Jin Shengtan wrote his commentaries to the novel Water Margin (Shuihuzhuan) between 1641 and 1644, during the final years before the fall of the Ming dynasty. These commentaries are exceptional at least in part because they reflect Jin’s frustrations that came from trying to understand this period of chaos. But they are also a good example of how fiction commentary helped to shape the trajectory that the development of Chinese fiction would take, in the form of commentaries and sequels. This article offers a reading of Jin’s commentaries to his 70-chapter edition of the Water Margin, to investigate how Jin radically reshaped the Water Margin as the masterpiece of a commentator of great literary genius. It analyses Jin’s rhetoric of controlling interpretation and concludes that Jin’s ultimate goal was to stabilize and prevent tampering of his “original” 70-chapter edition, in an attempt to close off future possibilities of “sequeling” the Water Margin.
This paper focuses on imaginative representations of peasants at the “gate” of the law in fiction and graphic arts in different periods, exploring the visualization of regimes and the ways to express the relationship among party, nation and peasants. By imagining and portraying the peasants who “saw” the law in liberated areas, Zhao Shuli’s novels and Gu Yuan’s woodcuts demonstrate changes in the peasants-law relationship—a process the Chinese peasants underwent from merely “seeing” the law in the Republican era to “seeing and participating” in judicial activities in the Yan’an era. As narrative elements and epistemological devices in novels and graphic artworks, objects such as the “gate” play an important role in representing such changes of productive relations.
As a review of Zhu Yu’s recent book on socialist literary-artistic practice, Socialism and “Nature,” this essay explores the cultural-political concerns that underlie Zhu Yu’s comprehensive discussion of socialist artistic genres. While Zhu Yu touches on the aporetic structure of the production of socialist artworks through examining different texts and contexts, his emphatic delineation of the problematic culminates in his illuminating reading of the artistic practice during the Great Leap Forward movement. Pushing Zhu Yu’s argument to its extreme, the essay holds that, if the self-effacing and self-negating nature of the cultural-political radicality of socialist artistic practice leaves a paradoxical trace in the history of socialist China, it is the impulse of attributing “meanings” to everything eventually leads this practice to its self-destruction. When the contingency of “everyday life” appears spectrally as “nature” that is both representable and un-representable, neither representable nor un-representable in socialist literature and art, we are one small step away from the motivation of cultural creations in the 1980s, which attempt to rehabilitate the so-called “authenticity” of everyday life through a wholesale critique and negation of the revolutionary “grand narrative.”