Chinese Reportage

The Aesthetics of Historical Experience

Chinese Reportage

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: Published: October 2002

Asian Studies > East Asia, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Chinese Reportage details for the first time in English the creation and evolution of a distinctive literary genre in twentieth-century China. Reportage literature, while sharing traditional journalism’s commitment to the accurate, nonfictional portrayal of experience, was largely produced by authors outside the official news media. In identifying the literary merit of this genre and establishing its significance in China’s leftist cultural legacy, Charles A. Laughlin reveals important biases that impede Western understanding of China and, at the same time, supplies an essential chapter in Chinese cultural history.

Laughlin traces the roots of reportage (or baogao wenxue) to the travel literature of the Qing Dynasty but shows that its flourishing was part of the growth of Chinese communism in the twentieth century. In a modern Asian context critical of capitalism and imperialism, reportage offered the promise of radicalizing writers through a new method of literary practice and the hope that this kind of writing could in turn contribute to social revolution and China’s national self-realization. Chinese Reportage explores the wide range of social engagement depicted in this literature: witnessing historic events unfolding on city streets; experiencing brutal working conditions in 1930s Shanghai factories; struggling in the battlefields and trenches of the war of resistance against Japan, the civil war, and the Korean war; and participating in revolutionary rural, social, and economic transformation. Laughlin’s close readings emphasize the literary construction of social space over that of character and narrative structure, a method that brings out the critique of individualism and humanism underlying the genre’s aesthetics.

Chinese Reportage recaptures a critical aspect of leftist culture in China with far-reaching implications for historians and sociologists as well as literary scholars.


"[C]areful research and imaginative reconstructions. . . . [I]lluminating. Laughlin has performed a valuable service" — Bonnie McDougall, The China Journal

"I recommend Laughlin's study to anyone interested in genres of Chinese literature and theories of subjectivity, and cultural politics in modern China." — Yingjin Zhang , Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"It is hard to think of any recent monograph in modern Chinese literature that contributes as much in terms of reviving new source material and generating innovative critical insight, and which does so with comparable theoretical coherence thematic focus, and revisionist vigor. One puts the book down not only convinced of Chinese reportage literature's role as a 'powerful new cultural strategy' (15) but sensing as well that Laughlin's ambitious study has itself initiated a seismic shift in the field of Chinese literary studies." — John A. Crespi , Chinese Literature

"Laughlin has done a commendable job. . . . [An] informative study. . . ." — Q. Edward Wang, American Historical Review

"Laughlin's book stands out not just with its breadth, its summation of the historical developments of a variety of reportage sub-genres, but more significantly, with its astute textual analyses of a wealth of twentieth-century Chinese reportage works and its constant attention to the genre's complex relationship with cultural leftism in China." — Shu Yunzhong, Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy

“Based on superior scholarship and written in a pleasant yet profound style, Charles A. Laughlin’s sensitive readings and surprising interpretations of little-known but highly intriguing texts open up important new vistas for all scholars of literature who oppose the restrictive concept of ‘univeral literary values’ and seek to replace it with methods that emphasize and bring out cultural and historical differences. By analyzing the aesthetics of reportage, Laughlin demonstrates that this unique and important genre of modern Chinese writing was much more than just a tool for political agitation but that it provided its substantial readership with a genuinely literary experience.” — Michel Hockx, SOAS, University of London

“This is the first full-length English study of Chinese reportage, following its development from the turn of the century to the founding of the People’s Republic. Charles A. Laughlin delineates the genesis and transformation of a genre that had a powerful impact on the making of Chinese literary and political modernity, and he inquires into the treacherous terms by means of which Chinese writers sought to understand reality and its representation. Theoretically provocative and historically engaged, this book will be of tremendous significance for anyone interested in modern Chinese literature, history, journalism, and politics.” — David Der-wei Wang, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles A. Laughlin is Associate Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University.

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Frequently Cited Works


1. Travel: Writing a Way Out

2. Public Demonstrations: The Mise-en-Scene of History

3. Labor Reportage and the Factoryscape

4. War Correspondence I: Terror and the Wound

5. War Correspondence II: Guerrilla Landscapes

6. Socialist Reportage




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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2971-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2959-6
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