Following the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1912 and the establishment of the Republic of China, many intellectuals challenged literary traditions of the past and revised the Chinese language to make it more accessible to the public.
In the second decade of the 20th century, the New Culture Movement expressed disillusionment with traditional Chinese culture and promoted individual freedom and women’s liberation instead of the traditional patriarchal structure of Chinese society. Confucian texts and ancient classics were critically analyzed and egalitarian values were promoted. The socially reflective, realistic style of the New Culture Movement was predominant in Chinese literature into the 1940s when it was gradually displaced by literature laced with propaganda.
Lu Xun (1881–1936) was a founder of Baihua Chinese literature which utilized a vernacular style of language. Inspired by the Ukrainian novelist Nikolay Gogol, Lu Xun’s famous short story Diary of a Mad Man was published in 1918.
In the early 20th century, another literary group (much smaller than the New Culture Movement) was called the Creation Society (Chuangzao She). This movement claimed to follow the Romantic” tradition of “art for arts sake” and avoided any expression of social responsibility by writers.
In 1924, the leader of the Creation Society Guo Moruo, a prolific writer and translator, converted to Marxism, and the group transformed into China’s first Marxist literary society. After the establishment of the Communist People’s Republic of China, Guo Moruo became president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The Dream Seeker by Dai Wangshu
Dream can bloom,
Dream can beautifully bloom:
Go and seek that invaluable treasure.
In the green sea,
In the bottom of the green sea,
Hides deep a golden shell.
Go and climb the iceberg for nine years,
Go and sail the drought sea for nine years,
Then you can meet that golden shell.
It has the heaven’s thundering sound,
It has the sea’s billowing sound.
And it will intoxicate your heart.
Water it in the sea for nine years,
Water it in the heaven for nine years,
Then, it will bloom in a dark night.
When you are white haired,
When you are dim eyed,
The golden shell will produce a rosy pearl.
Hold the rosy pearl with your arms,
Keep the rosy pearl at your pillow,
Then, a dream will arise in silence.
Your dream has bloomed,
Your dream has beautifully bloomed,
When you get old.