Hello everyone, I am Jiang Fangzhou. Today I want to share with you my thought on literature and globalization.
At the time when I started writing, that was a non-question. I was born and raised in a small city in Hubei province. For me, the border of my living world was the metal fence that guarded our living area. The thing most closed to the word “globalization” for me, was that when I did well in exams, I could eat MacDonald’s.
By the time, I had already decided to make writing as my lifelong career. However, that innocent me didn’t recognize the necessity of seeing the world. This understanding came from what I thought as the literary tradition. I naively believed that a writer only needs to labor the field within her vision. The most impressive modern Chinese literature stuck in the countryside and the writers’ hometown. A Chinese writer was like a peasant, using his imagination to handle a small piece of land: Shen Congwen worked on Xiangxi, Lu Yao worked on Shaanxi’s yellow earth, and Mo Yan worked on Shandong.
I use to believe I belonged to their kind, spending my whole life to work on my little Hubei city. Later on, I was proved wrong. I belonged to a generation of rapid urbanization. Our “hometowns” were to be demolished. I also belonged to a generation under the “One Child Policy.” Having only one child to care about, our parents had high expectations towards us. They hoped that I could move to somewhere more prosperous.
Therefore I was forced to run away from my hometown: first the little city, then Hubei province. To escape became a choice when I grew older. I lived in Japan for a year with no purpose in mind.
One important reason to go far was that I found myself trapped in stagnation of my writing. Western works fed me, and I knew well about the lives centuries ago. I longed for London of Shakespeare and Maugham However, when I started my writing, I realized the world in my mind was sharply different from the world I was living in.
This kind of dilemmas was also mentioned by one of my favorite writer V.S.Naipaul. Naipaul's grandparents moved from India to a Caribbean small country where he was born. He read much classic western literature as a young man. When he left his birthplace, beginning his writing at Oxford, he felt confused. He realized that the genre we call fiction was Western. So how could this western product reasonably express the essence of his family, his emigration, and that mystic India in his memory?
Naipaul’s answer to this question was to keep moving and to gaze at the hometown from afar. I guess some of you international students here have the same feeling. You are far away from home. However, sometimes distance gives you clearer eyes to understand China.
Novelists belong to different countries. They must pay tax to a particular state. Nonetheless, spiritually, they can live in anywhere in the world, regardless of nationality or ideology.
To some extent, novelists are best poised to understand globalization.
The free flow of products, talents, and
information has created some similar life experience. Multinational chains connect metropolis. People enjoy the same latte of Starbucks across the oceans and seas. New MacBook models are showcased in all Apple Stores. Amazon and Netflix revolutionized publication and TV industry. Car makers of Japan dominate North America, dwarfing local giants like Ford or GE.
On the other hand, the gospel of prosperity does not benefit the world evenly. While the well-to-dos enjoy a luxurious and convenient life, the have-nots are deprived of future, opportunities, and even their identities. New technologies and trade bring new jobs but also smashing old ones. Demographic changes and culture diversification threaten social coherence in many nations. Adults without a college degree are increasingly left behind regarding social-economic status. Immigration and refugees ignite populist backlashes among developed countries.
Those phenomena appear to be new challenges of this millennia. However, one century ago, Joseph Conrad had already prophesied a world like ours. In his fiction Heart of Darkness, He revealed some most profound contradictions of modernization and globalization. The western colonists in this novel portrayed themselves as messengers of civilization. One of them was once an idealist believing in spreading science and trade all across Africa. Somehow he becomes disillusioned and corrupted by his power and ambition. He became a tyrant, ruling local African natives at his well.
The metaphors of Heart of Darkness will not be outdated. Today we seem to live in a whole new world,actually,we just enter the world Conrad has described hundred years ago.
I don’t know how many of you are thinking about taking literature or cultural industry as your career. I am afraid the number is not very large. However, I always believe that one could have eyes of “novelist” without writing a single fiction.
What are the eyes of the novelist? For me, it means the power to reconstruct the reality with words. A novelist is a lifelong liar, he creates the time that doesn’t exist, he reveals worlds unknown to other people , and he envisions futures yet to come.
Historians record past catastrophes with saddened hearts. Alarmed economists predict the possible future crisis. Compared to them, novelists have some unique advantages. For novelists’ eyes have traveled beyond time and space, standing in the border between past and future. That border is the rift of change. Nearly everyone fears to be consumed by this blackhole while novelists are gazing at it joyfully. Like George Eliot once claimed: “We all remember epochs in our experience when some dear expectation dies, or some new motive was born.”
I believe that in this era of globalization, we need the eyes of novelist more than ever. We should pioneer the new possibilities offered by innovations while keeping an eye on those left behind. We should explore new places while staying humbled and curious. Only when we learn to observe things like outsiders, like a novelist, we can understand the past and embrace the future.