This book aims to analyse the rise of modern Chinese literature from the perspective of cultural production. With selected literary communities and publications from the 1910s to the 1930s as points of reference, the book argues that the emergence of Chinese “new literature” hinged not so much on avant-garde thoughts and texts as on a re-configuration of contextual, and sometimes conventional, “relations.” Whereas the extant paradigm sees the literary field from the May Fourth period to the eve of the second Sino-Japanese War as one characterized by gestures such as individualism and iconoclasm, Hockx points to the fact that this field was no less marked by a call for communal solidarity, and a reinstatement of the traditions thought to have been overthrown.
Hockx's case in point is the paradoxical situation that, their searches for selfhood notwithstanding, among modern Chinese writers and literati it has been fashionable to join societies or cliques, as if only group bonding could support personal confidence. In so doing they unwittingly maintained forms of social gathering characteristic of premodern Chinese literature. Meanwhile, these new literary groups capitalized on the modern medium of literary journal, through which they were able to solidify their textual and contextual relationships, and cultivate their “styles.”