Book Studies Urban Perception of Modern Rural Life

ByCheng Yuezhu August 6, 2020

Young scholar Luo Yalin developed a fascination with the interrelation of the modern and the rural from her younger years of growing up on the "rural-urban fringe" of Xiangxiang, Central China's Hunan Province.

Two routes led from her home to her school, one route passing through the town center, lined by supermarkets and banks, while the other was a narrow muddy road across farmland. Sometimes cattle could be seen wandering onto the main avenue, creating a surreal scene of the rural meeting the urban.

"Growing up in such an environment, I felt that the rural and the modern are gazing at one another and interacting. Therefore, I began to adopt a similar 'in-between' perspective to observe the two," Luo says.

Her new book The Rising Earth: Imaginations on the Modernity in Rural China addresses the confluence of modern living and a traditional rural existence, positing that a rural lifestyle should not automatically evoke an image of poverty. To do this, she employs an analysis of the development of modern and contemporary Chinese literature.

Born in 1992, Luo studied literature at Nanjing University and Peking University, recently graduating with a doctoral degree in Chinese modern literature.

The book project began in 2015, when she was pursuing a master's degree in Chinese contemporary literature. She observed two contradictory views about rural life: on the one hand there is this deep-rooted hierarchy that the urban is more advanced than the rural in all aspects; and on the other romanticizing of ruralness as mysterious and otherworldly.

In her view, rural does not equal the countryside, which is a geographic concept as opposed to the city. Ever since renowned Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong wrote in From the Soil that "Chinese society is fundamentally rural," it has become a defining characteristic of China as a whole.

Analyzing the literature published since the last century, Luo came to the "rising earth" imagery which clearly summarizes her view of rural existence.

She says the imagery is an adaptation of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's famous quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: "The overman is the meaning of the earth," implying that humans should remain true to the earth and in the meantime overcome the decadence of humanity.

The imagery is exemplified by a famous painting, Ode to the Yellow River, by Chen Yifei. Against the backdrop of the turbulent river, a soldier stands proudly above the mountains.

"With this image of a soldier on the mountain, the artist gave the Yellow River a brand new representation. This Yellow River not only refers to China and the soil, but also has the attributes of modernity and the future," Luo says.

The book weaves together eclectic literary works of modern and contemporary China, from American journalist Edgar Snow's reports in Red Star Over China, to Lu Yao's realistic novel Ordinary World, and coming to the 21st century, the science fiction works of Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin.

"I hope that by involving science fiction in the discussion, we can break the fixed mindset that rurality is an outdated concept that lacks imagination. I want to find different works of literature which showcase the sublime side of rural China."

The book is one volume of the "anamnesis" corpus by writer and editor Shu Kewen, a series that invites young scholars to write on different literal and aesthetic topics such as calligraphy and body movement.

"We regularly gathered in a studio to exchange thoughts on our research findings. These seminars are collision of ideas from different disciplines," Luo says of the research process.

Wu Xiaodong, professor from Peking University, commends the new book for its reflection of the existing paradigm in the rural research field, that as a young researcher, Luo is able to base her findings on immense previous research and adopt an introspective attitude in her own analyses.

"The 'rising earth' is a vivid and imaginative summary that paints the picture of a new rural landscape and shapes the future of rural research. This new book tells us that today, in the 21st century, recounting China's rural development is a remarkable process of tapping the new vitality and possibilities of the rural and visualizing its future," Wu writes in the book's foreword.


(Source: China Daily)


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