The portrayal of historical atrocity in fiction, film, and
popular culture can reveal much about the function of individual
memory and the shifting status of national identity. In the context
of Chinese culture, films such as Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of
Sadness and Lou Ye's Summer Palace and novels such as
Ye Zhaoyan's Nanjing 1937: A Love Story and Wang Xiaobo's
The Golden Age collectively reimagine past horrors and
give rise to new historical narratives.
Michael Berry takes an innovative look at the representation of
six specific historical traumas in modern Chinese history: the
Musha Incident (1930); the Rape of Nanjing (1937-38); the February
28 Incident (1947); the Cultural Revolution (1966-76); Tiananmen
Square (1989); and the Handover of Hong Kong (1997). He identifies
two primary modes of restaging historical violence: centripetal
trauma, or violence inflicted from the outside that inspires a
reexamination of the Chinese nation, and centrifugal
trauma, which, originating from within, inspires traumatic
narratives that are projected out onto a transnational vision of
global dreams and, sometimes, nightmares.
These modes allow Berry to connect portrayals of mass violence
to ideas of modernity and the nation. He also illuminates the
relationship between historical atrocity on a national scale and
the pain experienced by the individual; the function of film and
literature as historical testimony; the intersection between
politics and art, history and memory; and the particular advantages
of modern media, which have found new means of narrating the burden
of historical violence.
As Chinese artists began to probe previously taboo aspects of
their nation's history in the final decades of the twentieth
century, they created texts that prefigured, echoed, or subverted
social, political, and cultural trends. A History of Pain
acknowledges the far-reaching influence of this art and addresses
its profound role in shaping the public imagination and
conception-as well as misconception-of modern Chinese history.
Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies, History
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