Brushing History Against the Grain

Brushing History Against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Lin Qingxin
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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    Brushing History Against the Grain
    Book Description:

    This is the first book-length study of the Chinese new historical fiction (NHF), whose rise marks the birth of a new historical discourse that interrogates the telos and the timetable of the current discourse of ‘Chinese modernity’ as well as the earlier‘revolutionary history’. In an attempt to foreground the significance and the generic renovations of this new discourse, the author contends that the NHF has emerged as an independent rival discourse which competes with the official historiography for the right to writing the Chinese history.In this book, the significance of the NHF is examined in connection with the evolutionary line of the historical fiction, from its supplementary status to an independent literary sub-genre following its own artistic principles, and, further, to a species that traverses and intertwines with other genres to the effect that it dismantles the legitimacy of historiography by means of taking the very genre of the historical fiction itself to task. Drawing on such writers as Fredrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, David Harvey, and Linda Hutcheon, the author delineates the NHF as “alternative history” and “the historiographic metafiction,” arguing that it has constituted an oppositional discourse that rejects both the grand narrative of revolutionary history and the naïve confidence in Chinese modernity. In particular, the NHF takes issue with a temporal narration which pretends to know where history is going, and upholds a spatial narration that negates the imaginary progressive course of history embraced by both the Maoist discourse and the current discourse of modernity.Covering a wide range of contemporary Chinese writers including Zhang Chengzhi, Han Shaogong, Wang Xiaobo, Mo Yan, Su Tong, Wang Anyi, Chen Zhongshi, Ge Fei, Li Rui, and Yu Hua, this volume is for all those who are interested in late twentieth-century Chinese literature, intellectual and cultural history, comparative literature and cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-045-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Lin Qingxin
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book concentrates on the new historical fiction (新歴史小説) (hereinafter abbreviated as NHF), a term used loosely to label a corpus of narrative works emerging in mainland China since the mid-1980s,¹ which recite histories in various new ways, marking epistemological and ontological differences from previous models of the historical fiction in China. Being a constituent part of Chinese avant-gardism, the NHF, like other Chinese avant-garde fictions of the same period of time, had manifested both influences from foreign literature and the anxieties over Chinese reality. In this book, I attempt to explore the significance of the rise of the NHF...

  5. 1 Towards a Delineation
    (pp. 27-56)

    The “new historical fiction” is a rather loose term referring to a large corpus of narratives which, in their recitations of the historical past (most of which are fictive), have shown some marked epistemological and ontological differences from previous modes of the historical fiction. In this chapter, instead of attempting a sound definition for this sub-genre in China, I shall give a tentative delineation of its unique formal and thematic features in the light of its contribution to the generic repertoires of Chinese historical fiction. In fact, we do need a working definition for the term to facilitate any serious...

  6. 2 The Tyranny of Time
    (pp. 57-82)

    Spatio-temporal perception plays an essential role in determining the type of historical texts a historian or a historical fiction writer produces. While traditional history retraces the past as continuous development, the Foucauldian “effective history” resolutely denies such continuity and attempts to capture “the randomness of events” and to “seize the various perspectives, to disclose dispersions and differences, to leave things undisturbed in their own dimension and intensity” (Foucault 1991b: 88–9).¹ The emergence of the NHF as a sub-genre of the historical fiction rests upon, I propose, a breakthrough in the conceptualization of historical space and time as shown in...

  7. 3 The Proliferation of Heterotopias
    (pp. 83-114)

    If the spatio-temporal conceptualization in modern Chinese historical narratives, as has been discussed in the previous chapter, represents a collective craving for a utopian future or for “socialist modernization,” it is then necessarily involved in the construction of “a myth of time”¹ that sees the wheels of history as rolling towards a predestined terminus. This perception of irreversible time forever moving forward towards a definite goal is embedded in the collective imagination of historical time. As this goal is taken as a noble ideal to be realized in the future, it creates a temporal pressure that urges people to accelerate...

  8. 4 Writing Decadence as Allegory
    (pp. 115-132)

    Decadence comes in many forms and meanings. Zhuangzi’s (莊子) equation of binary oppositions, such as life and death, things and their shadows, dreams and alertness, justice and evil, has led to a relativistic philosophy of “effortlessness” which is viewed in China by many as a form of decadence (e.g. Wu Ren 1996: 1). This sense of decadence is associated with both egotism and an anti-social, anti-moral tendency as represented in its escapist strategy. Liu Ling’s (劉伶, approximately ad 221–300) anecdote is exemplary of such a form of decadence and is often cited as a case in point.¹ Liu Ling,...

  9. 5 Constructing a ʺClean Spiritʺ
    (pp. 133-150)

    Zhang Chengzhi’s (張承志, 1949–) novel A History of the Soul (1991) narrates the 172 years (1748–1920) of the history of Jahrinya (哲合忍耶), a Sufi order of Islam in Northwest China continually involved in suicidal wars with the overpowering Qing troops. Zhang’s book represents the first outspoken extolment of religion in contemporary Chinese literature and is concomitant with an age marked by “the crisis of humanistic spirit” in the early 1990s. His work came into the focus of attention in the 1992–1994 period when the shift from planned economy to market economy was underway and had led to...

  10. 6 Writing the Peripheral into Dictionary
    (pp. 151-174)

    Han Shaogong (韓少功, 1953–), known as a pioneer of “roots-seeking literature” (尋根文學),¹ published his much-disputed work entitled A Dictionary of Maqiao (馬橋詞典) in 1996.² The book is written in a dictionary form. It comprises 150 entries, each of which records a Maqiao expression, or a person, or a place. What inspired him to compile such a special dictionary was the uniqueness of the local expressions of Miluo (汨羅), an area evoking reminiscences of the ancient Kingdom of Chu (楚). Qu Yuan (屈原, 340–278? bc), an exiled Chu official and renowned poet, was said to have drowned himself in...

  11. 7 History, Fiction, and Metafiction
    (pp. 175-206)

    Wang Xiaobo (王小波, 1952–1997) rose to fame almost overnight when his literary talent was first revealed in a novelette entitled The Age of Gold (黄金時代) in which he reactivates the remembrance of a not-too-unusual love story during the Cultural Revolution. It won Taiwan’s 13th United Daily News Prize for the Novelette (1992) for its depiction of “the intricate and equivocal relations between sex and politics” (Wang Xiaobo 1992: 3).

    Notwithstanding his self-claimed art-for-art’s-sake aesthetics,¹ Wang Xiaobo’s works are preoccupied with some essential aspects of life, i.e. wisdom, erotic love and the interesting, which are often denied his heroes and...

  12. Conclusion: Straddling Traditionality and Postmodernity
    (pp. 207-212)

    Although Ts’ui Pên in the story may well be a fictitious character, Jorge Luis Borges’s attribution of this peculiar perception of time to a Chinese is not without justification. Real Sinologists’ studies of traditional Chinese historical narrative, such as Gardner’s discovery of a lack of “concatenation of cause and effect” in Chinese traditional historiography (Gardner 1961: 69), Prusek’s observation that historical events were treated by Chinese historians as “only isolated short episodes” (1970: 24), and above all, Andrew Plaks’s perception of the Chinese tradition of narrative as being organized according to the conceptual schemes of “complementary bipolarity” and “multiple periodicity”...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-234)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-250)
  15. Index
    (pp. 251-256)