Chan’s article examines the affects of colonialism* on the Chinese language and the influx of ‘Europeanization’ on literature. It spends very little time actually looking at the period of time when China was actually under colonialism*, and instead most of its focus is instead placed on modern-day scholars who are attempting to resurrect some kind of ‘pure’ Chinese. These modern-day ancient-language enthusiasts deride the intellectual giants of the early 1900’s, like Lu Xun (the godfather of modern Chinese literature), for their abandonment of pure Chinese in favor of some bastardized version. This is interesting, as the authors of the May Fourth movement and the progressives of the Republican Era were the first generation of Chinese to see literature (as it is commonly understood) to be critical the national well-being. It was also only in the 1900’s that any attempt to achieve national literacy was made. For the vast majority of China’s 5000 year history, that these neo-purists like to invoke, nearly all of the population was illiterate. All but a tiny percentage, the top 1%, were unable to read the ancient, esoteric classical script used by Confucius and other purely Chinese historical writers. So how is it, exactly, that this ancient subset of the language evokes feelings of collective memory in people who have never known, whose grand-parents and great-grand parents have never known how to read it?
Oh, also, these same scholars neatly side-step the issue of the CCP and Mao Zedong’s violent impact on the language, despite the fact that the modern lexicon is made up of characters approved of by the leaders of the Cultural Revolution. He literally rewrote the language and cut out vast sections of its most under-utilized characters. The majority of the ‘impoverishment’ of the language that seems to be so decried here is the product of purely Chinese people.
Who is this new-old ‘pure’ language supposed to be for? What would it be used for, and why? How could ideas imported by the Chinese, into Chinese and absorbed by the Chinese kill off living parts of an active language?
*China was never, at any point, any country’s colony.