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The Monster That Is History

The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

David Der-wei Wang
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 409
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  • Book Info
    The Monster That Is History
    Book Description:

    In ancient China a monster called Taowu was known for both its vicious nature and its power to see the past and the future. Over the centuries Taowu underwent many incarnations until it became identifiable with history itself. Since the seventeenth century, fictive accounts of history have accommodated themselves to the monstrous nature of Taowu. Moving effortlessly across the entire twentieth-century literary landscape, David Der-wei Wang delineates the many meanings of Chinese violence and its literary manifestations. Taking into account the campaigns of violence and brutality that have rocked generations of Chinese—often in the name of enlightenment, rationality, and utopian plenitude—this book places its arguments along two related axes: history and representation, modernity and monstrosity. Wang considers modern Chinese history as a complex of geopolitical, ethnic, gendered, and personal articulations of bygone and ongoing events. His discussion ranges from the politics of decapitation to the poetics of suicide, and from the typology of hunger and starvation to the technology of crime and punishment.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93724-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book represents an effort to integrate my engagement over the past decade with literature and history. In studying fiction, poetry, and drama drawn from various periods, this book delineates the multivalence of Chinese violence across the past century and inquires into its ethical and technological consequences. It extends its arguments between two related axes: history and representation, modernity and monstrosity.

    I understand that I have undertaken a difficult task. Most of the subjects that occupy the following pages, from decapitation to suicide, from hunger to scarring, are not pleasant. But I feel compelled to write about them because they...

  5. Chapter 1 Invitation to a Beheading
    (pp. 15-40)

    Linnü yu,orWomen’s Words Overheard(1902–1904), by Youhuan Yusheng (Survivor of calamities, pseudonym of Lian Mengqing, 18??–after 1914), is one of the first late Qing narratives about the atrocities of the Boxer Rebellion. This novel describes the experiences of Jin Bumo, a scholar from Jiangsu, in the aftermath of the rebellion. Upon learning of the fall of Beijing and adjacent provinces to the foreign forces, Jin is so concerned about the well-being of the refugees that he sells everything to undertake a one-man rescue mission. While thousands of Chinese flee to the south, Jin Bumo, we are...

  6. Chapter 2 Crime or Punishment?
    (pp. 41-76)

    In Yokohama, Japan, in 1902, Liang Qichao (1873–1929) launched the magazineXin xiaoshuo,orNew Fiction. Of possible methods of reform, Liang and like-minded enlightened intellectuals held that “fictional revolution” must be regarded as foremost, as it could exert an impact of “incredible magnitude.”¹ In that same year, the Qing court decreed a reform whose goal was to update China’s increasingly obsolete legal system. The Institute for Legal Revision (Xiuding Falü Guan) was established to carry out this mission. Under Shen Jiaben and Yu Liansan, a comprehensive overhaul of Chinese legal structure took place in the next couple of...

  7. Chapter 3 An Undesired Revolution
    (pp. 77-116)

    On August 19, 1927, a poem entitled “Liubie” (Farewell) appeared in the literary supplement toZhongyang zhibao(Central daily news) of Wuhan:

    Sister Cloud:

    Half a pound of black tea has been finished,

    Five hundred cigarettes have been finished,

    Translation of the forty-thousand-character novel has been finished,

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Envelopes, stationary, draft sheets, also used up;

    So is the Agfa film.

    Summer is almost over,

    Fun is long gone,...

  8. Chapter 4 Three Hungry Women
    (pp. 117-147)

    Women and hunger are most peculiarly linked in the configuration of gender, materiality, and revolution in modern Chinese fiction. Shortages of food, with their grave implications for national politics, economics, and even eugenics, have, of course, appeared all too often in China’s quest for modernization.¹ But when hunger is treated in literary terms, it manifests itself in a wide variety of typologies, from famines caused by nature to “hunger revolutions” dictated by ideology. For Chinese writers since the May Fourth era, “having nothing to eat” not only reflects the agricultural crisis of an ancient nation whose roots are in the...

  9. Chapter 5 Of Scars and National Memory
    (pp. 148-182)

    Literature of the late 1940s to the early 1960s emerged during one of the most volatile moments in modern Chinese cultural history. In the wake of the Communist takeover of mainland China and the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan in 1949, Chinese literature bifurcated into two traditions, each flaunting a distinct political and aesthetic program. Although politics and literature had been closely tied since the rise of “new fiction” in the late Qing era, it was in the midcentury that writing finally transformed itself into political action and became a vocation that regularly demanded as much blood as ink.

    When registering...

  10. Chapter 6 The Monster That Is History The dream of reason produces monsters
    (pp. 183-223)

    In Taiwan in the fall of 1957, the Chinese émigré writer Jiang Gui (Wang Yijian, 1908–1980) published a novel entitledJin taowu zhuan(A tale of modern monsters). This novel chronicles Communist activities in a small town in Shandong Province from the 1920s through the 1940s, culminating in a macabre riot costing hundreds of lives. At the center of the novel is a pair of amateur revolutionaries, Fang Xiangqian, a Confucian literatus turned Marxist ideologue, and his nephew, Fang Peilan, a local militia chieftain with a dubious past as a highway bandit. In their yearning for reform, their revolutionary...

  11. Chapter 7 The End of the Line A poet is created by heaven out of a hundred calamities
    (pp. 224-261)

    In December 1933, Zhu Xiang (1904–1933), a modern Chinese poet, drowned himself in the Yangtze River. A member of the Xinyue (Crescent moon) school of poetry, Zhu had been praised by Lu Xun as the Keats of China for his passionate lyrics inspired by his European counterpart.² While the reasons for his death were never clear to his family and friends, it is believed that Zhu Xiang ended his own life because he could no longer cope with mounting personal problems, including an aborted overseas education, career frustrations, an unhappy family life, and an overall tendency to melancholy.³


  12. Chapter 8 Second Haunting The meaning of ghost is “that which returns.”
    (pp. 262-292)

    In hishuaben(storytelling) collectionYushi mingyan(Illustrious tales to instruct the world, 1620), Feng Menglong (1574–1646) relates a story, “Yang Siwen Yanshan feng guren” (An encounter of Yang Siwen and old acquaintances in Yanshan), which takes place three years after the fall of the Northern Song dynasty to the Nüzhen Tartars (1129 a.d.). On the night of the Lantern Festival that year, the protagonist Yang Siwen runs into a familiar woman. Like many northerners who failed to flee to the south after the fall, Yang has submitted to Tartar rule and is making a modest living in Yanshan,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 293-342)
    (pp. 343-370)
    (pp. 371-382)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 383-402)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 403-403)