Zhang Yiwu

Zhang Yiwu
b. 1962, Beijing
Culture critic
A noted postmodernist critic, Zhang Yiwu locates post-Mao Chinese culture in relation to globalization. He bases his poetics and politics on a postcolonial celebration of the margin, as developed in his first book on contemporary Chinese literature, Exploring the Periphery (Zai bianyuanchu zhuxun, 1993). He argues that modernist discourse characterized Chinese literature from the 1920s to the early 1980s, and was embedded in a colonial discourse. By contrast, some newly emerging genres of the late 1980s defy the colonial discourse. The subversion of modernism is exemplified in experimental fiction, neo-realistic fiction, films by the Sixth Generation of directors, and soap operas.
Zhang’s monograph From Modernity to Post-modernity (Cong xiandaixing dao houxiandaixing, 1997) pursues the relocation of Chinese culture in global capitalism by addressing debates among literary critics in the mid 1990s. Such debates included discussions about the loss of the ‘humanistic spirit’ (renwen jingshen) and the rise of ‘latter-day National Studies’ (hou guoxue). Zhang argues in favour of embracing the ‘new condition’ (xin zhuangtai) of post-Cold War market culture. Zhang criticizes the anxiety over the loss of the ‘humanist spirit’ as an elitist resistance to mass culture; at the same time, he categorizes this anxiety as a form of Westernization. He also warns that the reassertion of National Studies as ‘essentially Chinese’ only reinforces the concept of Chinese culture as the ‘Oriental other’. Ultimately, Zhang’s postmodernist theorizing faces the question of how to work from the margin without reinforcing the traditional view of Chinese culture as marginal.
See also: Humanistic Spirit, ‘Spirit of the Humanities’; postmodernism (houxiandai zhuyi) and ‘post-ism’ (houxue)
Wang, Hui and Yu, Guoliang (eds) (1998). 90 niandai de ‘houxue’ lunzheng [‘Post-ism’ in the Nineties], Hong Kong: Chinese University Press [includes two of Zhang Yiwu’s essays originally published in Ershiyi shiji 28 and 38].

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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