Contending for the Chinese modern : the writing of fiction in the great transformative epoch of modern China, 1937-1949

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Wang, Xiaoping, 1975-

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This dissertation studies the writing of fiction in modern China from 1937 to 1949 in the three politically-divided areas: the Nationalist-controlled area, the Communist-dominated region, and the Japanese-occupied districts (before 1945), under the framework of “contested modernities” (the capitalist, the colonialist, and the socialist). Works of fiction here are explored as fundamentally cultural responses to the social, political, and historical experience. Therefore, it appreciates the dialectics of the content-form of these works as expressions, manifestations, and articulations of the contending modernities that competed against each other during that era. Methodologically, this project combines the application of the theory of “field of cultural production” promoted by Pierre Bourdieu, with the approach of historical/political hermeneutics as advocated by Fredric Jameson. The three areas set the stage for cultural productions of differing ideological tendencies. In this context, fiction is a testing ground for various versions and visions of “new cultures” of Chinese modernities. Here, we treat “1940s China” as a social-cultural space and “fiction” as a literary and intellectual institution in which various visions of “new cultures” expressed themselves. “Style” or “form” then becomes a socially symbolic, political action in which writers’ search for social and symbolic certainty was incarnated. Part I, “Negotiating with the Nightmarish Modern,” explores writers from the Japanese-occupied areas. The first chapter studies the relationship between the experience of exile and Xiao Hong’s war-time diasporic literature. The second chapter explores the middle-brow boudoir literature from Shanghai. In particular, it studies the works by Zhang Ailing. Part II, “Rethinking the Disjointed Modern,” investigates the Nationalist-controlled regions. The so-called “neo-romanticist” writers Wumingshi and Xu Xu, as well as the famed writer of the “July School” Lu Ling, are its objects of study. The third part, “Contending for a New Modern,” takes as its object of research writings from the Communist-controlled area. It looks into the “peasant writer” Zhao Shuli’s stories and the works by the May-Fourth-writer-turned-Communist-intellectual, Ding Ling. The study not only substantiates the argument that in modern China, the search for a new subjectivity was undertaken through conquering the identity crisis of the “new man” and “new woman,” but also testifies to the fact that this “control of the form” was simultaneously a symbolic action that articulated the anxiety of the intellectuals about becoming a new, modern Chinese. Put in other way, this search for a new identity is premised upon the establishment of a new subjectivity, which was an integral part of the project of building various “new cultures.” Through a practice of political hermeneutics of fictional texts and social-historical subtexts, this dissertation shows that social modernity and literary modernity intertwined and interacted with each other in the development of modern Chinese literature




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