Yan Lianke’s Ballads, Hymns, Odes and the Self-contradictory “Spirit” of Contemporary Chinese Intellectuals

Roman Lashin

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


Yan Lianke is one of the most prominent contemporary writers in China and worldwide. However, in this study, I look beyond the established masterpieces of Yan’s oeuvre and concentrate on work as often neglected as it is essential – Ballads, Hymns, Odes. Its plot focuses on a professor at Peking University’s fictional double who strives to revitalize Chinese society through his research. Instead, he ends up exiled to a rural backwater, torn apart by his professorial identity and bodily desires. This work is usually considered autobiographical, but Yan characterized it as a “spiritual biography.” Thus, I step away from biographical research and focus instead on the “spirit” of intellectual portrayed by Yan. I argue that the protagonist is a symbolic embodiment of the Chinese intelligentsia’s collective image, including but not confined to the author’s personal experience. Besides, Yan’s decision to portray the protagonist as a professor and a Classic of Poetry commentator and the novel’s structure, where every chapter is named after a poem, are also subjects of analysis. By exploring the connection between modern academics and Classic of Poetry’s exegesis in Ballads, Hymns, Odes, I aim to reconstruct and study the “spirit” of contemporary Chinese intellectuals as Yan sees it.


SymposiumJoint Postgraduate Student Symposium On History And Culture, Language And Cognition 2023 = 「歷史與文化、語言與認知」——研究生聯合學術研討會
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
Internet address


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