This essay suggests memory studies, ecocriticism, and trauma studies as new avenues for the study of rusticated youth narratives. Towards reaching this goal, I first introduce a meditation on memory by Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005), especially his sketch of memory and imagination with classical Greek philosophy. His ideas on affective and practical memories are then telescoped into individual and communal memories. Onze Fleurs (Wo shiyi, 2011), directed by Wang Xiaoshuai (1966– ), and The River without Buoys (Meiyou hangbiao de heliu, 1984), directed by Wu Tianming (1939–2014) provide illustrative examples of each. Building upon these notions of personal memory I turn to the popular memory of rustication, especially that of the natural environment in Liang Xiaosheng’s “A Land of Wonder and Mystery” (“Zhe shi yipian shenqi de tudi,” 1985). More specifically I examine the evocation of the ghost marsh, narratives of departure, the family left in the city, and the menace of nature in Liang’s short story to force not only a reconsideration of rustication, but also of nature in contemporary China. Moreover, in addition to noting the questioning of the sanitization of rusticated memories as a means of conforming to dominant state ideological discourses, I introduce a comparison of the story of doomed rusticated youth to the doomed youth in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, in order to force a comparison of youth and the environment often overlooked in rusticated youth studies. Finally, this essay concludes by suggesting that by more carefully considering the interplay between memory and place more nuanced and perhaps more ecologically and critically engaged assessments of rusticated youth fiction become possible.
Starring Jet Li (Li Lianjie), directed by Tsui Hark (Xu Ke), and set in the turn of the century Guangdong Province, China, the martial arts trilogy Once upon a Time in China raises a number of questions concerning history, China-West dichotomy, the dilemma of Chinese modernity, the structure of the “feminizing” gaze, and Westernized Chinese subjectivity. It has been suggested that Once upon a Time in China is a deliberate effort to retell and rediscover the past, and constitutes part of a response to the “Western gaze”—a (re)affirmation of Chinese masculinity and cultural superiority—and therefore augments the “materiality of Chinese identity.” This study, by revisiting this old series, tries to address these points with the intention of demonstrating contradictions in the discourse regarding Chinese cultural identity and modernization and thereby creating a consciousness of the disjunctures, discontinuities, and most importantly, the inherent hybridity in Chinese culture and identity. The recognition of a mutually feminizing gaze between the West and the East reveals orientalism to be a cultural logic that lies in the center of the “truly traumatic experience” of the post-colonial subject.
A new trend has emerged in Chinese film over the past two decades in which the story of the working class has been narrated aimed at an authentic representation of the nation’s socialist past, against the general demonization of the Maoist era. Still, there are a number of problems existed in this cinematic “new wave.” This paper analyzes a recent example of this tide, The Road (Fangxiang zhi lü, 2006), and its implications. A careful examination of the film’s narrative strategy reveals that it is oftentimes entrenched in the bourgeois ideology of “human nature,” which circumscribes its intended agenda of making a genuine reflection on the past and present of Chinese workers. On the surface, this film offers a positive image of the Maoist period by presenting a vivacious revolutionary work ethic in the female protagonist and her master. However, on a deeper level, the film only gives an impression of pity for this wretched workwoman who has completely wasted her life. Her “human nature” has been distorted by her socialist work ethic that had been inscribed with imprints of Maoism. In the mean time, the movie’s repetition of political clichés against revolutionary discourse, and an artificial binarity between socialism and commercial culture, bring out the real effect that rather than departing from stereotypes, it in effect merely perpetuates the popular narrative that has come to stigmatize the Maoist era. By this strategy, the film also evades the responsibility of accounting for the real reason for the gigantic social-political transformation.
This paper analyses Socialist Realist novels from the early years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), focusing on scenes of food and drink consumption. While these scenes may appear marginal at first glance, the analysis demonstrates how food and its consumption function as codes to normative values. I am therefore proposing a reading of these texts based on the model of intertextuality (Julia Kristeva) and on an anthropological model on (food) consumption (Mary Douglas), advocating that acts of consumption reveal social hierarchies and the position of the individual therein. These fictional scenes of everyday activities construct fictional characters as heroes or villains. Given the normative value of this officially endorsed literature, these scenes at the same time prescribe (and, likewise, proscribe) certain behavior to their readers. On another level, however, these codes also convey information that could not be openly spelled out at the time, as when the sharing of food is the only way in which two fictional characters can express their love. Simple food can thus be the source of entertainment, enjoyment, suspense, and even nostalgia for contemporary readers, which, in turn, may be one of the reasons for the lasting popularity of the codes described and of a number of the texts presented in the analysis.
An examination of Soviet nostalgia—nostalgia for the times when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had a close relationship with the Soviet Union, as it appears in contemporary discourses that reimagine the Soviet Union, is essential to understand the quotidian aspect and cultural history of the PRC in the 1950s, as well as cultural attitudes in contemporary China. Wang Meng’s In Remembrance of the Soviet Union (2007) and Feng Jicai’s Listening to Russia (2005) are characterized by nostalgia for the lost Soviet Union, which exerted a strong influence on the PRC during the 1950s. In contemporary China, where the market economy is the dominant mode of production, Wang and Feng’s Soviet nostalgia is a gesture of yearning for a type of historical temporality that has seemingly been lost. Their works express the desire to reclaim the historical past of the 1950s, which they portray as having been completely erased by the developmental logic of late-capitalism—the authentic cultural experiences in the 1950s, especially the everyday life along with the revolutionary ideals are rendered unreal within the post-revolutionary logic. The concept of Soviet “ji” ( 祭, “remembrance”) provides a theoretical framework through which to understand the way in which the phenomenon of Chinese nostalgia has the potential to shift contemporary social reality.
As a revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong had a new vision of China as a reformed revolutionary society. Challenging this radical social vision in The Ninth Widow (Di jiu ge guafu, 2006) and One Woman’s Epic (Yige nüren de shishi, 2007), the contemporary Chinese writer Yan Geling describes how the characters retain their personal mentalities and habits in everyday life as they ignore, outmaneuver or even defy the political demands of revolutionary China. Focused on Yan’s depiction of everyday life, the present paper offers a close reading and analysis of the two novels in relation to the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, Alf Lüdtke and Michel de Certeau. It pays special attention to Yan’s depiction of everyday life as a site where the characters in the novels bring their human agency into play as they satisfy their human needs and maintain their individual characteristics. Ultimately, it shows how Yan’s depiction of everyday life questions the reach and efficacy of dominant ideology in revolutionary China.
Originally derived from historical and philosophical writings, xiaoshuo is the modern Chinese term for fictional work of any length. However, how this term came to be used to translate the Western concepts of “fiction” and “novel” is a question that remains to be fully explored. This paper focuses on Lu Xun’s seminal work Zhongguo xiaoshuo shilüe (A brief history of Chinese fiction; 1925) so as to investigate the ways in which the Western concept of fiction is built into Lu Xun’s historicization of xiaoshuo. I argue that Lu Xun’s articulation of xiaoshuo is distinguished by his emphasis on both the term’s universality and its “Chinese-ness.”