The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature
256pp. April 2006
The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature
Author: Lovell, Julia;
In the 1980s China’s politicians, writers, and academics began to raise an increasingly urgent question: why had a Chinese writer never won a Nobel Prize for literature? Promoted to the level of official policy issue and national complex, Nobel anxiety generated articles, conferences, and official delegations to Sweden. Exiled writer Gao Xingjian’s win in 2000 failed to satisfactorily end the matter, and the controversy surrounding the Nobel committee’s choice has continued to simmer.

Julia Lovell’s comprehensive study of China’s obsession spans the twentieth century and taps directly into the key themes of modern Chinese culture: national identity, international status, and the relationship between intellectuals and politics. The intellectual preoccupation with the Nobel literature prize expresses tensions inherent in China’s move toward a global culture after the collapse of the Confucian world-view at the start of the twentieth century, and particularly since China’s re-entry into the world economy in the post-Mao era. Attitudes toward the prize reveal the same contradictory mix of admiration, resentment, and anxiety that intellectuals and writers have long felt toward Western values as they struggled to shape a modern Chinese identity. In short, the Nobel complex reveals the pressure points in an intellectual community not entirely sure of itself.

Making use of extensive original research, including interviews with leading contemporary Chinese authors and critics, The Politics of Cultural Capital is a comprehensive, up-to-date treatment of an issue that cuts to the heart of modern and contemporary Chinese thought and culture. It will be essential reading for scholars of modern Chinese literature and culture, globalization, post-colonialism, and comparative and world literature.

"This beautifully written book gives a pleasure in reading unusual for academic books. It is the first book-length study on Chinese intellectuals’ ‘Nobel Complex,’ namely a preoccupation with the Nobel Literature Prize and an anxiety about China’s international status. Supported by exhaustive scholarship and a wealth of materials, much based on her own interviews with Chinese writers and critics, Julia Lovell explores her topic with theoretical sophistication. In all, the book is a welcome and timely contribution to heated discussion on the dynamics of nationalism, globalization and Chinese identity in modern Chinese literature and culture, especially in the context of the rise of nationalist fervor in mainland China in recent years." —The China Journal (58, 2007)

"Julia Lovell’s wonderfully nuanced examination of China’s ‘Nobel complex’ will be essential reading for students of modern Chinese culture." —Richard Kraus, University of Oregon

Author: Lovell, Julia;
Julia Lovell is research fellow in Chinese literature and history at Queen’s College, Cambridge.
Read the introduction (PDF).


Chapter one
Introduction: Diagnosing the Complex

Chapter two
The Nobel Prize for Literature: Philosophy and Practice

Chapter three
Ideas of Authorship and the Nobel Prize in China, 1900–1976

Chapter four
China’s Search for a Nobel Prize in Literature, 1979–2000

Chapter five
The Nobel Prize, 2000



Glossary of Chinese Terms