the School of Chinese Language and Literature of Beijing Normal University, the popularity of the collection represents a new direction in the development of “new literature” in China that was born in 1918, when writers such as Lu Xun, Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu sought to write in different styles than the traditional literati.
“New literature” marks the start of modern Chinese literature. Themes and language are influenced by Western literature.
“Contemporary Chinese writers are changing their identities not only as modern writers but also while going back to the traditions of the ancient literati,” Zhang Qinghua says.
“Jia is not only a writer but also a calligrapher, a collector and a scholar, who studies issues related to farmers and land.”
The popularity of Jia’s essays hails a return of traditional essay writing, Zhang Qinghua says.
By observing the world from the perspective of a novelist, capturing ugly things in our daily lives and representing them in his writing, Jia has not only been inspired by traditional essays but also has formed his own style that adds new aesthetics, says Sun Yu, another professor of Beijing Normal University.
Sun’s colleague, Chen Guangwei, says Jia draws inspiration from calligraphy and Chinese painting, including rhythm and techniques like leaving white spaces.
Chen Xiaoming, director of the department of Chinese language and literature at Peking University, gives four reasons for the popularity of Jia’s essays.
His essays describe in simple and honest language the relationships between parents and their children, and among other family members, which touches common readers, Chen Xiaoming says.
“Jia expresses his understanding of nature by treating things as equal to humans, without imposing human will on nature,” he adds.
“Another reason is his presentation of human nature as nonjudgmental. And he always injects his understanding of destiny in his works — that is, life is full of contingencies.”
Literary critic He Shaojun says what touches him the most in Jia’s essays is the author’s free mind, without which “one can’t really get into the essence of literature”.