Celebrations throughout China have been held this year to celebrate the 300th birthday of Wu Ching-tzu [1701-1754], the author of the The Scholars, a satirical work on ancient China’s ruling class that has had a continuing impact on readers and researchers.
With a mastery of irony that ranks with the works of Gogol or Molière, The Scholars is considered a great Chinese novel, examining a time created during the last five centuries of imperial rule in China (Ming and Qing periods) when society and government were dominated by the gentry class, a status group largely created by an imperial civil service examination system. In its satirical nature, it is considered the best work of its kind in China.
From the time the book was published, The Scholars drew attention — in part for its departure from the impersonal tradition of Chinese fiction: Wu Ching-tzu made significant use of autobiographical experience and modeled many characters on friends and relatives to describe a vivid world of intellectuals and their lives — their ups and downs, their successes and failures in the pursuit of power, the beginning and the crumbling of their ideals, and their various personalities, be they noble or base.
Innumerable works have been published on the morals, style, characters, structure, linguistic characteristic and other aspects of The Scholars as well as on its author. This year three new books were published—East China Normal University Press’s A Study on The Scholars, People’s Literature Press’s An Anthology of Wu Ching-tzu’s Poems and Prose and the Chung Hwa Book Co., Ltd. a paperback edition of The Scholars.
Wu Chin-tzu’s relentless criticism and disclosures of the absurdities of the “imperial examination” system of 18th Century China continue to strike a sympathetic chord among the many contemporary Chinese intellectuals who gathered this year in symposia nationwide to honor Wu.
The most recent event to honor Wu Ching-tzu was a symposium earlier this month in Wu’s hometown Chuzhou in east China’s Anhui Province where participants appreciateded The Scholars for its outstanding artistic merit. They also argued that Wu Ching-tzu and his works will always be ripe for further scholarship.
Those attending the Anhui event included Li Hanqiu, a representative of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and an expert on The Scholars, Chen Meilin, a professor with the Chinese Department of Nanjing Normal University and president of the Jiangsu Ming and Qing Novels Research Society, and other scholars and experts from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhu, Hefei, and Chuzhou. They were led by Qi Xuchun, vice secretary-general of the CPPCC and member of its Standing Committee, and officials with the Anhui Provincial Government and Chuzhou Municipal Government.
On November 27, a conference on Wu Ching-tzu was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing co-sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Committee of Education, Science, Culture, Health and Sports of the CPPCC, the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the Chinese Writers Association. On the same day, the Institute of Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) also hosted a symposium related to the conference. In October, Anhui University hosted a high-level symposium on Wu Ching-tzu.
(安徽日报 [Anhui Daily] December 8, 2001, translated by Chen Chao for www.china.org.cn)