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Young China

Young China

National Rejuvenation and the Bildungsroman, 1900–1959

Mingwei Song

ISBN 9780674088399

Publication date: 01/18/2016

The rise of youth is among the most dramatic stories of modern China. Since the last years of the Qing dynasty, youth has been made a new agent of history in Chinese intellectuals’ visions of national rejuvenation through such tremendously popular notions as “young China” and “new youth.” The characterization of a young protagonist with a developmental story has also shaped the modern Chinese novel. Young China takes youth as a central literary motif that was profoundly related to the ideas of nationhood and modernity in twentieth-century China. A synthesis of narrative theory and cultural history, it combines historical investigations of the origin and development of the modern Chinese youth discourse with close analyses of the novelistic construction of the Chinese Bildungsroman, which depicts the psychological growth of youth with a symbolic allusion to national rejuvenation. Negotiating between self and society, ideal and action, and form and reality, such a narrative manifests as well as complicates the various political and cultural symbolisms invested in youth through different periods of modern Chinese history. In this story of young China, the restless, elusive, and protean image of youth both perpetuates and problematizes the ideals of national rejuvenation.


  • From foreign students to student activists and from socialist revolutionaries to Red Guards, this book explores the myriad ways in which China’s youth have shaped their nation, and often been transformed, twisted, and sometimes sacrificed in the process. In Young China, Mingwei Song not only tells the story of how Bildungsroman narratives evolved in twentieth-century China, but through this process he also paints a complex portrait of modern China’s own coming-of-age story. This is an essential work from one of the most gifted and insightful readers of modern Chinese literature.

    —Michael Berry, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of A History of Pain and Speaking in Images


  • Mingwei Song is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Wellesley College.

Book Details

  • 396 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center