Professor calls for crossing cultural barriers of literature


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Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Wang Ning, professor from Tsinghua University, speaks at Brower Commons.


Although people have different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and languages, Distinguished Professor Wang Ning said all human beings share similar ideas. 

In a lecture yesterday entitled “Cosmopolitanism, World Literature and the Internationalization of Modern Chinese Literature” Ning of Tsinghua University, spoke of cosmopolitanism, which is the idea of a cultural identity, yesterday at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.

Professor Dietrich Tschanz, advisor ofThe Confucius Institute of Rutgers University, said Ning’s talk is part of the “CIRU Spring 2104 Distinguished Lecture Series.”

“[It] serves to shed light on the topic of world literature from a non-Western, comparative perspective,” said Tschanz, also an assistant professor of Chinese.

Cosmopolitanism is a cultural identity, a political and religious belief, a universal human concern and a pursuit of moral justice and unity, he said.

“World literature … aims to break through the separations of individual national literature studies and explore the factual relations between different national literatures,” Ning said. 

Globalization and cosmopolitanism are not new terms and are still hot topics among literary scholars and these ancient ideas are still echoed in modern philosophical works. 

“Since the discovery of the Americas, capitalist expansion, national industries, formation of international labor have prepared [the world] for the process of globalization,” Ning said. 

World literature is one of the ways people express themselves and their cultures, and translation plays a critical role in world literature, Ning said.

For a work to be considered world literature, he said it should grasp attention, influence people beyond its native country, language and culture, be criticized and studied by scholars and be used as a teaching device in schools. 

“It should feel the pulse of the time and represent with high literary quality its true cultural and aesthetic spirit,” Ning said. 

Tschanz said one of the main problems with Chinese misrepresentation in world literature is that Americans have a biased view on Chinese culture and society. 

We seek to bridge that gap by highlighting different aspects of China — its past, present and future, and how it is evolving in the contemporary world,” Tschanz said. 

Other reasons for the disconnect are the inability to translate works from Chinese and the fact that the majority of today’s population is more interested in popular culture than the high culture literary works produced by these writers, he said.

The most important writers that influence world literature are the ones who not only write for present readers, but also for the future ones, Ning said. One of the most important Chinese writers of modern literature is Mo Yan, who received the Nobel Prize in 2012. 

“If we work together with our Western colleagues, Chinese works will play a much more prominent role in world literature,” Ning said.

Likun Yan, a Rutgers Business School junior, attended the event for her class, “Women in Contemporary China. 

“I like attending these types of events because it is cool to see how other professor’s research connects to the topics we are learning in class,” she said.

Tschanz said it is important to understand other people’s perspectives in the current globalization, especially works of the Chinese writers. “We hope that [the audience] walks away with a greater awareness and appreciation for how globalization has impacted world literature and Chinese literature,” Tschanz said.


By Kelsey Weidmann

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