such as cultural environment are not mentioned, the limitation of internal factors alone is an insurmountable obstacle. Therefore, some famous contemporary Chinese artists, although they still maintain the number of works, often rely on the inertia of writing to copy their previous works. However, such contemporary Chinese masters as Cao Wenxuan who constantly explore new forms, new styles and new ideas are really scarce. But only in this way, the greater the test Cao Wenxuan faces in the “halfway” writing stage, the greater the hope. After “Halfway”, Cao Wenxuan’s writing world and his dream world will be full of infinite possibilities. (This article is abridged)

The article was originally published in the fourth issue of “Southern Literary Forum” in 2015. This article was reprinted from “New Daily News”.Website link:On Cao Wenxuan’s Literary World

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