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A History of Pain

A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film

Michael Berry
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    A History of Pain
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51200-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Twentieth-century China represents a time and a place marred by the unrelenting vicissitudes of history and the repeated trauma of violence. Struggling to redefine its position in the world after the harrowing Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century and a devastating defeat at the hands of Japan during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, China entered the twentieth century only to face the collapse of its last dynastic empire in 1911. Since then, from May Fourth’s violent negation of the past (1919) to the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–45), from the Civil War (1945–49) to the "great...

  5. Prelude: A HISTORY OF PAIN
    (pp. 21-50)

    Depictions of violence in Chinese fiction and visual culture are by no means an entirely modern phenomenon. In classic works of late imperial literature, such as Outlaws of the Marsh (Shui hu zhuan 水滸傳), the chivalric tale of 108 bandits, and Journey to the West (Xi you ji 西游記), the fantastic account of a monk, a friar, a pig, and a monkey who travel to India in search of Buddhist scriptures, violence and brutality are not only commonplace but also quite pervasive. Most often, however, such depictions are not of national calamity and trauma but instead are rooted in the...


    • 1. Musha 1930
      (pp. 53-107)

      Composed on March 17, 1982, this free-verse poem by Wu Yongfu 巫永福 entitled “The Crimson Sakura of Musha” (Wushe feiying 霧社緋櫻) is but one in a long line of attempts to commemorate, reflect upon, and reconstruct the Musha Incident (霧社事件), one of the most violent events in modern Taiwan history. It happened during the height of the colonial period in Taiwan; after more than 35 years under the Japanese flag, virtually all forms of armed resistance had long been suppressed. But that changed one fall morning in Musha 霧社, a small town nestled deep in the mountains of central Taiwan...

    • 2. Nanjing 1937
      (pp. 108-178)

      Nanjing, the southernmost of China’s capital cities, stands out not only for its rich cultural heritage and as a thriving urban and economic center but also for repeatedly being the site of acts of destruction and desecration. Between the gorgeous vistas of the Purple Mountain and the gleaming shores of the Yangtze, on which Nanjing is situated, are hidden countless stories of unspeakable violence and barbarism. Perhaps more than any other Chinese capital, the city formally known as Jinling 金陵 has been riddled by dynastic failure, violent political suppressions, natural disasters, and atrocity throughout its history.

      Nanjing’s status as capital...

    • 3. Taipei 1947
      (pp. 179-250)

      Although responsibility for the atrocities committed in Nanjing between December 1937 and the early months of 1938 lies with the Japanese, in the eyes of some, the Nationalist forces also carry a burden of guilt for a flawed resistance strategy and the massive military and governmental evacuation of the capital. It could be argued that the heavy casualties suffered in Nanjing were in part due to the absence of any significant Nationalist military presence to defend, lead, or even negotiate on behalf of the Chinese citizenry.¹ The degree of culpability the Nationalist regime should face is repeatedly alluded to in...


    • 4. Yunnan 1968
      (pp. 253-297)

      Of all the atrocities that China witnessed during the twentieth century, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is unique for its length, divergent forms of pain inflicted (including torture, imprisonment, public humiliation, psychological torture, and forced relocation), and the complex ways “culture” was both a target and a means to wage political warfare. Just as “old” forms of culture were being singled out, other forms of culture (such as model operas, films, and literature) were being appropriated for political ends. Seventeen years after the “liberation” of China, Mao Zedong 毛澤東 (1893–1976) decided it was time to “continue the revolution” and...

    • 5. Beijing 1989
      (pp. 298-364)

      Contrary to the spirit of its name, the “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” Tiananmen Square has witnessed much unrest, protest, and violence over the course of the twentieth century—from the May Fourth advocacy of New Culture to Mao Zedong’s proclamation of New China and from the mass rallies of the Cultural Revolution to the mass mourning of lost leaders. Events in this open square in the center of Beijing, just outside the gates of the Forbidden City, have played a decisive role in defining many of the key cultural and political movements of the twentieth century. But none has captured...

  8. Coda: Hong Kong 1997
    (pp. 365-384)

    As China approached the end of the twentieth century, a period of violence, war, and political purges, it seemed that memories of the brutal past stained not only the nation’s collective memory but also its future. Suddenly, writers and filmmakers’ “obsession with China” and the past seemed even more concerned with China’s future—and their predictions were most disturbing. In 1991, Wang Lixiong 王力雄 (b. 1953), writing under the pen name Bao Mi 保密, or “Kept Secret,” published a massive three-volume novel entitled Yellow Peril (Huang huo 黄禍). It revealed a disturbing vision of the future, including political assassination, a...

    (pp. 385-408)
    (pp. 409-412)
  11. Index
    (pp. 413-420)