Subversion, Transcendence, and Rejection History in the Fiction of Contemporary Chinese Avant-garde Writers Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei by ZHANSUI YU B.E. Tianjin University of Technology and Education, 1989 M.A. Shandong University, 1992 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY In THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Asian Studies) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA April 2008 © Zhansui Yu, 2008 ii Abstract This thesis explores the different patterns of history presented in the fiction of the three major contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei as well as their respective views of history. Based on detailed case studies of the three writers, the thesis examines the complicated and intertwined relationships of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction with previous Chinese traditions—Confucian, the May Fourth, and Communist—and with foreign influences. It also assesses the overall literary achievement of Chinese avant-garde fiction, its position in the history of modern Chinese literature, and its impact on the Chinese writers of later generations. Unlike most previous research on this subject, which overemphasizes the "alien" nature of Chinese avant-garde fiction or its discontinuity with Chinese tradition, this thesis aims at a more balanced investigation. Not only is the "newness" of Chinese avant- garde fiction deeply explored, its "Chineseness" or its profound continuity with Chinese literary and cultural conventions is also carefully examined. By comparison, the thesis attaches more importance to the "Chineseness" of Chinese avant-garde fiction. My analysis demonstrates that, while Su Tong aims at the total subversion of the Communist interpretation of the Chinese revolution and history, while Yu Hua attempts to transcend the Maoist materialistic view of history through reincorporating subjectivity into historical interpretation, Ge Fei totally rejects the conceptualization of history and the underlying rationalistic assumption of human experience as a perceptible and understandable unity. 111 Table of Contents Abstract.^ ii Acknowledgments^ iv Introduction 1 Chapter 1 Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 13 Chinese Avant-garde Fiction: Its Origin and Nature^ 13 The Chinese Avant-garde: Postmodernism? 25 Writers in a Post-totalitarian Party-state: Unchanged and Changed^34 Obsession with History: Deepening of an Old Tradition^ ..41 Chapter 2 History as "Retrogressive" Process: Subversion, Identity Crisis, and Power Relations in Su Tong's Fiction^ 47 History as Battlefield for Ideological Domination ^49 History as a Route of Escape to the Modern 81 History as Field of Power Relations^ 118 Fictionalizing History: Technique as Discursive Device^ 158 Conclusion^ ..184 Chapter 3 Yu Hua: Limits of Transcendence—Between Existential Truth and Historical Authenticity^ 186 Helplessness as Universal Human Condition^ 188 Life as a Process of Successive Disillusionments 203 Loneliness as Universal and Historical Life Experience^218 Death as the Other Form of Life^ .234 Personal Trauma versus the Iron Hand of History: To Live = To Die?^250 Violence as Narrative and Aesthetic Principle^ 269 Conclusion^ .277 Chapter 4 Rejection of History: Fear, Broken Memory, and Ultimate Incommunicability in Ge Fei's Fiction^ .279 Who is the Enemy?^ 281 Fear as Human Imagination: Mental Shrinking and Distortion^ ..299 Fear and Absurdity as Social and Existential Phenomena: On the Margin^317 History (Reality) as an Aggregate of Isolated Events^ .337 Conflict of "Reality" and Incommunicability between Human Beings^ ..352 Broken Memory and Lost Identity^ ..373 Conclusion^ ..392 Conclusion 396 Bibliography^ .409 iv Acknowledgments I would like to express my indebtedness to my supervisor Professor Michael S. Duke for all his invaluable instruction, inspiration, and support during my study at UBC. What he has done for me in all these years is far beyond his duty as a supervisor. What he has taught me will be a lifetime wealth for me. I would also like to thank the two other teachers of mine at UBC, Professor Timothy Cheek and Professor Jerry D. Schmidt. Professor Cheek's unfailing encouragement and inspiration make me confident in myself, and the modern Chinese intellectual history course he taught me, one of the most rewarding courses I have ever taken, greatly broadens my knowledge scope and influences my thought. Professor Schmidt is always more than willing and ready to teach and help me whenever I encounter any questions and difficulties in these years. I am grateful to Professor David Der-wei Wang, the External Examiner, for reading my thesis and offering so many inspiring comments and suggestions, and to Professor Josephine Chiu-Duke for her care and the precious knowledge I have learned from her during the many pleasant conversations between us. I am indebted to my friend Gary Wang, who generously reads most of my manuscript and offers many valuable suggestions. I would also like to thank my friend Zhang Dewei for his many thoughts on history from which I benefit very much. Thanks also go to Mina Wong and Jasmina Miodravic for their help and kindness and to the Department for offering me several scholarships. I would like to thank my parents, my brothers Zhanjing, Zhanwei, and Zhanshou for their love and affectionate support. Of course I want to thank my wife Wenli and "Mr. Fabulous," nickname of my son Shian (Tim) given by one of his teachers, for their unfailing support, understanding, and love. Introduction^ 1 Introduction The emergence and flourishing of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction from the middle 1980s onwards, with Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei as its most distinguished representatives, are undoubtedly among the most important literary and cultural phenomena in modern Chinese history. Like a dazzling thunderbolt striking through the night, the birth of Chinese avant-garde fiction, with all its astonishing originality in style and language and its radically defiant attitude towards both Communist and Confucian traditions, lit up the dark literary sky of 1980s China which was still dominated by the Maoist conceptualization of literature.' The emergence of Chinese avant-garde fiction greatly reshaped the contemporary Chinese literary landscape, and since then modern Chinese literature began to take a different direction. Undoubtedly, Chinese avant-garde fiction represents a milestone in the history of modern Chinese literature. One of the most influential cultural trends and most accomplished literary practices in contemporary China, Chinese avant-garde fiction concerns itself with many important social problems facing modern China and existential predicaments confronting all human beings. Among all their preoccupations is the obsession with history—the most profound and long-standing legacy of Chinese literature. Like their forefathers, Chinese avant- gardists are also highly fascinated with what happened in the past and with the deep implications underlying the historical facts, though the history constructed by them and their views of history might be different from those of their forefathers. 1 Li Tuo, a highly reputed literary critic from mainland China, in an essay tracking the development of contemporary Chinese literature, incisively points out that the so-called New Era Literature including Scar Literature, Educated Youth Literature, and even Native-roots Searching Literature actually makes no essential difference in fundamental principle and mode of thinking with the sort of literature that was advocated by Mao Zedong and therefore dominated the Mao era. It only tells different stories but shares with Maoist literature the same "historical grammar" (Li T. 2001). Introduction^ 2 The main purpose of this thesis is to explore the different patterns of history presented in the fiction of the three major contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei and their respective views of history. Setting it against China's long literary and cultural tradition, frequently comparing it with literary works from both inside and outside China, the thesis examines the complicated and intertwined relationships of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction with previous Chinese traditions—Confucian, the May Fourth, and Communist—as well as with foreign influences. Based on detailed case studies of the three writers, the thesis also traces the origin of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction and assesses its overall literary achievement, its position in the history of modern Chinese literature, and its impact on the Chinese writers of later generations. Now over two decades have passed since the birth of Chinese avant-garde fiction. Given its dazzling accomplishment and the highly remarkable position it occupies in modern Chinese literature, it is only natural to find that it has already drawn much attention from literary critics and been highly evaluated (Wang 1996, 1998, X. Zhang 1997, Huot 2000, Yang 2002, Duke 1993). However, when we look back at the previous research on Chinese avant-garde fiction as a whole, we find that, for all the enthusiasm and effort of these critics, most of the research conducted by them, either from the West or from China, is far from satisfactory. In my observation, the existing Western research on Chinese avant-garde fiction reveals two major tendencies. One is to treat the fiction as an ingredient of a certain "grand" intellectual trend in contemporary China, and in most cases, to identify it with Introduction^ 3 so-called Chinese "postmodernism." For instance, in a book by Xudong Zhang on contemporary Chinese intellectual trends, Chinese avant-garde fiction is viewed as a literary expression of "postmodernism" in contemporary China (1997). In a book by Claire Huot on contemporary Chinese cultural shifts, it is treated as an element of China's "new cultural scene" (2000). This tendency or approach, while appropriately highlighting the link between Chinese avant-garde fiction and the external social and intellectual background of contemporary China, relatively overlooks its internal features and merits as a literary genre. Much worse, treated merely as a component of a certain "grand" trend which is composed of many ingredients, the fiction naturally cannot draw sufficient attention from the researchers. In this sense, Xiaobin Yang's monograph on the subject represents an exception (2002). Focusing on the themes of trauma and irony in Chinese avant-garde fiction, Yang provides several detailed and remarkable case studies of Chinese avant-garde writers. Unfortunately, he also labels the fiction genre the "Chinese postmodern." Another tendency of Western scholarship is to adopt a purely feminist approach to Chinese avant-garde fiction. This can be best demonstrated by Lu Tonglin's monograph on the subject (1995). Given the projected position that sexuality and gender relations occupy in Chinese avant-garde fiction, this approach can be justified to a large extent. Moreover, most of the research, by virtue of the approach, does come up with some inspiring perceptions and conclusions. For example, Lu Tonglin's analysis of the ideological links between Chinese avant-garde and Confucian moralities and social practice and her examination of sexuality in Chinese avant-garde fiction and the underlying political and cultural implications are quite impressive. In spite of the merits Introduction^ 4 and achievements of the approach, it displays some serious limitations. By reducing the broad historical representation with multiple dimensions in Chinese avant-garde fiction to mere sexuality and gender relations, the approach inevitably leads to the under-estimation of the social, political, and ideological implications of the fiction. As a result, many important dimensions or aspects of historical presentation in Chinese avant-garde fiction are left untouched. For example, Su Tong's exploration of the relation between the Chinese revolution and tradition, Communist history writing, the spiritual and identity crisis on the part of modem Chinese people, the rural-urban confrontation in modem China, and power relations in general history, Yu Hua's transcendental meditation on death, nature, and human conditions and his exposure of the darkness and brutality of totalitarian domination, Ge Fei's metaphysical meditation on human predicaments, on the relation between history, memory, and human identity, etc.—all these themes can not be fully understood if we limit our insight merely to sexuality and gender relations and adopt a purely feminist perspective. The narrowness and exclusiveness of the approach, in my view, greatly limit the researchers' insight and weaken their comprehensive and interpretive power. The situation of the research on this subject in mainland China is not optimistic either, though for different reasons than in the Western case. During the years immediately after it emerged in Chinese literary circles, Chinese avant-garde fiction, regarded as an anomaly by the mainstream literature, was valued only for its experimental quality and "entertainment elements," its ideological significance was not taken seriously, let alone deeply explored. Fortunately, after the mid 1990s, the profound Introduction^ 5 social, political, and ideological connotations of Chinese avant-garde and its remarkable aesthetic values have gradually drawn scholarly attention, and the exploration of them deepened, though the research is mostly crystallized in the form of research papers rather than book-length studies. Among the few monograph books on this subject is a work by Zhang Qinghua (1997), whose approach, merits, and weaknesses, in my view, are typical of contemporary Chinese scholarship of the younger generation. Extensively borrowing theories and neologisms from the West, not without misunderstanding and occasional distortions, covering almost all the writers in the post-Mao era, both major and minor, the scope of the book and its author's ambitions are obviously grand. However, judging by even ordinary academic standards, the book's flaws far outweigh its merits. The major shortcomings of the book are mainly displayed in two aspects: first, methodologically, without providing any close reading of any representative work by the Chinese avant- garde writers, the author makes many overgeneralizations in the book, which are both problematic and simplistic; second, and more importantly, thematically, confined to the mechanical dichotomy of tradition vs modernity and the related mode of thinking, the author totally ignores the Chineseness of Chinese avant-garde, namely, its profound links to Chinese traditions, treating it as if it were not rooted in the Chinese literary soil. It is simply unimaginable to assume that a group of writers, who lived all their formative years in a country which was totally cut off from outside world and cultures, except for the former Soviet Union, have not been at all influenced by their own traditions. In a debate with a young scholar over the politics and critical paradigms in modern Chinese literature studies, Michael S. Duke makes very clear the nature of literature and Introduction^ 6 its relation to theory. As he points out, "literature is always involved with archetypal human situations in the family and society," concerned with universal human conflicts, emotions, and predicaments Taking this as the starting point, Duke further argues that, in literary criticism, "literature is primary. Theory is secondary. Theory is the servant of literature" (1993:64). In compatibility with Duke's view of the relation between theory and literature, I uphold the seemingly hackneyed yet actually profound notion that literature is a presentation or expression of human experience, lived or imagined, personal or universal. In light of this notion, it is not too difficult to understand that the interpretative power and values of a literary theory are justified only if it can help us better understand human experience and literature as an expressive form of it. So in the present research, I will make use of all the theories within the reach of my knowledge—from Fredric Jameson's theory of political unconsciousness and textualization of history, Hannah Arendt's speculation on totalitarianism and violence, Paul Ricoeur's conceptualization of narrative, history, and memory, Michel Foucault's discourse of power relations, to Georg Lukks's discursive formulation of the relation between literary content and style, just to name some of the most important—which I think can enrich and deepen my reading of the literary texts, rather than the reverse, namely, to use a certain theory or theories to confine the literary texts, to eliminate their multiple interpretative possibilities. The reasons for my choice of this strategy or mode of thinking in interpreting the texts of Chinese avant- garde fiction, lie not only in my belief in the primacy of literature over theory as just mentioned, but also on the grounds that among Chinese avant-garde writers there are tremendous differences from one individual to another, in terms of worldview, outlook on Introduction^ 7 history, conception of literature, attitude toward people and life, sources of influence upon their thoughts and writings, etc. The diversity of the theories I choose actually is both a reflection of the complexity of the thoughts displayed in Chinese avant-garde fiction and an expression of my attempt to expose and interpret the complexity in an accurate and convincing way. Close reading is the basic methodology adopted in the thesis because I believe a thorough and intensive scrutiny of a literary text is the base for powerful literary criticism and solid knowledge. As far as primary sources are concerned, focusing exclusively on the novels and novellas of the three major Chinese avant-garde writers, I will first provide a close reading of two or three representative works of each writer, and then, based on the close reading, the "deep narrative structure" and the underlying social, political, and cultural implications of the works will be analyzed. The adoption of this methodology, of course, does not mean to reject evidence drawn from other sources or methodologies. Actually, in this thesis, in addition to the evidence derived from close readings of the representative works, some supporting or supplementary materials from other works by the same writer, which can not be examined in as detailed a manner as the "closely-read" ones due to the limited space of the thesis, will also be incorporated in and used to enhance the conclusions. As for secondary sources, those from either China or the West will be freely employed in the thesis to support the analyses, provided that they can extend, enrich, and deepen our understanding of the texts. One of the distinctive features of this thesis, which I hope will be recognized as one of the major contributions this thesis makes to the study of Chinese avant-garde fiction, lies in my endeavor to incorporate many important theories and analytical techniques of Introduction^ 8 modern narratology into the research. The particular attention paid to narratological analysis in this thesis is due mainly to three considerations. First, the many conceptualizations and techniques developed by modem narratology—the "unreliable narrator" (Booth 1961), the distinction between traditional and modem narrative mode (Chatman 1978), the stratification of narration and focalization levels, the distinction between narrator and focalizer and between external focalization and internal focalization (Genette 1980, Bal 1985), just to name a few—provide us with some effective frameworks and powerful tools to analyze the "deep narrative structure" of the literary text and with some new insight into the underlying implications of the text. Second, Chinese avant-garde writers have been well known for their enthusiastic experimentation with new narrative devices and techniques, and the clever maneuver of narrator, narrative stratification, and the manipulation of temporal and spatial dislocation, etc. are among the most commonly employed devices shared by almost all Chinese avant-garde writers. Accordingly, the adoption of theories of modem narratology, proven to be a powerful and effective system of interpretation and meaning production in dealing with modem literary texts, obviously can deepen our understanding of Chinese avant-garde fiction. Third and finally, for all the power and virtues of narratology as an analytical tool and its profound links to Chinese avant-garde fiction, few critics both inside and outside China, have applied its strategies to the analysis of Chinese avant-garde fiction, which undoubtedly limits the interpretative power of the critics and constitutes a regretful void in this field. The present research represents a sincere attempt to fill the scholarly void. To sum up, in this thesis, focusing exclusively on the novels and novellas by the three major Chinese avant-garde writers, based on close reading of representative literary Introduction^ 9 texts by the authors concerned, extensively referring to varied theories proven able to deepen our understanding and facilitate our interpretation, with particular attention paid to modern narratological discourses and devices, I will carefully examine the different patterns of history presented in the fiction of Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei, respectively. In this thesis, set against China's long literary and cultural tradition and the broad social and intellectual background of modern Chinese history, not only will the newness, the modernity, the "avant-garde" qualities of Chinese avant-garde fiction be deeply explored, its "Chineseness," its traditional side, its profound continuities with Chinese literary and cultural conventions will also be carefully examined. Unlike most research of same sort conducted by critics from mainland China, this thesis will attach at least the same, if not more, importance to the "Chineseness" of Chinese avant-garde fiction. This thesis, in addition to the Introduction and the Conclusion, is composed of four chapters, which I will summarize here. Chapter one provides an overview of the history and the nature of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction and the social and intellectual background against which it emerged. Setting it against China's long cultural and literary tradition and the broad social and intellectual background of modern Chinese history starting from the late Qing, by carefully examining its relations both to Chinese society and to the "grand cause" of the modernization of China, and its position and functions in the Chinese cultural and intellectual hierarchy, the chapter traces the origins and development of contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction and the specific historical settings for its emergence and efflorescence in the mid 1980s, examines the status of Chinese avant-garde writers and their changing relation to the Party-state in a post- Introduction^ 10 totalitarian era, and explores the changing patterns of historical presentation in Chinese literature from ancient times to modern days. Chapter two grapples with Su Tong's fiction. Based on a close reading of Su Tong's three most famous novellas—"Opium Family" (Yingsu zhijia ^V2:*), "Proliferation of Wives and Concubines" (Qiqie chengqun 4gf), and "Nineteen Thirty-four Escapes" (Yijiusansi nian de taowang^t)—with the supporting evidence from his two novels Rice (Mi *) and My Life as Emperor (Wo de diwang shengya R;(141V tiN), thematically, this chapter explores how Su Tong manages to subvert the whole set of Communist ideologies and the Communist interpretation of the Chinese revolution and history and how he presents and interprets sexuality, the relation between the Chinese revolution and Chinese tradition, Chinese modernization, the intellectual and identity crisis on the part of modern Chinese people, historical writing on the part of the ruling party, and power relations in general history. Technically, the chapter examines the profound continuities of Su Tong's fiction with both traditional Chinese literary conventions and Communist literary practices, as well as its modernist quality as the crystallization of foreign influence. Chapter three is devoted to Yu Hua, focusing on his three most read novels Screaming in the Drizzle (Zai xiyu zhong huhan A rg itiliT4), To Live (Huozhe M*), and Xu Sanguan Sells His Blood (Xu Sanguan maixue ji AligilArfli -i,E). Thematically, the chapter explores how Yu Hua endeavors to pursue a dual goal in his fiction, that is, simultaneously to meditate on the universal human condition and to expose the suffering and misery inflicted upon the Chinese people by the totalitarian regime It also examines the radical thematic changes in Yu Hua's fiction from his first novel to the later two, and Introduction^ 1 1 traces his profound continuity with Chinese tradition in worldview, belief, and values. Technically, the chapter demonstrates how Yu Hua employs violence as a narrative and aesthetic principle rather than as mere substantial social and political existence in his fiction to achieve his desired purposes. Chapter four deals with Ge Fei, based on a close reading of his first and most controversial novel The Enemy (Diren NAA) and the later two On the Margin (Bianyuan iAft) and Flags of the Desire (Yuwang de qizhi 'OM Will#1112,). Thematically, the chapter explores how Ge Fei manipulates fear as both human imagination and an existential and social event to meditate on human predicaments and how he deals with history, reality, memory, human relation and identity, and the complex and interlocking relationship between them. Technically, the chapter examines how Ge Fei cleverly plays with varied narratological devices to design varied "narrative traps" for his discursive purposes. The Conclusion first summarizes the three case studies and, based on the summary, makes some suggestive comments on the shared features of the three writers and on their complex and intertwined relationship with Confucian tradition, Communist ideology, and the May Fourth legacy. By comparing it vertically with the May Fourth fiction and horizontally with some contemporary fiction genres such as Native-roots Searching Fiction (xungen xiaoshuo --44R ,,NiA), New Realist Fiction (xinxieshi xiaoshuo r^!IN -a), and feminist fiction, the Conclusion also provides an assessment of the general characteristics and overall literary achievement of Chinese avant-garde fiction and its contribution to and position in Chinese literature. By examining its influence, positive or negative, on some later genres such as New Generation Writing (xinshengdai xiezuo Introduction^ 12 4t4-1/f) and Beauty Writing (meinii xiezuo X_k"--- q fir), the Conclusion also discusses the legacy and possible impact of Chinese avant-garde fiction on Chinese literature. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 13 Chapter 1 Road to the Chinese Avant-garde Chinese Avant-garde Fiction: Its Origin and Nature Contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction (zhongguo dangdai xianfeng xiaoshuo 1 1 if-Uta/.(N -1,A) is a term loosely referring to a cluster of fictional works which emerged in Chinese literary circles in the middle 1980s, flourished through the second half of the 1980s and the early 1990s, and currently are still active in the Chinese literary world. It derives its name from both its obvious experimental nature in style, technique, and language, and the deliberateness and radicalism it displays in breaking itself from the fictional writing immediately preceding it including both Maoist "revolutionary romanticism" and so-called New Era literature. New Era Literature, which is mainly composed of Scar Literature and Educated Youth Literature, as Li Tuo incisively points out, for all its radical difference in content from Maoist literature, actually reveals profound continuities with it in style, technique, language, and most importantly, in mode of thinking and historical rhetoric. Another name frequently used for Chinese avant-garde fiction is "experimental fiction" (shiyan xiaoshuo '31.40/,IN -R), though this usage is much less known than xianfeng xiaoshuo, and now has already faded into obscurity. Personally, as with most literary critics in mainland China, I prefer xianfeng xiaoshuo as the proper name for this fictional genre. This is not only because zhongguo dangdai xianfeng xiaoshuo or "contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction" as a name has already been widely accepted by the Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 14 overwhelming majority of critics in China and actually become a fixed appellation, but also because the name, apart from its capacity to properly denote the experimental and original character and unfailing pursuit of "newness" of this genre of fiction, hints at the extremely conservative intellectual and social forces that Chinese avant-garde fiction was confronted with when it immerged in the middle 1980s. This is something particularly Chinese and explains why this fiction that reprises pre-Communist (pre-1949) elements of fictional style can be considered avant-garde in the Chinese context. The very act of calling this type of fiction "avant-garde fiction" despite its incorporation into texts of many traditional Chinese literary conventions in itself constituted an open mock of the philistinism of contemporary conservative forces. The Party ideologues, "mainstream" critics, and readers at that time were so accustomed to the Communist conceptualization and configuration of literature and so ignorant of the long-standing Chinese literary and cultural conventions that they mistook the time- honored pre-Communist tradition for the "new" and the "alien." Thus, in the Chinese historical context, although this new fiction reprised many literary conventions, the very act of doing so (plus its thematic originality) made it avant-garde. In contrast with the many merits of xianfeng xiaoshuo or "Chinese avant-garde fiction" as a name, shiyan xiaoshuo or "experimental fiction" is much inferior in this respect. The major flaw that "experimental fiction" displays as an appellation is that it overemphasizes the "experimental" or transitional nature of the fiction but fails to indicate the fact that the fiction is actually already a fully developed and mature literary genre in both style and content. This becomes more manifest when compared with the naming of Lu Xun (1881-1936)'s short stories. Despite the obvious experimental nature Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 15 of Lu Xun's stories in technique, language, and style, it is not proper, I believe, to employ the term "experimental fiction" to designate them because they are already a fully- developed and highly accomplished form of literary art. Historically, contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction enjoys two major efflorescent periods, or two "high tides" (chaotou C J,), as the critics in mainland China put it. Intriguingly enough, Chinese avant-garde fiction, like May Fourth literature, saw its first efflorescence immediately after its emergence in the Chinese literary world around 1985. At this stage, Chinese avant-garde fiction distinguishes itself from the preceding fiction mainly by its enthusiastic experimentation with varied new techniques, devices, styles, and especially with language. Though some talented writers such as Can Xue and Mo Yan had already created some outstanding works characterized by the harmonious combination of formal originality with thematic profundity in this period, Chinese avant-garde fiction as a whole at this stage had not yet reached its thematic or ideological maturity and therefore not yet revealed its full artistic appeal and discursive power. The "precocity" of Chinese avant-garde fiction in the sense of the concurrence of its emergence and efflorescence, unfortunately, only makes some of its "precocious" writers such as Hong Feng and Ma Yuan, who were highly active and creative at the first stage, fade in obscurity and mediocrity as quickly as falling stars in the contemporary Chinese literary world. The second efflorescent period or "high tide" of Chinese avant-garde fiction appeared around 1987. From then on, the three most accomplished and influential avant- garde writers Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei began to ascend the historical stage of Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 16 Chinese literature, and Chinese avant-garde fiction gradually comes to its maturity in both form and content. As demonstrated later by the case studies in the thesis, I think Chinese avant-garde fiction actually represents another summit in modern Chinese literature, whose overall achievement and impact are at least as splendid as May Fourth fiction. Moreover, Chinese avant-garde fiction also represents a miracle in Communist China. It is from its emergence onwards that the dominant literary trends and practice in China began to deviate from and even break with the literary "mainstream" prescribed by the Party, though the distance that it can get away from the Party's line is still limited. After the strike of the two powerful "high tides," Chinese avant-garde fiction gets on a track of smooth and steady development from the 1990s onwards. Because the once "avant-garde" techniques, devices, and views now have been so widely accepted and employed in literary practice, the "avant-garde" color of this fiction genre as a whole has gradually faded away. However, the three once foremost avant-garde writers Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei are still highly active and are still among the most creative and influential writers in contemporary China, though in the eyes of the New Generation writers (xinshengdai zuojia titilf*), they are no longer avant-garde at all, if not old- fashioned. Setting it against the broad social and intellectual background of modern Chinese history starting from the Late Qing, after carefully examining its relations to the "grand cause" of the modernization of China and its position in the Chinese cultural and intellectual hierarchy in modern times, we find that the emergence and efflorescence of Chinese avant-garde fiction in the middle and late 1980s are not accidental. Actually its Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 17 splendor at that time is the culmination of the endeavor and the fulfillment of the dream of generations of Chinese intellectuals to "modernize" their nation, rejuvenate their culture, and pursue the "new," and is the natural result of century-long development of modern Chinese literature. The social, cultural, and intellectual milieu of the 1980s, one of the most exciting, creative periods in modern Chinese history, with all its openness, ideological tolerance, rebellious spirit, and cultural pluralism, provides the most favorable soil and atmosphere for the development of Chinese avant-garde fiction. It is now common knowledge that after the continual defeat and humiliation of the Central Kingdom (Zhongguo IA) by the "foreign devil" since the middle nineteenth century, to recover and retrieve its past glory, wealth, and power, and to restore the central position it once supposedly possessed in the world become the most pronounced preoccupation of generations of its loyal subjects, especially the educated. Benjamin Schwartz's classic study of Yan Fu (1854-1921), an outstanding representative of first- generation Chinese intellectuals, provides an impressive and clear demonstration of this preoccupation (1964). What makes Chinese intellectuals feel most painful is that the West, the "foreign devil," the other, who inflicted continuous humiliation and suffering on China in modern times, unfortunately, represents the "modern" and the "new." As a scholar adeptly puts it, "In the modern period, it [the West] was seen both as an aggressor inflicting shame and humiliation on the nation in its recent history and as a representative of a historically progressive force whose Enlightenment philosophy and advanced scientific knowledge could facilitate China's belated modernization" (Cai 2003: 108). Though Schwartz repeatedly warns us against the potential fallacy and negative consequences of the clear-cut dichotomy of tradition versus modernity and of China Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 18 versus the West as a legitimate approach to the study of the relation of China to the West (1996: 45-64), it is an undeniable fact that most Chinese intellectuals as well as ordinary people did place China and the West at the opposing poles of modernity in their formulation of Chinese modernization, especially in the early days of modern times. This can be best witnessed by reading Joseph R. Levenson's classic study of the mind of Liang Qichao (1873-1929), another outstanding representative of first-generation Chinese intellectuals and by examining the thought of the May Fourth generation with Lu Xun as its most preeminent spokesman (Levenson1959, Lin 1979). An important component of the "grand cause" of Chinese modernization, modern Chinese literature, from its very beginning, displays a strong desire and powerful tendency to reject the "old," which was roughly equated with Chinese tradition by many Chinese at that time, and to pursue the "new," which is correspondingly identified with the West. Modern Chinese fiction, the genre which has already completely shaken off its humble status assigned to it in the ancient times and is now promoted to the top position in the Chinese literary hierarchy, is obviously no exception. This can be best demonstrated by the fact that Liang Qichao, the first Chinese intellectual who zealously and painstakingly advocated a "fiction revolution" in China, named the fiction created by himself and some others New Fiction (xin xiaoshuo 4\ -IA), which promotes some progressive political ideas based on social Darwinism but is quite immature and naive in form and style. When we take a close look at the development of modern Chinese fiction as a whole, we find that the most brilliant part of it—Lu Xun's short stories, Yu Dafu (1896-1945)'s fiction, and some of Ding Ling (1904-1986)'s early fiction in the 1920s, Shanghai New Sensationalism (xin ganjue pai^lT ) , Xiao Hong (1911-1942)'s Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 19 fiction, and some fiction of the July School (qiyue pal -Lfl iIR) as best represented by Lu Ling (1923-1994)'s works in the1930s, the writings of Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) and Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998) in the 1940s, Chinese avant-garde fiction and the fiction of Mo Yan, Han Shaogong, Can Xue, Chen Ran, and some others in the post-Mao era— reveals a powerful tendency towards "newness" and a clear line of Western influence in almost every aspect of literary development, though the line was interrupted for nearly thirty years in the Mao era.2 Along with modern Chinese fiction's unfailing pursuit of "newness" and modernity, we also discern a strong desire for and powerful tendency towards literary autonomy—to escape or shake off the varied external forces imposed upon literature, especially the tight political control imposed by the Party after 1949. Literary autonomy, as many believe, is both a precondition for the birth of a great literary work and a manifestation of the greatness and maturity of that work Intriguingly and ironically enough, when we look back over the whole process of the development of modern Chinese literature, we are surprised to find that literary modernity or the pursuit of literary "newness," which is originally regarded merely as an effective means to serve the grand end of enlightening the people and finally strengthening and rejuvenating the nation by Liang Qichao and the May Fourth generation of Chinese intellectuals, itself becomes an end for contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers. The thick and heavy political and moral covering imposed on literature in the name of enlightenment, nationalism, or serving the Party and the people is finally stripped off in the post-Mao era, 2 Actually even in Mao's China, Chinese literature's pursuit of "newness" and its enthusiasm for the West did not really interrupt, and such kind of literary practice was only forced to turn underground. For example, during the Cultural Revolution, some novels which go directly opposed to Maoist socialist realism in both content and style were secretly transmitted among ordinary people in the form of "handwritten copy" (shouchaoben P-#*). A lot of poems which were only allowed to be published later after Mao's death and now known as Misty Poetry (menglong shi akiEi4), an integral part of contemporary Chinese avant- garde literature, were also created in the 1970s and spread underground at that time. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 20 though there are still some "forbidden zones" that the writers are not allowed to transgress Chinese fiction, after more than a century of erosion by didacticism and political utilitarianism, especially by the castration of the Maoist ideology, has finally got rid of its humiliated status as the servant of politics and restored its original dual nature: its simultaneous defiance of and conformity to dominating ideology, its simultaneous appeal to popular tastes and elite expectation. In light of this speculation, when we carefully examine the broad social, political, and intellectual milieu of the second half of the1980s as well as the subjectivity of individual writers, we find that the emergence and efflorescence of Chinese avant-garde fiction at that time are an inevitable and natural outcome because, as mentioned earlier, the social, political, and intellectual conditions at that time provide the most favorable soil and atmosphere for its birth and growth. First, after Mao Zedong's death, with the gradual de-politicization of socioeconomic life and the adoption of the policy of reform and opening up in China, and especially with the launching of the so-called Thought Liberation Movement, which is characterized by the rise of so-called "humanistic Marxism" and the fierce attack on the Maoist dictatorial control over literature and arts, the extremely harsh political control over literature and arts typical of the Mao era is greatly loosened. As a consequence, literary autonomy, a longstanding dream on the part of Chinese writers, at least is partially fulfilled for the first time after the Communist victory in China. To be fair, the 1980s, especially the second half of the decade, is undoubtedly the most politically relaxed period in Communist China. The relative political tolerance and freedom at that time tremendously Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 21 activate the creativity and vigor of Chinese intellectuals and writers, and the newly released feelings, emotions, and thoughts of Chinese people also provide powerful dynamics for literary expression. Second, Mao's China, especially the Cultural Revolution, an event and legacy significant not only to Chinese people but also to all human beings, which all contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers experienced and witnessed in their formative years, constitutes an invaluable cultural wealth to the writers. By saying this I not only mean that the Cultural Revolution provides them with abundant "raw material" for their writings, but more importantly, I also mean that all the violence, absurdity, and suffering they experienced and witnessed during the Cultural Revolution and the underlying logic and mode of thinking of the Revolution provide them with a unique perspective to look at the world and history, and consequently endow their writings with extraordinary profundity and penetrating power. Just as the "Great War" creates Hemingway, the "Great Depression" creates Steinbeck, it is only natural to see that the "great" Cultural Revolution produces some great writers like Yu Hua and Su Tong. This perception is not baseless. As we will see later in the three case studies on the writers, even in some of the works by Su Tong and Ge Fei which have no direct relation with the Cultural Revolution in content, the experience they derived from the Revolution still dominates the characters' spiritual world. In other words, they simply "materialize" or "textualize" their personal experience derived from the Cultural Revolution in different historical settings. Third, with the opening up of China to the outside world, large influxes of foreign theories and works into China created the sensation of the so-called "culture fever" (wenhua re 3M ). The Chinese people who had just gone out of the Maoist ideological Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 22 and political Utopia seemed to be seized by another Utopia. The new Utopia is constructed on the worship of foreign ideas and technologies. Just as the Chinese people of the 1990s and later are hungry and crazy for money, the people of the 1980s, who were in ragged clothes and sometimes even had not enough food for eating, surprised us by their unbelievable hunger and craze for foreign ideas. Among the innumerable foreign theories and trends introduced into China during the "culture fever," Nietzsche's philosophy, Sartre's existentialism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Kafka's fiction are the most influential among Chinese writers and critics. While all the other theories and trends were viewed by Chinese writers and critics as important mainly on technical and methodological grounds, the four, apart from their methodological significance, profoundly influenced the worldview or the way that Chinese people looked at the world and history at that time. Intriguingly and ironically enough, despite the political neutrality in nature of the four philosophical and literary trends, at first they were all introduced into China as instruments to undermine Communist ideology and the Maoist view of literature and history. For example, Nietzsche's skeptical and iconoclastic philosophy, needless to say, was accepted as a valuable source of rebellious spirit and a powerful weapon by Chinese people who were so eager to overthrow the idol of Mao and the varied orthodoxies, political or ideological, created by him and the Party. The existentialist notion that existence is prior to essence was also borrowed to subvert the Communist notion of a "transcendental class essence." Moreover, Sartre's extremist pessimistic and negative view of the world as exemplified by his assertion that "hell is other people" and Kafka's depiction of a absurd and violent world also evoked enormous sympathy and resonance from the Chinese people who had Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 23 just witnessed in the Cultural Revolution all what Sartre and Kafka delineated in their fictional and philosophical works, and who had been completely disillusioned with Communist ideology and been plunged into a "belief void." Freud's notion that human mind is a complicated structure that is made up of mutually interdependent yet conflicting components was cited by Chinese writers and critics as a powerful instrument to fight against the Maoist oversimplification in understanding human nature and in characterization that there is a clear-cut line between good people and bad elements in personality, moral standards, etc. Actually, Freud's theory is one of the theoretical cornerstones for Liu Zaifu's well-known "theory of the combined personality of literary character" (xingge zuhe lun^1986). If, among the varied foreign theories and works introduced into China, the works and thought of Nietzsche, Sartre, Kafka, and Freud exercised influence mainly on Chinese writers' worldview and their mode of thinking and perception, Western modernist and postmodernist masterpieces such as Joyce's Ulysses and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and especially Latin American "magic realism," provided the Chinese writers with new literary conceptions, techniques, and devices to accommodate their newly perceived reality and to express their newly released emotions, feelings, and thoughts. The varied modern techniques and devices employed in the foreign masterpieces—temporal and special dislocation, the blurring of the line between reality and imagination, stream of consciousness, soliloquy, the incorporating of supernatural elements and folk legends into the text, fragmented narration, etc.—were all accepted and adopted by the Chinese writers as powerful instruments to present the complex and split reality they observed in Mao's China, where almost everything was Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 24 upside down, where events and people's behavior and mentality were so absurd and incredible that they might exist only in human imagination in a normal world, and where reality lost all its unity and harmony. In this sense, Chinese writers' fascination with the techniques of the sort at that time itself was an embodiment of their feeling of confusion and sense of intellectual and identity crisis. 3 With the introduction and adoption of the foreign theories and masterpieces, the highly stereotyped and trite conceptualization of literature typical of the Mao era has gradually been replaced by thematically more thoughtful and aesthetically more refreshing literary forms and genres, and modern Chinese literature once again displays a tremendous creativity and vitality which was witnessed only by the May Fourth period. It is common sense that any thing's birth and development in the world are a combined outcome of external conditions and intrinsic elements. Chinese avant-garde fiction is no exception. Apart from the favorable external social and political settings, the emergence and efflorescence of Chinese avant-garde fiction in the middle 1980s are also a natural result of century-long development of modern Chinese literature as a continuous process of self-adjustment, self-amelioration, and learning from the alien. After a century of exploration, accumulation, and development, after absorbing so much nutrition, native 3 In an excellent book on Latin American magic realism, the author Maria-Elena Angulo points to the significant fact that the emergence and flourishing of magic realism in Latin America from the 1940s onwards are closely connected with the expectation and effort on the part of the Latin Americans to shake off the identity imposed upon them by the colonial authorities and ideologies and to establish an authentic Latin American identity (1995). In this sense, it is no surprise to find that the Chinese writers of the 1980s, who were so eager to fill the belief void after the bankruptcy of Communist ideology and the Maoist Utopia and to build a new cultural identity in the post-totalitarian era, were highly obsessed with magic realism, which actually became one of the most, if not the most, influential literary trends in the 1980s China. In other words, it is the shared sense of identity crisis that links the Latin American magic realists and the Chinese writers of the 1980s together. In my view, another fact—the shared status of "underdeveloped country" of China and Latin American nations and similar socioeconomic realities and mentalities in correspondence with the status—also constitutes a reason for Chinese writers' fascination with magic realism. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 25 and foreign, traditional and modern, experiencing so many setbacks, and learning so many lessons, modern Chinese literature grows to a big tree in the 1980s. In this course, I believe, the gradual maturity of modern Chinese language as the medium for literary expression is the decisive factor. It is common knowledge that while the peripheral features of a language like its style might change very quickly with time, the establishment and development of its internal mechanism—its grammar, norms, etc.—as a complex organic system are a long process of accumulation and perfecting. After century-long development, modern Chinese language as a medium has reached its maturity and gained its full expressive power. This perception can be effectively demonstrated by a particular example that in Xiao Hong's representative work Tales of Hulan River (Hulanhe zhuan^flq*), a novel written as late as 1942, more than two decades after the publication of Lu Xun's Diary of a Madman, we can still find many awkward and even grammatically incorrect phrases and expressions. A literary language of the sort would naturally do damage to the expressive power and aesthetic appeal of a literary work. The Chinese Avant-garde: Postmodernism? As mentioned in the Introduction, most previous research on Chinese avant-garde fiction, both inside and outside China, tends to label it "the Chinese postmodern." In order to make a sound judgment of the labeling, it is necessary for us to take a brief review of the definitions and understanding of the European avant-garde, the origin of the avant-garde. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 26 So far there are two major monograph books on the (European) avant-garde, and both of them bear the same title (Poggioli 1968, Burger 1984). The two works actually represent "two directions of thought" or two different views of the nature of the avant- garde. To distinguish the two views, we shall begin with a discussion on European art history. In the foreword to the English edition of Burger's book, Jochen Schulte-Sasse, a renowned scholar of modernism and the avant-garde, in addition to providing an insightful analysis and balanced assessment of Burger's theory of the avant-garde, presents a sketch of Burger's reconstruction of European art history and a comparison between Poggioli and Burger in their views of art history and the avant-garde. According to Schulte-Sasse and Burger, the art history in European bourgeois society—roughly modern European art history—undergoes three phases. "The historical transition establishing the first phase of bourgeois art was determined by the loosening, and ultimately by the severing, of artists' dependence on patrons and their replacement by an anonymous, structural dependence on the market and its principles of profit maximization" (Schulte-Sassae 1984: x). In this first phase, in spite of an already discernible tendency of art towards isolation from society, the increasingly autonomous "high" bourgeois culture as a whole kept "reflecting critically upon society." Literature in this phase "is intended to have simultaneously a social and aesthetic effect," always referring "critically or positively to norms and values essential to social interaction" (xi- xii). The second phase—a phase usually referred to as modernism—started with "the great artistic shift to a skepticism towards language and form in the middle of the nineteenth century," "roughly from Flaubert on." Literature in this phase "no longer Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 27 refers positively to society by critically presenting norms and values, but rather attacks the ossification of society and its language" (xiv). The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of the "historical avant-garde" mainly including Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and the left avant-garde in Russia and Germany—the start of the third phase of modern European art history. According to Burger and Schulte-Sasse, the birth of the "historical avant-garde of 1920s" is actually motivated by the avant-gardists' recognition of the modernist autonomous art's separation from society and of "the social inconsequentiality" that the autonomy brings about, and by their attempt to reverse the tendency and to "lead art back into social praxis." As Schulte-Sasse puts it, "The historical avant-garde of the twenties was the first movement in art history that turned against the institution 'art' and the mode in which autonomy functions. In this it differed from all previous art movements, whose mode of existence was determined precisely by an acceptance of autonomy" (xiv). After a brief introduction of Burger's reconstruction of modern European art history and a comparison between Poggioli and Burger in their respective analyses of European avant-garde, Schulte-Sasse points to a major difference between the two scholars' theories on the avant-garde. While Poggioli adopts "sweeping criteria" and fails to examine the avant-garde against the specific historical background from which it emerged, Burger "gives us a historically concrete and theoretically exact description of the avant-garde" (xiv). Derived from this difference is another major difference between the two scholars in their views of the nature of the avant-garde. Poggioli, due to his lack of historical consciousness and correspondingly the lack of a sense of historical periodization, tends to view art in modern bourgeois society as an inseparable whole Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 28 under the label of "grand modernism" and to "equate modernism with the avant-garde." Burger, in sharp contrast, emphasizes the "radical differences" between modernism and the avant-garde by repeatedly pointing to their historical, ideological, and rhetorical distinctions. Taking modernism as a reference point, Burger views the avant-garde as something "emerging from, in reaction to, or superseding modernism," or as something post-modern (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, the entry of "postmodernism"). According to Burger and Schulte-Sasse, the essential difference between modernism and the avant-garde lies in the ways "art comprehend[s] the mode in which it function[s] in bourgeois society, its comprehension of its own social status" (xiv). As Schulte-Sasse points out, modernist art is a sort of "institution 'art,' i.e. the specific institutionalization of the commerce with art in bourgeois society" (xiii). The institution art is actually a direct consequence of the autonomy enjoyed by individual artists in bourgeois society. Artistic autonomy, a positive quality and usually a precondition for the greatness of an artistic work in pre-modern and totalitarian societies, turns negative after being commercialized in bourgeois society; it leads the artists merely to the principle of "profit maximization" and to the increasing separation from social praxis. As a result, "even the most critical work inevitably exhibits a dialectical unity of affirmation and negation by virtue of its institutionalized separation from social praxis" (xi). As Burger adeptly points out, "In bourgeois society, art has a contradictory role: it projects the image of a better order and to that extent protests against the bad order that prevails. But by realizing the image of a better order in fiction, which is semblance (Schein) only, it relieves the existing society of the pressure of those forces that make for change" (50). Citing Herbert Marcuse, Shulte-Sasse makes the duality of artistic autonomy in bourgeois society quite Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 29 clear, "the autonomy of art had from the beginning is a very ambivalent character. Individual works may have criticized negative aspects of society, but the anticipation of social harmony as psychic harmony, which is part of the aesthetic enjoyment for the individual, risks degeneration into a mere cerebral compensation for society's shortcomings, and thus of affirming precisely what is criticized by the contents of the works." "The contradiction between negation and affirmation, implicit in the autonomous mode in which art functioned, led to a feeling of impotence among writers, to a realization of the social ineffectiveness of their own medium" (xi, italic in the original). In sharp contrast with the degeneration of modernism's negative effort into merely "an attack on traditional writing techniques" due to its substantial affirmation of social norms and values of bourgeois society, the avant-garde, according to Burger and Shulte- Sasse, "can only be understood as an attack meant to alter the institutionalized commerce with art" (xv). It is precisely in this sense that Burger regards the avant-garde as "the self- criticism of art in bourgeois society." In opposition to modernistic art's separation from social praxis, the avant-garde attempts to restore the social commitment of art and to rebuild the connection of art to social reality. Like Burger, Poggioli also identifies social engagement as a defining feature of the avant-garde. He adopts the term activism to designate this feature.4 In light of Burger's criteria for distinguishing between modernism and the avant- garde, which I think are historically true and logically consistent and convincing, I 4 Bonnie S. McDougall, in her book on the introduction of Western literary theories into modem China, provides an accurate summary and incisive review of Poggioli's theory on the avant-garde. Employing Poggioli's theory as a yardstick, she concludes that China's "New Literature Movement was not essentially an avant-garde movement" (1971: 190-218). The work done by me here is quite similar to McDougall's. The only difference is that I adopt another scholar (Biirger)'s theory to judge another literary phenomenon (Chinese avant-garde fiction). Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 30 believe that Zhongguo dangdai xianfeng xiaoshuo definitely does not belong to the category of the avant-garde or the post-modern as construed in the Western context. Therefore the English transliteration of the name of the fictional genre as "contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction" is correct merely on a superficial, linguistic level; it is actually misleading and incorrect on a substantive, semantic level as understood in the Western context. However, as noted above, this does not necessarily mean that this name is invalid in the Chinese context. On the contrary, given the astonishing experimental and iconoclastic nature of the fiction compared with the literature preceding it and its radically defiant attitude towards non-literary traditions, the name is fully justified in the Chinese context. First of all, Zhongguo xianfeng xiaoshuo (Chinese avant-garde fiction) reveals neither an enthusiasm for and commitment to true social praxis nor any intent to reject artistic autonomy, and according to both Biireger and Poggioli, social engagement and rejection of artistic autonomy are the defining characteristics of the avant-garde. As far as social commitment is concerned, on the one hand, subjectively, contemporary Chinese "avant-garde" writers, in near complete contrast to their May Fourth forefathers and writers in the Mao era, tend to regard writing as an individually significant activity and feel that the social commitment of writing is a burden or signal of the lack of literary autonomy. Nevertheless, the sense of social responsibility and historical consciousness are by no means lacking in their writings where they are influenced by the long-standing Chinese literary tradition of social engagement and obsession with history. To be sure, by writing, Chinese "avant-gardists" aim more at personal popularity, fame, and wealth than at social changes in China and the nation's wealth and power. Unlike Lu Xun, whose Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 31 dream was to use literature as a means to cure China's social ills, the now already well- established avant-garde writer Su Tong's original dream of writing is to become a "prolific writer" (zhuzuodengshen de zuojia ^ fir 4M. (1<11/F*); he cares little, if any, about curing China's social ills. According to Burger, one of the most pronounced embodiments of the social engagement of the (European) avant-garde is the fact that the content of its literary texts is always about the true social reality. In this respect, the Chinese "avant-gardists" of 1980s also constitute a sharp contrast. For example, all the three major contemporary Chinese "avant-garde" writers—Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei—are fascinated more with the "reality" created by their imagination than with the true social reality of China. Here Chinese "avant-garde" fiction reveals a manifest tendency towards separation from the true social reality—a defining feature of modernistic art according to Burger, Schulte- Sasse, and many other Western thinkers. On the other hand, objectively, the semi- totalitarian political reality of post-Mao China also greatly restricts Chinese writers' intention to engage in social participation, if they do have such an intention. In Communist China, the writers who carry out the activities that were once practiced by the European avant-gardists such as delivering socially and politically significant lectures, writing literary manifestos, proliferating magazines to promote political ideas, organizing literary societies, etc. are subject to potential surveillance, punishment, and persecution. This is actually determined by the particular relationship of intellectuals to a socialist party-state, a topic that I will elaborate in detail in the next section of this chapter. According to Burger and Schulte-Sasse, the European avant-garde is a reaction to the functioning of artistic autonomy in bourgeois society. Completely disappointed with Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 32 the "social inconsequentiality" that autonomy brings about, the European avant-gardists rather abandon the autonomy and resume the social and political commitment of art. This is absolutely not the case to the Chinese "avant-garde." The artistic milieu in the Europe is totally different from China; there excess and abuse of artistic autonomy make it a nuisance or burden in the eyes of the avant-gardists. In contemporary China, given the dictatorial nature of the political reality, literary autonomy is still an unfulfilled dream for Chinese writers and a precondition for the greatness of literary texts. The remarkable achievement that Chinese "avant-garde" fiction has made is for the most part derived from the autonomy, though limited, granted by the Party, thanks to the gradual loosening of political control over arts and literature in post-Mao China. According to Burger and Schulte-Sasse, adhering to artistic autonomy or not is a dividing line between modernism and the avant-garde. In light of this demarcation, it is also more appropriate to put the so- called Chinese "avant-garde" into the former category than into the latter. According to Burger's and Schulte-Sasse's theoretical formulation, the most salient feature to exclude Zhongguo xianfeng xiaoshuo from the category of the avant-garde as construed in the European context lies in the fact that it is an "institution art," and that it follows the artistic principle of "dialectic unity of negation and affirmation" characterizing modernist art. In spite of the authenticity of Chinese "avant-gardists'" intention to subvert Communist ideology and to negate the dominant principles guiding art in a post-totalitarian party-state, in reality, the dual force of the lure of personal fame and profit and the pressure from the Party's political control restricts their subversion and negation largely to the technical and aesthetic level. Fear of the potential punishment and persecution by the Party and of losing their hard-earned fame, social status, and wealth Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 33 make Chinese "avant-gardists" reluctant to transgress the boundary drawn by the Party. As a result, the stylistically and linguistically subversive and original writings of Chinese "avant-gardists" are actually quite compatible with both the Communist doctrines and the market rules dominating the socioeconomic reality of post-Mao China. In effect, the exposure of the misery and darkness of Chinese society caused by the Party's "incorrect lines"—not by the Party itself because the Party is supposed to be always correct—on the part of Chinese "avant-gardists" serves to a large extent as a vent to release the psychological tension imposed upon Chinese people by the Party and the political system. Ironically enough, the seemingly subversive Chinese "avant-garde" eventually turns into an "institution," which functions to stabilize the existing social and political system and values. The above analyses make it quite clear that Zhongguo xianfeng xiaoshuo, in spite of the English transliteration of its name as "Chinese avant-garde fiction," does not at all belong to the category of the avant-garde if judged by the criteria derived from the European context, due to its obvious tendency towards separation from social reality, clinging to literary autonomy, and its nature as "institution art." Since in Burger's formulation, the avant-garde is presented as a trend that is historically and logically after modernism, or as something of the post-modern, it is also quite erroneous to label Chinese avant-garde fiction the "Chinese post-modern." This perception is actually also supported by some other facts and perceptions related to the Chinese historical context. First, the "avant-garde" quality and reputation of Chinese avant-garde fiction as well as its name are established by its contrast with the rather stereotyped and trite Maoist literature rather than with any sort of modernism, and Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 34 therefore, logically it can not be something post-modem. Second, if Kafka can be viewed as an avant-garde or postmodernist writer and surrealism as a sort of postmodernism, then the (European) avant-garde or postmodernism is at best one of the many sources of foreign influence for Chinese avant-garde fiction, and consequently, it is unreasonable to assume that the so-called "avant-gardists" of China only adopt the European avant-garde theory or postmodernism as their sole guiding principle. Last but not least, according to Lyotard and some other post-modernist theorists, postmodernism originated from postmodernist conditions—postindustrial economy, postmodern culture, etc. (Lyotard 1993). Given the facts that in the 1980s China, the government still reveals obvious traces of tyrannical rule, half of its population is underfed, and such ordinary electronic appliances as telephone and television are luxuries for ordinary families, it is simply impossible, I believe, for something like postmodernism to emerge from such social and political soil. Writers in a Post-totalitarian Party-state: Unchanged and Changed The labelling of Chinese avant-garde fiction as an embodiment of "Chinese postmodernism" is not the only misinterpretation of it, there are certainly some others. For example, given the obviously defiant and subversive attitude of Chinese avant-garde writers towards the Maoist conceptualization of literature and Communist ideology, some critics take it for granted that there is a clear-cut line between the Chinese avant-garde and the Party in ideology and in view of literature and history. Some others assume that the avant-gardists' reversal of their Communist fathers' negation of their Confucian Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 35 grandfathers necessarily leads them to their grandfathers' position: the unconditional affirmation and acceptance of Confucian values (Lu 1995: 13-14). In fact, both assumptions are problematic because they fail to realize the very complexity of the relation of the Chinese avant-garde to both its Communist father and Confucian grandfather and the interaction and intersubjectivity of the three parties. Actually, the defining characteristics and the social, intellectual implications of Chinese avant-garde fiction cannot be fully understood if we do not know of the identity, the special and somewhat embarrassing status of Chinese writers in general in a Communist party-state and its symbiotic relation to the state, and the nature of the Chinese avant-garde in particular and the specific historical context under which it emerged and developed. Yu Hua, one of the most renowned avant-garde writers in China, toured the United States in late 2003 and delivered a series of lectures there, whose explicitly favourable attitude towards the current Communist regime and whose obvious stance of defending it, surprised, if not shocked, many Americans and overseas Chinese who favour democracy and freedom, and who evidently expected a different attitude and stance from him. The huge discrepancy between their expectations and the actualities on the part of Americans and those overseas Chinese, in my view, turns out to be a result of their misunderstanding of the identity and the special relationship to the Communist regime of Chinese writers in general and Chinese avant-gardists in particular. In his highly acclaimed book The Velvet Prison on artists under state socialism, the Hungarian critic and writer Miklos Haraszti accurately describes the "symbiotic Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 36 relationship" between artists and the state and the special "censorship culture" in modern socialist states. Based on his own personal experience and perceptions in socialist Hungary, Haraszti points out, in the modern socialist state, every artist is a state employee, and "his thoughts, his sensibilities, his moods are on longer a private affair." The "artists, as a group, have become a part of the political elite," and they form a cooperative and symbiotic relationship with the socialist state. On the part of the state, "the heavy-handed methods" of the old censorship is increasingly superseded and replaced by "more subtle means of constraint." By absorbing the ideology of the censored, learning the language of its victims, combining punishment with reward and sustenance, privilege and ambition, artistic autonomy and expression have been largely eliminated, and finally the artists have become "accomplices in their own oppression and exploitation" (Haraszti 1986: 7-19). Though Haraszti's perceptions and conclusions are based on his personal experience and observations of the former Eastern European socialist state, they can be safely applied to China's situation. Given the fact that Chinese artists are much more docile and submissive than their Russian and Eastern Europeans counterparts (Liu B. 1990:41), that the political control over literature and arts in China is much more strict, and that the Party's "use of literature" is much more extensive and intensive within "the socialist Chinese literary system" (Link 2000), the validity and applicability of Haraszti's perceptions to China's case can be more justified. The writers' status as employees of the state and "establishment intellectuals" (Hamrin and Cheek 1986), 5 and the complicity displayed in their willingness to 5 Both Su Tong and Yu Hua are "professional writers" (zhuanye zuojia -Aklif*) of the Writer Association of China (zhongguo zuojia xiehui pi fif*v14--), an organization controlled and financed by Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 37 collaborate with the Party, as well as the differences in degree of their aversion toward the Communist version of historical interpretation on the part of each individual writer, inevitably limit the subversive power of Chinese avant-garde writings. As a result, their original intention to undermine the whole Communist representation of history cannot be completely fulfilled. They must write "between the lines" (Haraszti 1986: 142-149), because any transgression into the "prohibited zones" will be punished. Understanding the special relationship of writers to the socialist state—the Leninist party-state in China's case—there should be no surprise that, for all its "avant-garde" nature in form and style, the historical representations in Chinese avant-garde fiction show high degree of compatibility with the orthodox communist historical construction. For example, the basic historical facts represented in Mo Yan's highly acclaimed novella "Red Sorghum" highly tally with the Communist historical account that guerrillas and the people led by the Party were the mainstay in the War of Resistance against Japanese. The outline of the historical process in mainland China after "liberation" in Yu Hua's To Live is also compatible with the discourse of the official history textbook. In this sense, Geremie R. Barrne's perception that Chinese literature after Mao is just "repacking and commercialization of twentieth century Chinese history along the general lines determined by a party-defined nostalgia" proves to be both insightful and accurate (Barme 1999: 247), though the term "party-defined nostalgia" seems somewhat awkward to me and might evoke some controversy. Barme's notion of the "commercialization" of Chinese history on the part of contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers readily leads us to another important aspect of the Chinese government. They both receive salaries from the government as the state's employees. Ge Fei's situation is similar. He is a professor of Qinghua University (Beijing), a state-owned higher education institute of China. He is also paid by the government. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 3 8 the socioeconomic life in Deng Xiaoping's semi-totalitarian China—the all-around commercialization of social life. This phenomenon has exercised enormous influence on the relation between the writers and the post-totalitarian party-state. After Mao Zedong's death, China has undergone drastic and rapid changes in almost every aspect of social life. Among all these changes, the transformation in the economic field from so-called socialism to market capitalism is the most radical. As a consequence, China in the post- Mao era witnesses a surprising and bizarre combination of political dictatorship—though in a much looser form than that in the Mao era—and economic freedom—though merely in a relative sense compared with the true market economies in the West. The dual reality of strict political control and market economy in post-Mao China has inevitably brought about serious negative impacts on the life of Chinese people as well as on their mentality, beliefs, and values. In a country where economic freedom is the only sort of freedom granted by the Party, it is only natural to find that the abuse of the freedom and the corresponding all-around commercialization of all aspects of social life become a common social phenomenon. Much worse, the total collapse of Communist ideology as a consequence of the disastrous social practice in the name of socialism in Mao's China, especially the Cultural Revolution, actually turns the Chinese-style economic freedom into money fetishism. When the God of Communism dies, and the "old" God of Confucianism has been "thrown into the historical trash bin," money naturally fills in the void and becomes the new God for Chinese people. Under such social circumstances, it is quite understandable that Chinese (avant-garde) writers, like all Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 39 other Chinese people, are profoundly influenced by the all-around commercialization of Chinese society and the nation-wide wave of money fetishism. 6 Corresponding to the changed socioeconomic reality of post-totalitarian China, the relationship between the intellectuals and the state also undergoes a radical change. Officially promoted to "part of working class"—the nominal "leading class" prescribed by the country's constitution—Chinese intellectuals as a collective now enjoy much higher and more privileged social and economic status than in Mao's China. As a result, being a famous intellectual in post-Mao China not only means high status and fame but also wealth. This is even truer to a writer who usually can gain fame much easier than other intellectuals—in the broadest sense of the term—such as philosophers, historians, scientists, engineers, etc. due to the relatively popular and entertaining nature of his/her career. It is safe to say that, in post-Mao China, while the symbiotic relationship of the intellectuals with the party-state remains unchanged, the intellectuals play more substantive and important a role in the relationship and enjoy more autonomy and independence than before. Therefore, contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers, like all other Chinese intellectuals, are confronted by a dilemma in the post-Mao era. On the one hand, their disillusionment with Communist ideology based on their personal experience and Unlike in Mao's China, where writing is mainly associated with political capital and political honor, in post-Mao China, especially after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, economic consideration of writing far outweighs its political value, though the latter is by no means absent from it. This is even truer when applied to look at Chinese avant-garde writers. For example, in my observation, no other reason can account for the motivation of Ge Fei's repacking and relabelling his first novel The Enemy, a work which is widely viewed as the foremost avant-garde novel in contemporary China dealing with serious existential predicaments facing human beings, as "mystery fiction" and "the first Chinese detective and horror novel," except the commercial consideration. Su Tong, another major contemporary Chinese avant-garde writer, never conceals his strong desire for popularity and fame, the two things which are often closely linked with money. Su Tong is also a writer in contemporary China who is well known for his love for fashion such as famous brand clothes, cigarettes, etc. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 40 observation of all the darkness and cruelties in the Cultural Revolution evokes in them a strong and authentic intention to subvert Communist ideology and the Communist presentation of Chinese history. On the other hand, the lure of fame and wealth, the motive to keep and protect their newly gained status and vested interest, and the fear of Party's still quite strict political control and potential punishment, in effect, greatly restrict and weaken the strength and power of Chinese avant-gardists' subversive intention. Under such circumstances, it is only natural for the reader to discern a clear consciousness of restraining from transgressing the boundary drawn by the Party in these writers' works. This perception might disappoint many who imagine the avant-gardists as "cultural heroes" who bravely fight against Communist ideology and political contro1. 7 Intriguingly and ironically enough, in a post-totalitarian society where orthodox Maoist doctrines have already become a common aversion to the general public, certain kinds of well controlled and adeptly manipulated rebellious behaviour and thought against the doctrines themselves become an effective means to gain personal popularity, fame, and wealth. For example, to our great disappointment, those ingeniously created and widely read stories, novellas, and novels of Su Tong aim not only at the subversion of Communist ideology but also at personal fame, popularity, and ultimately money. Here I feel it necessary to point out the fact that the ideological limitations of contemporary avant-garde fiction imposed by the Party, by the writers' subjectivities, and by the external socioeconomic background in the post-totalitarian party-state do not necessarily mean inferiority of its literary quality. On the contrary, the intricate relation 7 Actually some overseas Chinese writers like Gao Xingjian and Ha Jin are much more defiant political dissidents than the avant-garde writers in mainland China, due to the "safe geographical and political distance" they keep from the Party. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 41 of Chinese avant-garde fiction to Communist ideology to some extent enriches its social, intellectual, cultural connotations. After all, literature cannot be equated either with history or historiography constructed by historians or with pure political propaganda, and the significance and values of literature do not lie in whether its description of historical process is accurate or not, but in the content and depth of the social, political, humanist implications behind the historical description it provides. Obsession with History: Deepening of an Old Tradition Chinese writers' obsession with history and the intertwined relationship between Chinese literature and history/historiography are now common knowledge among critics of Chinese literature, both inside and outside China. Associated with this prominent phenomenon are two equally pronounced facts concerning Chinese history and literature: history's central position in Chinese culture and fiction's humble status in the Chinese intellectual and literary hierarchy. The humble and marginalized status of Chinese fiction in an intellectual hierarchy and society characterized by its overemphasis on history as the sole source of value and moral judgment, inevitably endows it with a dual nature: its transgression, its rebellious spirit, and its noisiness to orthodox ears on the one hand, and its frequent aspirations and conformity to orthodox values on the other (McMahon 1988:12, Plaks 1977: 318-320). The duality or two-sidedness, the simultaneous defiance of and conformity to orthodoxy, the simultaneous appeal to popular tastes and elite expectations, is one of the most durable and remarkable features of Chinese fiction in the ancient times. Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 42 The dual nature of Chinese fiction remained unshaken until the late Qing when Liang Qichao promoted a "fiction revolution." Based on his observation and study of Japanese literature of the Meiji era, which largely copies European literary values, by elevating fiction to the top position in the Chinese literary hierarchy, Liang emphasized the instrumentality and didacticism of fiction, asserting that fiction should shoulder up the mission of enlightening and renewing people, and of strengthening the nation. Interestingly enough, in light of the thinking and logic of Liang Qichao and other advocates of the New Fiction, when fiction takes the place of poetry and prose as the most prestigious genre in the literary hierarchy, it is also expected to assume the functioning and role that traditionally poetry and prose had played in Chinese society. Actually, the notion of New Fiction potentially implies the breakdown of the unity and integration of fiction as a genre combining popular appeal and elite expectation and a shift of fiction's purposes to serve the edifying role preciously occupied by peotry. The actual historical process of Chinese literature unfolded just as Liang Qichao and his fellows advocated and designed. With the development of modern commercial society, the modern press and media, and the emergence of a modern middle class as the potential consumers of modern entertainment culture, Chinese fiction finally split into two thematically, stylistically, and linguistically distinct sections: serious fiction and popular fiction. And from then on, these two forms of fiction have played different roles and exercised different functions in Chinese society, appealing to different literary expectations, aesthetic tastes, and psychologies of different readership (Link 1981, Zhao 1995: 21-25). Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 43 For all their pursuit of artistic autonomy, independence, and critical spirit, May Fourth writers, however, embraced and even pushed further the didacticism and instrumentality of literature advocated by Liang Qichao. To write for history or epoch, a strong desire to participate in and "to be at the center of historical transform" (Denton 1998: 48), "a didactic impulse to fulfill their sense of social duty through literature" (Ng 2003: x), a heritage passed down from Yon Fu and other first generation intellectuals, was still the main preoccupations of May Fourth writers. To some extent, the May Fourth "literary revolution" can be conceived as a movement of the affirmation of serious literature as the mainstream in the literary hierarchy. It sets the direction to "revolutionary collectivism" for modern Chinese literature, and starts the process of the gradual undermining during the Yan'an period and finally total rejection of humanist individualism and literary autonomy during the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China. It is only natural that some scholars repeatedly remind us of the fundamental continuities between May Fourth discursive presentations and Maoist ideology in their shared view of the instrumentality and didactic nature of literature, in spite of the significant distinctions between these two discourses in many aspects (Lin 1979, Denton 1998). Tracing the origins of Maoist proclivities to exalt the masses, collectivism, totalitarianism, the total subjection of literature to political needs, etc., to the May Fourth, Kirk Denton definitely rejects the notion of "any baldly political, black-and-white interpretation of the struggle between May Fourth and Yan'an values" (Denton 1998:6). Ironically and interestingly enough, the Maoist rape of literature by politics was also carried out in the name of "history." By claiming that it represents the interests of the Chinese people, and that the Communist ideology represents the direction of "historical development," the Party Road to the Chinese Avant-garde ^ 44 adeptly equates the writers' submission to Party politics with the sublime mission "to answer the call of history." In the years immediately after Mao Zedong's death, Deng Xiaoping masterminded and launched the so-called Thought Liberation Movement. Behind this superficial political debate over "the criteria for evaluating truth" lay Deng's attempt to rewrite or re- interpret Maoist history—the renewal of an old Chinese political strategy. Actually, at the core of the Dengist "thought liberation movement" is a partial negation of Maoist social practice and a partial liquidation of Maoist ideology. This is fully displayed by Deng's claim of "total negation of the Cultural Revolution" and the fierce attacks on the "whateverists," people like Hua. Guofeng, "who maintained that whatever Mao said or did should be taken as gospel" (Brugger and Kelly 1990:119). In face of the nation-wide surge of rewriting of and reflection on "history" in every aspect of social life, Chinese writers, who always have a strong impulse to be the spokesmen of history, naturally were not willing to stand still as outsiders. Actually, if we look back over Chinese literature in the post-Mao era, we could find that, from Scar Literature, Educated Youth Literature, Native-roots Searching Literature, to the avant- garde literature, Chinese writers' reflection on Chinese history and culture has gradually deepened, and it has gone so far that sometimes it even transgressed the boundaries drawn by the Party and constructed a counter-history, a history running counter to Communist version. This could be expressed in the form of total subversion and reversal of the Maoist interpretation of the Chinese revolution and history, as in Su Tong's case, or in the form of transcendence of Maoist materialistic view of history through reincorporating subjectivity into historical interpretation, as in Yu Hua's case, or in the Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 45 form of total rejection of the conceptualization of history and the underlying rationalistic assumption of human experience as a perceptible and understandable unity, as in Ge Fei's case. Since history is the core concept in this thesis, I would like to conclude this chapter by articulating my understanding of it. History is a highly complex term, and it seems to be made more and more complex and even mysterious by some theorists of "New Historicism." However diversified the definitions and understandings of the term, I believe its essence and denotation remain unchanged. In this respect, I think Collingwood's notion that history (meaning historiography) is a mental "reenactment of the past" is highly convincing. According to Collingwood, because a historical event has both its "inside face" (human thoughts and emotions in the past historical process) and "outside face" (natural changes in the past), the reenactment of the past means not only "to construct a picture of things as they really were and of events as they really happened," but also to rethink "what was once thought for the first time" in the past. Here Collingwood actually emphasizes the fact of the unity of objectivity and subjectivity in history (Ricoeur 1988: 144-5). For our purpose, the distinction between the history written by the professional historian and the so-called "history" presented by the novelist is highly significant. While the former should always attempt to provide as accurate, all-around, and complete as possible a presentation of the facts and thoughts of a past period, the latter never aims at completeness, and its presentation sometimes is also inaccurate (often deliberately so). What interest the novelist are often some particular aspects of history, especially the Road to the Chinese Avant-garde^ 46 imagined feelings, emotions, and thoughts behind the historical facts. Therefore, in most cases, a literary picture drawn by a novelist in the name of "history" is more often an expression of the novelist's subjective view or thoughts about history than a presentation of actual historical facts. This observation is true even to the so-called "realistic" writers and works. History not only has two faces—inner and outer—but also has two sides: specific and abstract. As far as the treatment of history in fiction is concerned, different writers have different ways. While some writers' preoccupation is mainly with historical specificity and authenticity, others tend to meditate on history on an abstract, philosophical level. For example, in our case, while Su Tong and Yu Hua are more obsessed with the Chinese social reality in a specific historical period, or some specific social phenomena in Chinese history, Ge Fei attempts to explore some general issues of history such as the nature of history, the accessibility or inaccessibility of history to human beings, etc. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 47 Chapter 2 History as "Retrogressive" Process: Subversion, Identity Crisis, and Power Relations in Su Tong's Fiction I wish I could penetrate China's thousands of years of history. I wish I could have been an aged guest in an ancient street teahouse, with the kaleidoscopic universe, all mortal beings, and the passage of time fully absorbed into my sight. In fiction, the rouge and silhouettes of beauties, and the palace conspiracies, are nothing but nightmares on rainy nights. And the disasters and killings in fiction are no more than the expression of my anxiety and fear for any group of people in any kind of world. That's all. ---Su Tong 8 Fredric Jameson in his influential book The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act emphasizes "the priority of the political interpretation of literary texts" and upholds the notion of political perspective "as the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation." As he points out, "there is nothing that is not social and historical—indeed, that every thing is 'in the last analysis' political" (1981:17, 20). The seemingly absolutistic and arbitrary tone notwithstanding, Jameson's arguments, in my view, can be properly applied to many literary texts produced in totalitarian or semi- totalitarian countries, where the politicization of all aspects of social life and the domination of the "logicality of ideological thinking" becomes the most characteristic feature of those countries. According to Hannah Arendt, ideologies are "historical" and 8 The original Chinese is: R4V AAA T 111 ^ /fa^E -N•fttfiltVg rP VA gi3EMARkTeg /Mk t'^PitiXtrCP,^44triliYAARItAtEkftX1*—t*M- *—ifiAMMVIIgert, ttilithirri E. maw T̂tilf YA)) , 186-7 X. In this thesis, all English translations in the text which are followed by the Chinese originals in the footnotes are mine. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 48 "always oriented toward history," and promise to provide a "total explanation" of all historical happenings (1966: 469-474). The applicability of the political and historical approach to contemporary Chinese avant-garde fiction in the analysis and assessment of its ideological importance, I believe, can be perfectly justified, provided that all contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers have spent their formative years in Mao's totalitarian China, and continue to live in a China characterized by semi-totalitarianism in social life in the post-Mao era. As a result, their mindsets have inevitably been politicized and ideologized, more or less, consciously or unconsciously. The justification of my perceptions is especially manifest in Su Tong's case; his extreme obsession with history and politics is made so clear in his fiction that some novels of his are actually called New Historical Fiction (xinlishi xiaoshuo ^ ffi /.1^. Su Tong's enthusiasm for politics and his treatment of his stories as political allegories are also explicitly indicated in the novella "Opium Family" by the fact that 1949, the year marking the Communist seizure of power in China and the victory of the Chinese revolution, is arranged, just as in the acli isl historical course, as the turning point in the story, and that the execution of the young landlord and the ultimate demise of the opium family took place on December 26, 1950, a date marking the birthday of Mao Zedong, the leader and most powerful symbol of the Chinese Communist revolution. It is a shared intention of all Chinese avant-garde writers to sabotage Communist ideology, especially the Maoist doctrines. The uniqueness of Su Tong and the difference between his work and that of other Chinese writers, in my view, lie in the deliberateness and thoroughness of his rebellion against the Communist orthodoxy, and in his willingness and moral courage to systematically subvert the whole set of Communist Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 49 ideologies and the Communist interpretation of Chinese history and revolution, though in an artistically and linguistically subtle way, of which "Opium Family" is most typical. Before entering into the fictive world of Su Tong, I find it necessary to point to a methodological issue particularly important to the reading of Su Tong, due to his complex yet intimate relationship to both the Communist tradition and the Confucian legacy. The issue is intertextuality or intersubjectivity. Rather than adopting the structuralist conceptualization of "text", which is put into an unreasonably broad context referring to "not only actual discourses, but the 'texts' of appropriate behavior in the society at large" (Chatman 1978:50), here I employ the term in a rather conventional and much narrower sense, exclusively designating any concrete discourse in the form of speech or writing. In this chapter I will occasionally compare and contrast Su Tong's novels with both "model" Communist literary texts and traditional Chinese literary masterpieces, to highlight the rebellious nature of his writing and to deepen our understanding of his fiction in a broader cultural context. History as Battlefield for Ideological Domination Highly talented, prolific, and with a certain "feminine" sensitivity, Su Tong is among the most popular and most read writers in contemporary China. Of his voluminous fictional writings, the highly acclaimed trilogy Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas translated by Michael S. Duke (hereafter Trilogy) and the novel Rice translated by Howard Goldblat are best known to Western readers. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 50 Parody as Narrative and Discursive Strategy Readers and critics who are fascinated with Su Tong's fiction and familiar with the research on him might, as I do, find a perception associated with the reading of his fiction disturbing. For all its preeminence and far-reaching influence in the history of contemporary Chinese literature in terms of its ideological and aesthetic significance, the novella "Opium Family" has long been left in obscurity in relation to the other two novellas in the trilogy. Actually I think the novella is the most important of Su Tong's works, and as we will discover later, is also the most ideologically "reactionary" judged by the Communist view. Entering into the world of the "Opium Family", we may be surprised at first glance by its high similarity to the "revolutionary" works dominating the literary world of the Mao era, especially the Communist "model" play The White-Haired Girl (Bai mao in terms of subject matter, plot structuring, and arrangement of character. It is also a story about oppression and revolution, with all the characters divided into two clear-cut social classes, the landlord family on the one side, the poor peasants and the Communist work team leader Lu Fang on the other—a pattern that resembles the revolutionary novels perfectly. The story is narrated along two parallel lines, one telling of the flourishing, "inevitable" decline, and final demise of the landlord family, and the other narrating the rebellion of the poor and the "oppressed" and the equally "inevitable" victory of the revolution. The two narrative threads are joined with a main male character Chen Mao, a long-term laborer of the landlord Liu family and later the most resolute revolutionary and Peasant Association chairman of Maple Village, who is structurally assigned by the implied author the role of a go-between negotiating between the two Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 51 distinct narrated worlds, namely, that of the revolutionary and of the landlord family. The relationship between Lu Fang, the Communist leader, and Liu Chencao, the new generation of "landlord" as classmates also functions technically as a narrative adhesive connecting the two spheres. Specifically, along the first narrative line is the history of the opium family—how the old landlord Liu Laoxia makes his way to become the biggest landowner of Maple Village, through planting and selling opium and gradually swallowing up his brother's inherited land and other properties; how the new generation of "landlord" Liu Chencao's frailness, laziness, and the indifference to wealth accumulation leads the family downwards; and how finally the landlord family is completely destroyed by the surges of revolution. Along the other line is the story about the poor long-term laborer Chen Mao, telling how he is "exploited," "oppressed," and humiliated by the landlord, along with the vivid descriptions of his intertwined relationship with the family; how he becomes the resolute revolutionary and the Peasant Association chairman ruthlessly struggling against the landlord; and how finally his death as the result of the fatal shot by the young landlord Liu Chencao, who is actually his biological son, leads to the execution of the latter by the Communist leader Lu Fang and ultimate demise of the landlord family Around the two narrative lines, interwoven into the text are adultery, cuckoldry, illicit children, extramarital sexuality, banditry, infra-family animosity and killing, and idiocy—all are good material for the long-lasting literary themes of containment vs transgression, conformity vs rebellion, and all are among the most favorable motifs popular in traditional Chinese fiction, reminiscent of The Golden Lotus, Dream of the Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 52 Red Chamber, Water Margins, and the Ming short stories created and compiled by Feng Menglong (1574-1646) and Ling Mengchu (1580-1644). However, we should be cautious not to be deceived by the seeming similarities between Su Tong's writings and the previous texts, both Communist and traditional. Actually, the originality of Su Tong as an excellent writer just lie in that, through the clear manipulation of varied literary devices, which will be specified later in the chapter, he creatively invests into the old story the astoundingly new political and cultural implications, endows the familiar motifs and imagery with new connotations and meanings, and finally comes up with the effect of total defamiliarization and subversion of the old texts, both thematically and aesthetically. When penetrating through the descriptive level of superficial familiarity onto the deeper allegorical level of discursive interpretation of the novella, we should be shocked by the totally different personalities, mentalities, behavior, and moral standards of the seemingly familiar characters who usually appeared in the Communist literary works, and by the radically different ideology and view of history displayed in the novella, which run completely counter to the Communist version. Totally contrary to the Communist novels, where the landlord is always depicted as a caricatured minor character, whose ugly physical appearance, evil mentality, and corrupt moral standards only function as a perfect antithesis to project the socialist hero's or heroine's great, sublime, and lofty image, in "Opium Family," the landlord Liu Laoxia is assigned the role of the protagonist, and described as a man of dignity and moral virtues. Completely different from the images of landlords in the Communist novels who are lazy, vulgar, and stupid, live parasite-like lives, and obtain their wealth by exploiting Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 53 the poor, Liu Laoxia makes all his way to be the biggest landlord of Maple Village by his own intelligence, hard work, and the spirit of never giving up. Totally in opposition to Communist propaganda, where the landlord class is depicted as living a luxurious and extravagant life through exploitation and extortion of the poor and the unprivileged, in the novella, Liu Laoxia, despite his enormous wealth and power, lives frugally and runs his home "with industry and thrift"—two fundamental moral virtues universally accepted by Chinese people as able to make a family enjoy long-lasting growth and prosperity. Liu Laoxia is also a man of courage and dignity. When the notorious bandit leader Jiang Long leads his troops to break into the Liu family's compound to blackmail the family, threatening to kill all if their demands are not fully met, while all the other people in the family cry and scream in great panic, the landlord talks and negotiates with the bandit leader with great composure, standing there "as straight and unbending as a tree trunk" (Trilogy: 218). Later, when the village is already under Communist control, he is forced to attend a struggle meeting against himself. Though suffering humiliations, beatings, and threats of death through the course of the meeting, the landlord continues to behave himself as a man of dignity, with all his self-respect and confidence, and his contempt for Chen Mao and the villagers unchanged. The image of the landlord, as it is delineated here, reminds us of the fearless heroes or heroines in the Communist works who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the "lofty Communist cause." From the brief analysis of the overall structure and plot of the novella and its characterization as exemplified by the portrayal of the landlord Liu Laoxia, and through its comparison with the Communist literary "model" The White-haired Girl, it becomes Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 54 quite clear that, the superficial similarity between the two works is actually a narrative strategy elaborated by Su Tong for discursive purposes. The strategy is parody. The cultural and ideological significance and power of parody as a narrative device have already been illuminated by many modern theorists. For instance, Linda Hutcheon, an internationally renowned "postmodernist" critic argues that "parody in this century [twentieth century] is one of the major modes of formal and thematic construction of texts. And beyond even this, it has a hermeneutic function with both cultural and even ideological implications" (1985: 2). She defines parody as "a form of imitation, but imitation characterized by ironic inversion, not always at the expense of the parodied text," to which she adds, parody is "repetition with critical distance, which marks difference rather than similarity" (1985: 6). Because parody occurs not only between different "individual works" but also between different sets of "conventions," and concerns "trans-contextualization" between the present parodying representations and the past parodied ones, it actually becomes "a productive-creative approach to tradition" (1985: 7). As she points out, "through a doubling process of installing and ironizing, parody signals how present representations come from past ones and what ideological consequences derive from both continuity and difference" (1989: 93). Another critic, Simon Dentith, defines parody as "any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice" (2000: 9). In compatibility with Hutcheon's and Dentith's conceptualization of parody, Su Tong also employs parody as a critical tool for ideological purposes. By parodying the techniques, conventions, and "historical grammar" of the Communist literary "model," Su Tong successfully distances his historical presentation from the Communist version Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 55 and consequently subverts the asserted "universal validity" of the Communist presentation. In this sense, the superficial, formal resemblance between Su Tong's novella and the Communist "model" works just to highlight the enormous gap between the Communist version of history and the "counter-history" constructed by him. Trumpet vs Hidden Organ: Symbols of Revolution vs Tradition The characterization and manipulation of the image of Chen Mao, the long-term laborer of the Liu family, prove to be another great artistic success of the novella. Rather than the familiar poor peasant images in the Communist novels, who are always embodiments of moral virtues and innate high class consciousness, Chen Mao in this novella is depicted as a socially abject and morally corrupt person, whose notorious fame is built upon his love for his brass trumpet and his extremely strong sexual desires and activities, and especially upon his adultery with the mistress of Liu family, Liu Laoxia's wife Jade Flower: There wasn't a man in Maple Village whose sexual history was richer or more varied and fascinating than Chen Mao's. When Chen Mao walked through the village, everyone admired two things; one was his brass trumpet, and the other was his hidden organ. The men of Maple Village always believed that Chen Mao's golden spear could never be bent, and women gossiping on their porches always had one everlasting topic of conversation: Chen Mao climbed into Jade Flower's bedroom window again last night (Trilogy:209). A narratologically important figure who, as discussed above, structurally connects the two narrated worlds together, Chen Mao's "two most admired things"—his trumpet Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 56 (suona KIM) and hidden organ (yinwu tit penis)—are also highly significant. As we will discover later, the antithesis and conflict between them, as two symbols representing two different kinds of way of life, different levels of mentality, and different sets of ideologies, are extremely meaningful in the novella. The trumpet, a musical instrument originally used by the peasants in China at weddings, funerals, and other socially important occasions, was adeptly transformed and employed by the Party during Yan'an period as one of the most powerful symbols of revolution. In the novella, it is the trumpet that associates Chen Mao with revolution. In the first half of the story, when revolution hasn't taken place in Maple Village, the trumpet seems hidden from our view. The first time the trumpet draws our attention is the moment when the Communist Party controls Horsebridge. Driven by the news, Chen Mao goes excitedly into the landlord's compound to warn and threaten the family. He "took his brass trumpet off of his belt; the sound of the brass trumpet rose up into the highest heaven, and he heard the roar of the great earth trembling as lava burst forth" (Trilogy: 228). Later on, when Chen Mao attempts to agitate the peasants to make revolution against the landlord but failed, under the order of the landlord he is tied up by the peasants on the beam of the Straw Pavilion. "During the night he managed to work his brass trumpet into his mouth, and we heard the loud mournful sound of his trumpet reverberating out from the Straw Pavilion and spreading out all over Maple Village" (Trilogy: 232). Finally when Maple Village is already under the Communist Party's control, the revolution is approaching its ultimate victory, and Chen Mao has become the chairman of the Peasant Association of Maple Village, we hear again "the loud clear sound of a brass trumpet", "calling all of the land and people of Maple Village, calling all Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 57 of the confined spirits to rise up on the wind." At this moment, the status of the trumpet as the symbol of revolution is fully affirmed, as "all the men in the Peasant Association had a brass trumpet hanging from their waists" (239). From the brief description above, we have no difficulty finding that the trumpet actually represents revolution, rebellious spirit, and the desire to control others. Compared with the trumpet, the story around Chen Mao's hidden organ seems much more complex and meaningful. Through his hidden organ, Chen Mao relates himself to the landlord family in an extremely complicated and intertwined way. He has adultery with Liu Laoxia's wife Jade Flower; Chencao is his biological son as the result of the adultery; and towards the end of the story he rapes Liu Laoxia's pretty daughter Liu Suzi. The extreme complexity of the relationship between the long-term laborer and the landlord family, especially his adultery with the mistress, naturally provides a huge discursive space for multiple interpretive possibilities. The immediate ideological breakthrough the descriptions have brought about lies in that, for example, the intertwined and inseparable ties between the poor laborer and the landlord family ruthlessly subvert the Maoist assertion that there is a clear-cut class line between the landlord class and the poor peasants. Moreover, the fact that the young landlord Liu Chencao is the poor laborer's biological son also powerfully destroys the blood determinism in class division insisted on by the Party during the Mao era. It is right at this point that Su Tong shows his profound discontinuities with the Communist tradition—a sign of his uniqueness and rebelliousness as an avant-garde writer. Of course Su Tong has gone far beyond this in his writing. As we will discover below, it is the remarkably creative way in which Su Tong treats the stock subjects or Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 58 motifs such as adultery that distinguishes him from both the traditional zuoshude ^ 114J or "book makers" (humble self-reference employed by traditional Chinese vernacular novel writers) and the mouthpieces of the Party in literature. It is a commonplace that adultery has been among the most long-lasting and most popular themes in Chinese fiction. Traditionally Chinese novel writers—with only few writers such as the author of Dream of the Red Chamber as exceptions— tend to treat the subject in the sense of Platonic mimesis to achieve a twofold purpose. On the one hand, as sex, especially illicit and extramarital sexuality, always draws the reader's attention with its ability to evoke libidinal ecstasy and the consequential sensual and psychological satisfaction, therefore the description of adultery always proves to be a shortcut to make a writer popular quickly. On the other hand, more importantly, by claiming that their description of the varied sexualities is merely an objective presentation of the obscene behavior and that imitation of such destructive desires is the antithesis of Confucian moral standards and teachings, the writers adeptly dodge the accusations for their purported pornography, and successfully disguise themselves as faithful disciples and defenders of Confucian principles. Rather than adopting the traditional approach to adultery, which exclusively focuses on the mimetic and descriptive function, Su Tong elevates the narrative of his story to the figurative level and makes it a deliberately constructed political allegory. It is a well- known fact that in the "model" Communist novels, sex—if it is allowed to appear in the text—is also always used as political allegory or vehicle to convey the notion of class hatred or class oppression. However, even a brief comparison between the "model" Communist play The White-Haired Girl and the "Opium Family" in the ways in which Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 59 they treat sex respectively, is sufficient to reveal the huge and essential differences between the Communist writers and Su Tong. I believe no reader could ignore a distinct difference in plot structuring between the two works when comparing them: While in The White-Haired Girl, sexual intercourse is presented as the rape of the kind and innocent poor girl by the cold-hearted and lustful landlord, in "Opium Family," it is delineated as the willing adultery between the landlord's mistress (yet unprivileged in gender) and the poor laborer (yet higher in gender hierarchy). In my understanding, the very difference between the two works in plot is highly significant. Actually, by rewriting the sexual intercourse between a member of landlord class and a poor peasant, from presenting it as the rape of the poor girl by the powerful landlord—an act symbolizing the idea of landlord class brutalizing the poor—in the Communist "model," to depicting it as the voluntary sexual activity between two equals in his own story, Su Tong ingeniously yet in a subtle way strips off the political and moral dimensions imposed on sexuality by the Communist ideology, and adeptly deconstructs the notion of class oppression projected by the sexual abuse in the Communist text. Actually, in the novella Su Tong's intent to neutralize and reinterpret sexuality is made extremely clear by his vivid and detailed descriptions of the course of the adulterous act between the laborer and the mistress. Every time Chen Mao climbs into Jade Flower's bedroom window to make love with her, the sexual intercourse is always accompanied by his unbearable hunger for food and Jade Flower's insult by calling him "dog." As the reward for his sexual "labor", at end of their lovemaking, he will get half a steamed roll from the woman; then chewing on the roll, he will wrap his pants around his Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 60 waist and jump out the window "with a heart full of sadness and anger." After he left Jade Flower's room, the story reads: Under the night dew a pile of fodder gave off an odor of tears and complaint. Chen Mao reflected that all of his days stacked up together amounted to nothing more than a pile of fodder; some of it he squandered on women's bodies, and some of it he wasted in the Liu Family's fields; this was life, too, and he had to go on living this way (Trilogy: 210) Obviously here, sex is described not as one-directional violence but as mutual or reciprocal physical need and satisfaction. For the poor laborer, sex means at once both the physical and psychological satisfaction, and the sense of sadness, heaviness, and humiliation. Sex for him to a large extent is nothing more than another kind of "labor," another means for food, a basic need for survival, and a primitive way of life. Su Tong's interpretation of sex at this point is perfectly compatible with the Confucian worldview, which insists that need of sex and food is human nature. Revolution vs Tradition: Ideological Struggle for Interpretive Power The fact of Su Tong's depoliticization and neutralization of sexuality in his novella doesn't necessarily mean the weakening, even elimination of the political and historical dimension and interpretation of his novella. On the contrary, as common sense, to remove the political clothing imposed on a subject by an ideology in an attempt to subvert this ideology, the action itself is political. Moreover, specifically, the political dimension and cultural connotations of Su Tong's novel are not derived from the interpretation of sex as an isolated subject. Rather they are achieved through the juxtaposition of the now neutralized sex and the highly politicized revolutionary ideology, symbolized by the Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 61 confrontation of hidden organ vs trumpet. Here we actually arrive at one of the core ideas displayed in the novella: battle for legitimacy and domination between the two distinct ideologies, traditional and Communist. Actually, in the novella, by deleting from the text the descriptions of military conflicts, wars, and massive violence—the scenes usually indispensable in both actual revolutions and the revolutionary novels, Su Tong deliberately highlights the ideological nature of revolution. Revolution here is depicted as battle between worldviews, values, beliefs, discourses, and ways of life, as struggle between ideologies for interpretive power and cultural hegemony, as "war without smoke of gunpowder." As far as ideologies and ideological boundaries are concerned, readers who have long been immersed in Communist propaganda might be shocked by the reality presented in "Opium Family." Contrary to the Communist assumption that the line demarcating the ideological divisions is drawn between the exploiting class (landlord Liu family) and the exploited and oppressed class (poor peasants and their representative the Communist commander Lu Fang), in the novella, the line, to our great surprise, actually is set between the whole Maple Village (the landlord family and other poor peasants as a whole) and the Communist leader Lu Fang (and the "grandsons" nurtured on the Communist ideology). The astoundingly unbelievable truth is, as revealed in the story, it is with Liu Laoxia the "class enemy" of the poor, rather than with Lu Fang the self-assumed representative of the poor, that Chen Mao and other poor peasants share the same worldview, values, beliefs, and way of life. In other words, the ideological battle actually takes place between the old Maple Village and the Party, rather than between the "exploiting" class and the exploited, as the Communist Party asserts. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 62 In the novella, Lu Fang is the natural spokesman of the Communist ideology, and the "grandsons", who are nurtured on it, are upholders and successors of the ideology. The role of the spokesman of Maple Village, and of the traditional worldview, is assigned by the implied author to an anonymous plural "Grandfathers." The "Grandfathers" know all the history of Liu family and Maple Village before the Communist seizure of power in 1949, they have a strong belief in old Maple Village way of life, and they share "a kind of primitive anthropocentric thought" with all the other people in the village (Trilogy: 248). In this sense, the "Grandfathers" can be safely identified with the peasants of old Maple Village. The role of the "Grandfathers" as spokesmen of Maple Village is further projected in the novella by the fact that the "Grandfathers" scarcely take any other actions in the story, they only "speak", and that their existence in the story is merely the many paragraph-long speeches. If we understand the fact that Lu Fang and the "Grandfathers" are the spokesmen of the two different ideologies, respectively, we should not be surprised that they are the most articulated persons in the novel. Actually in the story all the long speeches are uttered by them. The fact that the landlord family shares the same values and beliefs, and takes the same ideological side with other peasants in the village, is described in many places in the novella. At the very beginning of the novella, as mentioned earlier, the "Grandfathers" testify to the fact that the Liu family shares with all the other peasants in the village "the same" "good rural habits of living frugally and running their homes with industry and thrift", and the same values and way of life. The "Grandfathers" further point out, for all its wealth and fortune, the landlord family also eats thin rice gruel every day, and they also suffer from hunger, just like all the other people in Maple Village Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 63 (Trilogy: 185). Later on, the narrator mentions the enormous respect and admiration the "Grandfathers" show to Liu Laoxia: "It was mostly due to hero worship that all the grandfathers took great delight in talking about Liu Laoxia" (216) Finally, when the village is already under Communist control, Lu Fang and his work team make great efforts mobilizing the peasants to struggle against the landlord family, and encourage them to expose the supposed landlord's evils of exploitation and oppression. However, to their great disappointment: All they [the work team] heard from them [the poor peasants] were Liu Laoxia's great achievements. They said, "In a thousand years Maple Village produced one Liu Laoxia; he can stamp out gold ingots with his bare hands" (Trilogy: 240). In the eyes of the poor peasants, Liu Laoxia, is unanimously regarded as the embodiment of the highest virtues, a hero and a legend. They worship him because he fulfills the old dream that they share with him but fail to reach. Having established that the old Maple Village as a whole shares the same worldview or ideology, the ensuing questions arise: What is the worldview? What are the fundamental principles guiding old Maple Village's way of life? In the novel the implied author gives unequivocal answers to these questions. In the novella, the narrator uses the term "primitive anthropocentric thought" to summarize Maple Village peasants' ideas (Trilogy: 248). In another place, directly quoting the "Grandfathers", the narrator puts the seemingly sophisticated term in a much clearer way. As he points out, the people in Maple Village believed that "people are just like crops: Whoever plants them, reaps them, and they reap whatever they sow" (224). They attribute the flourishing and decline of a family to nothing but heredity—a physiological phenomenon which merely follows natural laws and is completely out of Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 64 human control—"Just look at landlord Liu Laoxia: when the pure, strong unmixed bloodline, passed on for generations, reached Chencao, it got mixed up and diluted; and when it got mixed and diluted, it declined; that's just the way heredity works" (248). It is made very clear here that old Maple Village merely adopts a neutralized way of life and follows the laws of nature. As a result, "every kind of thought and 'ism' was far removed from Maple Village" (196). In short, the old Maple Village's worldview is based on common sense and immediate sensual life experience, characterized by its neutralization and naturalization, which constitutes a sharp antithesis to the highly politicized revolutionary ideology. Here we have no difficulty finding that the way of life of the old Maple Village as a whole actually follows the same principle as the hidden organ; and Chen Mao, for all his "high class consciousness" and resolute revolutionary spirit derived from his strong desire to change his social status and financial situation, is no exception. Chen Mao's conformity to Maple Village's worldview and way of life is also testified by Lu Fang's comments on him - "the work team could cut Chen Mao down from the roof beam of the Straw Pavilion, but they could not prevent him from acting like most of Maple village men" (260. My emphasis), to which he added, "You can change a person's fate, but you can't change what's in his blood" (256). Radically contrasted with the descriptive, tentative, and explanatory tone of the "Grandfathers", a gesture compatible with their humble status as the dominated and the inferior in the ideological hierarchy, Lu Fang's speeches in the story always bear an arbitrary, authoritative, and conclusive tone. Rather than merely providing description of history, as the "Grandfathers" did, Lu Fang's speeches aim at making judgment and conclusion. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 65 Compared with the other two tasks Lu Fang has accomplished—mobilizing and leading the struggle against the landlord; executing the young landlord Liu Chencao and finally destroying the whole landlord family—his long speeches are of greater thematic and ideological importance. Judged by the content, Lu Fang's speeches can be safely regarded as an abbreviated version of the Communist representation of Chinese revolution and modern Chinese history, as well as the elucidation and propagation of the fundamental Communist doctrines. In the beginning of the story, when the revolution hasn't taken place in Maple Village, Lu Fang employs the theory of "class hatred", one of the Communist fundamentals, explaining to Liu Chencao the relationship between his family and the peasants of Maple Village. He tells his high school classmate, "They [the peasants] hate your family because your family controls them," to which he adds, "Hatred can only disappear when everyone is equal" (Trilogy: 196). Later on, he adopts the theory of "proletarian revolution" to explain the reasons why he chose Chen Mao to be the Chairman of the Peasant Association. As he says, "Only one kind of peasant could make the revolution against the rich landlord Liu Laoxia: He had to possess absolutely nothing of his own; his labor and all of his spiritual resources had to have been completely expropriated" (240). Towards the end of the story, while commenting on the struggle meeting against the landlord, Lu Fang makes his judgment and statement on the peasants or the "revolutionary masses", the reliable force for revolution: "The people of Maple Village were naturally so undisciplined there was no way you could change them." He further stated: "Maple Village peasants weren't afraid of anything but the sound of a gun" (249, 251). These statements, in my understanding, might evoke bifurcated interpretations. On the one hand, by emphasizing the undisciplined nature of the Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 66 "revolutionary masses" and their passivity in revolution, the statements actually imply the leading and disciplinary role the Party has played in the revolution. On the other hand, the statements also betray some "ideological ruptures" in the revolutionary theory that the peasants do not possess "naturally" the high revolutionary consciousness as the Party often asserts, and that the participation in the revolution on the part of the peasants was actually forced by "the sound of a gun." Here Su Tong actually subtly points to the innate contradictions of the Communist interpretation of Chinese revolution and history. From the above discussions it is not difficult for us to deduce that, if the revolutionary ideology, as represented by Lu Fang and symbolized by the trumpet, addresses political control, desires for change and for domination of others, the active, changeable part of our mind and life, and the socialized existence, then the worldview of Maple Village, as represented by the "Grandfathers" and symbolized by the hidden organ, addresses basic needs of life and human nature, desires for security and to submit to the strong, a way of life based on immediate sensual experience and common sense, and the bodily existence. 9 Therefore the relationship between Lu Fang and the old Maple Village, between the "Grandfathers" and the "Grandsons", and between the trumpet and the 9 Clifford Geertz, one of the most renowned cultural anthropologists in the world, in his famous work The Interpretation of Cultures deplores the ideologization of ideology itself in recent centuries. He argues that the originally "nonevaluative" concept of ideology as "a collection of political proposals" has gradually transformed to a term referring to "a form of radical intellectual depravity" characterized by its deliberate "overselectivity" and "distortion." By the "overselectivity" of ideology, Geertz, citing Talcott Parsons, means that "ideologies," beyond the quality of selectivity characterizing all theories, "are subject to a further, cognitively more pernicious 'secondary' selectivity, in that they emphasize some aspects of social reality" while neglecting and even suppressing other aspects. By the "distortion" of ideology, he refers to that ideological thought, "positively distorts even those aspects of social reality it recognizes." Geertz tends to restore the nonevaluative nature of the concept of ideology and defines it as "a cultural system" (Geertz 1973: 193-199). When we juxtapose Geertz's observation of the changing connotations of ideology and Su Tong's interpretation of ideology in his novella, we find them quite compatible. In "Opium Family," while Communist ideology represents a collection of overselective and distorted ideas, the ideology of old Maple Village is an expression of their long-preserved culture. Therefore the domination of the former over the latter actually indicates the historical fact that Communist ideology and the Chinese revolution suppress and destroy the traditional Chinese culture and the related way of life. Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 67 hidden organ, has naturally been transformed into a political and cultural allegory, and becomes extremely meaningful. In the novella, as in the actual historical process, the relation between the two ideologies, between the two extremes of the dichotomy of trumpet vs hidden organ, turns out to be strongly antagonistic, and the ultimate domination of the former over the latter is vividly displayed in varied ways, both explicitly and implicitly. In some places, the antagonistic nature of the two ideologies is explicitly expressed by the direct confrontation between the "Grandfathers" and the "Grandsons" in woridview. For example, their evaluations of Liu Chencao are strongly opposing. After taking over the whole family from his father's hands, the young landlord, who receives a modern education and consequently possesses a vague sense of modern democracy and equality, "drove the long-term laborers and the maidservants out of the house", and "gave his lands away to others." As a result, many poor peasants show great gratitude to him and regard him as a benefactor. In response to this phenomenon, the "Grandfathers", for all their slight reservation, give Liu Chencao a basically favorable and positive judgment by calling him "a young benefactor, a stranger, or one with evil face and a good heart." The judgment of the "Grandfathers", obviously based on common sense and immediate sensual life experience, is totally compatible with their "primitive anthropocentric thought." In sharp contrast with the positive judgment of the "Grandfathers", the "Grandsons" however, employing the theory of "class hatred and class exploitation", view the true benevolent behavior of Liu Chencao as merely another kind of cunning strategy of exploitation. They assert that, rather than giving the poor peasants the land, the landlord gave them a curse: "He's got you tied up with no chance of escape until your Su Tong: History as "Retrogressive" Process^ 68 blood and sweat are exhausted and you die of old age working in the fields." They further stated, the poor peasants "should hate him", rather than eulogize him (Trilogy: 225, 226). The ideological confrontation is also displayed implicitly in the story. For example, the technical arrangement of assigning the Communist leader Lu Fang a role of main character while putting the "Grandfathers" in a dim light—actually, the visual image of the "Grandfathers" in the story is simply "absent" from the text, and only their voices can be heard—also allegorically refers to the obscure and dominated social status of the latter in relation to the former's dominant position. As the trumpet and the hidden organ symbolize the two strongly opposing ideologies, Chen Mao the person with these two "most admired things" naturally becomes the "site" of the historical battlefield for ideological hegemony. In the story, the absolute domination of the revolutionary ideology over the Maple Village worldview, and the trumpet over the hidden organ, is allegorically indicated towards the end of the story by the event of the rape of Liu Suzi by Chen Mao, a serious "error" committed by the hidden organ. F
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Subversion, transcendence, and rejection history in the fiction of contemporary Chinese avant-garde writers… Yu, Zhansui 2008
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