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Visions of Dystopia in China's New Historical Novels

Visions of Dystopia in China's New Historical Novels

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Visions of Dystopia in China's New Historical Novels
    Book Description:

    The depiction of personal and collective suffering in modern Chinese novels differs significantly from standard Communist accounts and most Eastern and Western historical narratives. Writers such as Yu Hua, Su Tong, Wang Anyi, Mo Yan, Han Shaogong, Ge Fei, Li Rui, and Zhang Wei scramble common conceptions of China's modern development, deploying avant-garde narrative techniques from Latin American and Euro-American modernism to project a surprisingly "un-Chinese" dystopian vision and critical view of human culture and ethics.

    The epic narratives of modern Chinese fiction make rich use of magical realism, surrealism, and unusual treatments of historical time. Also featuring graphic depictions of sex and violence and dark, raunchy comedy, these novels deeply reflect China's turbulent recent history, re-presenting the overthrow of the monarchy in the early twentieth century and the resulting chaos of revolution and war; the recurring miseries perpetrated by class warfare during the dictatorship of Mao Zedong; and the social dislocations caused by China's industrialization and rise as a global power. This book casts China's highbrow historical novels from the 1990s to the mid-2000s as a distinctively Chinese contribution to the form of the global dystopian novel and, consequently, to global thinking about the interrelations of utopia and dystopia.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53229-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION: Chinese Visions of History and Dystopia
    (pp. 1-32)

    China’s preeminent contemporary novelists—foremost among them Mo Yan, Su Tong, Yu Hua, Ge Fei, Zhang Wei, Wang Anyi, Li Rui, and Han Shaogong—tell astonishing tales of modern Chinese history. Family sagas, village histories, coming-of-age narratives, and stories of enduring feuds fill these synoptic works. Reviewing one of Mo Yan’s most “wildly visionary and creative” novels, Jonathan Spence, reading as historian as well as critic, still found it to be “a kind of documentary.”¹ Mo Yan’s generation, after all, grew up with novels that depicted “social forces.” Their own works are more avant-garde, and yet appear to embody “lessons”...

    (pp. 33-72)

    Readers open a historical novel expecting a quick orientation to the era of the plot. Chinese readers are no different, and they are no less predisposed than the rest of us to see history unfold in discrete periods. Marxist ideas of stages of historical progress die hard. Even anciently, Chinese historians (far more than the Indians, for instance) scrupulously recorded dates. Standard dynastic histories of the past two millennia and local histories (“gazetteers”) still written by Communist Party–appointed committees begin with chronologies of major events. Chinese historians of practically any political persuasion agree and insist that “modern Chinese history”...

    (pp. 73-118)

    In China as elsewhere, cyclical conceptions of history long predate views of history as a record of human progress. A common phrase in the Chinese language, often voiced by characters in the new historical novels, is that fortune flows this way for “twenty years” (or thirty years, or sixty), and then the other way for the next twenty (thirty, or sixty) years.¹ At a more philosophical level, Chinese scholars and folk have for millennia looked for cycles in nature, the ascendancy of yin and yang, successions of reigning dynasties, families, Buddhist kalpas, Daoist eons, and the rise and fall of...

    (pp. 119-156)

    This chapter and the next examine China’s new historical novels in light of world dystopian thinking and writing. Set aside the wars, civil wars, class persecutions, domestic conflicts, murders, rapes, beatings, suicides, and mob violence that fill the Chinese novels; the frequent resort to trauma theory and Holocaust-influenced “history and memory” discourse in the West’s academic studies of recent Chinese fiction and autobiography; and the sense of futility, angst, or unease engendered by the new historical novels as described in chapters 2 and 3. To what extent do these works share classic global dystopian templates?

    The major Slavic and Anglophone...

  8. 5 ANARCHY: Social, Moral, and Cosmic
    (pp. 157-196)

    Moral and social anarchy, as inLord of the Flies, Cormac Mc Carthy’sThe Road(2006), and post-apocalypse films likeMad MaxandThe Book of Eli, is a condition ostensibly opposite to totalitarianism, although both dystopian visions are filled with conflict, terror, and tyranny, which canflourish at the grassroots level when there is no larger governing force. Stories of local tyrannies amid nationwide anarchy are legion in China’s ancient and modern historical record. Mayhem was employed by Big Brother himself in the Kristallnacht and China’s Cultural Revolution, fueled by propaganda and rituals likeNineteen Eighty-Four’ s Two Minutes Hate. Local...

  9. 6 CONCLUSION: The End of History, Dystopia, and “New” Historical Novels?
    (pp. 197-208)

    Does the Chinese new historical novel already belong to history now? Perhaps China has entered an age of postmodern prosperity—and political caution—indifferent to history, the quest for utopia, and the fear of dystopia. Will Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize, awarded to him in mid-career, paralyze his muse and overshadow his colleagues’ achievements?¹ The writers featured in this book dominate what the Chinese media callshilipai zuojia(“the strong writers”): powerful, canonical modern authors who have acquired status through their works, not their politics. In their fifties and sixties now, the new historical writers have kept alive the flame of...

  10. List of Chinese Characters
    (pp. 209-210)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 211-238)
    (pp. 239-264)
  13. Index
    (pp. 265-285)