In his essay collection, The Writer as Migrant, Ha Jin remarks on this literary capacity. The excerpt below comes from the chapter called "The Spokesman and the Tribe," in which he criticizes Chinese novelist, Lin Yutang. For now, I offer this excerpt without further comment--except for the parts I have put in bold to emphasize Ha Jin's descriptions of the difference between novels and essays, and between successfully and poorly imagined literature.
There are two other weaknesses that must have stemmed from Lin Yutang's vision of himself as a cultural spokesman of China. First, the narrator tries too blatantly to present Chinese culture to a Western audience. There are passages that read like miniessays about Chinese women's education, Chinese medicine, and Chinese belief in the balance of the Five Elements in making marriages. These passages are not blended into the dramatic context, block the flow of narration, and result in prose that feels crude and unfinished. Such crudeness is not merely a technical blunder. It reveals the novelist's inadequate vision. Just as a creative writer should aspire to be not a broker but a creator of culture, a great novel does not only present a culture but also makes a culture; such a work does not only bring news of the world but also evokes the reader's empathy and reminds him of his own existential condition. If a novel by which the ambitious author will stand or fall, he should imagine what kind of cultural order the book may enter into should it succeed. Lin Yutang obviously did not entertain such a vision and indulged himself too much in explaining China. Throughout Moment in Peking, the narrative reveals that the book was written only for a Western audience.
Jin, Ha. The Writer as Migrant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 17.