ASCJ 2009
Session 18: Room 11-221

Contested Identity: Gender, Nation and “Chineseness” in Late Imperial and Early Republican Fiction

Organizer/Chair: Fumiko Jōo, University of Chicago/University of Tokyo

This panel aims to examine conflicts over identity formation through close readings of Chinese fiction and drama from the late imperial and early Republican periods. By analyzing the process by which socio-political, cultural and religious forces collided and reshaped the identities of writers and readers, the speakers on this panel intend to explore a variety of case studies regarding Chinese writers’ struggles in writing. Our presentation topics range from literary self-representation during the late Ming and the editorial challenge of literary genres in the High-Qing, to the emergence of national sentiment and debates over popular literature during the late Qing and Republican periods.

      Jōo’s paper discusses how the female playwright Ye Xiaowan tried to resolve her struggle with the religious discourse about woman’s salvation and further how she refused the popular imagination between talented beauties and their premature-death. Luo Hui investigates the mid-Qing publisher Zhao Qigao’s editorial work on Liaozhai zhiyi and argues that his attempt to promote the collection created an ambivalence in terms of its relation to preexisting literary genres. Hedberg’s paper focuses upon a prosimetric narrative by the late Qing journalist Li Boyuan, and the manner in which allusions within the work conflict with the historical situation Li hoped to represent. Finally, Hailin Zhou examines Zhang Ziping’s interpretation of the popular novel by the Japanese writer Satō Kōroku and Zhang’s conflicts with Lu Xun and other left-wing writers. Through the combination of these diverse papers, we hope to shed light on the interaction between various cultural forces and the process of identity formation in late imperial and Republican China.  

1) Fumiko Jōo, University of Chicago/University of Tokyo

Gender Performance and the Salvation of Women in Ye Xiaowan’s Dream of the Mandarin Ducks

Ye Xiaowan’s (1613–1657) Dream of the Mandarin Ducks (Yuanyang meng) is the only surviving text of a play written by a woman during the Ming period. In this drama she depicted herself and her dead sisters as male siblings. Through close readings of her drama and her family’s writings, this paper discusses how seriously a gentry-class woman pursued religious enlightenment and struggled against the popular discourse between talented beauties and their unfortunate fates in seventeenth-century China.

According to Buddhist teachings, women’s bodies prevented them from attaining Buddhahood. For serious Buddhist women such as the Ye sisters, the issue of women’s salvation was more significant than men would imagine. Ye Xiaowan wished to gain religious salvation by imagining herself and her sisters as men. Her father Ye Shaoyuan, on the other hand, imagined that a female spirit called Master Le constructed an underground women’s religious community and would lead the Ye women to prepare for enlightenment after death. Yet, Xiaowan refused to rely on this fantastic place for women. While transforming both her and her sisters’ alter egos into men, Xiaowan also borrowed from Daoist depictions of immortal women, which frequently appear in the Chinese literary tradition. Unlike male writers, however, she did not believe in the romantic association of reincarnated immortals with ill-fated beauties. This paper argues that as a survivor, she struggled to reassure herself of her own talent while internalizing the popular discourse about the gifted beauty and pre-mature death.

2) William C. Hedberg, Harvard University

Allusion and Precedent in Li Boyuan's “Gengzi guobian tanci”

My presentation will focus upon the late Qing prosimetric work "Gengzi guobian tanci (Ballad of the Events of 1900)" by the journalist, scholar, and entrepreneur Li Boyuan (1867–1906). Written directly after the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion by an international coalition, the tanci is a forty-chapter work that attempts to identify the causes of the uprising, narrate its main events, and assign blame for the unequal treaty provisions following the Boxers' defeat. I argue that Li Boyuan attempts to create a sense of continuity at a period of historical disjuncture by referencing other well-known literary works centered upon catastrophe and the fall of the state--most notably those concerned with the An Lushan rebellion or the collapse of the Ming. However, this attempt at familiarizing the failed rebellion by referencing previous instances of political upheaval is rendered ineffective by the unprecedented international scale upon which the narrative of the tanci takes place. While the consolation to be found in the early Qing works Li cites rests upon the ability to create a distinction between an abstract foreign entity and a reified "Chineseness" that can exist independently of the political state, Li's sense of China's position in relation to an international network prevents him from making the simple binary distinctions that characterize the works to which he alludes.

3) Hui Luo, Victoria University of Wellington 

Genre, Canon, Censorship: the Cultural Ascension of Liaozhai zhiyi (Strange Tales from the Make-do

When Pu Songling died in 1715, he left behind multiple manuscript versions of nearly five hundred strange tales, occupying an embattled zone between two traditional Chinese genres (zhiguai and chuanqi, now collectively known as xiaoshuo).  Since the author’s death, generations of critics and commentators have been grappling with the issues of genre, legitimacy, canonicity, and a host of extra-literary ramifications that the work has spawned.  This paper examines two instances of censorship related to Liaozhai zhiyi (henceforth Liaozhai) during the eighteenth century―Zhao Qigao’s (d. 1766) deletion of forty-eight tales from the first print edition and Ji Yun’s (1724–1805) exclusion of Liaozhai from the Qianlong imperial library catalogue.  While Ji Yun dismissed the fictionality of Liaozhai as unfitting for his definition of xiaoshuo as unofficial historiography, Zhao Qigao’s promotion of Liaozhai aesthetics dovetailed with the growing prestige of xiaoshuo as literary fiction.  Although both Ji Yun’s rejection of Liaozhai and Zhao Qigao’s promotion of it seem to be based on the literary issue of genre, their critical intervention has been interpreted by later scholars in an overwhelmingly political light.  Upon closer examination, both instances of censorship also reveal deeply personal motivations that have been obscured by ideological considerations.  Liaozhai’s critical reception and canonization thus offer a case study of the tensions within the development of xiaoshuo as a literary genre.  This study also seeks to demonstrate that a truly inventive work of literature can embody, in Bakhtinian fashion, “an orientation in life” that resists any rigid definitions of genre.

4) Hailin Zhou, Villanova University
On Sato Koryoku: Zhang Ziping’s Argument for Popular Literature 

In autumn 1932, the serial, “Shida yu Aideqilu” (The Times and Love at the Crossroads) on Shenbao written by Zhang Ziping was suspended. The serial not only anachronistically depicted the complicated love stories among the Chinese bourgeoisie, but also revealed his discontent with the left-wing literature movement, which had reached its peak by that time. Therefore, he was criticized by audiences, especially the left-wing intellectuals. Zhang attributed his failure to Lu Xun, believing that it is Lu Xun who conspired with the Chinese literary circle against him; thus arousing the controversy
with Lu Xun and his friends, which consequence is he had to gave up his career as novelist for a long time. A few years later, in his “Preface to the Translation for ‘Hannin Hanjyu’ (Between the Human and the Beast) by Japanese novelist Sato Koryoku,” Zhang defended the artistic nature of popular literature, justifying his fame as a love story writer, which was ridiculed by Lu Xun and the left-wing writers. My interest is in how and why
Koryoku’s literature drew Zhang’s sympathy and through his discourse, we may realize the conflict between Zhang and his contemporaries actually lies in different ideas about what literature should be. By examining Zhang’s translation of Koryoku’s “Between the Human and the Beast,” this paper will reveal the diverse ideas on popular literature between Japan and China, which are grounded in different cultural, political, and historical contexts.

Discussant: Yasushi Ōki, University of Tokyo