There’s a familiar narrative you may occasionally encounter if you spend much time in translated literature circles, and that is: as countries or regions become richer or more free (sometimes both, sometimes just one), the quality of the art gets suckier and the citizens of the country pay less attention to it.
It is the only time that you start to hear this disturbing refrain, a certain wistfulness for the time when there was an urgency to art and literature—what it said or didn’t say, who had access to it and how they got it, what the stakes were for all concerned. Though in fact, that urgency— which was certainly there– was the result of repressive policies, intolerance at every level, and often, the wholesale wrecking of lives.
Helen Gao’s recent article for the Atlantic on the state of reading in China is an example of the “A” form of this narrative: as China gets richer, its citizens read less and their reading habits are less literary. It begins with an anecdote from an essay by Yu Hua (author of Brothers and other novels) about the appetite for Western literature in the late 70s:
In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, Western classic novels, previously denounced …read more

Via: Melville House Books