The Reading of Russian Literature in China: A Moral Example by Mark Gamsa (auth.)

By Mark Gamsa (auth.)

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Chapter Two Writers and Readers 1. The Pursuit of Engaged Literature: A Parallel History The new Russian literature emerged from the decade of arguments on the liberation of the serfs, which preceded the proclamation of this reform by Alexander II in 1861. It developed at the same time with the campaign against autocracy, which would reach a climax in the “Land and Freedom” movement of the 1880s. 1 The writers and poets of Pushkin’s age had, all but a few, come from the ranks of the aristocracy; it was also they who established the tradition of opposition to the regime by their support of the Decembrist revolt of 1825.

61 As Wang’s essay attested, the flipside of admiration for foreign literary giants was cultural humility, whether genuinely felt or modishly affected. The widespread reliance on foreign secondary sources for the interpretation of works translated into Chinese was also an expression of this attitude, even as rendering English-language essays on Russian literature into Chinese in order to pass them off as one’s own was, of course, something quite different: a way to receive a writer’s royalties and establish one’s credentials as a literary critic.

When in 1898 Andreev’s first important published story drew the attention of a senior fellow writer, this newly found mentor was one whose roots reached still deeper into peasant Russia. More than any other writer at the close of the tsarist era, Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov (1868–1936), alias Maxim Gorky, symbolized the arrival of the self-educated provincial into the main arena of Russian literature. The status commanded by Gorky after his return to Soviet Russia from Italy in 1928 demonstrated to the entire world the honours the Communist state was ready to shower upon a writer who wedded his talent to its propaganda machine.

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