Representation of Chinese and Indian Literature in World Literature Through the Lens of the Nobel Prize: Models of Reception and Cultural Politics


Nishit Kumar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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Abstract: In today’s era of globalization, international prizes are one of the ways to validate and recognize national strength in terms of the cultural capital of nations. English is the lingua franca of the world in modern times and also the central language of world literature. India and China are among the oldest civilizations having multi-lingual and multi-ethnic societies and have produced a plethora of literary texts since ancient times. Joining the global stage as nation-states in post-colonial times, both nations have gone through various socio-economic and cultural changes. With the advent of globalization and rise in their economic and regional importance, both countries are now ready to find their place in the world republic of letters.

The Nobel Prize in Literature is the most prestigious award in the field of literature. Drawing upon the prestige of the prize economy, this paper examines the pulls and pressure between the center and periphery of this world republic of letters by looking through the prism of the Nobel Prize. In the case of India and China, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been only awarded to Rabindranath Tagore (1913) and Mo Yan (2012). Gao Xingjian (2000), who was born in China but later became a French citizen, and V.S. Naipaul (2001), who was born in Trinidad and Tobago but has ancestral links to India, have both won the Nobel Prize, but neither have received similar attention in China and India respectively. Other writers in consideration for this paper are Rudyard Kipling (1907) and Pearl S. Buck (1938), both with strong ties to the two countries but not ethnically Chinese or Indian. Kipling was born in British India, educated in Britain, worked in India and has written about India. Similarly, Pearl S. Buck grew up in China and wrote extensively about China. This paper studies various nominations, winners and controversies related to the Nobel Prize in Literature from both countries. It attempts to locate, compare and converge Indian and Chinese literature in the context of world literature. The method used in this study is primarily analytical and explanatory and provides a detailed account of the exposure to and experience of Indian and Chinese literature on the global stage in the twenty-first century.

Key words: Nobel Prize, world literature, Indian literature, Chinese literature

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