Root-seeking school


Root-seeking school
(Xungen pai)
Literary movement
The ‘Root-seeking school’ denotes a group of fiction writers who explored native cultural traits to come to a new understanding of present culture during the 1980s. Instrumental in the development of the ‘Root-seeking school’ were Gao Xingjian’s pamphlet, ‘A Preliminary Inquiry into the Techniques of Modern Fiction’ (Xiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan), and Han Shaogong’s seminal article, The Roots of Literature’ (Wenxue de gen), which gave the school its name. The former included a first introduction to the magical realism of Borges and Marquez; the latter called for a redefinition of self-consciousness rooted in traditional but non-standard culture.
Most xungen authors investigate local cultures to gain insights into the vices and virtues of their present culture. This writing makes a symbolic connection between individual life, race and humanity and between man and culture. Some use ancient Chu culture (Han Shaogong) or Shandong (Mo Yan) to depict instinct and degeneration. Others extract the virtues of Daoism (Ah Cheng) or Confucianism (Shandong group) or depict the life of the northern plains and Muslim culture (Zhang Chengzhi), Wu culture (Li Kangyu), and ancient Tibetan culture (Tashi Dawa).
The use of magical realism and the affirmation of literary subjectivity is a serious departure from the previous realistic mode of writing and it gave direction to the Chinese modernist impetus in the years to follow. Many of the works produced by these authors have allowed Chinese literature a re-entry into world literature and cinema, notably Mo Yan’s famous novel (and movie) Red Sorghum (Honggaoliang jiazu)
Feuerwerker, Y. (1998). ‘The Post-Modern “Search for Roots” in Han Shaogong, Mo Yan, and Wang Anyi’. In idem (ed.), Ideology, Power, Text: Self-Representation and the Peasant ‘Other’ in Modern Chinese Literature. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Huot, C. (2000). ‘Colorful Folk of the Landscape: Fifth Generation Filmmakers and Roots Searchers’. In idem, China’s New Cultural Scene: A Handbook of Changes. Durham: Duke University Press.
Kong, H. (1997). ‘The Spirit of “Native-Soil” in the Fictional World of Duanmu Hongliang and Mo Yan’. China Information 11.4 (Spring): 58–67.
Li, Q. (2000). ‘Searching for Roots: Anticultural Return in Mainland Chinese Literature of the 1980s’. In P.Chi and D.Wang (eds), Chinese Literature in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century: A Critical Survey. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
BIRGIT LINDER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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