The fact that Lu Xun is no longer regarded as the most important Chinese writer of the 20th century raises many questions. Is there only one benchmark for good literature, or are there different norms? To what extent are these norms dictated by the market? Questions like these relate to the issue of evaluation. Is literature still evaluated according to the internationally recognized definition of “modernity” that prevailed before World War II, or is it unfair to judge contemporary writers according to standards that dominated before 1949? The reason why contemporary Chinese literature (after 1949) might sometimes seem somehow lacking in comparison with modern Chinese literature (1912–49) might be found in historical changes in the role of the narrator in the novel. Literature after 1949 often returns to the omnipresent narrator, whose comments can be taken for granted. But, in the works of Lu Xun, the reader is often confronted with a narrator who is not reliable. In this way, the literature becomes ambivalent, and it is precisely this ambivalence that makes the literature “modern,” as the reader has to decide which voice he or she is going to trust. It is also ambivalence which turns a narrating “I” into a fictional character, which cannot be equated with the (real) author.
It is generally acknowledged that Lu Xun’s collection of prose poems, Wild Grass (Yecao), is his epitomizing work. Among the numerous research on this work, it is rare to find studies that explicitly expound Zhou Zuoren’s relationship with Lu Xun and his effect upon the latter’s writing. This is probably because scholars seldom associate poetry with Zhou Zuoren, a writer famous for his prose and essays. In addition, the relationship between the two brothers broke up completely in 1923. Therefore, Zhou Zuoren does not appear to have played a significant role in the composition of Wild Grass in 1924. This essay attempts to explore the relationship between the two brothers from a new perspective, revolving the analysis around the “Shadow’s Leave-Taking” (Ying de gaobie) the most difficult and important work in Lu Xun’s collection of prose poems, Wild Grass.
When the Chinese Revolution led by the Communist Party eventually prevailed in 1949, Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967) wrote to Zhou Enlai—the first premier of the People’s Republic—in the hope of reversing the verdict on his “culpability.” To what extent, Zhou Zuoren asked, was he, a wartime collaborator with the Japanese enemy, recognizable not only as an offender of the traditional moral norms (mingjiao), but also as a traitor of the nation (minzu)? Before the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Zhou Zuoren had long been viewed as a leading figure of the Chinese “New Culture.” Zhou Zhuoren’s sudden decision to collaborate with the Japanese Occupation in 1938 then turned out to be a traumatic and scandalous event for the Chinese intellectual community. The whole case of his collaboration exposed, in disturbing ways, the convergences and the divergences of law, morality and politics in China’s modern nation building. By revisiting this controversial case, this paper attempts at a symptomatic reading of the following texts: “An Open Letter to Zhou Zuoren” written collectively by a group of Chinese intellectuals, court documents of the post-war trials, and Zhou Zuoren’s letter to Zhou Enlai. This re-reading focuses on the domain of the cultural-political rhetoric, within which Zhou’s contentious “culpability” has turned into an ambiguous zone of modern law, traditional morality, and nationalism in East Asia.
Mo Yan’s historical novel Sandalwood Death revisits the Boxer Uprising, exploring a local structure of feeling from the point of view of oral transmissions that, one hundred years after the events, appears gradually to be receding into oblivion. It is a project of recuperation or, rather, aesthetic reconstruction of local knowledge. The staging of a variety of local performances, such as Maoqiang opera, seasonal festivals, military and religious parades, as well as of scenes of excessive violence in executions and battle scenes, appears to be a strategy for the cultural reclamation of these local experiences. The story challenges the ingrained dualism between foreign, modern imperialist and nationalist forms of rationality, and pre-modern, local patterns of behaviour and thought. Employing polyphony and multivalent historical representtations, the novel aspires to portray the social dynamics in a given geohistorical circumstances by measuring the spatiotemporal as well as the cognitive distance between the witnessed event, the testifying witness and the future receivers of the transmitted stories. Thus, the inquiry does not focus on the historical events as facts, but rather on their cultural afterlife in (founding) narratives. In times of a growing gap between the modernist vision of human liberation and the actual conditions of growing inequality, delegitimization and dispossession, this tale of unrest in the wake of globalization has as much to say about the world’s peoples around the year 2000, when the novel was published, as about the microcosm of Shandong Gaomi County around the year 1900, when the historical events took place. Taking into account that the novel was written as a local Maoqiang opera in the making and that theatres are major providers of cultural space for the enactment of the human self as the subject of history, Sandalwood Death can perhaps best be described as a theatre of reclamation.
Established in the late imperial era, “one hundred beauties” (baimei) genre selected and portrayed one hundred beautiful women in Chinese history often through three cultural artifacts: woodblock print portraits, biographies, and poems. This paper takes as its focus the anthology Gujin baimei tuyong 古今百美 图咏 (Illustrated biographies of and poems on one hundred beauties of the past and the present, 1917), which has not received scholarly attention before. Bringing together collections of old and new-style beauties, the anthology is a showcase of the genre straddling two centuries. The transformation of the genre, as reflected in the Gujin baimei tuyong, complicates a simplistic distinction between tradition and modernity while enriching our understanding of the changing representations of women.
A controversial concept in reading “third-world literature,” Fredric Jameson’s “national allegory” has more often been refuted or approvingly appropriated than properly understood. Taking the “national allegory” as a convenient theoretical category describing the content of “third-world literature” misses Jameson’s underlying problematic, i.e. his concern about “third-world literature” as an immanent deconstructive force leading to the breaking down of chains of signification of capitalist culture. Insofar as the functional concept of the “national allegory” is concerned, one must read “nation” not as a term designating a substantial entity, but as an “allegory” in itself. To read “third-world literature” through the lens of a “national allegory” thus means to deterritorialize the third world from its substantial determinants in terms of traditional geo-politics. Rather, “third-world literature” in its deconstructive force is toward what Jean-Luc Nancy calls “the inoperative community.”
Tian Han is well-known for writing realistic and revolutionary works in modern Chinese literature, but his early dramatic works are full of Western aesthetic decadence which values “art is for art’s sake.” He was strongly influenced by Oscar Wilde and his Salome, which can be found from his translating Salome to directing it performed on the Chinese stage, and to his own drama writing in 1920s. He did his best to balance art and life in his dramatic works in order to make them accepted by the masses in China. However, in 1930 he declared in his Self-criticism Directed at Ourselves that he would give up writing the aesthetic and decadent literary works and transfer to “art is for life’s sake.” The conflict between art and life through his works and theories demonstrates his complex about Salome.
Suzhou River, a 2000 film directed by Lou Ye, explores several tragic love stories set in Shanghai around the transitional period of 1980s and 1990s. Many critics have praised its technical excellence, yet generally they have not paid sufficient attention to its subject matter. This paper departs from previous interpretations of the film, which have tended to be premised on superficial readings of the plotline, and contends that the work constitutes a poignant socio-political critique, which is conveyed through the construction of differing love stories set against a changing socio-cultural landscape. The past and the present incarnations of the cardinal female protagonist—who can be understood as a symbol for the average Chinese (woman)—suggest the fact that the society has transformed dramatically across the three disparate eras of the past half a century; accordingly, the identity of the Chinese also shifts tremendously. In this way, Lou Ye in effect constructs a diachronic re-presentation of the changing social mores and varied cultural ethos in a synchronic structure, which is subject to be read as an ingenious historical allegory.