After the republican revolution (1911) authors turned away from the classical modes of composition, and many writers (notably Hu Shih and Lu Xun) advocated writing in the baihua vernacular. The change in Chinese education from preoccupation with the classic literature to scientific and technological subjects reduced mastery of the traditional literary skills as did the abolition of the civil service examinations for official posts, which had been based on a knowledge of the Four Books of the Confucian canon. The use of characters instead of an alphabet persisted, however; this made older writings accessible and permitted the Chinese, who speak widely different dialects, amounting to different languages, to communicate with one another. The use of baihua has proved especially effective in prose.
Translations of Western books frequently appeared in China, and the novelists of the republican period were greatly influenced by European writers. Among the most distinguished writers of 20th-century China are Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, and Ba Jin. During the 1930s and 40s several talented novelists came to the fore, including Mao Tun, Lao She, and Shen Ts'ung–wen, while modernist poets such as Ai Ch'ing experimented with Western–style free verse. Women writers who grew equally prominent during these decades include Ting Ling, Hsiao Hung, and Chang Ai-ling (Eileen Chang).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.