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Journey within : the inward turn of the contemporary Chinese novel Kong, Shuyu 1996

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JOURNEY WITHIN: THE INWARD TURN OF THE CONTEMPORARY CHINESE NOVEL by SHUYUKONG B.A, Peking University, 1988 M.A, Peking University, 1991 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of Asian Studies We accept this thesis as conforming to the reqired standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA November, 1996 ©Shuyu Kong, 1996 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of . /H I CW> >Vi/ich-frj> The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date \lMV\ DE-6 (2/88) A B S T R A C T This thesis examines the inward turn of the contemporary Chinese novel: a tendency in fictional narrative to move from representing social reality and political events from an "objective" point of view to exploring personal experience, especially the interior world of human beings, from a subjective point of view. I take three novels published in the early 1990s as examples: Yu Hua's Crying in the Fine Rain(\99\), Ge Fei's On the Margins (1992), and Wang Anyi's Fact and Fiction: One Way to Create a World (1993). I demonstrate a new narrative mode emerging, with thematic innovations and formal changes, against the background of the collapse of Communist collectivist ideology and the "master narrative" of socialist realism. In these three works, first-person autobiographical narrators are employed to explore personal experience and private life, a space once repressed and forbidden in modern Chinese literature. Reflections on growing-up, personal memory of the past and the imaginative search for identity can thus be read allegorically as a Chinese Bildungsroman of the awakening consciousness of Self. This new narrative not only emphasizes the importance of inner territory, but also ushers in a subjective writing which has greatly altered the appearance and conception of the Chinese novel. Chronological line is broken up into a psychological temporal order; plot and event become obscured within mental scenes; and omniscient didactic voices are replaced by self-conscious, reflective minds. Such individualistic, modernist narratives challenge the former collective, socially-oriented "realist epics" produced since 1930s, providing an alternative form and function for the modern Chinese novel. T A B L E OF C O N T E N T S Abstract ii Table of Contents iii Acknowledgement iv INTRODUCTION 1 Chapter One The Modern Chinese Novel: Individual and Society 30 Chapter Two Crying in the Fine Rain 64 Chapter Three On the Margins 121 Chapter Four Fact and Fiction 175 CONCLUSION 240 BIBLIOGRAPHY 246 iii A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S I am grateful to Professor Michael S. Duke, my dissertation supervisor, for his rigorous academic training and consistent support. He read several drafts of the proposal and manuscript, and gave me numerous insightful suggestions regarding both my general argument and the details of my style. Special thanks also to Professor Catherine Swatek, for her inspiring course in vernacular fiction, for kindly letting me share her books and magazines, and for her valuable commentary and corrections of the manuscript. Colin S. C. Hawes has my deep gratitude for his unfailing interest and confidence in both myself and this work: without his encouragement, patience and support, particularly his English correction and proof reading throughout the whole writing, this dissertation would have remained unfinished. At last, I must acknowledge a debt to the Faculty of Graduate Studies at University of British Columbia, whose generous fellowships enabled me to pursue a doctoral degree. iv Introduction In 1985, the Chinese critic Liu Zaifu M # %. published an influential article entitled "On the Subjectivity of Literature" (Lun wenxue de zhutixing r£ X ^ f$ 3£ W-t4). In spite of the debate surrounding this paper that was soon curtailed in China for political reasons, Liu published another article overseas five years later to explain and further develop his original notion of the "subjectivity of literature." * In these two articles and other relevant articles published during that period, Liu examines the loss of subjectivity in Chinese literature over the last several decades. He points out that under the influence of the theory of mechanical reflection (jijie fanyinglun #1 WL J5. 8& ifc), literature is considered simply "a reflection of social life," and in Liu's view, this "fails to accommodate the essential freedom and transcendence of literary practice, and disregards the writer's subjectivity as much as that of the reader" (Liu and Tang, 66). As a result, not only are human characters in literary works deprived of their own individuality, inner spiritual conflict and autonomy, and turned into passive products 1 See "Lun Wenxue de zhutixing r& X # f$ ± t±" in Wenxue pinglun X # W ifc, 1985/6 and 1986/1 and "Zailun wenxue de zhutixing # r& X ^ $ £ f£ f£» j n zhishi fenzi % iR Spring, 1990. For translation of the second article, see "The Subjectivity of Literature Revisited," in Liu Kang and Xiaobing Tang eds., Politics, Ideology, and Literary Discourse in Modem China: Theoretical Interventions and Cultural Critique, Duke University Press, 1993. For the broader context and the history of the issues of subjectivity of literature in China, cf. Liu Kang's article "Subjectivity, Marxism, and Cultural theory in China," in the same book. For Liu Zaifu's other articles around the mid-1980s, refer to a collection of his criticism and literary theory, Wenxue de fansi X ^ f$ & (Reflections on literature), Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1986; for his most recent literary criticism and theory, see Fangzhu zhushen: Wenlun tigang he wenxueshi chongping X \fc $| j$ X ^ H i f (Exile the Gods: Outline of Literary theory and Reevaluation of Literary History), Hong Kong, Tiandi Tushu, 1994. 1 of the social environment and embodiments of class collectivity, but also writers are deprived of their creative subjectivity and "are primarily considered instruments engaged in this kind of reflection" (Liu and Tang, 66). Based on his liberal humanist idea of literature, Liu fiercely argues that literature should be a study of human beings (wenxue shi renxue ^ Jik A and should present human beings as spiritual Subjects whose "ontological existence is fundamentally a valuative existence. It is the source of value and also the basic measure of value" (Liu and Tang, 63).2 He thus advocates an independent, transcendent literature which not only represents, imitates and reflects the objective world, but also introduces a subjective spirit, or recognizes the spiritual world of human subjectivity. Liu's call for the rediscovery of human beings as subjects (zhuti 3£ ffi), and the revival of an autonomous literature is not just a rhetorical gesture. As the first systematic theoretical challenge to the Chinese Communist Party's policy regarding art and literature, which was epitomized by Mao Zedong's "Talks at the Yan'an Conference on Literature and Art" (Zai Yon 'an wenyi zuotanhui shang de jianghua ^ M f ^ ^ S J U i j f c ^ - h l ^ J if§), it is first a reflective examination of the institutionalized inhumanity and politicization of Chinese literature in Mao's regime. Second, Liu's ideas are a direct response to recent developments in contemporary Chinese literature of the 1980s, especially the deepening exploration of human experience which lies behind social reality. With the relative loosening of political control in the Post-Mao era and under the influence of Western modernist literature, Chinese writers since the early 1980s have gradually 2 The subjective agency in Liu's mind is not merely a function of human consciousness, but "the entire essence of the subject's existence. . .Its intension refers to inner determination or the features that structure the human subject's existence as such. Its extension covers the subjectivity manifest in the relationship between subject and object within the Subject, i.e., objectifiability" (Liu and Tang, 57). Thus Liu redefines the essence of literature "as a mode of valuation deriving from the realization of the subject's needs, rather than as a product of mimesis or merely the product of consciousness' active reflection of the world"(Liu and Tang, 63). 2 distanced themselves from the "reflectionism" and historical materialism of the socialist realist school, and have revived the tradition of humanitarian and critical realism established in the literature of the May-Fourth period. 3 Since the mid-1980s, with a new generation of Chinese writers maturing, an increasing number of literary works have provided evidence of the profound transformation of Chinese literature from collective writing (jiti xiezuo M W- M W), where the dominant ideology guides the uniform reflection of "objective reality," to individual writing (geti xiezuo ^  M ft=) where individual experience and the subjective perception of life are emphasized. Chinese fiction has managed to break from the norms of social realism and present instead a new modernist sensibility and imagination. In the field of fiction, this transformation can be detected particularly in the works of the so-called New Wave (xinchao Iff M) writers.4 Around the mid-1980s, in several 3 For Chinese literature during the period from 1977 to 1984, see Michael S. Duke's Blooming and Contending, Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era, Indiana University Press, 1985. 4 Here I use "New Wave Fiction" as a term including different schools and writers, from the so-called root-seeking writers like Ah Cheng and Han Shaogong through the so called Avant Garde writers such as Ge Fei and Sun Ganlu, to writers who are difficult to classify like Ma Yuan and Can Xue. I basically follow Li Jie ^  RS'S definition of the novelty of these writings: in their aesthetic spirit, they abandon the narrow utilitarian approach to literature, and treat literature as an opportunity for formal experiment. See his "Lun zhongguo dangdai xinchao xiaoshuo i£ "t4 @ ^  ft If M iJcV' (On Contemporary Chinese New Wave Fiction), Zhongshan, 1988/5. It should be noted that since the mid 1980s, dazzled by the new phenomenon of different styles and formal experiments, Chinese critics have become enthusiastic labelers, and their movements or schools ("isms") have changed every two or three years. Examples include modernism (xiandai zhuyi M ft ± X), postmodernism (hou xiandai zhuyi M ft i X), new wave (xinchao^ M), post new wave (hou xinchao jfS If M), avant-garde (xianfengpai 5fe H M ), formalism (xingshi zhuyi ^ ± X), experimental fiction (shiyan xiaoshuo 3£?jk/hi&), neo-realism (xin xieshi iff new experience (xin tiyan Iff W- ^ ) etc. While this reflects the vitality of the recent development of Chinese literature, it also brings with it much theoretical confusion. Here I try to avoid such complex definitions, simply choosing new wave fiction to refer to newly emerging innovative literary writing since the second half of the 1980s. This is an influential trend which has greatly changed prevailing conceptions of reality and literature. In my opinion, this "wave" has not stopped even in the 1990s, as my later chapters will argue. 3 major Chinese literary magazines such as Harvest (Shouhuo Zhongshan # ill, People's Literature (Renmin wenxue A K X ^) and Shanghai Literature (Shanghai wenxue _h M JC #0> there was a sudden explosion of fictional works which displayed the distinctive personal styles of their authors to an unprecedented extent, by the standards of the last few decades, and dealt uncompromisingly with various aspects of concrete human experience. From Han Shaogong f$ 5b's symbolic allegories of Chinese culture and Chinese existence to Xu Xing ^ M's down-to-earth colloquial monologues of urban wanderers; from Ah Cheng M ftfc's refined stories of Chinese wisdom in ordinary peoples' lives to Can Xue $5 If's highly private, nightmarish words of a paranoid soul; from Mo Yan 3|£ pf's vigorous and sensory imagination of a glorious homeland of heroes and villains to Ma Yuan S, M's narratives of multiple perspectives describing exotic adventures in Tibet, these works mark a major revival of artistic sensibility and the individual perception of human life in Chinese fiction. Within two years, the writers of New-Wave Fiction were joined by a group of even younger writers, including Yu Hua zfc ^P, Su Tong 5^ m, Ge Fei | § #, Sun Ganlu # ~rT M, Hong Feng il$ and Ye Zhaoyan Bf ^ =f. As a group of young people who are themselves going through the process of maturing, their writings are particularly concerned with the personal experience of discovering the world and their search for an identity. Personal experience is often presented in their works as a guide to their understanding of life and the human existential situation in general. For example, Yu Hua's exploration of cruelty and violence in everyday life is often presented as a teenager's shocking experience of initiation; Su Tong's imagination of the past tends to be colored with a sense of the loss of innocence; Hong Feng's accounts of the coming of age are accompanied by a deeper comprehension of the difficulties and complexities of existence. Their writing has edged the artistic concern with subjective experience and self-conscious experiments with narrative language, begun by previous writers, even further in the direction of individualization. In the space of hardly a decade, Chinese fiction has 4 emerged from the shadow of politicized literature, and has started to ponder the nature of fictional narrative and the enormous variety of possibilities for presenting humanity and human experience. For the first time, modern Chinese fiction has been widely recognized in the West for its contribution to world literature, and praised for its distinctive Chinese voice. 5 What is the cause of this "avalanche"^  of subjectivity in literature? In describing the changing cultural forces that constitute the background of new wave fiction, I would like to adopt the term "residue of revolutionary experience" to define the kind of reality and experience that recent Chinese literature has captured. Using -> At least two major anthologies of English translations of New Wave Fiction have appeared since 1985: Henry Zhao ed., The Lost Boat: Avant-Garde Fiction From China, London: Wellsweep, 1993; and David Der-wei Wang ed., Running Wild: New Chinese Writers, Columbia University Press, 1994, both show the great changes in subject matter and narrative language experiments in these works of fiction. For general criticism of recent developments in Chinese fiction, see the inspiring foreword and afterword to Zhao and Wang's anthologies respectively: the former concentrates on the nature of Avant-Garde writers' formal experiments, the latter on recent fiction breaking away from traditional approaches to life and literary representation. Cf. also Michael S. Duke "Walking Toward the World: A Turning Point in Contemporary Chinese Fiction," World Literature Today, Vol. 63, no. 3. Translation of individual writers is also a flourishing venture. Recent publications include Can Xue, Dialogues in Paradise (1989), and Old Floating Cloud: two Novellas (1991), trans, by Ronald R. Janssen and Jian Zhang, Northwest University Press; Ah Cheng, Three Kings: Three Stories from Today's China, trans. Bonnie S. McDougal, London: Collins Harvill, 1990; Mo Yan, Red Sorghum, trans. Howard Goldblatt, New York: Viking Penguin, 1993; Liu Heng M f l , Black Snow, trans, Howard Goldblatt, New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993; Su Tong, Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas, trans. Michael S. Duke, New York: Morrow, 1993; Rice, trans. Howard Goldblatt, New York: Morrow, 1995; Yu Hua, The Past and the Punishments, trans. Andrew F. Jones, University of Hawaii, 1996. 6" This word is used by the Chinese critic Li Tuo, who is also the mentor of many of these young Chinese writers, to describe the sudden emergence of a new literary generation and its effect on modern Chinese literature — he feels that a totally new type of writing has resulted, breaking away from former literature. See his "Xuebeng hechu" i f ffl fpj (Where Is the Avalanche?), preface to Yu Hua, Shibasui chumen yuanxing •+* A # tB f l M ft (Leaving Home and Travelling Afar at Eighteen). Taibei: Yuanliu, 1990. 5 the word "residue" is an attempt to place emphasis less on the "revolutionary experience" than on the struggle to overcome that revolutionary experience — a process that has preoccupied Chinese people in the "post-revolutionary" transitional period.? Although Deng Xiaoping's regime assured Chinese people that they would "march" into a new period (xin shiqi Iff M) of post-revolutionary progress, fuelled by economic reform and relative loosening of social-ideological control, the construction of a post-revolutionary culture and identity has actually been anything but automatic. On the one hand, years of revolution in modern China, especially the last few decades of Communist revolution, have had an enormous effect on Chinese peoples' lives and their mentality. They are not just victims of revolution but also carry within them the ruins of revolution, since they themselves constitute a part of the reality in which they live. Moreover, the existing political reality of repression still overshadows peoples' lives in society — the obvious example being the June Fourth Tian'anmen Massacre of 1989 — painful evidence of the continuing influence of "revolutionary" ideology. On the other hand, within Chinese society there is a deep suspicion of this ideology and its related cultural institutions, including the Marxist-Leninist theory of class struggle, historical materialism and collectivism. Dissatisfied with the hypocrisy of the present regime, Chinese people are starting to look for an alternative foundation for existence to 7 Different terms, such as "post-Mao," "post-revolutionary," and "post-socialist" are used by scholars to distinguish contemporary Chinese society from the preceding three decades. Although China now is still officially governed by a "revolutionary" regime, since the theory and practice of revolution advocated by Mao Zedong and the CCP are no longer considered valid by the majority of Chinese people, and the society itself has undergone such immense changes in the last decade or so, it seems hardly justifiable to refer to the present Chinese society using the same terms as the 1950s and '60s. I here use the term "post-revolutionary " as a corollary to Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou ^ # j?'s reflections on 20th century Chinese ideology and the culture of revolution. Revolution in Liu's words, means "The radical action of subverting the present system and authority by means of massive violence." See Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou, Gaobie geming: Huiwang ershi shiji Zhongguo ^  M ^ -rarT: 0 M H + tft £B 4" . S (Farewell Revolution: Looking Back at Twentieth Century China), Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu, 1995. 4. 6 fill the blank space left by the collapsing revolutionary ideology. Beginning from the late 1970s and lasting throughout the 1980s, a trend or cult of introducing foreign ideas and culture developed that can be compared with the May-Fourth period, in both enthusiasm and the strong influence that it has exerted on society. Modern Western philosophy and literature, especially that of the so-called Modernist movement, have become an important source in the recent search for an alternative mode of interpreting life and imagination. In particular, existentialism has greatly influenced Chinese intellectuals and writers of the 1980s including those of the new wave fiction movement.** The literary imagination displayed in new wave fiction is thus a clear manifestation of the post-Mao residue of revolutionary experience, and provides a valuable historical record of Chinese people constructing a new identity and articulating their personal experiences. In the past decades of revolution, human experience has been highly "publicized" in various discourses, both social and literary, in the sense of undermining individual expression, deprecating individual worth, and suppressing personal identity. In order to overcome such a traumatic experience of collectivism and politicization, more recent cultural forms have inevitably reacted with an overflow of personal expression. As one 8 This introduction of Western philosophy, art and literature has been both extensive and very intense. Of course, translation provides Chinese readers with their main access to Western ideas, and numerous collections and series translating Western writers and thinkers have been published. For example, in the mid-1980s, counting only magazines that introduced and translated foreign literature, there were more than ten, the leading ones being Waiguo wenyi &h HI X "2, Shijie wenxue 1& Jf 3t ^ , Waiguo wenxue frh HI 3t ^ , Waiguo wenxue yanjiu $b HI X ^ St; %, Dangdai waiguo wenxue ^ f t HI ~X etc. Although these publications cover Western thought and literature from all periods, when compared with those of previous periods, e.g. the May-Fourth period, they have concentrated much more on 20th century writings, especially those of the so-called Modernists. With regard to book-length monographs, since the four-volume series Waiguo xiandaipai wenxue zuopin xuan 9b Hi M f t M. 3t ^ ft^  on i^, edited by Yuan Kejia M M and published through the early and mid-1980s, started to appear in 1980, outlining the development of Modernist literature this century, numerous other translations of Western Modernist writers have been published. 7 critic puts it, the "age-old deprivation of authentic experience"9 has resulted in a flood of self-expression and self-discovery. 10 As Chinese people attempt to reconstruct their identity as individual subjects, fiction in the post-revolutionary era has become a kind of "carnival" space of personal freedom and imagination, as well as a means of releasing pent-up emotional pressure. More concretely, the personal stories, records of love, desire, and nightmares, the abundance of confessional first-person narrators, and the crowding of works with personal symbolism and imagery that mark new wave fiction can be sharply distinguished from the fiction of even the May-Fourth generation, let alone Communist period Chinese writers, who are generally obsessed with "China" and "Chinese people," and tend to promote a socio-political, utilitarian approach to literature. By contrast, the post-revolutionary generation often tries to avoid direct social or collective concern in fiction: writing has become an individual enterprise through which writers can project their imagination and daydreams: "What is it that a writer presents in fiction? I think maybe it is I who create such a life, and maybe this life doesn't exist in reality at all. As a writer, a creator, I am constantly questioning how I write, where my interest lies, and the way my imagination, my daydreams or my secret feelings and thoughts can be revealed and put into words." * * 9 Wang Jing, "The Mirage of'Chinese Postmodernism': Ge Fei, Self-Positioning, and The Avant-Garde Showcase" in Positions, vol. 1 no. 2 (Fall, 1993), 362, gives an excellent analysis of the relation between the seemingly apolitical Chinese Avant-Garde and the Chinese experience of "poverty." 1 0 A popular song entitled "yi wusuoyou" — % fft ^(I Have Nothing) by the Chinese rock singer Cui Jian H M best exemplifies the spiritual and physical poverty Chinese people feel in a post-revolutionary age. Cui Jian's song, which managed to capture the Chinese experience of doubt, anger and confusion so well, was most popular around the time of the June Fourth Incident of 1989. One study of popular culture in recent Chinese society gives many other vivid examples: see Zha Jianying, China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture. New York: New Press, 1995. 1 1 Su Tong, "Xiaoshuo de xianzhuang" /h ij£ f$ M ft (The present state of fiction), in Wenxue ziyou tan g ft ijfc, 1991/3, 100. 8 Another tendency in recent Chinese fiction can also be explained as a kind of residue of revolutionary experience. After the blind enthusiasm and passion for revolution of the Communist period, after the collapse of revolutionary icons and ideology, Chinese people in the post-revolutionary period have all experienced in different degrees the breakdown of a consistent collective experience, resulting in despair, confusion and loss of values, and a skeptical rejection of the prevailing ideological vision of outward reality. This collapse of the outer established order is doubtless responsible on the one hand for the sense of decadence or decline apparent in the literary presentation of history and contemporary life. 12 On the other hand, it has led to an inward turn to search for a sense of integrity that is not so dependent on outside circumstances. Thus, the interior world has become a site for resisting disintegration and a source of authentic experience. This inward turn helps to explain the obsessive exploration of psychological reality and subjective experience in much post-revolutionary literature, a characteristic of both the nightmarish world of Can Xue's madwomen and of Ge Fei's description of life exclusively through the lens of his characters' memories: objective reality is replaced in recent literary works by the perceptions and inner logic of human subjects. The situation of "all that is solid melting into air," 13 which Chinese people face in the post-revolutionary era, also explains the affinity contemporary Chinese writers feel for 12 There was a panel entitled "Decadence and Revolution: A Neglected Dialectic of Twentieth Century Chinese Literature" in the 1995 AAS annual conference, in which the discussion of the sense of decadence in both early Republican and contemporary fiction gave interesting insights into one aspect of the literary imagination in the late 1980s. There is one writer, Su Tong, who exemplifies this sense of decadence in his stories, which are frequently set in the early Republican period, for example, "Yijiu sansi nian de taowang — % H K ¥ fft M t," and "Yingsu zhijia |g M It Mt" For English translations of some of these works, see note 5 above. 13 I find a surprising similarity between 20th century Chinese society and its mentality, facing constant transformation from a traditional to a modern perspective, and enduring a series of catastrophes and revolutions, and the modernist experience that has transformed Western society, as described in Marshall Berman's book All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, Penguin Books, 1988, especially the following quotation from Marx: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are 9 modern Western literature, especially modernist writers such as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not surprisingly, the Modernists' concern with alienation from society, their turn inward to search for a more solid sense of integrity, and their belief in the importance of subjective existence have resonated with Chinese writers within their own similar yet distinctive Chinese experience. Only against the background of this residue of revolutionary experience can we understand why Liu Zaifu's enlightenment-inspired discourse promoting the "aesthetic reconstruction of human subjectivity" has had such an influence in Chinese literary circles, and appreciate the way in which his theory is deeply rooted in present Chinese literature. Central to the reconstruction of subjectivity is the reconstruction of the self ^  as an individual and spiritual subject aiming for a sense of moral integrity and personal forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men" (89). This comment expresses perfectly what many Chinese people feel after three decades of revolutionary chaos, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Yet what should be kept in mind is the fact that the melting vision of the outside world in China seems to lead to a reaffirmation of individual, self and inner world, not a radical doubting of humanity itself A vivid example of this experience can be found in the Chinese film director Chen Kaige $k 0L iffc's description of his personal pilgrimage from former red-guard to individualist who believes in self and individual worth: Shaonian Kaige 'J? ^ 01 jjflt (Kaige as a Young Man), Taibei: Yuanliu. 1991. This book sheds some light on the disillusionment with revolution and collectivism and the formation of the individualistic outlook among intellectuals in the post-Mao era. Chen argues that this individualist tendency occurred because the Cultural Revolution forced Chinese people to search for another truth; he himself provides a fine example of the idea that truth and maturity can only be obtained through reflection on personal experience. 14 The following description of the dimensions of selfhood might give some idea of what I am going to discuss later: Selfhood involves being self-aware or reflective; being or having a body; somehow taking into account the boundaries of selfhood at birth and death and feeling a continuity of identity in between; placing oneself in a generational sequence and network of other connected selves as forebears and descendents and relatives; being in partial communion and 10 identity. As several critics have noted, the narrative of self has been one of the most important concerns of post-Mao Chinese literature, especially since the late 1980s, ^  and this tendency is perhaps most clearly manifested in the revival and development of first-person narration. Though certainly aided by an explosion of individualism and the changing relation between state and individual during the 1980s, 16 the narrative of self, I suggest, is an attempt to heal one of the deepest wounds of revolution: that of self-alienation and self-annihilation. As one Kafkaesque story of the late 1970s, "Who Am I?"(Wo shi shui f £ M. i'S) shows, the huge gap between public identity and personal memory that opened up during the Cultural Revolution caused such terrible inner conflict communication with other contemporary selves, while experiencing an irreducible separateness of experience and identity: engaging in joint and individual enterprises in the world with some degree of forethought and afterthought: guiding what one does and appraising what one has done at least partly through reflection on one's performance; feeling responsible, at least sometimes, for one's actions and holding others responsible for theirs. M B . Smith. "Perspectives on Selfhood," American Psychologist, 33 (1978), 1053-63. 15 Intriguingly, and surely not coincidentally, I notice that several important critical articles on recent Chinese writers and their works have taken the approach of "narrative of self," though their interpretation of the nature of this self is quite different, for example, Chen Maiping, "On the Absence of the Self: From Modernism to Postmodernism?" in Inside Out: Modernism and Postmodernism in Chinese Literary Culture, ed. Wendy Larson and Anne Wedell-Wedellsborg. Aarhus University Press, 1993; Zhang Xudong 3fc % "Ziwo yishi de tonghua" g & M "IR fKj fit ©(Fairytale of Self-Consciousness) in Jintian 4^ ^ (Today), 1990 no. 2; Tang Xiaobing "Residual Modernism: Narrative of the Self in Contemporary Chinese Fiction," in Modern Chinese Literature, vol. 7 (Spring 1993); Anne Wedell-Wedellsborg, "Ambiguous Subjectivity: Reading Can Xue," in Modern Chinese Literature, vol. 8 nos. 1 & 2, and the panel entitled "The Exploration of Self in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Cinema," at the 1996 AAS Annual Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii. 16 There is a special issue on "The Individual and the State in China" in The China Quarterly, No. 127 (Sept, 1991). The articles collected in this issue concede that although there is still a long way to go to build a civil society from a former totalitarian state, there is certainly a tendency in present Chinese society towards weakening political institutions and collective action, with a corresponding rise of individualism. A similar argument and examples are also given in a book about Chinese society in late 1980s: Perry Link, Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China's Predicament. New York, Norton, 1992. Both indicate a growing sense of self and reclamation of individualism, especially among Chinese intellectuals. l l that it could only result in schizophrenia and finally self-destruction.1' However, the desperate cries of the heroine, far from revealing a unique, abnormal mental disorder within one individual, demonstrate rather the real sense of alienation felt by Chinese people throughout society, when the enforcement of an oppressive public identity crushed their sense of self: "She looked around confused, feeling that her self was melting and breaking down into dust, into air, little by little becoming thinner and thinner. She felt a 1 ' This short story which was published in the late 1970s immediately after Mao's death, is worth mentioning as I would like to predicate my understanding of the narrative of self in the three novels I examine against the dark experience expressed by this work: Zong Pu ^ lilt's "Wo shi shui" i t i f (Who Am I?) is one of the hundreds of stories.of "the literarure of the wounded" that attacked the Cultural Revolution from the vantage point of the late 1970s, though with a rather didactic tendency and prosaic style. The striking quality of this story is that it presents the sense of self-alienation the heroine suffers and stresses the evocation of her remaining personal memories. The heroine, a college teacher who has devoted her life to research and teaching, suddenly finds herself treated as a bearer of poison by her students and an enemy of the people in the Cultural Revolution. After suffering insults and public criticism for a long time, her nerves finally break when one evening she comes home and finds that her husband, who is also a scientist, has hung himself in the kitchen. After wandering helplessly on the campus she drowns herself in a lake. In describing the insanity of the heroine, this story reveals the horrific and confused images and illusions that appear in the heroine's mind. She first sees herself as an ox demon and snake spirit (Niugui sheshen 4 1 %, tyfc ffi^ a n image provoked by the recent accusations and by passersby treating her with nothing but disgust. However her suffering consciousness also brings back her childhood memories of being the precious flower of her parents, and of her own past as a hard-working and patriotic intellectual. With these conflicting images of self, she is torn between public accusation and personal memory, and terribly confused by the question "who am I anyway?" For Chinese readers, the huge gap between public identity and personal memory presented here is far from simple mental derangement; it is a true depiction of the extreme situation of political dehumanization in a revolutionary society under a Communist regime. The alienation of a human being from herself is embodied in the enforcement of the public identity that crushes her sense of self and personal memory. The public identity has deprived people of their self-conception, and their personal identity is replaced by a vision that others have created. The end of the story, with the heroine's final realization that she is a human being only coming as a prelude to drowning herself in the lake, implies the impossibility of existence as a subjective self in such an inhuman time. See "Wo shi shui?" in ZongPu xiaoshuo sanwen xuan ^  i H i& ffc 3t (Selection of Fiction and Prose by Zong Pu), Beijing chubanshe, 1981. 12 nameless horror, and screamed: 'I, this disappearing I, who am I anyway !?"' (Zong, op.cit. 138) Moreover, the subordination of self was not only a social political reality but also operated in cultural institutions, including those controlling literature, previous to the 1980s. Revolutionary Literature (geming wenxue^- p^" X ^) as "a literary system centred around (or dominated by) a revolutionary ideology" 18 is based almost entirely on the assumption that literature is a tool for reforming society and awakening the political consciousness of the masses, and hence should guide them to strengthen their political and collective identity. Such literature necessarily restricts moral and intellectual reflection and flights of aesthetic transcendence in order to propagate one particular dogma. It replaces the writer's personal observation of life with a uniform illustration of Marxist and Maoist class struggle theory. For example, the socialist-realist novels produced in modern China, from Ding Ling T 5^ 's The Sun Shines on the Sanggan River (Taiyang zhao zai sanggan he shang X PH M & ^ M ± ) in the late 1940s, to Hao Ran #$'s Golden Road (Jinguang dadao ^ k^bX HI) of the 1970s, no matter what particular ideology they may promulgate, all tend to portray human life from a social and political approach. The reality presented is always an "objective reality" devoid of mature examination of individual experience: a progressive process guided solely by historical materialism and class struggle. Both the world and the people within it are depicted quite impersonally from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, a pseudonym for history. As a result, the novel becomes simply the "realist epic of a nation." 1 ° Here I use this word not in the defensive sense in which communist writers use it, but in the critical sense of Liu Zaifu when he examines the harmful effects that radical ideology has on literary writing. Refer to Liu ZaifAi and Lin Gang # m, "Ershi shiji zhongguo guangyi geming wenxue de zhongjie Z l + 1ft £5 *P @ T X "f% X¥ fft £n ," Zhishifenzi, vol. 7, no. 3. 13 Hence modern Chinese literature became for some time a mirror of "socialist" reality, exclusively emphasizing peoples' socio-political relations and representing characters merely as embodiments of social forces. This view of historical process and socialist reality not only simplifies and distorts concrete human experience and various other aspects of reality, but also reduces human individuals to the position of instruments of such and such a political project or objective. There is no longer any need to deal with the subtleties of individual personality: characters are simply encoded as representatives of a certain class or type, whether cadres, peasants, capitalists, or people in between (zhongjian renwu flU A etc. Such a vision of human beings as mere political creatures obviously must neglect the humanist values of individual worth and dignity, and ignore the moral strengths and psychological complexities of each individual. Corresponding to this political approach to literature, there even emerged a Maoist-style literary language (Mao wenti % 3t 'fr).!9 A study of the various aspects of revolutionary literary style, from vocabulary and syntax to rhetoric, shows its didactic and abstract nature and its lack of sensory qualities that would normally arise from an interest in individual experience. 19 This phrase was coined by the Chinese critic Li Tuo ^ f>% who uses it to define the literary language that originates from and is best represented by Mao Zedong's political essays. Li Tuo argues that the language in Maoist literature is abstract and didactic, conveying judgment but lacking sensory qualities, and bearing constant political undertones. See his "The New Vitality of Modern Chinese Fiction," in Larson, Wendy & Anne Wedell-Wedellsborg, eds., Inside Out: Modernism and Postmodernism in Chinese Literary Culture. Aarhus University Press, 1993. In a detailed study on the language and style of modern Chinese prose works, Edward Gunn also makes a similar argument about Maoist writing. See Edward Gunn, Rewriting Chinese: Style and Innovation in Twentieth Century Chinese Prose. Stanford University Press, 1991. Chapter 6. Reading a few pages of Communist writer Hao Ran's Jinguang dadao i£ it A M (Golden Road) will give an idea of what this language is like. Mao-style language was first challenged in the early 1980s by Wang Meng's "stream of consciousness" and parodies of revolutionary language in his fiction. However, it was only after 1985 with the emergence of new wave fiction that highly lyrical language, with personal style and sensory particularity, became widespread in contemporary Chinese literature. 14 By contrast with the revolutionary period, literature in the post-revolutionary era is obsessed with the expression of personal and previously suppressed experience, the exploration of the inner world and psychological reality. It is therefore no surprise to find that this literary reconstruction of subjectivity has found its clearest voice in a new generation of Chinese writers with a quite different life experience and literary education from their Communist predecessors. There are at least two characteristics shared by recent writers: first, they belong to the generation born in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and while they were still in their adolescent years, the Cultural Revolution had collapsed and most of the original revolutionary patriarchs had died. Society was soon transformed from a superficially classless mass into a multi-layered complex with a prevailing atmosphere of skepticism and nihilism among its younger members. Unlike the generation of their grandparents or parents, these writers' experiences involve not the construction of the myth of revolution but the cataclysmic collapse of that myth. Compared with previous generations of Chinese writers, those belonging to this new group lack any sense of connection with history or enthusiasm for socio-political endeavours. Second, these writers were educated, or "reeducated," during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they had a relatively broad and positive contact with Western literature and classical Chinese literature as the xenophobic and anti-traditional atmosphere of the 1960s relaxed. At the same time, they developed new beliefs centred around individualism, which grew out of their reflections on the collapse of collective identity and were reinforced by existentialism and other Western modernist ideas from Nietzsche to Sartre, steadily introduced into China since the late 1970s. This combination of influences has produced an extreme attraction to individualism, with its strong consciousness of self and identity, wedded to an existentialist fascination with the individual facing an alienated world. 20 20 One recent article entitled " Wu wang wo—geren zhuyi de suxingyu fcmsi" j& 7& it - t A ± X f S I I ^ S S (Don't Forget the Self — The Awakening of 15 Perhaps the most distinctive feature of these writers is that they all started their writing careers in their adolescent or early adult years, and on the whole, it is the adolescent experience that they first describe with their personal voices and formal experiments. 21 In an interesting article entitled "The Complementary Youth Consciousness" (Hubu de qingnian yishi 2 # fit) W ^ M iR ) 2 2 two Chinese critics first detected this new artistic sensibility developing among younger Chinese writers during the late 1980s, including Liu Suola Xu Xing , Ma Yuan, Hong Feng, Yu Hua, Su Tong and Ge Fei, which they called "Youth Consciousness" (Qingnian yishi W M iR). This sensibility, they argue, although at first sight an understandable consequence of these writers' age, or the bio-psychological stage of life they have reached — all of them being still in their twenties or early thirties at that time — has more recently developed into a special perspective from which they perceive and understand the world. Their subject matter involves personal experiences closely related to their developing consciousness, such as sexual initiation, school years, or fascination with the past and with their roots. Stylistically, their writing reveals an autobiographical quality most clearly represented by the close identification between the protagonist, the narrator and the implied author in many of their works. These writers have consciously established their artistic personae as young people searching for selfhood and the truth of life, and Individualism and Reflection upon It) in Dushu i|? (Reading), 1995/12, is a distinctive manifesto of the individualism that has developed since the early 1980s. It challenges the whole idea of "selflessness" and collectivism, which the author feels leads to self-annihilation and anti-humanism. Interesting is the fact that the author Liu Junning ^ x claims that "the theory of No-self is a value in a society with a planned economy, and it is not compatible with a market economy." 21 The three most promising young writers Yu Hua, Ge Fei and Su Tong all published some excellent works in their twenties, and in one way or another, they all seem fascinated with the narrative of their adolescent experience, and tend to make use of an adolescent or young narrator. See for example, Su Tong's series of stories about boyhood life; and Yu Hua's "Shibasui chumen yuanxing," and the novel I discuss below. 2 2 Wang Zhen & $ and Xiao Hua $ % "Hubu de qingnian yi shi" S # fft ^ if ^ iR ( The Complementary Youth Consciousness ), in Dushu, 1989, 7-8. 16 have adopted a lyrical narrative emphasizing the expression of sentiment rather than event. In sum, inner experience and feelings, and the dreams or nightmares of restless souls have become the source of their imaginative creations. 23 Although I don't agree with these critics' attempt to divide the group of young writers into earlier and later stages, and relate them to modernism and postmodernism respectively, I feel that they are absolutely correct when they claim that the main interest of the writing of this generation is its intensely personal focus. It is such a characteristic, which connects these writers with the reconstruction of the individual self on a national scale, that I have delineated above: their rebellious impulse, self-assertion, and expression of the distinctive emotions of youth are inextricably entwined with the general social tendency of disillusionment with collectivism and rediscovery of self in the post-Mao era. Apart from its exploration of the self, one of the most visible changes brought about by new wave fiction is a revolution in the use of literary language. In this aspect, and especially in its conscious experimentation with narrative techniques, new wave fiction is comparable to the literary revolution of the May-Fourth period. The highly individual experience that these young writers try to present obviously cannot be contained and shaped by the impersonal and abstract Maoist language of the socialist realist mode that I mentioned above. Thus Western literature has not only affected the content of contemporary Chinese fiction, but has also played a major role in aiding Chinese writers in their search for an alternative narrative language. These writers consciously "borrow" 23 Here my definition of Youth is as follows: Youth as a bio-psychological stage refers to the transitional period from childhood to adulthood, and this progression from dependence to independence involves one central experience: the discovery of self. Thus this transition has an enormous effect on the formation of one's world-view and value system. It is also, as many artistic and aesthetic theories argue, a crucial stage in terms of developing artistic sensibility and later creative concerns. A book on childhood life as presented in literature with an existential approach has greatly inspired me in interpreting the personal growth theme in the young generation of Chinese writers, and its relation with the reconstruction of self in a broader sense. See John Hodgson, The Search for Self: Childhood in Autobiography and Fiction since 1940, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993. 17 many of the expressive techniques of Western fiction, again concentrating especially on the modernist literature of this century. 24 As a result, new wave fiction is distinguished by its numerous technical innovations, from the use of arcane and private symbolism and sensuous imagery to stream-of-consciousness, inner monologues, the adoption of multiple perspectives and the blurring of reality and fantasy.25 At the same time, each writer has developed his or her own unique style: Can Xue makes extensive use of private symbols and imagery; Mo Yan of sensory language; Ah Cheng adopts a refined, precise vernacular; Han Shaogong's works display a kind of allegorical realism; Ma Yuan's metafiction explores the nature of reality and fiction; Yu Hua's use of magic realism questions the boundary between illusion and reality;26 Ge Fei's riddle-like narration reflects the logic of dreams and memory; and Su Tong expresses his nostalgia for the past in an unmistakably lyrical tone. These formal experiments on the whole display not merely a game of words but rather an awakening literary subject, full of philosophical curiosity and epistemological sophistication. A self-conscious view of fictional language as an intrinsic entity, and consequent emphasis on the difference between literary language and common communicative language, has gradually developed. Treating literary language as an 24 An extensive reading of the articles published by these young Chinese writers about their writing and education certainly leaves me with the strong impression that most of their favorite writers — and thus those who have affected their own writing to the greatest extent — are those Western Modernist writers whom I referred to above. With the exception of Lu Xun, Shen Congwen and a few others, modern Chinese writers are virtually ignored. I will give more detailed evidence for this point in my chapters on Ge Fei and Yu Hua. 25 Here I confine my discussion to Mainland Chinese literature. Certainly the modernist movement in Taiwanese literary circles in the 1960s and 1970s showed many similar qualities, and much earlier than the Mainland. For Taiwanese modernism, see Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang, Modernism and the Nativist Resistance: Contemporary Chinese Fiction From Taiwan, Duke Univ. Press, 1993. 26 Here I am thinking of Yu Hua's early works before 1990. His later novels like Huozhe ^ (To Live) are in some ways realist works in a more traditional style. For further discussion, however, see my chapter on Yu Hua. 18 "indeterminate narrative language" (bu queding de xushuyuyan f$ §>l J £ in pf),2^ as the young novelist Yu Hua calls it, not only aims for a true and reliable expression of personal perceptions, but also expresses the belief that fiction has its own aesthetic and ontological existence, which is an end in itself. Language is not just reflective but self-sufficient and creative. This "formalist" approach to language and literature is especially manifested in the works of Ma Yuan, Ge Fei and Sun Ganlu, who among new wave writers have shown the greatest awareness of the self-reflexive nature of narrative. And in this reflexive aspect, the revolution in literary language of the 1980s has certainly exceeded that of the May-Fourth generation. The present study has germinated from my reading of recent Chinese fiction, mainly the so-called new wave fiction by the younger generation of writers mentioned above.2** As a student of modern Chinese fiction, I have been struck by the new angle and fresh experience of human life expressed in their works, and impressed by their enthusiastic experimentation with fictional forms. This impression gained substance and clarity when I read three novels published successively in the early 1990s, in one of the most important literary magazines, Harvest. In 1991, Yu Hua, one of the most promising young writers in Chinese literary circles, published his first navel Crying in the Fine Rain (Zai xiyu zhong huhan M M •t4 5^).2^ This is a story of an abandoned boy growing up in a cruel and violent 2 7 Yuhua zuopinji ^ ^ ft^  PO M (Collected Works of Yu Hua), 3 vols. Beijing: Zhongguo shehuikexue chubanshe, 1995, vol. 2, 284. 2 ^ My reading has been mainly in several of the most important literary magazines — since in China, literary works usually first appear in the hundreds of literary magazines spread over the country. These include Shouhuo l|£ Wl, Zhongshan # ill, Huacheng , Wenxue Siji 3t ^ 03 Renmin wenxue A K 3t Shanghai wenxue, and Beijing wenxue AlMX.^. The short stories and novellas of other contemporary writers also show a similar consistent attempt to establish a new literary tradition. 2^ Huhan yu xiyu 9!£ M (Shouting and theDrizzle) first appeared in Shouhuo, 1991/6; when it was collected in Yuhua zuopinji 4k ^  ft^  OP % (Collected Works of Yu 19 environment. Taking the form of a mature adult's recollection of his boyhood life and family relationships at that time, this novel is not only uncompromising in exposing the harshness of human bonds, especially family relations — one of Yu Hua's trademarks — but also manages to display a profound concern with personal growth, including both the boy's and the reflective narrator's deep feelings of fear, pain and loneliness. Here Yu Hua also continues and explores further the theme of his early works: that of a young man's initiation into a cruel and chaotic world. Though as I have noted, fiction writers have been dealing with similar themes since the mid-1980s, Crying in the Fine Rain is one of the first novel-length works from the Chinese Mainland to explore childhood and adolescent life from the perspective of personal growth, and hence marks a new stage in the development of the Chinese novel. The voice of Yu Hua's reflective narrator preoccupied with his memories was soon echoed by another novel published in 1992, Ge Fei's On the Margins (Bianyuan JU In this work, the narrator-protagonist is a centenarian who has experienced almost all the important events of this turbulent century in his life of frustation and depression, from the founding of the Republic to Deng Xiaoping's reforms. However, presenting itself as the old man's remembrance of his past, the novel concentrates on personal events and private feelings. The narrator-protagonist's meditations on love, hate, death, friendship and memory thus provide a lyrical account of a human being trying to overcome outer chaos, hatred and darkness by affirming his inner existence. In 1993, Wang Anyi 3: f£c fZ.'s autobiographical novel Fact and Fiction: One Way to Create a World (Jishi he xugou: chuangzao shijie de yizhongfangfa £2 $^ lS Hua, Beijing: Zhongguo shehuikexue chubanshe, 1995), the title was changed to "Zai xiyu zhong huhan", which I have followed here. In this thesis, my analysis and the page numbers given below are based on the book forms of the three novels. The translations are mine. 30 Bianyuan :& % was first published in Shouhuo, 1992/6, later published in book form by Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1993; 20 &l & tft I?- — # ?£)31 introduced yet another first-person narrator. Written in the style of a "Kunstlerroman" (artist-novel), the novel develops along two separate lines. One is the autobiographical account of the narrator-protagonist growing up in Shanghai, developing from a worried, lonely child into a confident, imaginative writer. This part covers the first forty years of her life, and her various adventures. The other line is an imaginary family history created by this writer, descending from a remote minority tribe in the North in the 5th or 6th century to her mother's generation in 20th century Shanghai.32 The novel thus involves a meta-narrative in which the process of constructing an imaginative world is framed into another process of an anxious urban artist endeavoring to solve her identity crisis by means of writing. "Fact and fiction" therefore refers to two simultaneous ways of creating the world on paper. Despite their different styles and thematic concerns, all of these writers have chosen a first-person narrator to introduce personal stories and inner experience, and this overwhelming presence of the first person singular in the contemporary Chinese novel is an important formal and thematic breakthrough, as my later examination of the formal conventions of the modern Chinese novel will demonstrate. Moreover, my reading indicates that this first-person narrator is a narrative strategy to reappropriate and empower the individual, and once more place the self in a subject position. By making a narrating "I" tell his or her own story retrospectively, mostly in the form of memories and reflections, these works present a quite different view of human life and humanity from previous novels — whether those espousing social realism or socialist realism. And the 31 An abridged edition of Jishi he xugou: chuangzao shijie de yizhong fangfa £5 % M OA i t tft | f f# — # -ft & was first published in Shouhuo, 1993/2. The complete edition was published in book form by Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1993. In the following chapters, I will just use Fact and Fiction to refer to it. 32 Fact and Fiction is part of Wang Anyi's autobiographical fiction project. This novel is root-searching on her mother's side. A novella called Shangxin taipingyang jfc ;0 A # (The Sorrow of The Pacific Ocean) is root-searching on her father's side. For Shangxin taipingyang, see Shouhuo, 1993/3. 21 fact that the "I" in these three novels is both the narrator and the character described, both an experiencing subject and a narrating subject, adds to the intensity of their expession of selfhood. Universal themes of growing up, family life, inner anxiety and private feelings are the shared subject matter of these novels, and the search for identity and personal integrity become their central preoccupations. Those familiar with the development of the Chinese novel and its tradition of social realism, cannot fail to note that examples of the genre since the 1930s have mostly adopted impersonal omniscient narrators, establishing an objective approach to human life as the dominant narrative mode of the novel. The representation of reality in the fictional world is mostly "sociological" — in other words, reality in Chinese novels means social reality, with political and social events as central, and characters as social types with little psychological complexity. I will deal with this aspect in more detail in the following chapter. Here I just note the dramatic change of perspective that the use of vulnerable first-person narrators in new wave novels reveals when placed against the background of the last few decades. For the foregoing reasons, these most recent novels have convinced me that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, linked with the general transformation of Chinese literature that I delineated above, an inward turn has also occurred in the development of the Chinese novel. By inward turn,33 I refer to a tendency in fictional narrative to move from representing social reality and political events from an objective point of view to exploring personal experience, especially the interior world of human beings, from a subjective point of view. This inward turn, placed in the generic context of the development of the modern 33 The word "Inward Turn" has previously been used by Erich Kahler to describe the internalization of reality in Western narrative. He argues that "the direction of the interacting development of consciousness and reality is to be a progressive internalization of events, an increasing displacement of outer space by inner space, a stretching of consciousness." See The Inward Turn of Narrative, trans, by Richard and Clara Winston, Princeton University Press, 1973.1 have been greatly inspired by this book in my attempt to describe contemporary Chinese writing. 22 Chinese novel since the 1920s, is an important stage that deserves scrutiny and evaluation. I have thus decided to examine this tendency in detail in this thesis by using the three novels mentioned above, by Yu Hua, Ge Fei and Wang Anyi, as my case studies. My approach to the present study will be as follows. First, rather than a separate study of individual texts, I place my discussion in the generic context of the development of the modern Chinese novel, and treat my textual analysis of these three novels as a demonstration of the appearance of a new narrative mode. From subject matter and characterization to narrative point of view and temporal order, I examine how these works embody a discontinuity with former conventions. The reason I choose the novel as an example of the recent transformation of Chinese literature is that, compared with short stories, the novel is more systematic in dealing with whole stretches of human life and reality, and a successful novel usually gives the reader a relatively complete vision of human life and reality. As one scholar claims, it "can give a set of attitudes as regards society, history, and the general culture of which the novel is a part."34 I hope that by investigating the forms and meanings in these three novels, I can delineate more thoroughly and comprehensively the changes in recent fictional representations of human life and experience. Moreover, the Chinese novel of the past decades has been the most politicized genre in the field of literature. It has established a whole socialist realist mode of interpreting human character and reality. So by placing my examination within its generic context, I can provide a clearer and more precise evaluation of the thematic and formal changes in the Chinese novels of the 1990s, and make a more solid historical evaluation of those developments. Secondly, the similarity of these three novels in their use of first-person narration has led me to examine the development of this technique in the modern Chinese novel. 34 "Introduction," Ed. Philip Stevick, The Theory of the Novel, The Free Press, 1967, 3. 23 First-person narration was introduced into Chinese fictional narrative early in the May-Fourth period, and was one of the greatest literary achievements of the individualism and subjectivism that characterized the May-Fourth spirit; yet the experiments in first-person narration of that period remain rather limited. The narrating self is virtually always identified as the immediately experiencing self; and the interest of this straightforward narrator still largely lingers on external events, most of which continue to affirm the centrality of social and political life. Such narratives present the human mind as simply a "mirror" directly reflecting the outside world. The true potential of first-person narration is still left unexplored, including the attempt to treat the problem of personal experience and its tension with historical truth, or the inner mechanism of human feelings and consciousness. Moreover, first-person narration in the May Fourth period is confined to experiments in short stories and novellas, and except in very few cases, it is not incorporated into the novel. And even these primitive experiments with first-person narration were cut short by outside socio-political interference, and the voice of the first-person singular was silenced for decades, along with the individualism and subjectivism characteristic of May-Fourth literature, until the late 1970s. 3 5 In the early 1980s, first-person narration was reintroduced into experimental fiction. The inner monologues or stream-of-consciousness in some of Wang Meng 3E =|!'s short stories, Zhang Xinxin ¥ ^ and Bei Dao it Bs's novellas, and Dai Houying M J - > For the achievements of first-person fiction in May Fourth literature, see Lydia H. Liu, "The Politics of First-person Narrative in Modern Chinese Fiction," Ph. D dissertation, Harvard Univ., 1990. Liu argues that the appearance of first-person narration in Chinese literature is "a formal correlative of individualism and pluralism" which "responded to a historical need, the reconfiguration of modern Chinese men and women as self-conscious subjects." I find a similar situation in my reading of first-person narration in the 1980s. Another interesting point that Liu makes is that first-person narration in the May-Fourth period dramatizes the confrontation between the educated subject and the other (the underprivileged), something that I have not detected in fiction of the 1980s. 24 M- ^'s novels, are, as scholars have noticed,-'0 technical innovations aiming at presenting the innermost feelings and thoughts of Chinese people.37 And it is no coincidence that these urgent, confessional, sometimes rather too garrulous narrators are intellectuals or dissidents who have been suppressed into silence for years. However, first-person narration during the first half of the 1980s still doesn't venture much beyond the level of May-Fourth period experimentation. The later development of first-person narrative since 1985, and especially after 1987 with the emergence of a younger generation of Chinese writers, has led in diverse directions and plumbed greater depths than ever before, for instance, in Can Xue's exploitation of subjective perception to present a distorted and tormented soul; or Ge Fei's experiments with first-person narrators to examine the complicated relation between past and present, memory and reality. As I have indicated, this fascination with first-person narration has also extended into novel-writing. More and more novels have adopted first-person narrators, and writers have increasingly displayed an interest in exploring the formal possibilities of first-person narration in the novel. 3 8 By examining these three novels, I wish to ascertain the 36 An early article by Leo Ou-fan Lee is one of the first examinations of the relation between technical experimentation and literary dissidence in post-Mao fiction. See his "The Politics of Technique: Perspectives on Literary Dissidence in Contemporary Chinese Fiction," ed. Jeffrey C. Kinkley, After Mao: Chinese Literature and Society 1978-1981. Harvard Univ. Press, 1985. 3? This turning from a conventional outer perspective to a "direct" presentation of the inner world is best illuminated by the structure of Zhang Xinxin's novella "Wo zai nar cuoguole ni?" $c £ IP JL f t i t 7 ^ (Where Did I Miss You?), Shouhuo, 1980/5. The beginning and the conclusion give an objective depiction of the heroine working as a bus conductor, but the main part of the story is an inner monologue of this woman as she works. This shift in narrative conveniently indicates the similar change in much contemporary Chinese fiction. 38 Except for the three novelists I am discussing here, Tie Ning | £ H , Meiguimen 3& H(Rosy Gate), Wenxue siji ^ 23 1988; Zhang Xianliang ]B. Xiguan siwang >} 'IH it TT (Getting Used to Death), Wenxue siji, 1990; Yu Hua, Huozhe M i f (To Live), Shouhuo, 1992/6; Liu Heng, Canghe bairimeng I M S 9 ^ (Daydream of the 25 extent to which the potential of first-person narration has been realized in the contemporary Chinese novel, especially with regard to presenting human beings as autonomous individuals or spiritual beings, and bringing a poetic insight, along with psychological intensity and depth, into the dialectical relation between our existential situation in the world and our inner lives. Third, and related to the second point, the common interest of these three novels in the self— both as narrating subject as well as experiencing subject — provides a concrete basis on which to examine a controversial question in recent discussions of new wave fiction, namely, what kind of subject is presented in the works of the new generation? Two recent studies of new wave fiction, Lu Tonglin's M/sogy/iy, Cultural Nihilism & Oppositional Politics: Contemporary Chinese Experimental Fiction, and Endless Challenge: The Postmodernity of Chinese Avant-Garde Literature ( % jil $J $k ^ S 5fe % X # f# /r3 M ft ft) by the Chinese critic Chen Xiaoming U m have both touched on this question from different angles, yet provide rather disappointing answers. Lu's book also reads the most recent works of fiction as articulating the search for a new identity for the subject in post-revolutionary society. However, from a feminist perspective she finds, not surprisingly, that male writers of experimental fiction display an attachment to the hierarchical power structure that they are superficially attempting to subvert, thus it becomes a flawed subversion. Chen's book purports to be a comprehensive examination of avant-garde writing in the late 1980s, concentrating on the narrative revolution. Chen argues that a post-modernist attitude towards the human subject and literature characterizes new wave fiction, particularly with regard to its ahistorical, decentralized approach, its conscious lack of depth in presenting human life, and its devaluation and deconstruction of the Self in opposition to the affirmation of Self and individualism in Romanticism and Modernism. Chen's book is representative of Old River), Shouhuo, 1993/1; and Zhang Wei % Baihui M, Shouhuo, 1995/2, among others also experiment with first-person narration in their novels. 26 younger critics in China, who have become the main commentators on new wave writing since the older generation of Chinese critics, trained in theories of literature as reflection, has retreated. ^  9 Both books, in spite of their unique approaches, appear inadequate to me, and fail to address some basic questions in interpreting the nature of the subject re-established in recent Chinese literary works. The main problem with Lu's argument is that in her haste to discover misogynistic trends, she drastically over-simplifies the relation between male writers and female writers, and between male writers and their fictional female characters.4^ Chen and other avant-garde critics, on the other hand, seem intent on pursuing the world-wide fashion of postmodernism and trying to prove that Chinese writing has not been left behind. Although it is true that some individual sentences and themes in these works could be interpreted as postmodern, when placed in their context and read as part of a whole, they suggest quite different conclusions. The fatal weakness of both arguments, in my opinion, is that they neglect one of the most important experiences that is engraved in the hearts of every Chinese woman or man and reappears throughout recent Chinese revolutionary history, cultural institutions, and especially literary discourse, namely, the terrible effect of the subordination of self, leading to the 3 ^ A similar argument is made by other young critics like Zhang Yiwu M Wang Ning j£ and so on. For example, Chen Maiping, cited in note 15 above, argues that "'postmodernity' is associated with an inclination against individualism, and the absence of self in Chinese literary texts is also an expression of'postmodernism' in Chinese literature." Inside Out, op.cit. 90. For further discussion of these younger critics' ideas, see my later chapters, especially on Yu Hua and Wang Anyi. 40 Lu's study is a flawed literary study, whose defects should be noted in spite of the author's claim to be engaging in cultural, rather than purely literary studies. Lu ignores some basic principles of reading a complex literary work, and reduces many of these writings to mere repetitive proofs of misogyny. For example, she overlooks the basic difference between the subject matter and the attitude of the author, and in analyzing Yu Hua's fiction of violence, especially the violence executed against women which is only a part of Yu Hua's concern, she hastily concludes that it is justified and supported by the author. Literary works can certainly be used to provide evidence for studies in sociology, history or culture, but these must be based on respect for literary works as literature, and not on a simplistic or distorted use of them. 27 deprivation of the authentic experience of personal life, and the loss of identity of Chinese people. Thus, it seems to me that both Lu and Chen's discussions of the post-Mao subject are biassed and misguided. By contrast, my major concern is to locate the three novels with which I am dealing as important milestones in the process of reestablishing human subjectivity in Chinese literature of the post-Mao period. In the following chapter, I will give a brief survey of the development of the tradition of social realism in the modern Chinese novel, from its origins at the turn of this century until the socialist realism of the Maoist era. Here it is not my intention to give a comprehensive picture of the modern Chinese novel, but only to provide a generic background for the three novels of the 1990s, to be analysed in subsequent chapters. On the whole, the modern Chinese novel has adopted a socio-political orientation in presenting human life. Historical milieux, omniscient narrators, chronological plots and social-type characters have become generic characteristics of the Chinese novel during the last several decades. The socialist realist novels of the 1950s and '60s finally terminated the potential of the genre for presenting human life and exploring human experience, until the post-Mao reform period. The following three chapters separately deal with the three individual novels that I introduced above. In each chapter I first give a general introduction to the writer's works, which will create a proper context for my interpretation of each novel. I then concentrate on textual analysis of the three novels. My analysis, though intended as inclusive, encompassing the themes, characters and structure of each work, will focus especially on the forms of rendering consciousness and their implications. Frequently, I place the situation of self presented in these three novels against the backdrop of modern social reality, especially as regards the idea of self in China. Since the obsession with self manifested in the three novels presents a kind of collective experience in the post-revolutionary era, involving the anxiety of personal identity and the authentication of personal memory and experience, these three novels might therefore be 28 read allegorically as a collective bildungsroman of the awakening consciousness of self China. 29 Chapter 1 The Modern Chinese Novel: Individual and Society The novel, an "extended narrative of fiction written in prose," 1 is a relative newcomer to the narrative family, developed over the last three hundred years. As a genre, it distinguishes itself from other kinds of fiction not only through its formal appearance — "a large diffused picture of life"2 containing "greater variety of characters, greater complication of plot, ampler development of milieu and more sustained exploration of character and motives"(Abrams,130) than other narrative forms — but also through its particular poetics based on modern epistemology and philosophy. In the West, the novel as a product of bourgeois culture is closely related to individualism and philosophical realism. In his study on the early English novel of the 18th century, Ian Watt points out that "the modern novel is closely allied on the one hand to the realist epistemology of the modern period, and on the other to the individualism of its social structure . . . the modern field of vision is mainly occupied by the discrete particular, the directly apprehended sensum, and the autonomous individual"-^  Based on the belief that the pursuit of truth is a wholly individual matter, the investigation of the external world in the novel is often presented through personal experience and subjective perception. Thus in the novel, the sense of reality is achieved through the confrontation of 1 M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1993, 130. 2 This is Tobias Smollett's defination, see Philip Stevick ed., The Theory of the Novel, The Free Press, 1967, 11. 3 Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Penguin Books, 1981. 68-69. 30 the human individual with the world outside the self, and the exploration of the nature of reality is through a process of "disillusionment" of the critical consciousness of individuals. This idea is clearly illustrated by the typical norms of the novel. Novels usually describe the everyday world and have an individual being (sometimes several individual beings) as their protagonists throughout; the exploration or development of these individuals constitutes the main plot of each novel.4 Other important aspects of the novel like point of view and tempo are also related to this idea of particular and individual experience. Thus, as Maurich Z. Schroder says, "The Bildungsroman is not merely a special category: the theme of the novel is essentially that of formation, of education, "5 "an education into the realities of the material world and of human life in society." He believes that the central action of the novel is "the quest," and that the protagonist of a novel is always an individual who progresses from a state of innocence to a state of experience through time and space. Thus, others have concluded that the novel is a form where "most representational meaning in narrative lies in the area contested by the individual and society."^ From the 18th century English novels, represented by Fielding, Defoe, and Richardson, to the 19th century French realists Stendal, Balzac and Flaubert, until the modernists of this century, such as Proust, James Joyce and William Faulkner, the novel has undergone great changes in both formal appearance and vision of reality and human nature. Yet there is a certain consistency in their efforts, in that the novel has continued to 4 This emphasis on a central character and his/her consciousness is especially obvious in the case of Henry James, who asserted that "the consciousness of a central character gave the novelist not only his materials but his form." Richard M. Eastman, A Guide to the Novel, Chandler Publishing Company, 1965, 127. Henry James's theory and practice of the novel are together regarded as one of the most important stages in the development of the novel form. 5 Maurich Z. Schroder, "The Novel as a Genre," in Stevick ed., The Theory of the Novel, 16. 6 Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, "The Problem of Reality: Illustration and Representation," in Stevick, The Theory of the Novel, 378. 31 discover new understandings of reality and human nature, not only in the social, public area, but also in private, individual life; not only in social manners and outward behavior, but also regarding the inner world and human consciousness. And these discoveries are often presented as the individual's interaction with a society outside the self. It is the dynamic relation between the individual and society that still allows the aesthetic possibilities of the novel to flourish. In China, the extended fictional narrative, "vernacular chapter-divided fiction" (baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo if? M 0 /h i&), in the pre-modern period represents a quite different tradition from the Western novel form.7 Both in origins and form, the Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo has a much closer relation with historical narrative. As Andrew Plaks has shown in his ambitious project of examining Chinese narrative from a comparative perspective, due to the overwhelming importance of historiography in Chinese narrative and the lack of an epic genre in the narrative tradition, Chinese literary narratives assume more the function of "transmission of actual or hypothetical fact" than their Western counterparts. 8 They pay more attention to historical events and truths, and social didacticism, rather than individual experience. This conception of viewing human experience from a historical perspective is manifested in many aspects of traditional Chinese narrative. First, most Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo are centred around historical events, or at least assume the guise of history, for instance the famous works Romance of the Three Kingdoms H HI \% X and Water Margin 7jC both of which are traditionally seen as additions to historiography. 7 Although some scholars, like Plaks, argue that there is a striking correspondence between the essential qualities of Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo and the Western novel, and in fact in Western studies of Chinese literature it is a common practice to refer to these extended prose works produced between 16th and 19th centuries as "classic Chinese novels," I still feel there is a clear distinction between the two generic traditions which is not overcome until the 20th century. If I use the term "classic Chinese novel" below, it is only for convenience, since it is not as unwieldy as "vernacular chapter-divided fiction." 8 See Andrew Plaks, "Full-length Hsiao-shuo and the Western Novel: A Generic Reappraisal," in New Asia Academic Bulletin, 1 (1976) 32 Although within its own tradition, the Chinese novel has also gradually undergone a change "from historicity to fictionality," finally developing an autobiographical sensibility in the late Qing dynasty,9 the most representative examples of premodern vernacular fiction emphasize world affairs rather than human consciousness (zhong shishi er fei renxin filtt^ M ^ A JL>). It is this attempt to define the human world and experience from a historical perspective that has resulted in the value of Chinese fiction often being judged by its relation to history or its ability to survey historical events. At its worst, the novel is merely defective history (baiguan yeshi ^ If Sf jfe); at its best, it provides an important "supplement to history" (bu shi zhi que # Jsti ^  $9). ^ Second, this perspective also affects the structure of Chinese novels: rather than being tightly unified around the single process of becoming of one character or a group of characters, as in most Western novels, Chinese novels are normally episodic in structure, and adopt multiple focuses based on events that are often only loosely related. Even if, as some scholars argue, there are inner unitary patterns such as "complementary bipolarity" and "multiple periodicity" beneath the surface events, 11 these organizing patterns are still y Recent research on Chinese narrative theory and vernacular fiction has claimed that by the time of Qing dynasties, Chinese narrative moved away from the central fixation with historicity, and actually gained a strong autobiographical sensibility in which the individual is the central concern. See Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu, From Historicity to Fictionality: The Chinese Poetics of Narrative, Stanford Univ. Press, 1994; and Martin W. Huang, Literati and Self Re-presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the Eighteenth-Century Chinese Novel, Stanford Univ. Press, 1995. 10 Although some recent scholars argue that there is irony in the use of the conventional storyteller, and actually great Chinese novels as a whole are based on ironic principles, the emphasis on the similarity of these works to historical writing as a means of justifying spending time on fiction is very obvious in traditional criticism and comments on the novel. These two sayings about the nature of fiction are quite typical of traditional fiction criticism. For some English translations of such criticism, see David Rolston, ed., How to Read the Chinese Novel, Princeton Univ. Press, 1990. 11 For instance, Plaks, in his research on Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng %L W) and the four masterworks of the Ming dynasty. Refer to his Archetype and Allegory in the 'Dream of the Red Chamber,' Princeton Univ. Press, 1976; and The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel, Princeton Univ. Press, 1987. But some scholars like C.T Hsia find Plaks' argument unconvincing, claiming that he overstates the case: see Hsia, 33 based more on general philosophical ideas about human life and the cosmos than on an individual viewpoint. Third, not only are traditional Chinese novels based on social, historical and religious norms rather than those of the individual, but the narrative point of view is confined to an outside, omniscient one. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo is a simulated context of public storytelling, with a narrator who adopts the storyteller persona, comments on the characters or events and gives a general didactic framework. In this aspect, the storyteller, just like the narrator of official historiography, is not an individual but "functions as a technician-demonstrator" 12 to confirm the norms. The moral visions in Chinese novels are usually conformist and their tone is didactic. Fourth, in characterization, while the heroes of Western novels are often esteemed for their unique personal character, the characterization of human figures in traditional Chinese novels emphasises social or religious types rather than individuals, and little attention is paid to the development of the latter. Individual existence "falls into specific functional roles defined by the society" and is defined through "the interplay and overlapping of types" (Plaks, Chinese Narrative, 344). 13 "Chinese Novels and American Critics: Reflections on Structure, Tradition, and Satire," in Peter Lee, ed. Critical Issues: East Asian Literature, International Culture, 1983. 12 This is the central point of Cyril Birch's argument when he compares the narrative modes of pre-modern vernacular fiction and modern Chinese novels. See his "Change and Continuity in Chinese Fiction," in Merle Goldman, ed., Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era, Harvard Univ. Press, 1977. 386. 13 Nevertheless, there is controversy about the extent of stereotyping in Chinese fiction. Some claim that "the psychological makeup of individual characters in their literature is often as predictable as the operation of Karma in many short stories from the seventeenth century San-yen and Erh-p 'o collections" (Joseph S. M. Lau); but others declare: "The heroes of Chinese fiction, it is generally agreeed, are much less individualized, much more 'types'; the author tries to characterize them by one or two essential traits, displaying also little attention to individual psychology, but rather showing their nature through actions and conversations . . . But just as Western fiction managed to create many completely uninteresting individuals, Chinese fiction created many convincing types" (W. L. Idema). See J. S. M. Lau, "Duty, Reputation, and Selfhood in Traditional Chinese Narratives," in 34 Scholars have tried to define the Chinese novel as based on its own aesthetic characteristics and philosophical implications, arguing that the Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo is comparable with the Western novel, both in its intellectual origins and its adoption of basic generic principles like irony. I 4 Yet I am more convinced by the arguments of other scholars, that despite the formal realism shown in some Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo, the genre more resembles Western forms like romance, allegory or satire than the novel with its focus on individualism and realism. 15 The first confrontation of these two literary traditions and a subsequent growth in the popularity of the genre of fiction took place at the turn of this century, in the late Qing and early Republican period. It was in this period that, aided by the flourishing of literature in big cities and strong advocacy of "revolution in the field of fiction" (xiaoshuo jie geming i& # ^ by social and political reformers like Liang Qichao M- )a M, fiction for the first time replaced classical Chinese poetry to become the most important genre of literature, both as a serious enterprise playing a significant role in social reform, and as the most popular genre read by urban dwellers. Robert E. Hegel and Richard C. Hessney ed. Expressions of Self in Chinese Literature, Columbia Univ. Press, 1985, 366 and note 34 of Lau's article. I 4 The most enthusiastic among these scholars is Andrew Plaks, whose academic interests not only lie in interpreting individual novels as coherent, profound unities, but also in seeking the basis for a Chinese narrative tradition. He also consciously places Chinese novels in a comparative context in an attempt to justify applying the word novel to premodern Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo. See his "Full-length Hsiao-shuo and the Western Novel: A Generic Reappraisal," in New Asia Academic Bulletin, 1(1976); "Towards a Critical Theory of Chinese Narrative," in Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays, ed. Andrew Plaks, Princeton Univ. Press, 1977; and The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel, Princeton Univ. Press, 1987. For the other side of the argument, see Hsia's critique, note 11 above. 1 5 For example, Cyril Birch feels that premodern Chinese fiction is basically allegorical in nature. See his "Change and Continuity in Chinese Fiction," in Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era, Ed. Merle Goldman, Harvard Univ. Press, 1977. 35 As part of a general tendency of learning from the West, there was a large-scale introduction of Western novels into China from 1898. However, at first those novels that were translated were mainly popular works with less literary value — detective and political novels, and romances — and the translations, which varied greatly in quality, showed more interest in the content of the works than in their literary form. However, with more works being introduced all the time, and more emphasis on the artistic quality of literature being translated, Chinese writers began to notice and incorporate Western literary ideas and techniques. The so-called New Fiction (Xin xiaoshuo §Jf /h i&) of this period loosened the grip of the traditional story-teller approach, and its experiments in plot structure and point of view had a great effect on subsequent modern fiction. 16 However, by the first decade of this century New Fiction had still not accomplished the transition from the pre-modern Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo to the modern Chinese novel. The narrative form still largely inherited the conventions of its predecessors, and the imitation of Western techniques was superficial and inconsistent. The real obstacle to a fully-fledged Western style novel was the lack of a concept of the human being as an individual subject with an independent standpoint from which to observe reality. In fact, the modern Chinese novel didn't truly emerge until the advent of the so-called May-Fourth cultural enlightenment. Like certain other genres in modern Chinese literature, the modern Chinese novel of the May-Fourth period was created under the impact of the Western novel, and took a 16 Recent scholarship on the origins of modern Chinese fiction has broadened its research horizon to include the late Qing period, and considers that the transformation of Chinese narrative — challenging traditional norms and aesthetics — involves a process lasting from 1898 to 1927. Chen Pingyuan | ^ J^, points out the importance of New Fiction as a transitional period from the classic novel to the modern novel, and he thinks this process can be divided into two periods: one is that of New Fiction (1898-1916), the other of May-Fourth fiction (1917-1927). Refer to Chen Pingyuan, Zhongguo xiaoshuo xushi moshi de zhuanbian "t4 HI 4s i& i£ ¥ lit ^ fftJ $t 3£ (The Transformation of Chinese Narrative Modes), Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1988; and Melina Dolezelova-Velingerova, ed., The Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century, Univ of Toronto Press, 1980. 36 path quite different from the classic Chinese novel.1' In subject matter, it emphasized individual experience and current social affairs, rather than history; in characterization, it usually dealt with a single central protagonist throughout; in narration, it aimed for a single focus and coherent unity of narrative. Even the language, which writers called modern vernacular, can be distinguished from the pre-modern vernacular of previous novels and the classical Chinese of other prose genres: it is a new language combining colloquial speech, western syntax and vocabulary, some classical expressions, and later, regional dialects. Yet the most distinctive feature of the modern novel is its conception of individual experience and the consequent standpoint from which it defines reality. The development of this conception is related to a general cultural tendency towards individualism and humanism which I will briefly analyse here. The May-Fourth cultural enlightenment was a Western-oriented and anti-traditional cultural movement. The most important modern ideas advocated by its proponents, apart from the slogans Science and Democracy perhaps, were the Western 1' Here I use modern Chinese novel to refer to extended fictional narratives from the 1920s onwards. Classic Chinese novel refers to Baihua zhanghui xiaoshuo (vernacular chapter-divided fiction) written between the 16th and 19th centuries. The distinction between modern and classic novels is certainly not just a temporal one. As I will argue below, the modern Chinese novel broke away from traditional norms and aesthetics and established its own approach to reality. A brief comparison of a typical classic novel, Rutin waishi WiW&b^l (The Scholars) by Wu Jingzi =^WiW and the modern novel Wei cheng B i$l (Fortress Besieged) by Qian Zhongshu # 45, both of which deal with Chinese intellectuals, clearly reveals the differences in both thematic concerns and narrative manner. Although some critics have tried to claim vernacular chapter-divided fiction as its basic model, in practice the modern novel borrows very little from the earlier Chinese tradition. Here, I would like to point out that I confine my study to what might be termed elite literature, and don't attempt to include traditional-style popular fiction, which was actually read more widely than May-Fourth literature in urban centres and seriously competed with the latter in the first two decades of this century. Popular fiction displayed quite a different relation to both Western culture and traditional fiction. For this aspect, see Perry E. Link, "Traditional-Style Popular Fiction in the Teens and Twenties," in Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era, ed. Merle Goldman, Harvard Univ. Press, 1977. 37 concepts of humanism and individualism. These were embraced by Chinese intellectuals as part of a positive liberating discourse, and guided them in constructing a new culture and literature that for the first time attempted to treat human beings explicitly as individuals. The idea of romantic individualism, with an autonomous individual as the moral centre of a universe acting as a spiritual subject in opposition to society, not only worked to emancipate individuals from family and state, but also inspired the literary ideal of reconstructing a humanist literature. Lu Xun # ffl , the most celebrated writer and thinker of the May Fourth period, following Yan Fu F1 Jt, believed that the advance of Western culture was not based on material factors, but rather that the spirit of the individual and individualism were the true guiding forces of modern Western civilization, and Chinese culture should adopt and assimilate such a way of thought. Using "modern" Western romantics like Byron, and modernist thinkers such as Nietzsche as his examples, he called for a new literature with a powerful individual voice that could defend truth, cause new life to stir, but not conform to or please the crowd. ^ In an essay entitled "Humane Literature" (Ren de wenxue A fft) which clarifies the idea of humanism advocated in May-Fourth literature, Zhou Zuoren jW| ft^  A , another important critic and writer of the May-Fourth period, claims that the discovery of "humanity" has been the major achievement of Western culture since the enlightenment. Based on his radical iconoclastic position, Zhou drew a one-sided conclusion that, in China, "the problem of man has never been solved, not to mention the problems of women and children"; * 9 and "in the literature of China, in fact, there has been extremely little humane literature" (Denton, 156). Hence to advocate humanitarianism, one should start with literature. Humanitarianism he defines as "an individualistic ideology of basing 1 8 "Moluo shili shuo | t W jj i&" (On the Power of Mara Poetry), English translation mModern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature 1893-1945, ed. Kirk A. Denton, Stanford Univ. Press, 1996. 19 Zhou Zuoren, "Humane Literature", in Denton, Modern Chinese Literary Thought, 152 38 everything on man" (Denton, 154); "the humanitarianism that I have in mind therefore starts with man, the individual" (Denton, 155); and "writing that applies this humanitarianism in recording and studying all questions concerning human life is what we would call humane literature." (Denton, 155) Such a "Mara Spirit" and individualism are clearly manifested in the practice of modern fiction, particularly the stories of Lu Xun. His intellectual critique and moral contemplation of the inhumane practices common in Chinese society and the "sick nature" of the Chinese character are also matched by his technical advances, for example, the symbolic dimension, the use of irony and experiments with different kinds of narrators. 20 Following Lu, May-Fourth fiction, for the first time in Chinese literature, became crowded with urgent individual voices and subjective perspectives in conceiving reality. Confessional, autobiographical fiction focusing on the experiences and sentiments of individuals predominates, and even though most of these works are still concerned with broader social problems, they examine reality from a personal, independent standpoint. At the same time, first person narration, the epistolary diary, and other new narrative frameworks allow writers to open up an interior world of human sentiments and feelings. During the first period in the development of modern Chinese fiction, the decade after 1917,21 m e short story quickly reached a high level of achievement. Yet perhaps ^0 Lu Xun's practice in fiction, however was mainly confined to short stories, and except for a novella "Ah Q zhengzhuan" PRTQ I E # (The True Story of Ah Q), he didn't write any works that might be termed novels. 21 Here I adopt Lee Ou-fan Lee's division into three periods of development of modern Chinese fiction — the beginning phase: 1917-1927; fiction of the thirties, 1928-1937; and literature of war and revolution — in his "Modern Chinese Fiction: An Interpretive Overview," conference paper. This categorisation is also accepted by other scholars of Chinese fiction. See Wu Fuhui #1 M M, "Shenhua zhbng de bianyi: Sanshi niandai Zhongguo xiaoshuo lilun ji xiaoshuo" U it "t4 f# 3£ H + ^ ft II /Mj£ S i£ Jk fh i& (Variations in Intensification: Chinese Theories of Fictions and Novels from the 1930s), Shanghai wenlun ±MX i£, 1991/5; and Qian Liqun ^ M f¥, "An Overview of Chinese Theories of Fiction from the 1940s," trans Steven P. Day, in Modern Chinese Literature , vol. 9 no. 1 (Spring 1995). 39 because of its sheer length and grand structure, making the novel more difficult to master, the first group of modern Chinese novels didn't appear until the early 1920s. And in the early stages of the modern Chinese novel (1921-1927), most published works are relatively short in length, narrow in scope, and exhibit great inconsistency and immaturity in their use of narrative form. The first two novels in modern Chinese literary history were Zhang Ziping jftc W ^'s Alluvial PeriodFossil (Chongjiqi huashi, £p MVC^B) (1922), and Wang Tongzhao z£ %t fll's A Leaf in the Wind (Yiye, — Hf) (1922). Both works are semi-autobiographical, and concern themselves with the personal experiences of young intellectuals during a turbulent time at the turn of this century. The protagonist of Alluvial Period Fossil, Wei Heming ^  t i "4, and its narrator "Mr. Xie," are students in Japan, and the protagonist of A Leaf in the Wind, Li Tiangen ^ fll, is a provincial student in Beijing. Both heroes find themselves deeply depressed and frustrated by their corrupt and impoverished society and begin to suffer from hypochondria. The novels describe their sense of hopelessness and sadness trapped in a society over which they have little control, focusing on their mental afflictions by describing both their observations of those around them and their own thoughts. Both novels also try to explain the present situations of their protagonists as influenced by their past, and tend to insert flashbacks to their childhood and early youth at home, and their earlier adventures in society. Their depression comes from their perception of China as a chaotic and unfair society, a fact that they continually encounter in their parents' miserable fate, their own growing up and the lives of people around them. These young adults inevitably remind the reader of Lu Xun's metaphor about Chinese society and the few who are aware of its problems, like people awakening imprisoned in an iron-walled house, helplessly suffering from the disjunction between ideals and reality. Both novels also try to depict their main characters as lonely but sensitive individuals who feel crushed by social forces, Chinese 40 tradition, wicked missionaries, the political revolution — in fact, almost everything that exists outside — and develop a deep personal distrust towards and fear of society. I should point out that as the first experimental works in a new genre, these two novels are quite immature and inconsistent in their point of view and narrative focus. But this first stage of the modern Chinese novel has nevertheless already broken away from traditional norms and aesthetics, and established a new narrative preoccupied with personal experience and adopting an individualistic approach to life. For the first time, the individual psyche is exposed in a direct and unapologetic way, and the modern novel can begin to allow the investigation of reality from an individual perspective. This subjective and experimental tendency is also apparent in other novels produced during this first period of modern Chinese fiction. Most of the novels before the late 1920s are slightly-veiled autobiographical fiction, and the authors model their protagonists directly on their own life experiences. Mainly describing young intellectuals who leave home on difficult journeys into society, on the one hand they reveal how corrupt and unfair the world around them has become, and on the other hand fiercely display their sentiments and their awareness of being helpless. Formally, first-person narration, epistolary novels and novels in the guise of diaries are most popular, since they most readily convey a subjective approach to life. Guo Moruo £fc ^ 's Trilogy of Wandering (Piaoliu sanbu qu M tfit H F$ ffl) (1924) and Falling Leaf (Luoye #k Hf) (1925); Zhang Wentian % U A's Sympathy (Tongqing |Wj If) (1924); and Jiang Guangci ^-itM'sThe Young Wanderer (Shaonianpiaobo zhe #) (1926) are representative examples of these tendencies. Even the language of May Fourth fiction also established the foundation for modern Chinese literature. Whatever the explicit claims of the early experimental writers, in practice they did not use a vernacular language resembling the style of premodern fiction, but wrote in a mixture of European-style translation, classical prose and poetry. 41 Generally, they managed to adopt a highly individual lyricism that captures and reproduces the sentimental experience expressed in their novels. Thus, viewing the period from the early 1920s till 1927, the Chinese novel is basically still in its experimental stage, and there are few works that display formal maturity. However, the genre of the novel has already helped to introduce a new epistemology and language into Chinese society and literature, and a greater concentration on contemporary life, which distinguishes it from traditional vernacular fiction. Incidentally, although in the novels of the 1920s there is a recurrent theme and image of the self as a lonely traveler,22 the Chinese novel hasn't yet developed a true bildungsroman form with a sense of the development of the individual. As I will suggest below, subsequent outside pressures probably prevented such an evolution until much later. Moving to the second period of modern Chinese fiction (1928-1937), more and more Chinese writers started to compose novels — in the three years from 1921 to 1923, fewer than ten novels and novellas had been published, but 1928 and 1929 alone saw the publication of more than one hundred novels and novellas.2-* A survey of these works reveals that the modern Chinese novel has become more accomplished in its narrative techniques and has gradually developed an important characteristic, that is, consciously relating personal life to socio-political life. 2 2 For the development of the theme and image of self and travel, especially in the works of Yu Dafu f$ i£> A , who is representative in this aspect among May-Fourth writers, see Leo Ou-fan Lee, "The Solitary Traveler: Images of the Self in Modern Chinese Literature," in Robert E. Hegel and Richard C. Hessney ed., Expressions of Self in Chinese Literature, Columbia Univ. Press, 1985. 2 ^ The source of these figures is the appendix, entitled "Zhongguo xiandai zhong-changpian xiaoshuo shumu 4* HI M ft 't4 fx Ira /JN i& 43 @ (List of Modern Chinese Novels and Novellas) to Liu Zhongshu M "t4 et al. ed., Zhongguo xiandai baibu zhong-changpian xiaoshuo lunxi 4* HI M ft "t4 fx ft /h i& ifc #T (On Hundred Modern Chinese Novels and Novellas), Jilin daxue chubanshe, 1986. 42 Two works published at the end of the 1920s represent the gradual maturity of the Chinese novel as well as this new consciousness of the individual in society. One is Ye Shengtao Pf ^ P^ 's Ni Huanzhi (U Z, 1928), the other is Mao Dun # Jjf's Rainbow (Hong $T, 1929). In many aspects, these two novels take a similar approach to the relation between society and individual. Ni Huanzhi, largely based on the author's personal experience in the area of education, depicts an intellectual's struggle to search for a meaningful life for himself and at the same time find a path to salvation for Chinese society. The protagonist, Ni Huanzhi, an ambitious reformer who hopes to save the country through education, finds himself trapped in a minor provincial post. Both disillusioned with the failure of his dreams to educate society, and frustrated by the mundane decline of his romantic relationship, he escapes to Shanghai and throws himself into the mass revolutionary movement. At the end of the book, he suddently dies after the revolution is dealt a terrible blow in 1927. In many ways, Ni's life represents the typical pilgrimage of May-Fourth period Western-oriented intellectuals: from education to revolution; from ambition to disillusionment with the present order. Through Ni's failure, awakening and death, the author seems to ponder the complicated relation of individual reformers to a society that seems beyond the reach of their enthusiastic efforts at reform, and to mourn the inability of bourgeois intellectual individuals to change the world around them. The whole novel, though narrated in the third person and using a mix of different kinds of omniscient narration, including editorial, neutral and selective omniscient narration,24 focuses on 24 Sometimes it is rather frustrating to analyse narrative in the Chinese novel according to narrative theory, for example, and concentrating as I do on point of view. Chinese novels seem disappointingly mixed and lacking in awareness of narrative technique, with little of the subtle control of point of view that writers like Henry James would require for a good work. This is largely due to modern Chinese writers' relative neglect of aspects of form, especially in the early stages of the modern novel. This shortcoming, however, is largely overcome by recent Chinese writers. The latest generation, including especially Ge Fei, Yu Hua, Su Tong and Liu Heng, has a very strong sense of form, and consciously 43 Ni's struggle to find a suitable role, and the reality around him and other characters is largely perceived from his point of view. Mei Xingsu tf§ f? M in Rainbow is a "new woman," another group that embodies very well the individualism of the May-Fourth period. Freeing herself from her husband and other entrapments, she pursues her new life in Shanghai, finally also throwing herself into the revolution. However, unlike the gloomy picture in Ni Huanzhi, Rainbow ends with an optimistic scene of revolutionary masses in the 1925 "May 30th Movement." In spite of its revolutionary tendencies, this novel, like Mao Dun's other early fiction about new women and young intellectuals, adopts the protagonist's perspective and presents the "psychological reality"2^ of an individual in a revolutionary era. Compared with the novels of the early 1920s, these two novels succeed in adopting a more consistent perspective and deeper characterization. Both novels involve a certain degree of character development, that is, in the narrative the main characters clearly go through physical and mental changes over time. If in the previous period, the characters had been more static, representing a fixed state or situation regarding the relation between individuals and society — for instance, the protagonists' constant alienation from society and helplessness — both Mao Dun and Ye Shengtao's novels clearly show interest in depicting the change and development of individuals through their encounter with society. Though certainly placed within a broader social environment, the hero/heroine's development provides the clue and focus that joins together the aspects of reality that are depicted. Social reality, and individual life with its reaction to that reality, are thus carefully integrated, and the protagonist's angle of perception of the people and society around her/him is also the angle adopted by the narrative. uses form to express its understanding of reality. This point recurs as part of my argument in later chapters. 25 C. T Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, Yale Univ. Press, 1971. 148. 44 Another new development in the modern Chinese novel of this period as represented by these two works is that, while still concentrating on the personal experience and psychological development of bourgeois intellectuals, their personal quest for meaning and freedom is deliberately set within the context of social change from the May Fourth Movement to the upheavals of 1927. There is a gradual strengthening of the sense of outside society impinging on the individual, which is best summarized in the review of Ni Huanzhi by Mao Dun, who is also an important critic of Chinese fiction in this period. In this article, Mao Dun first criticizes the early novels, which explore the psychology of the wandering youth of the May-Fourth period, yet remain "narrow and partial," and "have not captured the broader and more profound background of this wandering."26 Comparing Ni Huanzhi in this respect, he finds much to approve: "This is certainly the first full-length novel whose setting is the historical development of the past ten years. Moreover, it must be said that this is also the first work that consciously attempts to trace the development of one character — an intellectual from the petit-bourgeois class, full of revolutionary zeal — showing how he is influenced by the historical tide of the past ten years, how he moves from the countryside to the city, from single-minded devotion to education to mass movement, from liberalism to collectivism" (Denton, 297). This consciousness of historicizing the individual causes Mao Dun to regard Ni Huanzhi as a significant work, especially praiseworthy for two reasons: it "retraces the influence of this era (the May-Fourth period) on the minds of people," and "consciously attempts to depict contemporary phenomena or social life"(Denton, 297). What especially interests Mao Dun in this novel is its "historicity" (shidaixing 0^ '14).27 Apart from depiction of the social milieu, he defines shidaixing as consisting 26 Mao Dun, "On Reading Ni Huanzhi," in Modem Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature 1893-1945, ed. Kirk A. Denton, Stanford Univ. Press, 1996. 292. 27 Here I use Marston Anderson's translation of Shidaixing, and his explanation of this concept in Chapter 4 of The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary 45 of two aspects: how history affects the people; and how collective human effort hurries the realization of historical necessity. Mao Dun also uses shidaixing as a criterion in pointing out that, despite its achievements, the inadequacy of Ni Huanzhi stems from the fact that none of the characters show this "human effort," and especially that the protagonist is a bourgeois intellectual who can't carry out the revolutionary mission. He also expresses dissatisfaction that the subjective perception (geren de gannian 4" A f^fxJ f§t and personal activity {geren de huodong i"- A f^ J Sfr) of this novel prevent the author from presenting "historicity" fully. If the parallel between socio-political life and personal life in Ye Shengtao is spontaneous, since in that time any realistically depicted personal experience would almost of necessity include the socio-political arena, then Mao Dun's critique indicates that by the late 1920s a rational and conscious effort in the direction of historicizing personal life has become an essential commodity for the successful novelist. The concept of shidaixing also indicates another aim of modern Chinese writers, namely realism, which during the 1920s gradually became the dominant literary model in Chinese novel-writing. When the concept of realism was first introduced into China in the May-Fourth period, it implied only a vague idea that the novel should concern itself with the everyday world and human life. Lu Xun was the first writer to establish the May-Fourth tradition of critical realism, in which a polarity is set up between the individual as critical observer and the society as object of analysis. Later, critics like Mao Dun advocated realism both in theory and in practice, but its definition was never really stabilized. What Mao Dun contributed to Chinese realism was his attempt to view society as a whole, and his fascination with the intricate relationship between particular circumstances. He was greatly influenced by Hippolyte Period, Univ. of California Press, 1990. 124. It is clear that by this time, Mao Dun was strongly attracted by Marxism, and he uses it in explaining the fictional relation between the society and the development of the individual. 46 Taine's views of literature and its ties with historical epoch and national milieu, and became especially fascinated with the critical realism of 19th century European writers. He argued that the works of the French realists Balzac and Zola, and the Russian Tolstoy, reflect their times (fanying shidai ft) and display much skill in presenting social life in great detail.28 Yet interestingly, Mao Dun injected the Marxist theories of historical progress and Communist revolution into the "Balzacian" project of scientifically presenting the totality of life.29 Mao Dun's approach represents a reconceptualization of realism in the late 1920s, which slants the individual-society polarity firmly towards the social aspect. It is also a sign of the return to the traditional value of "Literature as a vehicle for the Way" (wenyi zai dao X M M), only this time, the "way" is Marxism. What one could call Mao Dun's social utilitarian approach to realism and his demand for a strong consciousness of social reality in fiction were quickly echoed by other writers. In fact, most Chinese writers (weighed down by their "moral burden") assumed some kind of social role in this time of national crisis: if they did not become revolutionaries in real life, they at least worked as activist sociologists or historians attempting to give direction to the nation through their writings, as the case of Mao Dun himself clearly demonstrates.-^  Such social activism had become particularly widespread after the collapse of the 1927 revolution. By that time, with the introduction and spread of Marxist ideology and the greater involvement of intellectuals in leftist political movements, individualism had begun to lose its earlier positive glow among Chinese intellectuals and became a negative 28 For Mao Dun's conception of realism, and the influence of Taine on his criticism see Anderson, Limits of Realism, op.cit. Chapter 4. 29 For detailed analysis of Mao Dun's linking of Zola, Tolstoy and others' literary theories with Marxism, see David Der-wei Wang, Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen, Columbia Univ. Press, 1992, Chapters 2 and 3. 30 David Der-wei Wang has commented on the intriguing relation between Mao Dun as a writer and as a revolutionary. See Wang, Fictional Realism. 47 manifestation of bourgeois ideology in opposition to social collectivism. The personal approach to life came to be regarded as inadequate, leading only to a dead end. And the allegorical ambition of depicting a whole epoch through an individual, reflected in the two works of the late 1920s mentioned above, foreshadows an important subsequent turn in the Chinese novel. It indicates the new direction that Chinese novelists would soon take, going beyond a personal and therefore "partial" perspective to reach a "direct objective description" (zhengmian de zhijie de miaoxie IE lU JHIi J L ^ i& of an epoch. This approach reaches its highest stage of development in the social realist novel of the 1930s. With the full-length novel becoming the dominant literary genre in the 1930s, the modern Chinese novel also reached its first peak and established a tradition of "social realism," in which "the focus of representation is the society as a whole, especially the countryside and rural reality."-^  1 Central to the achievement of the novel in this period is its ability to present social reality with both breadth and a deep humanist concern with social problems: poverty, corruption, moral degeneration and social injustice. The representative works of this period (1928-1937) include: Ba Jin G ^'s Family (Jia M) (1931), Mao Dun's Midnight (Ziye =f- (1933), Wang Tongzhao's Mountain Rain (Shanyu jJL| M) (1932), Xiao Hong i f it's Field of Life and Death (Shengsi chang *£L ^}) (1935), Li Jieren ^ pjt A's Ripples in Dead Water (Sishui weilan M> 7JC f( ?||) (1935), and Lao She % #'s CamelXiangzi (Luotuo Xiangzi %t # -?) (1936). From the countryside of Shandong to the provincial towns of Sichuan and the metropolis of Shanghai; from poor urban rickshaw-pullers, and peasants in the traditional-minded, poverty stricken countryside to the struggles of national capitalists in 3 1 Leo Ou-fan Lee points out that most modern Chinese fiction belongs to the category of "social realism." See his paper "Modern Chinese Fiction," op.cit. note 1. 48 newly developed centres of industrialization, the Chinese novel presents a panoramic picture of social reality in a changing time. 3 2 Most writers of the thirties inherited to a certain extent the May-Fourth tradition of humanism and critical realism that Lu Xun began, and attempted to diagnose what they considered the disease afflicting Chinese society and the Chinese people. Recording their own personal observations, they exposed the painful struggles within a Chinese society in crisis, and the spiritual and physical poverty of Chinese people. Although most of the novelists in this period were especially concerned with depicting social realities, their respective approaches to reality and style, both in presenting the different aspects of society and in their use of language and structure, nevertheless display distinctive personal idiosyncrasies. The focus on external reality actually resulted in a great variety of impressions of the social picture. The clearest illustration of this tendency is the flourishing of what later came to be called regional fiction. Working in such a large country as China, writers were able to concentrate on describing their favorite or most familiar corner. The regional novel with its "earthy flavor and local color" (Lee, "Modern Chinese Fiction") reveals their outstanding achievement in presenting the particular. To give just one example, South-west China is depicted by the Sichuan writer Li Jieren. His trilogy Great River (Dahe A M), including Ripples in Dead Water, Before the Storm (Baofengyu qian H J*l M HtT), and Great Waves (Dabo A covers the historical events of the late Qing period from 1894 to 1911, through the lives of characters belonging to the different classes living in provincial society. The trilogy acts as a social history with its vivid characterization and delineation of local customs. i l Another period in which the novel was preoccupied with social reality was the Late Qing. However, the novel of the 1930s differs in many respects from the earlier period, both due to its experiments in narrative form and the influence of May-Fourth writers' modern humanitarian spirit. 49 Moreover, these regional novels differ from each other not only because the places and characters they treat are different, but also because writers still retain their own individual approaches to, and understanding of, life. For instance, Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun M ¥ and other North-Eastern writers all describe northern China, especially under the Japanese occupation, but Xiao Hong's Field of Life and Death is unique in showing how natural catastrophe and the invasion of foreign forces have forced the peasants into a way of life no different from that of animals. The animal imagery used throughout exposes the inhuman existence of the characters, and works to transcend the immediate social situation and give universal implications to the story. Beside its attempt to capture the particularities of Chinese society, social realism was also instrumental in developing methods of characterization in the Chinese novel. With the whole society as the focus for the presentation of reality, the protagonists and characters of Chinese novels are no longer restricted to sentimental bougeois intellectuals, but include peasants, city poor, local gentry — the whole social spectrum. The novels of the thirties not only present a great variety of characters from all different social classes, but also establish the conception of "typification" (dianxing hua % M ft). 3 3 The main factor affecting characterization is the social environment, and often outside circumstances are shown altering the opinions and viewpoints of the protagonists and other characters in these novels. A clear example is Lao She's Camel Xiangzi, which shows how a young 33 in the early 1930s, Chinese Marxist critics Qu Qiubai H $i fz3 and Zhou Yang jf] % introduced Engles' theory of "typical circumstance and typical character" via the interpretations of Soviet critics, and since then the theory of "typification" has become one important aspect of Chinese socialist realism. Friedrich Engles, in a letter to a contemporary writer, claims that a successful novel should present "a typical character in typical circumstances" (dianxing huanjing li de dianxing renwu MM^fi^ELtfoMM. A $}) and literary characters should be typified to embody social class and class frictions. For the development of the "typification" theory in China, see Wen Rumin M. M Wi, Ximvenxue xianshizhuyi de liubian D f ^ t ^ S E ^ i X r ^ ^ l ^ (The Transformation of Realism in Modern Chinese Literature), Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1988. 141-144, 160-165. 50 rickshaw-puller's unexceptional ideal of living decently through honest work is smashed again and again by the conspiracy of various social evils, driving him to despair. Compared with the intellectual protagonists in novels of the 1920s, the psychological aspect is less developed than its social dimension. Yet the awareness of the sometimes terrible effect of circumstances on one's very identity contrasts with the rather static picture of human character in earlier novels, and must surely be seen as an advance. Second, despite their often vivid and idiosyncratic characteristics, one cannot help feeling that the protagonists of these novels are intended as representatives of social groups. For example, the young peasant Xi Dayou H A ~M in Mountain Rain, is typical of peasants who are forced to flee from their land due to heavy taxation, natural catastrophe, and the threat of warlords and bandits. And Wu Sunfu #c ^ in Midnight is a typical Chinese businessman crushed in a capitalist war between different classes. The emphasis on characters as representative types, though not so noticeable in the thirties, would later begin to predominate and overwhelm the more individualistic approach of social realism. On the whole, Chinese writers of the thirties, while still retaining their individual, critical approach inherited from the May Fourth tradition, showed more interest than previous writers in directly portraying the present state of Chinese society and the physical and spiritual poverty of Chinese people throughout that society. As the 1930s progressed, an even more socially-oriented approach to reality and human existence began to hold sway in novel-writing. Most of these later works can be called social novels, which "emphasize the influence of the social and economic conditions of an era on characters and events, [and] also embody an implicit or explicit thesis recommending political and social reform."34 3 4 M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed., 1993. 133. 51 This tendency towards socially-oriented realism, as many scholars have demonstrated,3 ^  can't be explained or sympathetically understood unless we place it within its historical circumstances. On top of the social imperative that had always been a persistent background feature of modern Chinese literature, by the 1930s the society was facing a crisis situation: the continuing fragmentation of the country under regional warlords; the impending threat from outside invaders, especially the Japanese; natural catastrophes and the encroachment of modern foreign industries that were gradually eroding the fabric of Chinese agricultural society — all these factors demanded urgent solutions. Among Chinese writers, the traditional function of literati as moral guides to society was strengthened by Western ideas of humanism, leading them to assume the role of spokespeople against social oppression. At the same time, some of these writers were beginning to search desperately for a more direct or effective prescription for this sick society than the slogan of science and democracy promulgated during the May-Fourth enlightenment. The debate among Chinese intellectuals over the political and scientific approaches to reality during the early 1930s, and the gradual domination of Marxist socio-economic theory and historical materialism in the social sciences and humanities, also exerted great influence on literature, especially among Left-wing writers. Not only strong concentration on social reality but also an increasingly ideological undertone begins to be detectable in their works. These writers consciously apply a "scientific" method — analysing the nature of Chinese society through economic and social theory — to guide their depiction of Chinese society in the novel. Leftist writers like Jiang Guangci (The Howling Earth, i -> For the suggestion that Chinese literature is less concerned with universal themes than with social questions, see the debate between Jaroslav Prusek and C. T Hsia. Actually Hsia's statement about Chinese writers' "obsession with China and Chinese people," and Prusek's defense of this tendency, ultimately prove the same thing. See the Appendix in Prusek, The Lyrical and the Epic: Studies of Modern Chinese Literature, Indiana Univ. Press, 1980. 52 Baoxiao le de tudi I f i ^ T f l l i i i . 1930), Hua Han ^ K (The Spring, Diquan J& 1930) and Ding Ling T 5£ (Water, Shui 7jC, 1931), even produced proletarian literature about the revolution in the countryside and cities complete with formulaic plots and revolutionary didacticism. However, with their depictions of faceless masses and the obvious attempt to produce works based on theory rather than observation of real situations, they can hardly be termed successful. Nevertheless, some novelists who adopted a leftist approach managed to keep their "realistic integrity" despite their theoretical pronouncements. Writers of the "social-analysis school,"-* 6 like Mao Dun, Wang Tongzhao, Wu Zuxiang M $fj, and Sha Ting tP tT were particularly adept in this regard. Mao Dun, in his Midnight and trilogy on the countryside, consciously uses economic and political theory to analyse his characters' situations. Wang Tongzhao who previously wrote about the May-Fourth "wandering" generation, now turns his focus to the countryside and peasant life in Northern China, and explains the motivation of his works as "aiming to describe the reasons for and phenomenon of the decline of the Northern countryside, and the awakening of the peasants." This social consciousness in their writings acts as an indictment of evil in society, for which only a revolution can provide a solution — all these works end with a portrayal of violent revolution. The apparent attempt to use the novel as a force for revolutionary mobilization, clearly embodied in their works, foreshadows the subsequent development of the Chinese novel in the 1940s. With the coming of the Sino-Japanese war between 1937 and 1945, the national emergency brought on by the war pushed Chinese writers further in the direction of emphasizing the purely utilitarian function of literature. The tendency to equate literature 36 This term was coined by the Chinese scholar Yan Jiayan J"2 M ife. in a study that tries to examine literary history according to the development of different schools. See his Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo liupaishi tf4 § M ft /h i& #f[ Wi ife (History of Modern Chinese Literary Schools), Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1989, Chapter 5. 53 with other social documents, including journalism and propaganda, is justified in the name of salvation of the nation. The themes and characters of novels and even the nature of the reality that they express are all prescribed in advance: their ability to mobilize the Chinese people for war becomes the only evaluative criteria. Not surprisingly, heroic events and characters provide the most important content of the literature of this period, and with the strict enforcement of a unified patriotic ideology, "reality" in the novel must involve only depiction of the heroic struggle of the Chinese people and their revolutionary awakening in an optimistic light. The main protagonists include the awakened masses and heroic soliders; little interest is shown in other groups of society.3 ? The critical distance towards society and the national character that once preoccupied May-Fourth writers now gradually disappears.38 with such strictly-enforced outside factors, it is not difficult to imagine the uniformity and over-simplification of life and reality in Chinese novels written to accord with the war time ideology. However, besides mainstream war literature, some Chinese writers, particularly among those who survived from the May-Fourth period, still managed to find some space to voice their own visions of reality, avoiding complete surrender to propaganda and keeping the war in the background. Other writers, especially in the areas occupied by the Japanese, were able consistently to explore more universal human themes, and to try to go beneath the surface of immediate social problems.39 3 ' For the theory and practice of Chinese fiction in the war period, see Qian Liqun, "An Overview of Chinese Theories of Fiction from the 1940s," trans. Steven Day, in Modern Chinese Literature, Spring, 1995. 3 8 This elimination of a critical attitude is typically demonstrated by the criticism of Zhang Tianyi 3fc 3c M's satirical story "Hua Wei xiansheng" i £ $ % £ (Mr. Hua Wei) at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War. The satirical tradition originated in late Qing and was greatly developed by Lu Xun in his exposing of the "national character." However, since the late 1930s and early 1940s, the new politically-oriented heroism and idealism had been in great conflict with this tradition. 3 9 For this period of literary development, see Edward M. Gunn, Unwelcome Muse: Chinese Literature in Shanghai and Peking, 1937-1945, Columbia Univ. Press, 1980. 54 Shen Congwen tfc 3t, who set his stories in a moral and regional transitional zone, explored "permanence and change," pondering whether humanity and morality can persist through changes in the surrounding world.4^ His scenes and characters are simple but his lyrical and philosophical style suggests an alternative approach for the Chinese novel which would prove influential much later in the century. Another exception to the novels typical of the Sino-Japanese war period is Qian Zhongshu ^  It 45's Fortress Besieged (Weicheng, M In a satirical but also sympathetic light, this novel depicts a Western educated intellectual trapped within a turbulent Chinese reality, which seems full of existential absurdity. Other writers like Ba Jin, in his Ward No. 4 (Disi bingshi % US M 1C) and Cold Nights (Hanye M ^), create tragedies of common people in wartime, which transcend the run-of-the-mill heroic mode of war literature. During the war period, the most distinctive voice expressing a personal vision of reality and individual fate in the May-Fourth tradition was that of Lu Ling His Children of the Rich (Caizhu de ernumen M i JL ~k iii, two volumes, 1945 and 1948), is probably the last impressive achievement of the modern Chinese novel before the 1980s. This novel, although also dealing with the social changes and national crisis of the late 1930s, nonetheless adopts a subjective and individualistic standpoint in viewing the relation between society and the individual. It thus gives a radically different perception of reality from that found in other contemporaneous works. The first part of the novel, which describes the decline of a gentry family and the childrens' search for their respective destinies, reveals a society in rapid transition, with many people lost, dispersed and suffering. The second part is a bildungsroman of a young intellectual: his search for meaning in his own life and for the nation as a whole, and his subsequent disillusionment, against the broader background of the Sino-Japanese war. 4 0 See Shen's novella "Biancheng" j£l $1 (Border Town, 1934) and the incomplete novel Changhe -rx M (The Long River, 1948) in Shen Congwen xiaoshuo xuan tfc M. /JN i& $1 (Selection of Shen Congwen's fiction), 2 vols. Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1982. Vol. 2. 55 Although there is a certain inconsistency between the first part, a family chronicle involving dozens of characters, and the second part that revolves around the pilgrimage of just one of these characters, the success of this novel lies in the fact that it has captured the conflict between reality and ideals, and the complexity of the relationship between the individual and the reality he is trying to understand. The terrible situation of war is perceived through the individual's growing consciousness and feelings, and reality consists not just of the social reality of struggle and confrontation outside, but also of the internal struggle and inner confrontation of an individual who senses and attempts to come to terms with himself within society. Lu Ling's internal focus results in powerful and unique images and symbolism, which above all demonstrate the artistry of this work.4! The death of the bourgeois intellectual protagonist Jiang Chunzu Ii. in the chaos and wilderness of war and revolution at the end of the novel seems less a closure for this particular novel than an allegory of the destruction of the individual vision and perception of reality in the modern Chinese novel. After this work, the individual vision of reality was more or less completely absorbed into public necessity, and the possibility for individual consciousness to lead the exploration of reality in the novel was removed. If in the earlier period of the thirties, propaganda literature was mostly a spontaneous outpouring of writers' concern for their country's survival, the utilitarian orientation of literature during the war years resulted from a further political and institutional restriction. During the 1940s, political control became even tighter both in liberated Communist areas, and nationalist territories, and the struggle for advantage between these two sides became extremely bitter. Just as the Communists were able to take advantage of the war to build up a strong groundswell of support, so in a similar way, 41 Regarding the symbolism and imagery in Children of the Rich, see for example the detailed analysis of the image of the wilderness in Kirk Denton, "Lu Ling's Children of the Rich: The Role of Mind in Social Transformation," in Modern Chinese Literature, vol. 5 no. 2 (Fall, 1989). 56 war literature proved crucial in the Communist project of politicizing the field of literature. This is embodied in the widespread publicity given to Mao Zedong's "Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art."42 In these talks, Mao made it clear that literature should serve the revolutionary effort, and should be written for the masses. Writers should thus reform themselves according to the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. As a theory based on the political approach to literature, Mao's talks in themselves are not particularly harmful; it was the subsequent use of the talks as an excuse for manipulating Chinese literature and restricting expression to a single, narrow approach that proved disastrous for the development of the novel in the next few decades. As T. A. Hsia puts it: "One doesn't have to quarrel so much with Mao's theory as with the fact of control" (McDougall, 23). The politicizing of literature minimized subjectivity and creativity in writing, and made literature a simple, unquestioning interpretation of the dominant ideology. The "Yan'an Talks" were the first sign of the new Communist policy of controlling literary and artistic production, a control which was to expand dramatically in the following decades. As a result, the investigation of reality in the novel was no longer the individual enterprise of writers. The well-known critic Hu Feng $M M's argument in support of the "subjective fighting spirit" of realism, over which controversy raged from the 1940s to the 1950s when Hu was purged, can be seen as a failed challenge, by a critical mode of realism upholding the individual's consciousness in understanding social reality, to the new socialist version of realism which interpreted reality in terms of political and literary formulae.4^ With its newly enforced Party ideological vision of reality and humanity, the 4 2 for the English translation, see Bonnie S. McDougall, Mao Zedong's " Talks at the Yan 'an Conference on Literature and Art": A Translation of the 1943 Text with Commentary, Univ. of Michigan, 1980. 43 For Hu Feng's literary thought, see Theodore Huters, "Hu Feng and the Critical Legacy of Lu Xun," in Leo Ou-fan Lee ed., Lu Xun and His Legacy. University of California Press, 1985. 57 mode which was to dominate Chinese literature for the next three or four decades is generally termed "Socialist Realism." 44 p o r the Chinese novel, Socialist Realism means specifically that characters and events must embody the revolutionary process as interpreted by the Chinese Communist Party and be written according to the viewpoint of the Communist party, "which is the representative of the masses." Corresponding to this politicizing of the general function of literature, there was also a change in the form and language of literary works from the 1940s onwards. May-Fourth Westernized elitism gave way to popular styles that were mixed with traditional art forms of the masses and folk culture. With war literature emphasizing the mobilization of the populace against the enemy, especially in liberated areas, and later with the revolutionary mobilization to liberate the nation from the Nationalists, the masses became the primary audience for literature, since it was their support that was crucial for victory. The strong emphasis on "returning" to traditional Chinese forms not only shows a reaction against Western influence, but also implies a revival of the didacticism of pre-May-Fourth literature. In the area of the novel, the pre-modern chapter-divided form and colloquial style is reincorporated, and once again the narrator, explicitly or implicitly, functions as a conformist who "guides" the readers to remain in line with Communist ideology. Works 4 4 This concept, first coined in Soviet Union, was introduced to China by Zhou Yang M %0 in 1933. Since then it has greatly influenced leftist writers' understanding of the reality they tried to capture in their works. In China, it became the dominant creative method (chuangzuo fangfa ®\ jfe ~)i Sc) during the early 1950s. "Socialist Realism" is supposed to reflect socialist reality under the Communist Party's leadership, and it should create new socialist heroes to educate the people with the spirit of Socialism. It should also be guided by Marxist and Maoist theory. See Wen Rumin, Xinwenxue xianshizhuyi de liubian, Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1988. 135-148; and Zhongguo dangdai wenxueshi chugao ^ M ^ iXX^ (The First Draft of Contemporary Chinese Literature), Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1980, chapters 1 and 2. Socialist Realist works produced in China in the several decades from 1940s to 1970s often narrow human nature and human relations down to economic classes and class struggle and fit reality into a pattern of historical development according to the Chinese Marxist view. They are usually highly politicized and formulaic. 58 like Zhao Shuli I l l ' s The Verses of Li Youcai (Li Youcai banhua ^ if Wi "SJ, 1943) and Kong Jue ?L M. and Yuan Jing M #'s New Biographies of Heroes and Heroines (Xin emu yingxiong zhuan §f JL ~k ^  $t f£, 1949)45 are representative in this context. From the mid-1940s, this revolutionary ideological writing was to dominate the Chinese novel. Between the late 1940s and early 1960s, the Chinese novel became the "epic" that recorded the history of the revolutionary course led by the Communist Party. Overwhelmingly, these novels deal with public events, or so-called "significant subjects" (zhongda ticai J l A M from peasant revolution and land reform in the countryside, for instance Ding Ling's The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River (1948), and Zhou Libo )S| aL St's The Hurricane (Baofeng zhouyu H Jxl M M, 1949), through Liu Qing #P f ' s The Builders (Chuangye shi ik 1960), and Liang Bin M ffi,'s Chronicle of the Red Flag (Hongqipu %L M iH, 1958), to the depiction of underground struggle and revolutionary warfare, as in Du Pengcheng %k 111 fji's Defend Yan 'an (Baoweiyan 'an ^ J l M % 1954), Luo Guangbin & f~ ffi, and Yang Yiyan % & f ' s Red Crag (Hong yang %L ^, 1962) and Wu Qiang ^  Ws Red Sun (Hongri %L 0, 1964), to accounts of pro-Communist student movements, like Yang Mo £fc's The Song of Youth (Qingchun zhi ge W # ^ iffc, 1960)46 j o e Q Huang's observation is certainly correct when he 45 Emu yingxiong zhuan JL 5t£ $t f£ was a popular chapter-divided knight-errant novel (xiayi xiaoshuo J5C /J"* i&) of the late Qing. From the dramatic plot to the characterization of the hero, the new version inherits the formula of the original, but changes the setting to the Anti-Japanese War. 46 Joe C. Huang has written a major study on the contemporary Chinese novel and gives a detailed division of the novels published in the period between the late 1940s and early 1960s. His sociological approach, reading Communist novels by dividing them into several categories according to historical periods and particular aspects of the revolution, such as "The Underground Struggle in 'White' Areas," "Guerilla Warfare" and "Land Reform," reveals the narrow interests and interpretation of history in these novels. His main task of analysing the characters, divided into hero-cadres, villains, and people in the middle also shows the simple political types used for characterization in these novels. See his Heroes and Villains in Communist China: The Contemporary Chinese Novel as a Reflection of Life, Pica Press, 1973. 59 writes: "Chinese Communist novels without exception focus on certain phases, aspects, and periods in the course of the revolution. Not a single novel dwells on the private life of an individual"(10). The characters are also simple and easily distinguished, the heroes are inevitably revolutionaries from among the awakened peasants, workers or cadres; other less heroic characters and villains act as foils for the heroes. Although there is a difference in degree among these works in balancing the dominant ideology with loyalty to personal observation, basically the element of propaganda prevails over artistic credibility. Ding Ling's novel The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River, which won a Stalin Prize in 1951, set the criteria for how a socialist realist work should be produced and used. It represents the overwhelming control of the dominant ideology in cultural production.47 First of all, for the writer, this novel was a product of her transformation from a bourgeois intellectual to a revolutionary, and was written explicitly to help the cause of revolution. Previously, Ding Ling had been famous for her writing on the psyche of the westernized May-Fourth female and for her feminist insight. However, after her long journey to Yan'an, and especially following the cultural purges there in which she was criticized, Ding Ling became deeply involved in land reform. In 1946 she worked as a Communist cadre to help the peasants "overturn" (fanshen $0 M) their oppressors. The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River was finished in the summer of 1947, using material from her own recent experiences, and revealing that she treated her novel-writing as a political duty no different from her work as a journalist in Yan'an. 4 ' This work is, first of all, a result of Ding Ling's work as a Party cadre in the land reform movement; after it was finished, it drew the attention of CCP cultural officials. Published immediately, in 1948, after being "checked" personally by Hu Qiaomu ^8 # 7r>, it was also very soon translated into Russian, and won a Stalin Prize. Later, it was revised and reprinted several times after 1949, to keep its contents in line with frequently changing CCP policy regarding rural land reforms and the peasant revolution; see for example, the 1950 and 1955 versions. For more details, see Gong Mingde M ^ W^, "Taiyang zhaozai sangganhe shang" xiugai jianping A PH iM ^  ^ M _h 10 @$t =S§ W (Commentary on the Revision of The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River), Hunan renmin chubanshe, 1984. 60 The work was hurriedly published and issued as a textbook and policy manual for cadres. The writer clearly takes a cadre's point of view in "observing and understanding what is happening in the countryside."48 Land reform, seen from the vanguard point of view of this Communist cadre, becomes a significant step in the process of changing the old unjust social relationships and redividing property, thus building a better society through class struggle. The characters and their relationships have clear political significance — an obvious influence of Mao's analysis of the classes of Chinese society each of which has well-defined personality traits — with firmly established identities and strictly specified roles 4 9 Compared with the confused and uncertain individual voice of the narrator in Ding Ling's previous works, the narrator of this novel is confidently omniscient, a public persona speaking in the name of history. In the decade from 1966 to 1976, the Chinese novel disappeared almost completely. Not only were comparatively few works written, and limited human life depicted in them, but those that were published, like the works of Hao Ran ?p are crude political allegories without any genuine inquiry into human life.50 In a paper entitled "Change and Continuity in Chinese Fiction," Cyril Birch compares three novels from three successive periods, the late Qing, the thirties and the 4 ° Ding Ling, "Preface" to The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River, Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1984. 4 9 To "observe life," writers had to understand reality according to the correct worldview, that is Marxist and Chinese Communist Party policy. Ding Ling has written extensively on how she adjusted her plots and characters — in some cases following the "advice" of the CCP cultural official Hu Qiaomu— to stay in line with the current Party interpretations. See note 46 above, and her prefaces to the 1948 version, 1949 Russian version, and 1984 version, in Ding Ling, Wo de shengpingyu chuangzuo =$c tfy ^ E. ~j '^J (My Life and My Creative Writing), Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1982. 50 For instance, Hao Ran's Jinguang dadao ^ jfe A l (Golden Road) has two volumes, published in 1972 and 1974. From the hero's name Gao Daquan ISJ A ^ to the nature of the experience presented, that of peasants being led by the CCP on a socialist pilgrimage, this novel is representative of political allegories written in the Maoist era. 61 post Yan'an period. He argues that a work like Mao Dun's realist novel Midnight is an anomaly in the history of Chinese fiction and emerged only under the influence of Western literature. However, the periods before and after it share similar narrative modes, displaying an affinity for the indigenous Chinese tradition through their narrators, characterization, and didacticism. They are more like allegories, romances or satires in the Western tradition than novels in a strict sense. The most important characteristic of a realist novel is the emergence of a new authorial persona who takes an individual, independent, and often alienated standpoint when observing and analysing the world. During the development of the Chinese novel up to the 1970s, as Birch observes, there was only a short period, basically during the 1930s, during which reality was explored by means of an individual vision, and this tendency was soon drowned in a sea of ideology. We may call the May-Fourth period the starting point in the long process of modernization of Chinese fiction, yet the modern Chinese novel of the twenties, thirties and forties, despite its many innovations, by no means exhausted the potentialities of the genre. During this period, Chinese novels managed to depict immediate reality from an individual point of view, and the lives of ordinary people in all their varying aspects, especially the intricacies of social existence, are explored critically to an unprecedented extent, establishing a distinctive tradition of social realism. Yet these humanitarian writers, "obsessed with China and Chinese people as a whole," tend to concentrate on depicting society and its people from their outward aspects. That is, they see reality mainly as a social-political reality, and human personality as the product of circumstances, affected in an uncomplicated manner by those circumstances. The achievement of the Chinese novel in this period is to bring immediate social reality into the fictional world, and in the best works, to create an integrated individual vision of reality. 62 However, large spaces remained unexplored, expecially with regard to personal and private life and profounder questions regarding human nature. The human perception of reality is seldom described as if from within. Unlike short stories, modern Chinese novels seldom show any fascination with the inner world of the individual, or with human consciousness as an intrinsically interesting subject. Without attempts to depict the richness and particularity of the human spiritual world in novels, a crucial part of reality remains unexplored. The consequences of such an omission become obvious from the 1940s onward, when social reality is increasingly narrowed down to the exclusively public and political areas. The characterization of ordinary people abandons its dependence on careful observation, relying instead on crude stereotyping, and any hint of individual distinctiveness is strongly criticized as petty bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. It is against such a background that the revival of novel writing during the 1980s should be judged. As I will demonstrate in the following chapters, the most recent novels not only display a renewed interest in the individual, as opposed to the social, but go far beyond even the best works of the pre-Communist period in their detailed description of the inner life of human beings. Following the gradual turn towards outside society that occurred over the greater part of this century, this refocusing on the life of the personal as well as the spiritual in the novel is a dramatic indication of a new tendency in Chinese literature which I have termed an "inward turn." I will now examine this inward turn in more detail through the works of three representative novelists. 63 Chapter 2: Crying in the Fine Rain & M 41 "For a long time, my works have all originated from the tension between myself and reality . . . And I was for a very long period an angry and cold writer . . . With the movement of time, my inner anger has gradually calmed down, and I have started to realize that truth is what a real writer is looking for, the truth that eschews moral judgement. The mission of a writer is not to air his grievances, or to denounce or expose; rather he should show people nobility. This nobility is not simple beauty, but a transcendence which comes after understanding all things, treating good and evil equally, and looking at the world with a sympathetic eye." Yu Hua, preface of To Live "The invention of a narrative for one's childhood is therefore to some extent a creative discovery of the self." Seamus Heaney, foreword for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl 64 Paradox of Violence Among contemporary Chinese writers, Yu Hua is the one most concerned with the profound relation between individual discovery of truth and the form of fiction. In his few but nevertheless powerful theoretical essays, he claims that all his effort in writing is "to approach reality even closer," * and that the only way to find that reality is to base writing on the individual spirit or consciousness, instead of on an established and rational "common sense" (1& iR). Thus reality in fiction must be different from reality in our daily lives because it is reinvented through "personal imagination and personal understanding" (/h A U % M 4* A a M) (Yu, Collected Works, 292) and form is not just related to technical and stylistic design, but also to the way the subject perceives the world.2 This statement, which may not sound so innovative to those familiar with Western modernist literary theory, yet marks a new attitude in China — an individualist way of writing —that breaks with the collectivism ideological writing of the past decades. This subjective approach to truth, added to his complete suspicion of any convention, makes Yu Hua one of the most penetrating explorers and trenchant observers of contemporary Chinese society and Chinese subjectivity. Yu Hua made his name with a series of "violent stories" (baoli xiaoshuo H? 7J /JN i& ) published in the late 1980s. These stories, concentrating on the cruelty and chaos in ordinary peoples' everyday lives, build up a horrifying picture of human violence and cruelty. In a way seldom seen previously in modern Chinese fiction, Yu Hua presents a consistently bleak and pessimistic view of human life and human nature. His bold sensory 1 Yu Hua, "Xuwei de zuopin " M. $) F$ aa (False Works), in Yuhua zuopinji & PP M (Collected Works of Yu Hua), 3 Vols. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue yuan, 1995, Vol. 2, 277. All Yu Hua's works cited in this thesis, unless otherwise indicated, follow the page numbers of this version. Hereafter I refer to it as Collected Works. All the translations of Yu Hua's works are mine. 2 Apart from the above two articles, another two, "Chuanduan Kangcheng he Kafuka de yichan" )\\ M M til ffl 1* 1? &} & f* (The Legacy of Yasunari Kawabata and Kafka); and "Hebian de cuowu houji" M j£ ft ^ JS iS (Afterword of "Mistakes by the Riverbank") express similar ideas. See Collected Works, Vol. 2. 65 descriptions of bloody violence have consequently shocked Chinese critics and readers alike. These readers are forced to face an unfamiliar and painful truth — that cruelty, destructiveness and violent impulses are embedded in the Chinese mentality and hence in their everyday life. Now it seems hardly a coincidence that Yu Hua began his truth-telling with two initiation stories, "Leaving Home and Travelling Afar at Eighteen" (Shibasui chumen yuaming ~t A & tb H ® ff) and "The April Third Incident"3 (Siyue sanri shijian |Z9 ^ H 9 $ ft1). The former story, a work of less than 8,000 characters, gave Yu Hua a reputation as one of the most promising new writers, and the renowned critic Li Tuo used it to demonstrate that "we might be faced with a new kind of writer, and an unfamiliar writing that we have never before confronted."4 Narrated in the first-person, it tells of the first day's misadventures of a young man ("I") in the world, after he leaves home on a journey. The main event of this memoir-like story is his being robbed and beaten violently by some unknown people while taking a ride in search of a hotel. The narrative ends with his being deserted in a dark wilderness. The latter work is a similar story of one day's events which, although not using a first-person narrator, also focuses on the experience of a paranoid boy. On the eve of his eighteenth birthday, he suspects the people around him of arranging a conspiracy, "The April Fourth Incident," aimed at killing him. Frightened and alarmed by this confusing mix of illusion and real happenings, he flees, and ironically his action becomes "The April Third Incident." Similar in their thematic concerns and subjective perspective, these two stories disclose a shocking and painful experience of "growing up" that will reappear again and again in Yu Hua's works: initiation as a violent loss of innocence. Both protagonists are at the threshold of adulthood (the particular significance of being eighteen years old is 3 The former story was first published in Beijing wenxue, 1987/1. The latter in Shouhuo, 1987/5. Here I use the version in Collected Works. 4 Refer to Li Tuo, "Xuebeng hechu" i f ffi {5J" #h (Where is the Avalanche?), preface to Yu Hua, Shibasui chumen yuanxing, Taibei: Yuanliu, 1990. 66 emphasized in both stories) and for the first time they are suddenly exposed to a strange world where they stand alone (wuyi wukcto % % fll ). In these two youths' panic-stricken eyes, this world is a huge monstrosity, frightening and alienating, which threatens them with its senseless violence beyond any reason or explanation. Sometimes the agents of this blind force are the very people who are supposed to love and protect them—their parents. The only major difference between these two stories is that, in the former, home still remains in the distance, radiating warmth for a wounded heart deserted in the dark wilderness: "I lie in the heart of the truck, and recall a sunny and warm afternoon when the sunshine was so beautiful. I remember that I had played outside for a while, and then I went back home, and saw my father packing a red backpack in the room . . ." (Vol. 1, 9). But in the latter, even this last illusory refuge becomes suspect, when the paranoid boy finds that his parents are not only indifferent strangers but also the main instigators of a conspiracy against him. The only recourse left is to escape from this home, to "run wild" and go far away. In my opinion, the main point in "The April Third Incident" is not so much whether all the events are illusory or real, since this boy is clearly paranoid; rather, the point is to ask from where this paranoia originates. Actually, by deliberately limiting the narrative perspective to that of the frightened boy, Yu Hua sympathizes with this character and seems to imply that there is a similarity between fantasy (or nightmare here) and reality. The fear felt by the characters in Yu Hua's works has so violently shaken their established and rational way of perceiving the universe that the objects around them start to show themselves in a distorted way. Like the madman in Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" (kuangren riji <J£ A 0 iS ), who finds the "truth" of cannibalism underneath the three thousand year history of the so-called virtue of "benevolence," the nightmare of this paranoid boy also raises an alarm about the cruelty and violence in the human psyche, in everyday behavior, and in ordinary human relations. By using two alienated adolescents as the protagonists, Yu Hua also shows the terrible effect that severing human bonds has 67 on our existence. The removal of the sense of trust, security, and harmony and the loss of hopes and dreams are the deplorable price of being an adult. The adult world first glimped by these two young men soon becomes the only absolute existence in Yu Hua's fictional world. In works completed between 1988 and 1989, Yu Hua presents a living hell ruled by violence and blind force that strike remorselessly and continuously. Even the inner tension and confrontation between the individual and an alienated world in the two stories above disappears, replaced with an objective, "matter-of-fact" narrative. Among these works, there are half a dozen novellas that present an especially bleak picture of human life, and a deep underlying current of despair runs through all the stories. 5 These works are usually set in an anonymous town, representative of thousands of other towns spread all over China. In this seemingly normal and ordinary setting, however, there are frightening things going on every day. In "One Kind of Reality" (Xianzhi yizhong M 3£ — it is bloody killing within a household, involving two brothers and their families: a trivial incident brings out mutual hatred and revenge that finally leads to the disintegration of the extended family. Two children are killed, followed by the vicious murder of two adults, leaving an old complaining grandmother and two wives who abhor each other. In "Fate is Inescapable" (Nantao jieshu M ifo $$L), it is the successive destruction of a small circle of people who become acquainted at a wedding. The bride and bridegroom are bound together only by lust, and soon the lust changes into hatred and revenge; an innocent boy is mercilessly beaten to death just because he happens to come 5 Since this thesis involves the development of Yu Hua's writng, here I give the dates of these works' first appearance. These stories include, "Yijiubaliu nian" — % A f\ ^ (Nineteen Eighty Six), in Shouhuo , 1987/6; "Xianshi yizhong" M % — # (One Kind of Reality), in Beijing wenxue, 1988/1; "Hebian de cuowu" M :& W fa ^ (Mistakes by the Riverbank), in Zhongshan, 1988/1; "Shishi ruyan" tti ¥ #P 'M (The Ephemeral World), Shouhuo, 1988/5; "Nantao jieshu" Xf£ M h (Fate is Inescapable), Shouhuo, 1988/6; and "Gudian aiqing" "^ f Jftt J l ff (A Classical Romance), Beijing wenxue, 1988/12. The translations of the titles are Zhao Yiheng's. See his "Yu Hua: Fiction as Subversion," in World Literature Today, Summer 1991. 68 across a love affair; a young woman's vanity leads her to self-destruction; the boredom and resentment of two men lead to sadistic behavior. By the end, both victims and victimizers head in one of two directions, either to death or prison, and nobody escapes. In "The Ephemeral World" (Shishi ruyan tj: ^  #n jig), it is again human violence and cruelty that permeate every corner of family and community life within a small neighborhood: parents exploit and secretly murder their children; incest and betrayal replace love and support; people suffer from inner turmoil and outer chaos, and they die unnaturally and prematurely. In Yu Hua's fictional world, naive or sophisticated killings and destructiveness provide the main components of the plot, and the characters are indifferent and cruel creatures who act mechanically and senselessly, like walking corpses or puppets. In his later works of this period, like "The Ephemeral World" and "A Classic Romance" (Gudian aiqing l*f Jft}- J | If), the horror of existence has reached such an extreme that the boundaries between the dead and the living, nightmare and reality are constantly crossed. The ghostly haunted characters, "half bright but half gloomy" (yiban hen xianyan, yiban que henyinchen — ^  flt # ffe, — ^  ip i^t 1^1 tft) can hardly be recognized as human beings. °" Existence has become a frightening nightmare, heading towards destruction. And nobody can escape: the only end is for people to die one after another, old and young, weak or strong, innocent or evil. Using simple structures and adopting a reserved, economical style, Yu Hua gives these nightmares a realistic appearance and vivid immediacy, with particular "naturalist" attention to the concrete details of physical violence and blind killing. The following scene 6 Yu Hua, "Shishi ruyan" tft 1^  #H in Yu Hua zuopinji. vol. 2, 61. In terms of depicting the horror of chaotic existence, Yu Hua has successfully incorporated some of the themes and techniques of traditional Chinese genres, such as Zhiguai jfe IS, and Chuanqi f§ Martin Moen has written a detailed study of this aspect of Yu's work; see his M.A. thesis "Blurring the Lines-Postmodernism and the Use of Tradition in the Works of Yu Hua," University of British Columbia, 1993. 69 of revenge and murder from "One Kind of Reality" can best illuminate this graphic descriptive style: Shangang walked in front of Shanfeng, pushed his son forward, and said, "I give him to you." Shanfeng raised his head and took a look at Pipi and Shangang. It seemed as though he wished to stand up, but his body only moved a bit. Next, he averted his gaze and looked towards the yard outside the house. Then he saw the pool of blood. The blood appeared quite dazzling in the sunshine . . . Standing there, Pipi was obviously bored. He raised his head to look at his father, but his father's face was expressionless, just like Shanfeng's. . . . Shanfeng now stood up, and said to Shangang, "I want him to lick clean that pool of blood". . . . Then Pipi's mother said to Shanfeng, "Let me lick it: he was not old enough to know what he was doing." Shanfeng didn't respond, but headed outside dragging the child. Thereupon she also followed them out. Shangang hesitated for a bit, then returned to his bedroom, but just walked to the bedroom window. Shangang saw his wife bend down and start licking as soon as she got close to the bloodstain; his wife had a very greedy look. Shangang saw Shanfeng kick his wife in the ass, and she fell to one side and knelt there vomiting violently — her throat produced a sound that would make one's hair stand on end. Next he saw Shanfeng push Pipi's head down, so that Pipi lay prone on the ground. He heard Shanfeng say in a tone that sounded like his wife's vomiting, "Lick!" 70 Pipi lay there, looking at the pool of blood that shone brightly in the sunlight, reminding him of a kind of bright-coloured fruit jelly. Sticking out his tongue, he had an exploratory lick, and a brand new flavour emerged. So he was then happy to continue licking. He felt that the concrete was very rough, and very soon his tongue grew numb, and several threads of flowing blood appeared on the tip of his tongue; this blood made it even more tasty, but he didn't know that it was his own blood. Shangang then saw his sister-in-law rush out covered with scars; she shouted: "I'll bite you to death!" and threw herself on Pipi. At the same time, Shanfeng drove his foot into Pipi's groin. Pipi's body flew into the sky, then immediately crashed head-first onto the concrete surface with a heavy thud. He saw his son struggle a few times, then stretch out his four limbs as if paralysed.7 This kind of cold and clinical description of cruelty and violence in human nature has provoked heated debated about Yu Hua's violent stories. Some critics censure him for only focusing on the evil and ugly side of human nature. For example, Wang Binbin j£ argues that Yu Hua, like his contemporary Can Xue, lacks the humanistic concern of an earlier writer like Lu Xun when he criticizes "national character," because his works are too cold to provide any hope.8 By contrast, radical young critics like Zhang Yiwu and Cheng Xiaoming, draw another conclusion from Yu Hua's "cold-blooded" "addiction to 7 Yu Hua, "Xianshi yizhong" M 3£ — # (One kind of Reality), in Collected works, Vol. 2, 16-17. This paragraph describes the younger brother killing his nephew. There is another English translation of this novella in David Der-wei Wang and Jeanne Tai, ed., Running Wild: New Chinese Writers, Columbia University Press: 1994, 36-37. 8 Wang Binbin, "Can Xue, Yu Hua: 'zhen de esheng?' -- Can Xue, Yu Huayu Lu Xun de yizhong bijiao" MtoMPl & ^ H # ffi $ - f t it & (Can Xue, Yu Hua: "The True Voice of Horror?" ~ A Comparison of Can Xue, Yu Hua and Lu Xun). Dangdai zuojia pinglun ft jfe M W it (Review of Contemporary Writers), 1992, no. 1. 71 violence." In his "The Crisis of Human Beings" (Ren de weiji A #J f& #L), and later "The End of Idealism" (Lixiang zhuyi de zhongjie M £t EE X fft ^ ££), Zhang Yiwu announces that he has discovered "a postmodernist self without subjectivity in Yu Hua's works. And this postmodernist self, according to him, represents the crisis of the May-Fourth humanist approach. According to Zhang, by presenting his characters as violent and mechanical creatures, Yu Hua implies that human beings are not subjects at all, and the idea of a self is thus deconstructed by violence and language. Zhang also describes Yu Hua's works as self-deconstructing texts where there is a discrepancy between the violent events (content) and the cold, objective narrative (form). In order to accomplish this postmodernist approach to self and subjectivity, Zhang believes, Yu Hua adopts a neutral standpoint towards violence, refusing to make value judgements about it.9 While this argument has received much support, especially among younger critics, 10 m y reading of Yu Hua indicates that it should be viewed with suspicion. It is true that Yu Hua's subject-matter is bleak, and the characters lack subjective consciousness, but to conclude from this that Yu Hua's own attitude is anti-humanist is an over-prompt and simplistic approach. Evaluating the ethical concerns of Yu Hua's work requires a careful examination of how violence is presented in the texts, especially within the context of violence 11 in Chinese culture, literature and mentality. I will briefly suggest some of the issues involved. 9 Zhang Yiwu, "Rende weiji ~ du Yu Hua de xiaoshuo" A f# % $1- \M 4k ^  f# ^ ijil (The Crisis of "Humanity"-- Reading Yu Hua's Fiction), in Dushu, 1988, no. 12. Also, "Lixiangzhuyi de zhongjie: shiyan xiaoshuo de wenhua tiaozhan" M M, EE X $J ^  ^ i'-$ ht 'b ift f# X it $ (The End of Idealism: The Cultural Challenge of Experimental Fiction), in Beijing wenxue, 1989, no. 4. 10 See a collection of critical articles on "postmodernism" in Chinese literature, Zhang Guoyi 3£ HI X, ed., Shengcunyouxi de shuiquan 4. %f W M f$ 7jC HI (Circular Ripples in the Game of Survival), Peking Univ. Press, 1994. Also Chen Xiaoming, Wubian de tiaozhan,\992>. 11 For violence here I use the dictionary definition: "The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly 72 First I would like to place my discussion of Yu Hua's theme of violence within the broader context of the general attitude towards violence and cruelty in Chinese culture. Here I will concentrate on literary examples. Several of the most representative samples of the Chinese mentality towards violence are found in vernacular fiction, whose version of history and heroism seems to present the prevalent attitudes within popular culture. For instance, in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms H M VJ! SC and The Water Margin 7jC $f i^, apart from chivalry and rebellion against injustice, the heroes tend to exhibit "sexual puritanism," 12 and are proud to be the greatest eaters and drinkers among their fellows. However, another darker characteristic, which certainly reveals an implicit view of life, is their propensity for merciless killing. From the upper class heroic kings, knights and ministers in Three Kingdoms to the low class protagonists of obscure origins in Water Margin, the characters share a common thirst for power, revenge and for treating people in a brutal manner, a trait insidiously concealed behind their professed concern for loyalty interfering with personal freedom." Oxford English Dictionary. My analysis of Yu Hua's representation of violence in daily life mainly refers to this primary definition, although it sometimes includes psychological violence, which is another kind of cruelty. However, it definitely excludes "formal violence," a term certain critics use to describe the way a writer arranges texts. I think there is a clear distinction between formal violence in texts and actual physical violence, but unfortunately, recent discussion on violence in literature tends to confuse the two. 12 C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction. Indiana Univ. Press, 1968, 88. Here I need to mention that recent scholars like Andrew Plaks argue that the depiction of violence in traditional Chinese fiction is such that it forces the reader to reevaluate such behavior, thus it is an ironic rather than serious "praise" of heroic violence. However, keeping in mind the fact that these works are so popular that they have been adapted as household entertainments and stories performed in public places, such sensitivity to ironic readings is hardly to be expected from most readers. I feel that most audiences would still admire the violent heroes of these works for their superhuman power. An interesting argument should be mentioned that supports my analysis: in a review of a recent TV series adapted from Three Kingdoms, Wang Meng IE H! also raises the same doubts about the main characters' impulse to seek power and their desire for heroism, and the persisting popularity of such stories among Chinese. See Wang Meng, "Sanguo yanyi li de qianxiandai" H|I]}JtJ£Ml^fif3i!Bfti (Premodernity in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Dushu, 1995/ 2. 73 and benevolence. The cult of the hero is thus nothing but "gang morality," as C. T. Hsia terms it in The Classic Chinese Novel, and in spite of "its affirmation of heroic ideals, its actual endorsement of savagery and sadism makes the Water Margin a document of disturbing significance for the cultural historian of China" (Hsia, op.cit, 104). From a liberal humanistic point of view, C. T. Hsia criticizes this mentality prevalent in popular culture by making a comparison with the Western Icelandic sagas: "Unlike the Chinese novel with its equivocal stand on justice and its childish enjoyment of mere violence, the best sagas depict with tragic irony man's disposition to malice and aggression"(Hsia, op.cit., 105) This cult of violent heroism extends to modern Chinese culture too. In revolutionary literature since the leftist movement, violence has constantly been justified in the name of revolution and class struggle. Once violence is ideologized, for instance as red violence vs. white violence, a dangerous inhuman impulse towards hatred and revenge, which blindly neglects the value of individual existence, is given free rein. In this whole turbulent century full of war and revolution, violence and cruelty have thus become deeply embedded in the Chinese psyche. For people who have lived in China, it is not difficult to notice a pervasive lack of respect for the life of each individual, and a lack of care, understanding and love towards human bodies and minds. People are frequently mistreated and their human rights violated; resentment and revenge have been suppressed, but once allowed a chance they erupt like a volcano. The most terrible thing is that such behaviour is encouraged in the name of revolution and justice. A philosophy of hatred rather than love is nourished. The recent exposure of cannibalism in Guangxi Province during the period of the Cultural Revolution has shown how far human beings can go when savagery and cruelty are encouraged instead of being controlled and restricted.^ 13 The Chinese writer Zheng Yi $L has collected detailed data on this topic, and risked his life to bring it out of China and publish it in book form. Unfortunately, I have not managed to find the reference at time of printing. 74 If in real life violence and hatred as part of the condition of human existence cannot be diminished, literature with a humanistic concern should be able to explore darkness and savagery in the human psyche, and thus help people to rediscover some kind of conscience. However, modern Chinese literature, with its enthusiasm for social-political discourse, has failed to fulfil its moral responsibility in this area. In their recent research on Chinese revolutionary literature, Liu Zaifu and Luo Gang argue that, since the late-1930s, during these past decades of bloody war and revolution, the leftist literary movement has developed a tradition of revolutionary literature that actually celebrates class hatred and revolutionary violence. I 4 This tradition justifies "heroism" in a manner not much different from vernacular novels in the pre-modern period. The socio-historical approach to human relations and human nature, especially when it is influenced so strongly by Marxist ideology, fails to realize the deeper moral and religious causes of violence and cruelty, and thus frequently over-simplifies the complexities of human nature. China has never produced writers such as Dostoyevski or Victor Hugo, who voice genuine concern over the human impulse towards violence and question its destructive effect on our existence. Likewise there is a distinct lack of writers who expose the inhumanity of institutions (Franz Kafka) or express distrust for strong men or heroes (George Orwell), and there is nobody to compare with Dostoyevski in asking ontological questions regarding sin, salvation and punishment. Most modern Chinese writers either deny that such questions exist, or politicize them — the humanist idea of treating people as ends in themselves, not using them as means, seldom gains a foothold. 1 5 This lack of a 14 Liu Zaifu and Lin Gang, "Ershi shiji zhonghuo guangyi geming wenxue de zhongjie" ^ + ttt£fl cf 1 M r X i ^ t f ^ ^ i (The End of Revolutionary Literature in its Broader Sense in Twentieth Century China), Zhishifenzi, Vol. 7, no. 3; also Luo Gang and Mo Luo l|t "Jiyi yu yiwang ~ dui wenxue zhong de "baoli" de sisuo " iS '\L ^ i i ^ - M 4* $ B ft) & M (Memory and Forgetfulness: Some Thoughts on Violence in Literature), Shanghai wenxue, 1995/9. 15 This argument is also made by Liu Zaifu and Lin Gang, see note 14.1 basically agree with their conclusions. In fact, it is only after several years of living in a Western society and frequently reading Western literature, that I have realized the relative lack of a spirit 75 humanistic critique of violence is manifest in the language used to describe violence and cruelty in "revolutionary literature." Seldom dealing directly with the effect of violence on the human psyche, such language consists of abstract and ideological terms and judgments, which are often emptied of sensory particularity and emotional strength. 16 It is in this dark context of Chinese culture and literature that Yu Hua's stories of violence should be placed. Yu Hua was certainly aware of the persistent presence of violence and cruelty in life when he chose violence as his subject-matter. In his article "False Works" (Xuwei de zuopin 0. i% {$) jfe aa), he examines violence from the perspective of human nature: Indeed it is so, that because the form of violence is full of passion, and its force comes from the inner desires of human beings, it made me fascinated and bewitched. The ancient scene in which the master sits at one side to watch slaves kill each other has been consigned to history by modern civilization. However, this form (of the master watching slaves killing each other) always makes me feel it is a modernist tragedy. The evolution of human civilization has helped us understand how this savage behavior threatens our existence. But sports like boxing have replaced it, and here we can find the secret yielding of civilization to savagery. Even the of love in Chinese society and modern Chinese literature. Of course, I am not claiming that the Western world doesn't have violence. It is clear that violence is a big social problem from big cities to Hollywood movies, from terrorism to family abuse; but one major difference is the awareness of this problem and criticism and examination of it in cultural forums and literature. Certainly from mass media to elite literature, violence is much more a matter of concern here than it is in China. 16 Liu Zaifu and Luo Gang have made a detailed analysis of how revolutionary literature, such as Ding Ling's Taiyang zhaozai sangganhe shang A PH FJt & # ~F ffl _t (The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River) and Zhao Shuli's Lijiazhuang de bianqian ^ M~ JEt r$ 3£ 33: (The Changes in Lijia Village) present the peasants accusing and denouncing landlords violently, but without any concrete description of suffering. See note 14. 76 Fighting Crickets in Southern China can show clearly how deep are the roots of violence within the human heart. In the face of violence and chaos, "civilization" is only a slogan, and "order" becomes mere decoration" (Yu, Collected Works, vol. 2, 208). This short paragraph shows the ambiguity and sophistication of Yu Hua's understanding of violence and chaos in human nature. First, unlike most people, he doesn't immediately make a conventional black and white judgement on violence and its origins. Instead, he is painfully aware of violent impulses within every person, ancient or modern, civilized or savage, so he is quick to recognize those impulses in their various modern guises, from sports to popular games. Violence as a subject attracts him because he finds that it is a unique and effective perspective from which to understand human beings. Second, while understanding the inevitable existence of violence in life, and that this impulse is deeply embedded in our psyche and will always take destructive forms, Yu Hua's attitude towards violence is nonetheless a critical one tinged with a certain sadness. He has found that this savage nature threatens our existence; he concludes that life is a modernist tragedy in which human beings can't prevent chaos and violence but can only replace them with what one might call savagery masquerading as civilization. Thus, to judge by his own theoretical expression, Yu Hua's way of dealing with the subject of violence and cruelty among human beings is not neutral. He certainly doesn't enjoy and celebrate it, denying all humanistic concerns as some critics claim. This conclusion is also substantiated, as I will show in the following discussion, by Yu Hua's treatment of violence in his shorter fiction. Since the perspectives and themes of these works are quite relevant to my later discussion of Crying in the Fine Rain (Zai xiyu zhong huhan %E M M *P $f here I will briefly examine his fictional presentation of violence. 77 First, as I have shown above, the bleak description of the predatory and ruthless side of human nature is one of the major characteristics of Yu Hua's fictional world. Yet more striking and unique is the context of his works, the fact that Yu Hua often depicts the appearance of this ruthlessness in ordinary, everyday situations. Usually the social background and temporal aspects are purposely kept very vague, and thus the timelessness and immediate impact of the violent events are foregrounded. In Yu Hua's world, these acts of cruelty, violence and destruction are not associated with political or social catastrophes, like war, massacres, concentration camps, nor even the activities of gangsters or criminals, but are firmly situated in a family and personal context. It is in those everyday situations, which people have apparently accepted without question for years, that he finds separation, abnormality, cruelty and mutual destruction. Right from the beginning, Yu Hua chose the family as the typical representative of the everyday. From his earliest work, "April 3rd Incident," to the most recent ones, such as Crying in the Fine Rain, his stories invariably describe family tragedies in which mutual indifference, hatred, exploitation and even blind killings supplant love, care, understanding and mutual support. In Yu Hua's stories, one might say, a Kafkaesque nightmare takes the form of family life, and in extreme cases, family cannibalism. 17 Secondly, Yu Hua's concern is not so much with violence in its historical dimension as in its existential dimension; thus personal suffering and the breaking of human bonds as general topics become his central preoccupation. He seems to avoid giving simplified single causes for these problems, instead concentrating on the hurt and harm that result from violence. The victim's point of view portrayed in Yu Hua's earlier stories — those on the theme of initiation — is very suggestive in this respect. Here violence without meaning or context is depicted as a frightening and alienating force 17 Yu Hua's view of family seems to have softened in later works, such as Huozhe fj§ (To Live, 1992) where an ordinary family has the power to love and help each other and resist the eroding forces from outside. Yu Hua, Collected Works, vol. 3. See below for discussion of this development. 78 affecting an individual. The fear and pain the victim feels, and the tension created between a cruel reality and a feeling subject are, in my opinion, the clearest indications of humanistic concern in Yu Hua's earlier works. In subsequent stories, although the point of view changes to an objective one, with cruelty and violence depicted in the style of a matter-of-fact report, criticism of these terrible occurrences nevertheless still persists implicitly in the stories' visual message. In other words, the shocking effect of a violence that threatens human existence is achieved through manipulating the reader's response by means of concrete descriptions of physical pain and suffering. One of the characteristics of Yu Hua's descriptions, as many interpreters have noticed, is that they provide such sensory and realistic detail that they stimulate in the reader almost physical pain as well as detestation. A paragraph like the following from "Nineteen Eighty-Six" (Yijiubaliu nian — 7L A 7\ ^f), a story that includes an extended and graphic depiction of a madman's masochism, well illustrates this feature: He shouted "Bi!" then positioned the hacksaw under his nose, the teeth of the saw towards his nose. His lips, which were as black as his arms, started shaking as if he was laughing. Then his two arms began swinging forcefully back and forward, and with each swing he yelled "Bi!" with all his might. The hacksaw started to cut in, and the blood started to seep out. At this, his black lips began to go rosy. Soon, the saw cut into his nose bone, producing a slight rasping sound: sha, sha. Now, he didn't shout as before, but slightly swayed his head, and his mouth produced a rasping sound in response: sha, sha. The way the saw cut into his nose bone made one think that now he was happily playing a mouth organ. But it was not long before he shouted wildly several times in succession, as a much deeper pain followed that brief moment of numbness. His face became distorted. After 79 cutting a bit more, he simply couldn't stand the pain, and took out the saw, placing it on his legs. Then he raised his head and gasped for breath, his mouth wide open. Blood now flowed down smoothly, and in a short while the whole of his mouth and chin were covered in red; on his chest appeared countless twisted, criss-crossing streams of blood; some streams even flowed onto his hair, and crept down along the hair strands, finally dripping onto the concrete ground like scattered sparks of fire. He took a deep breath, then once more raised the hacksaw to eye level and examined it carefully in the sunshine. Then he extended an extraordinarily long and by now red-dyed fingernail, and dug out the slivers of bone between the teeth of the saw; the slivers of bone were completely soaked in blood as well, and they shone bright red in the sun. His movements were very careful, and also very deliberate. After picking for a while, he conscientiously examined it again. And then he pulled his nose out a bit, and with his other hand put the hacksaw back in. But this time his hands didn't swing back and forward: he just made an empty show of wild shouting. Then he took out the saw, and wobbled his nose with his hand, and it started swaying on his face like a swing. 18 18 Yu Hua, "Yi jiu ba liu nian" — % A A ^ (Nineteen eighty-six), in Collected works, Vol. 1, 161-162. This paragraph describes a wrongly-accused man "returning home" after the Cultural Revolution. He is now totally mad and mutilates himself according to the manner of various ancient Chinese punishments, just in front of his own house. His wife and daughter suffer from this painful past, but lack the strength to deal with it, and simply turn away. The other people in the town show indifference, even a certain level of enjoyment at the poor man's suffering. This disturbing story goes to a much deeper level than the happy stories of returning home by other writers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yu Hua underlines the fact that bringing an end to political chaos doesn't necessarily halt the suffering, indifference and cruelty so prevalent in the preceding period. He implies that madmen as the ghosts of the past will continue to invade life in the present. The names and the manner of his punishments, which all have historical origins and are clearly related to cruelty in traditional Chinese culture, take the story far beyond a political indictment of the Cultural Revolution alone. This deliberate use of traditional 80 The primary message behind these images is clearly one of horror and suffering. This destructive violence is ugly and it hurts: one doesn't want this kind of violence and destruction to be inflicted on oneself. On close examination, this message underlies almost every paragraph of Yu Hua's descriptions of violence and cruelty, whether that of human beings towards each other or against themselves. Moreover, Yu Hua implies that such violence leads nowhere: it is a total waste of life. The unpleasant and disgusting images have a deeply disturbing effect, shocking the reader into a greater awareness of the horror and blind destruction in life. Of course, this horrific description could be interpreted in the opposite manner if we detach it from its context, the world in which it originates and the people who commit these acts of violence. The crucial deciding factor in interpreting Yu Hua's stories must therefore lie in his characterization. Thus, thirdly, the characters in Yu Hua's fiction before To Live display a degenerate, dehumanized quality that renders them unable to love and care for anyone, let alone engage in moral reflection. They can be divided into four basic categories: one is the small group of demonic figures, like the fortuneteller in "The Ephemeral World" and the traditional Chinese Doctor in "Fate is Inescapable." These characters are simply natural killers without any possibility of displaying the slightest humanity. At the other extreme is a group of victims. Usually they are children, youths, women and artists, the weak or the old. They are fragile and helpless before a ruthless reality and are very often crushed by it. However, their dread of violence as well as their longing for beautiful things shows them to be the only people with souls. The third group includes the mass of indifferent and isolated faceless people, who although not involved in the killing or violence, show remarkably little care for and understanding of each other. Seeing the mad protagonist in "Nineteen Eighty-Six," even his estranged wife and daughter are isolated from his punishments to indicate the historical origins of cruelty is a conscious practice, just like his use of traditional ghost stories: see note 22. 81 suffering; so too with the grandmother and two wives in "One Kind of Reality." This silent and cold mass of people constitutes a dark background to all the bloody killings. Yet Yu Hua concentrates most intently on the fourth group: characters who have lost their human feeling and sense of reason, and hence act mechanically and instinctively, without the slightest moral and intellectual reflection. As Anne Wedell-Wedellsborg points out, the characters depicted in Yu Hua's fiction only have sensory perception but are incapable of intellectual reflection. They see and hear but they do not think, or reflect on what they have done. They are individuals without self. 1 9 In some ways, they are also victims of forces they are unable to control: greed, desire, and vengeful impulses. This lack of human consciousness is illustrated in the following description of a character who coldly and mercilessly kills an innocent boy in "Fate is Inescapable": When Guanfii scrambled to get up from the ground, the child was still sitting there. He looked back and saw Caidie; she was just scrambling to get up. Then he walked towards the child, with the child gazing at him all the time, his two eyes like a pair of fireflies. The child sat there motionless, and the moonlight shone on his body as if covering it with droplets of water. Guanfu walked in front of him and stood there for a while, pondering which part of the child's body he should start with. Finally, he settled on the child's chin; at that moment the child's pointed chin appeared luxuriantly white. Guanfu took a half step backwards, then raised his right foot and aimed a violent kick at the child's chin — he saw the body of the boy turn over lightly, then lie sideways on the ground. Guanfu took a few steps to the side, and this time settled on the child's waist. He saw the moonlight flow down from the 19 See "Dangdai zhongguo wenxue zhong de ziwo yuyatf ^ J t ^ S ^ C ^ ^ p l J ll ^ i§i W (The Allegory of Self in Contemporary Chinese Literature), trans, by Jiang Ren, Today, 93/2. 175-181. 82 child's shoulder and, after reaching his waist, leap like a fish up to his backside. Having settled on the waist, he raised his right foot and kicked ruthlessly. The child's body turned over heavily, and lay prone on the ground. Now Guanfu felt it was necessary to turn the child over, because Guanfu liked the look of him lying face up. So he stuck his feet under the child's belly and gave a little jump: the child's body turned over and lay face up. Guanfu saw that the eyes of the child were wide open, but no longer resembled fireflies. His eyes were like two buttons on an overcoat. Blood flowed out merrily from the side of the child's mouth, and in the moonlight the colour of the blood was just like mud. Guanfu looked the child's chest up and down for a while, and felt that it wouldn't be bad if he could listen to the sound of the ribs cracking. While he was thinking in this way, his feet were treading on the child's ribcage. Then he trod on the stomach as well. Finally, he looked back to see Caidie — Caidie had all along been standing at the side looking on — and he said to her: "Let's go."20 Yu Hua's world is thus peopled with such characters who live without authentic existence, and for whom there is no difference between being alive and being dead. In this light, the ghost-seeing characters in "The Ephemeral World" — the midwife; "6" (the father who sells his daughters, and even their corpses); and "2" (who mercilessly humiliates the driver and forces him to kill himself) — are typical examples of this kind of "living dead." Not only do they cross the boundary between the human and ghostly world, living a ghostly life,21 but they are subject to malevolent supernatural forces, which drive 2 0 Yu Hua, "Nantao jieshu" $J tfc (Fate is Inescapable), in Collected Works, vol. 1, 190-91. This paragraph describes a young man, annoyed by a boy who has accidentally witnessed his love-making with a woman, mercilessly killing him. 21 Here I agree with Martin Moen, who suggests that Yu Hua borrows the pre-modern Chinese idea of the difference and relation between the human world and the spirit world. 83 them to destroy others. Similarly, "Mistakes by the Riverbank" implies that the murderers are just playing the idiotic and senseless game of madmen, without any motive, and no law or morality can accommodate or punish them. Yu Hua's fiction is permeated with despair and profound doubt about the possibility of being human. Another way in which Yu Hua, as implied author, detaches himself from the violence of his characters is by exaggerating their inhuman and laughable side to a grotesque or farcical degree. Although almost all his stories involve the destruction of life, they seldom allow the sense of tragedy to arise in us because this destruction is meaningless; it lacks nobility. Instead we often feel these characters and their indiscriminate killing to be absurd and ridiculous. For example, the depiction of the flight, execution and even division of the corpse of Shangang in "One Kind of Reality" is full of ridiculous details and keeps the reader from feeling sympathy for this dying man. However, my justification of Yu Hua's violent themes doesn't necessarily overcome the criticism that his works written prior to 1989 project an unduly depressing and gloomy picture of the human world. In fact, I feel that the disappearance of an inner tension between the alienated, feeling individual and an absurd reality, which had been evident in his early works, leads to Yu Hua's failure to present a centre of spiritual strength from which the evil is somehow censured. As a result, in many ways the matter-of-fact, naturalistic description of the vicious cycles of revenge, hatred and destruction of life is a rather disturbing and self-defeating approach. His violent stories seem to involve a paradox in that, on the one hand, he reveals that inhumanity lurks in the depths of peoples' The heroine in a famous vernacular story "Yangsiwen Yanshan feng guren" S M. ^ ill M iX A (Yang Siwen Encounters an Old Friend in the Yan Mountains) in Gujin xiaoshuo "S" 4* i& (Stories Old and New) says, "The boundary between human beings and ghosts is very clear in peaceful times; but in today's world, ghosts and human beings are mixed." The story is set in a time of political and social chaos immediately after the fall of the Northern Song. This quotation can serve as a useful explanation of the social background to the collapse of boundaries between human and spirit worlds in Yu Hua's fiction. 84 minds, and by describing its terrible effects and the intensity of dread that it engenders, he deplores the meaningless destruction of human life by thoughtless individuals. Yet on the other hand, his exploration is an incomplete and crippled venture, which discovers only one side of a complex human reality. This drawback is evident not only in the over-simplification and stereotyping in his creation of characters, which I have discussed above, but also in the way he structures his works and their endings. The structure of most of the novellas published between 1988 and 1989, as Yu Hua himself realizes, is an imitation of outside, objective reality22 — a cause-effect, chronological order — and there is no room left for characters to express human choice. This naturalist darkness leads to an ending where everybody, both victim and victimizer, dies. As the Chinese critic Dai Jinhua points out, "From beginning to end there is no-one to witness Death . . . For a race that has lost its desire and ability to reproduce, Death means an absolute extermination."23 However, one fact we must keep in mind when we evaluate Yu Hua's works is that he is a relatively young writer whose vision is developing and maturing as he continues to write. He once declared: "The structure of this world provides more than one possibility. Thus after 'The Ephemeral World,' my continuing search for other structures is still meaningful" (Yu, vol. 2, 286). For Yu Hua, fiction is not a vivid and exciting photocopy of human character or environment, but a symbolic existence, "the symbol of our living in this world" (Yu, vol. 2, 288). And in fact, he himself is a very self-conscious writer who finds that his writing originates from the tension between himself and the world. Writing for him is a never-ending struggle against ignorance, a quest to 2 2 Yu Hua, "Xuwei de zuopin" in Collected Works, Vol. 2, 285. 2 3 Dai Jinhua "Liegu de ling yi cepan: chudu Yu Hua" ^ & 1$ £j — f lj fflf: M £ ^ (On the Other Side of Broken Valley: A First Reading of Yu Hua), in Beijing wenxue, 1989/5. 27-29. 85 discover truth by adopting a new perspective.24 The result is that his fictional writing has exhibited a continual evolution. I would separate his works into two distinct stages, with "The Ephemeral World" as the point of division. In the first stage, he steadily drives his fictional world to the outer limits of absurdity and ultimately dehumanizes his characters. In the latter stage, he becomes engaged in the search for a new form of consciousness within that world, an inner order that exists in opposition to the surrounding chaos and violence. One recurring feature of his works after 1989 is thus the use of first-person narrative, which can be read as the (re)birth of "the witness of Death,"2^ and recurs from the short story "Ancestor" (Zuxian |& (1992) and the novella "This Story is Dedicated to the Girl Called Yangliu" (Ciwen xiangei shaonu yangliu it X Ui in 'P ~k % $P) (1989) to his latest novel To Live (Huozhe #) (1992). This change in narrative technique indicates that Yu Hua's focus has shifted from the radical "objective" description of a living hell of disorder and violence to a lyrical, reflective narrative of the existential awareness of people about their situation. In his renewed search for the consciousness of human beings, the subjective perspective that appears in his earliest works seems to return now with a much richer content. From 1989 to 1991, Yu Hua spent two years working on his first novel and revising it several times. The result was an 80,000 character work Crying in the Fine Rain (Zai xiyu zhong huhan & Qft M 5lS), which had originally been 160,000 characters but was cut to its present length before publication. Although Yu Hua himself was very satisfied with this work, it didn't receive much attention from critics. Yet Crying in the 2 4 Yu Hua, "Hebian de cuowu houji" M 3£ f# fa ^ /g iS (Afterword to "Mistakes by the Riverbank"), Collected Works, vol. 2, 289. 2 ^ Considering the existence of the first-person narrator and the initiation theme in Yu Hua's earliest works, like "Leaving Home and Travelling Afar at Eighteen" and "The April Third Incident," I feel that his works after 1989 are a return to and continuation of this perspective. 86 Fine Rain, using as it does an autobiographical persona to relate the childhood and adolescent years of a peasant boy in his family and school, is one of remarkably few novels from mainland China to explore this period from childhood to adolescence from the perspective of personal growth. Yu Hua has drawn an impressively detailed panorama of the cruelty practiced in everyday life; but at the same time, by adding to this picture the story of the growth of Sun Guanglin $h it #, the reflective narrator-protagonist, from childhood to maturity, he produces a very effective account of developing human consciousness and moral choice. "The House of Pain" For certain critics who have become accustomed to reading all modern Chinese literature as political allegory, the majority of Yu Hua's works disappoint, because of their vague, ahistorical setting and disinterest in any socio-political approach. At most, what they might conclude is that some stories imply the general historical background of the Cultural Revolution. However, as I have indicated, even in such works, Yu Hua shows an interest in delineating the much deeper origins of human suffering. For example, in "Nineteen Eighty-Six," a novella that describes the catastrophic effect of the Cultural Revolution on an ordinary family, Yu Hua juxtaposes a contemporary madman's masochism with the sophisticated punishments detailed in ancient Chinese historical accounts. He implies the persistence of the impulse towards violence and cruelty in human nature and human history. To reiterate, like other younger writers of the 1980s who have modelled their writing on modern Western literature and have adopted a belief in personal discovery, Yu Hua is not interested in the socio-historical approach to human life and the political didacticism of previous writers like Lu Xun, Mao Dun and Wang Meng. The particularly distinctive feature of Yu Hua's vision, as I noted above, is that it often takes place in private situations, most notably within families, and characters are treated more as individuals than as classes or groups. Instead of finding a socio-historical cause for 87 every crime, and blaming cultural tradition, class repression or social injustice, Yu Hua implicitly argues that cruelty and violence are moral errors that originate from ignorance, impulses, desires, and especially from a lack of conscience or capability for moral However, this preference doesn't necessitate the conclusion that Yu Hua and his works are devoid of social meaning and moral message. Milan Kundera, pondering the similarity between the fictional world of Kafka and the reality of totalitarianism in modern history, says: "The psychological mechanisms that function in great (apparently incredible and inhuman) historical events are the same as those that regulate private (quite ordinary and very human) situations."2^ in this light, Yu Hua's special approach to human life is worth examining in its own right, and Crying in the Fine Rain is his most extended treatment of such "private situations" to date. Furthermore, the most subversive feature of Yu Hua's literary exploration is its challenge to the long-lasting myths of family life: unconditional parental care and sibling love and support. Instead of the usual comfortable, pleasant view of the family, Yu Hua, with the clinical precision of a surgeon, exposes bloody violence and cold separation between family members, whether spouses, parents and children, or siblings. Family life becomes an existential hell and, in its extreme form, degenerates into family cannibalism.27 As a reminder of Yu Hua's earlier treatment of families, one could 2 6 Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel, trans. Linda Asher, New York: Grove Press, 1988. 109 2 7 In modern Chinese literature, especially May Fourth period, family myth was challenged in the works of Lu Xun, in Ba Jin's Jia "M- (Family), and Lu Ling's Caizhu de ernumen, M i tfi) JL H~] (The Children of the Rich). However their approach is an anti-traditional, anti-feudalist one, where the old and young generations are simply opposed to each other. Yu Hua is more interested in dealing with individual morality in family life. In terms of the cannibalism depicted in his fiction, Yu Hua reminds us of his relation with his May-Fourth predecessors, especially Lu Xun. However there are some differences between the two generations in the interpretation of the origins of cannibalism. The May-Fourth writers, including later left-wing writers and Communist writers, believing either evolutionary theory or Marxism, often present cannibalism and violence, reflection. 88 mention the curious disintegration of an extended family depicted at the end of "One Kind of Reality," which runs parallel to the dissection of the body of the main character, the brother Shangang. After he is executed for murder, Shangang's resentful sister-in-law gives his body, to a hospital for use in transplants and experiments. The narrator describes the dissection of the body limb by limb in a clinical but also farcical way. The last line is given to the doctor, who takes Shangang's skeleton after the other doctors have collected what they want of his organs: "He pinched the powerful muscle on Shangang's leg and said: 'Although you are very strong, once I put your bones in our research office, you will look so weak that the wind could blow you over'" (Yu, Collected Works, Vol. 2, 45). Putting this sentence into the context of the family's disintegration, Yu Hua seems to imply that the structure and idea of a family is also so fragile that it cannot endure a gust of wind. Without real substance, real "flesh and blood" of human affection, a family will be nothing but a pile of dead skin, organs, and bone. However, with a touch of black humor, Yu Hua designs a sharply ironic ending: the transplanted penis of Shangang makes a woman pregnant and now Shangang has a kind of descendant. The whole cycle of revenge, which originated with the death of a toddler, and culminated with Shangang's sister-in-law giving his body to be cut up by doctors, now seems about to begin again in yet another family. With this seed of ignorance and hatred, Yu Hua implies, this kind of family life still has the possibility to carry on, and to continue destroying itself, as long as people remain unaware of their absurd behaviour. One of the main features of Crying in the Fine Rain is its continuation of the examination of family relations. This time the focus is a poor peasant household of three even as it happens within a family, in terms of generational conflict or class struggle, for example, Ba Jin in Jia, and Wu Zuxiang Jc IS in "Fan Village" ^  i t M ~F. Although Lu Xun probably has more complicated ideas in mind when he presents cannibalism in "Diary of a Madman," the source of cannibalism however, he concludes, is the Confucian tradition. This view is certainly one that is limited by Lu's historical environment. 89 generations in a suburban village called South Gate ]§ H , which has lately been redesignated a town. The narrator-protagonist Sun Guanglin is the second son of this family, but at the age of six he is given for adoption to a young couple living in another town. This early experience of being deserted foreshadows his experiences later in life. After his adopted parents leave him five years later, he comes back to his real parents' house, only to find that he is now a stranger in his own home. This situation of being estranged from parents and siblings as well as from villagers causes him deep fear and suffering, and feelings of loneliness and abandonment. It is through the point of view of this orphaned and alienated boy that the novel presents its sad and gloomy picture of childhood life. The novel is divided into four chapters, each chapter dealing with one period and/or aspect of the narrator-protagonist Sun Guanglin's childhood. Chapter One gives a broad picture of the Sun family in South Gate, which includes this boy's being mistreated in his own home, his younger brother's death, his older brother's marriage, his parents' relationship, and also some episodes of village life. Chapter Two concentrates on the narrator-protagonist's middle-school years; the main events involve his adolescent awakening, the growth of his sexual awareness, and his search for friendship. Chapter Three focuses on his grandfather's life, from his youth right up to his miserable later years and death. This chapter undoubtedly stems from the protagonist's childhood experiences living with his grandfather, and emphasizes the common features in the situations of the old man and this boy. The last chapter narrates the five year period when the boy was staying with his adopted parents, and the friendships with neighbouring children that he developed at that time. This account of childhood is told by a first-person narrator, who is an adult recalling his own past suffering. Compared with Yu Hua's previous works, which also describe separation and destruction within a family, this novel deepens the theme by 90 focussing on the victim's experience — what has been called "the wounds inflicted upon the individual."28 The story begins with the narrator-protagonist Sun Guanglin's two earliest memories: In the year of 1965, a child's intangible fear of the dark night began. I remember that night when fine rain came fluttering down: at that time, I had already gone to sleep; I was so small, like a toy put in the bed. The dripping from the roof only made the presence of the silence clearer, and my gradual falling to sleep was a gradual forgetting of the raindrops. It must have been at that moment, when I fell safely and peacefully to sleep, that it seemed as if a quiet, secluded road appeared, with trees and bushes on both sides: the tearful cries of a woman came from a distance; and the sudden sound of this hoarse voice on that incomparably peaceful dark night made the childhood years in my recollection of this moment tremble ceaselessly. I see myself: a shocked child, opening his frightened eyes wide, the shape of his face vague in the darkness. The crying of that woman lasted for a long time. I was so anxious and scared waiting for the arrival of another voice, a voice that would appear to answer the woman's cries, which would be able to stop her weeping, but it didn't appear. Now I am able to realize the reason for my terror at that moment: it is because I never did hear a voice that came to answer her. There is nothing that makes a person tremble more than lonely helpless crying in a rainy, empty expanse of dark night. (Yu, Collected Works, Vol. 3, 4.) 2 8 Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. London: Verso, 1987, 164. 91 This sensory and symbolic imagery, although first presented as this protagonist's memory, actually establishes both the perspective and the theme of the novel. If the dark rainy night is the environment of human life in the narrator's eyes, then crying is the suffering and despair of human beings as isolated individuals. This first memory, as the first appearance of consciousness, is crucial because it is closely connected with real events in the narrator's life. First, the boy hears the woman crying one night in 1965. In the same year, he is given away by his parents, probably due to financial considerations. At that time, his grandfather is paralysed and can't work, and the parents have three children and an elderly man to feed. So the crying foreshadows this boy's whole childhood experience, as we later discover when reading about his family and school life. Even the image of crying in the rain later finds imagistic echoes in his life: the mother's desperate shouts in the snow the night before her miserable death; and the boy's helpless crying in the wind when he is first adopted by strangers, and later his adoptive mother Li Xiuying's hysterical crying when she is abandoned by her husband. Secondly, this memory is soon related to the narrator-protagonist's first experience of death: he witnesses a man in black clothes commit suicide just days later, and immediately connects it with the crying on that dark night: "In a wet landscape, a strange man walks towards me. The clothes he wears are all black, and as he comes walking along, those black clothes sway just like banners under the gloomy sky. This approaching scene suddenly brings to my mind once again the clear cries of that woman" (Yu, Vol. 3, 5). This image of a strange man in black is a symbol of death and the boy's memory of him has definite metaphysical implications. The fact that the events and images surrounding that death are repeated again and again later — his younger brother's death, his mother's death, his grandfather's death, his adopted father Wang Liqiang's death and the death of the old woman in Guoqing's neighbourhood, all of which accompany the adult narrator's meditation on life and growing up — prove this point. 92 In this way, the development of knowledge and memory in the young child involves his initial realization of the dark and corrupting forces attacking life; death is inseparably joined with suffering and impotent cries for help. This memory especially stresses the fact that what most frightens the child is not the crying itself but the fact that such lonely, helpless crying is never answered and never receives the consolation of others. The image of crying in the rain, chosen also as the title of the novel, therefore encapsulates the separation and suffering among human beings that are the main concern of the work. However, the next image in the novel is also essential for our understanding of the work as a whole: "Another memory that follows is of several white lambs walking up from a grassy field on a river bank. Obviously this is an impression from the daytime and it brings consolation for the disturbance caused by the previous memory. It is just that I find it difficult to fix my position when I receive this impression" (Vol. 3, 4). This sun-filled, safe and warm image from the daytime appears quite clearly as the diametrical opposite of the crying in the darkness. The narrator calls it a consolation for the first memory. However, he can't locate his place in the image, and reading the novel, we notice that the only equivalent of this sunny picture in the narrator-protagonist's actual life is the short, innocent and happy time before his initial desertion: "I remember a morning like this, a clear, transparent morning. I was dashing after several children of the village, and underneath our feet was soft earth and green grass dancing in the wind. At that time, the sunshine was more like mild colour spread over our bodies, not yet brilliant rays dazzling our eyes. We dashed along, like those lambs beside the river."(5) The main body of the novel, coming after this introductory meditation, starts when the boy is deserted for the second time and is forced to return to South Gate, so that this "Garden of Eden," which represents the wholeness and innocence of life, can only be remembered as an absence in real life. He loses the vision irretrievably just when he starts to understand it. This makes this vision of happiness and wholeness a fantastic and dream-93 like occurrence, a psychological reflection of the desire for a lost paradise, for goodness and beauty, security and love — all those qualities that are lacking in real life. And yet, although very dream-like and rarely present, the very existence of this contrasting image is nevertheless important for us, when it comes to understanding the narrator's dialectical vision of human life and the human spirit. On the one hand, darkness and suffering provide the conditions for a person's existence; but on the other hand, the narrator does not mechanically accept the darker influences in his life as the only shaping forces in his personal growth. Thus, perhaps as a corollary to this second image, Yu Hua allows us the faint hope that acquaintance with pain, fear and trembling will ultimately bring wisdom, compassion and resolution. This is implied in the narrator's description of the sincere friendship and love between himself, his neighbours and his friends, in his understanding of family members from the vantage point of his adult years, and in his persistent pursuit of greater maturity and a better life. Immediately following these two highly symbolic memories, there comes not the expected chronological order of events, which should include the narrator's five years from age six to twelve with his adopted parents, but a jump to his darkest experience of returning home as a twelve year-old stranger, with its consequent alienation and mistreatment: "In my twelfth year, after Wang Liqiang died, I returned all alone to South Gate. It was as if I had once again begun life as an adopted child. In those days, I constantly had a strange feeling: it seemed that Wang Liqiang and Li Xiuying were my real parents, and this family in South Gate was only giving me charity"(8). Not welcome in his family, this boy who comes back by himself becomes an orphan in his own home. His father hates him because his return adds another burden to his life; often he is hostile to and resentful of the boy, mistreating and beating him. His mother, with hard work to do in the fields as well as housework, neglects him; his two brothers, half out of childish malice, half imitating the parents, distance themselves from him and bully him. Even his grandfather, another victim of the family's hostility, seldom 94 dares to show any affection or support for him, since this will only create more difficulties for him. There are numerous scenes that show the boy's unenviable plight: he is beaten by his father when falsely accused by his siblings; he is deliberately ignored by the family and other villagers; he is even forced by his father to play a humiliating role in hastening his grandfather's death. The following description of his begging for love and attention is especially touching: when Sun Guanglin is badly ill and lying in bed, the family still busy themselves with the birth of a lamb and leave him there alone; for the family, the lamb is more important than an unwanted child. Later the doctor is called in, and the memory the boy retains is of the doctor's warm touch. Even such a simple and professional touch creates in this desperate child the illusion of being loved, and from that time on, he tries to attract the doctor's attention: "After I recovered, the child's sentimental attachment for the adult that was hidden inside me started to stir At first, I often waited on the road along which the doctor would pass when he came home after work, watching him approaching from afar, imagining the intimate words he would say to me when he came near, and hoping that he would stroke my forehead with his wide palm" (Yu, Vol.3, 12). Unfortunately, the boy's feelings are not understood at all by the busy doctor: "He always passed me in a hurry, only occasionally even casting a glance in my direction. It was the kind of glance with which a stranger looks at another stranger" (13). This cold and hostile environment causes the narrator-protagonist to experience separation and desertion very early in his life. Alienated and neglected, he takes the solitary stance of an outsider. Unlike happy children protected by their parents and appreciated by their peers, such as the Su brothers, he is more or less exiled from the house, spending most of his time sitting beside a pool in the fields: "But after I returned to South Gate, I suddenly had no-one to rely on" (12). "I could only spend lengthy periods longing for my past life in Wang Liqiang's family, and my childhood companions in Sundang. I remembered innumerable happy past events, but at the same time I couldn't 95 get rid of the feelings of sadness. I would sit alone beside the pool, intrepidly travelling into the past. My lonely smile and flowing tears greatly surprised the villagers. In their eyes, more and more, I seemed like an alien" (8). This experience, which forces the boy to grow up prematurely, is a demonstration of the hurt and suffering caused by a lack of love and care in his family life. Yu Hua stresses that this separation from parents and siblings is the most painful and wounding occurrence during the boy's whole childhood and adolescent years. Nevertheless, the mutual estrangement of the boy and his family makes the narrator-protagonist a remarkably sharp witness to the abnormality of human relations and living conditions in the village. Through his eyes, therefore, the novel gives a biting and realistic picture of life in the Chinese countryside. As with other peasant families, poverty is the major problem in his home. As a result of poverty, the children and the old man are treated as burdens. Sun Guanglin's initial dispatch to a foster family probably occurs because his real parents can thereby get rid of a mouth to feed, and receive some extra money in the process. Likewise, the details about the brothers jealously peering at the dinner table of their neighbour the doctor, the children fighting over food and sweets at a wedding, and especially the mistreatment of the grandfather by the father are all connected with the poverty that most characterizes the Chinese peasant family. However, poverty is not necessarily the cause of cruelty. The narrator indicates that people can care for and support each other even in difficult times, giving the example of his grandfather's filial obedience towards his parents and gentle love for his wife. And by contrast, a person like Guqing's father can act in a shamelessly cruel manner towards his nine year-old son despite his comfortable financial situation. The boy's own experience implies that most of the suffering does not originate in poverty but in different kinds of separation, and lack of love and sympathy. We notice that, instead of close ties and unconditional love, which are supposed to be most perfectly embodied in family 96 relations, what completely dominates this family is betrayal, exploitation, hatred and mistreatment. The human bond here is just a form without real substance. This separation and mutual destruction prevails in almost every relationship within the family. The husband and the wife lack love and communication, only retaining their sexual urges and habitual maintenance of the outward form of a marriage. Even this slight connection is smashed when the father publicly has an affair with a widow and gives away his wife's property. The siblings show even less affinity and love for each other, exhibiting a propensity for making use of each other for practical ends, and frequently fighting and bullying those weaker than themselves: as an example, the elder brother tries to grab sweets and food from the younger brother, and also bribes the younger brother to lie for him to avoid being punished by their father. Clearly, their behaviour is modelled on their parents. At the centre of this series of abnormal relations and characters is the figure of the father. The father is depicted here as totally despicable. He is a brazen patriarch who has lost all his humanity and sense of shame, as well as any sense of responsibility for fatherhood or filial behaviour. He is not only a failure in all these family relationships but also hurts and brings trouble to everybody who crosses his path. He is an alcoholic, a sexist, a sluggard and a liar. He insults his silent wife by encouraging his mistress to fight with her; he steals the meagre property of this poor home to satisfy his own lust; he destroys his elder son's marriage by insulting his daughter-in-law. Yet the two most shocking examples of his predatory exploitation of the family members concern his youngest son and his elderly father. With the former, he dreams of using his accidental death (while saving another child) as a ladder to climb up the social scale and transform his life of poverty. With his own disabled father, he doesn't give him enough food and curses him continuously, right up to the time of his death. This character totally neglects the virtues of fatherhood and humanity, and he displays no filial feelings, no protection or love, and no loyalty. 97 The narrator-protagonist's attitude toward his father is one of total alienation and rejection. The way he addresses him formally by his name,"Sun Guangcai # f jf" is just one example of this detachment. When depicting his father, the narrator-protagonist adds touches of black humor to make him appear a completely bestial and absurd creature. There is, for example, the scene of his death. Abandoned by all his relatives, the father becomes an alcoholic. One night he becomes drunk and falls into the village manure pit and dies there, and another character Old Man Luo 3? 3t 3< mistakes his body for that of a pig. The narrator not only treats this foulest place as his father's life destination, but also connects him with the most detestable animal in Chinese culture. The narrator-protagonist must keep his distance from other members of this family as well. Although they are not as mean and shameless as his father, their ignorance, indifference and malevolence hurt other people without their seeming to realize it. However, they themselves are often depicted as victims at the same time. In this respect, the characters in this novel are more rich and many-sided than those in Yu Hua's previous novellas. An example is the elder brother, who during his adolescent years is in many respects the miniature image of his father. He bullies the weak and young, takes advantage of women, acts in an opportunistic manner, and is lazy and lacking in sympathy. However, the difficult conditions of poverty and his father's bad behaviour force him quickly to grow into manhood, and with his own experience of suffering, he gradually begins to show more humanity and sympathy towards others: he supports his younger brother the protagonist's decision to go to university, and increases his filiality to his sick mother, his love for his wife and child, and anguish about the wickedness of his father. The other major characters in the family are themselves mainly victims. In particular, the mother is depicted as a hard-working and silent woman, the victim of poverty, her husband's tyranny and her own ignorance. All she does is maintain this family, but in the end every member of the family betrays her. She endures all the suffering and hurt silently during her lifetime, and only at the end of her life does her 98 uncharacteristic crying and cursing release all her sadness, resentment, and anger. This episode is the real-life echo of the symbolic shouting and crying in the protagonist's memory at the very beginning of the novel: Brother sent a letter telling me: that day it was snowing very heavily outside. Mother, on her last legs, spent the final day of her life in the cold. Yinghua sat beside her all the time, and mother's appearance on her deathbed seemed calm and composed. When evening came, this woman who had been silent all her life started to shout loudly, and her voice was shockingly piercing. All her shouting was directed at Sun Guangcai, and even though she had said nothing when Sun Guangcai conveyed the family property to the widow, her dying shouts proved that she had never forgotten it. Before she died, my mother repeatedly shouted: " My chamber pot! Don't take it away; I still need it!" And: "Give me back my foot basin!" (49) Another victim in this house, one whom I briefly mentioned above, is the grandfather. In Chapter Three, the narrator-protagonist digresses from his own story to tell that of his grandfather — the imaginary history of the grandfather as a filial and strong craftsman is interwoven with his miserable later years as a cowardly, pitiable, sometimes insidious old man. In this chapter, the narrator attempts to put together the fragments of the past that he has collected from his grandfather's telling as well as from his own personal observations. He depicts his grandfather as a young craftsman with traditional Chinese virtues: hard-working, honest, filial, and even respectful to his wife. Yet this glorious history contrasts with the present situation of domestic abuse, and the father's mistreatment of the grandfather. Disabled in his later years, the grandfather, this formerly 99 witty and strong man, has to bow to fate and his unfilial son. And this shameless son (the protagonist's father) even uses various ploys in an attempt to hasten his death. Separation and cruelty between human beings is not limited to this family. Such is the vision the narrator-protagonist adopts for the whole of South Gate: the world of its adults, and the hostile circumstances in which he grows up, and from which he becomes totally alienated. In fact, we learn later that after he graduates, he can't wait to escape that place and wants to forget it completely. South Gate, made up basically of families like the Sun's, is a place of ignorance, opportunism, and gloating over others' misfortunes. When he recalls this poor and immoral place, represented by the Sun Family, the narrator arranges the different sections to show the different stages of human life: childhood and adolescence through himself and his siblings; marriage through the farcical wedding of Wang Yuejin j£ $k i 3 ; giving birth to a child, growing old, and dying through his parents and grandparents. This makes South Gate a microcosm of the whole human world and life cycle as perceived by the narrator-protagonist. The sensitive boy's solitary but sharp observations on its ugliness and absurdity are likewise perceptions of the human condition and existence in general. Apart from the typical example of the Suns, the human tragedy of love and beauty destroyed in South Gate is also augmented by the story of the woman Feng Yuqing 74 3£ lf\ Initially Feng is remembered by the lonely boy as a beautiful, gentle young girl who is an ideal love for many of the villagers (chapter 1). However, this goddess-like image is soon destroyed in real life when her lover betrays her and marries another girl. Being thus insulted publicly and losing face for her family, Feng threatens to commit suicide at the 100 wedding. In this way, the wedding, as a ritual that symbolizes the noble and close ties between separate human beings, is here ironically presented as a tragicomic farce of betrayal, separation, and lack of sympathy. This abandonment has clearly changed Feng's life irrevocably: the second time the narrator, as a grown young man, encounters her (chapter 2), he finds that she now lives a difficult life with an illegitimate child. In the daytime she works as a laundress, and at night as a prostitute, an occupation that soon lands her in prison. This destroyed woman is another victim of the poverty and cruelty that surround her in South Gate. This vision of a life of miserable suffering without love and sympathy between human beings is later extended beyond the Sun family and even beyond South Gate, when the protagonist is adopted by a couple in the town called Sundang # Hj. In Sundang, where the narrator-protagonist lives for five years with his adopted parents, the same loneliness, cruelty and separation are apparent. In this respect, the place is no different from South Gate. In the family of his adoptive parents, sexual disharmony leads the man to an extramarital affair, and finally results in a violent action in which he kills several others as well as himself, which leaves this boy again an orphan. In this section, the narrator presents another account of abandonment, that of his childhood friend Guoqing HI fc. Guoqing lost his mother earlier, and is abandoned by his father at the age of nine. Unlike the Sun's, this is not because the father cannot afford to raise the son, but simply because he wants to live with another woman. The story is especially moving since it is told from the naive viewpoint of Guoqing, and shows his 101 persistent longing for his father's love and his continual returning to look for him. We are given a description of his premature adultlike behavior: Guoqing woke up one morning when he was nine years old, and he had to master his own fate. When still very far from being an adult, still far from throwing off his father's control, he suddenly gained his independence. This premature freedom forced him to shoulder his own fate, just as if he was shouldering heavy luggage, and to stumble about on the crowded streets without knowing where he was heading. (168). The boy then stops going to school, and becomes the youngest labourer in the town. If Guoqing's experience is a variant of the protagonist's experience of being abandoned, then similarly the account of the lonely old woman who is Guoqing's neighbour also echoes that of the narrator's grandfather. Her lonely and strange life is like that of a ghost, a ghost whose last moments are disturbed by the dog that has always scared her. She dies on the way home after buying groceries, and her death is explained by Guoqing, the only person who comprehends her superstitious ways: Guoqing told us later that the old woman froze to death when she got lost. She was in too much of a hurry when she went to the nether world: she even forgot to wear a winter coat and carry an oil lamp. The road to the nether world was too long to reach the end, and it was both dark and cold. She walked and walked in a darkness in which one could hardly see one's own hands, and as a result she lost her way. The cold wind attacked her 102 from the front, and she was so cold that she trembled. She really couldn't carry on, and had to sit down. This is how she froze to death. (182) This superstitious belief about death reveals not just the sadness of a lonely old woman's existence, but also the deep fear and darkness in a twelve year-old boy's heart, which enables him to experience and sympathetically comprehend such a painful event despite his inability to relate to it in an adult fashion. Moreover, the sadness and separation extends even to the seemingly civilized and happy local family of the Su's ^ =|C, as the narrator-protagonist finds on gradual acquaintance with the Su brothers. This family, though not so overtly violent as the Sun's, demonstrates a similar lack of mutual care and real communication: the parents are so busy with their own work that they neglect their children, so that even the sudden death of their son is discovered not by a family member but by an outsider. Su Hang's moral decline into an ignorant hooligan, and Su Yu's suppressed curiosity about sex, which leads him to commit a crime and, finally, his unnoticed death, are symptomatic of the coldness and lack of communication that prevail in most of the families depicted in the novel. Whether we consider the physical abuse rampant in the Sun Family or the spiritual isolation of the Su Family, the crude violence of South Gate or the slightly more disguised emotional neglect at Sundang, these families and the villages or towns where they live are simply extensions of those unnamed towns in Yu Hua's early works, but with a more realistic appearance. Again and again, the whole concept of family and the possibility of healthy human relations is challenged by this boy's real experience in life. Separation, fear and pain seem the universal constants, and human bonds are almost completely severed, with the weak, the elderly, and the children becoming the victims who suffer the most. 103 From Initiation to Personal Growth As I have mentioned in my introduction, one of the most distinctive features of the younger generation of Chinese writers, including Yu Hua, Ge Fei, Su Tong and others, is the artistic sensibility of "Youth Consciousness," which is manifested in their concern with personal growth, their autobiographical, self-assertive narrators, and their distinctively lyrical, sometimes sentimental, style. To a certain degree, this phenomenom can be compared with the May-Fourth "romantic generation," in that the subjectivism and individualism displayed in the literature of both periods marks the awakening of a consciousness of self both on an individual and a national scale.29 With regard to Yu Hua, this consciousness of youth is most clearly embodied in his consistent concern with adolescent experience, which in his later works develops into the realm of personal growth.30 As I noted above, Yu Hua began his writing career with stories on the initiation theme, like "Leaving Home and Travelling Afar at Eighteen" and "The April Third Incident," involving the strongly subjective perspective of an anguished 2 y For the May-Fourth literary generation and their legacy of subjectivism and individualism, see Leo Ou-fan Lee, Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers, Harvard Univ. Press, 1973. 3 0 In order to help readers assess the value of Crying in the Fine Rain within its context, I should mention the relative lack of novels from the Mainland concentrating on personal growth in its own right before the mid-1980s — even, perhaps, during the whole modern period in China. This is a strange phenomenon especially worth noting when we compare it with the Western novel, in which personal origins and experience and their relation with individuals' intellectual and ethical maturation have become one of the main concerns of the genre. And as one scholar has rightly observed, the Bildungsroman is actually the dominant form of Western narrative. The Chinese situation arose partly because of its evolution as a distinct literary tradition (see the first part of my Chapter 1), and partly because even after the May-Fourth "cultural enlightenment," when individualistic philosophies were introduced, the concept of the individual and individualism were still not broadly accepted. And this is not to mention the subsequent violent suppression of individualism during the Communist regime, which wiped out even such meagre beginnings. 104 young man. And during the past ten years, Yu Hua has constantly returned to this process of maturing and coming-of-age. Especially since 1989, he has developed the theme of personal growth with extreme enthusiasm, publishing "Love Story"(Aiqing gushi %k $t ^) (1989); "This Story is Dedicated to the Girl Called Yangliu" (1989); "Summer Typhoon" (Xiaji taifeng Jt ^ a J*l) (1990); and his first full-length novel Crying in the Fine Rain. All these stories share with the two early initiation stories a preoccupation with adolescent experience, involving a young man's encounter with an alienated world, and his establishment of selfhood as a protection against outside chaos. Although some are told using third-person narrative, and some using the first-person, these initiation stories all perceive the world from a subjective vantage point, and reconstruct events around the polarity of self and alienated world. On one side, there is a sensitive and innocent, but also frightened and wounded young man. On the other side, the cruel, blind and violent world. The alienation of the one from the other constitutes the inner tension of these stories. Considering the highly "mature" and didactic narrative voices holding forth in previous literature from the Mainland, this adolescent perspective and experience, admirably matched with a reserved and well-crafted style, is fresh and provocative when viewed in its Chinese context, not naive or immature as some Western readers have felt.31 Another distinctive feature of these stories is that all the protagonists are placed in an existential situation that might be termed first separation, or even "abandonment," although in most stories it is a spiritual, rather than physical, loss of home; the adolescent protagonists, neglected by and separated from their parents and persecuted at school, are •>1 Andrew F. Jones gives some examples of this response in his article "Chinese Literature in the 'World' Literary Economy," in Modern Chinese Literature, 1994 (Fall) 189. 105 left alone to face the first shocks of confronting the outside world.3 2 This identification with an adolescent perspective in Yu Hua's fiction actually inspires its most powerful quality: the ability to evoke an experience of fear and trembling. In his later works, Yu Hua has also subtly shifted his focus from the unrelenting cruelty of a totally destructive world — apparent in his earlier stories — to the protagonist's development of the inner order and strength necessary to deal with that same outside world. For instance, in "This Story is Dedicated to the Girl Called Yangliu," the protagonist appears as a recluse who only goes out in the night and makes no friends with others. The description of events in this novella rejects the conventional outside order, and instead totally accords with the protagonist's psychological experience. The only reality thus consists of memories, fantasy and dreams that appear even more real and authentic than outside events. Also, the protagonist seems not to care much about the outside world: shock and fear is thus replaced by contempt and alienation. We can sense that a relatively calm and confident self-perception and self-discovery is going on, although of course confusion and pain are also apparent. I have also become aware of an interesting development in these later stories, that is, the appearance of a retrospective point of view. For example, in "Love Story," Crying in the Fine Rain, and the most recent novel To Live, the childhood and adolescent experience is recalled by an adult or an old man, providing the structural juxtaposition of i l This adolescent experience of separation and loneliness is probably related to Yu Hua's own personal experience. Yu Hua has disclosed that he was very lonely in his teenage years and his parents, like the Su's in Crying in the Fine Rain, were busy doctors who seldom communicated with their children. In some ways, his family seems a typical, though rather extreme, example of provincial town intellectual families, with the parents working all day, and the two children (he has a brother) locked in the home before they were old enough to go to school. It is not clear whether he really had major conflicts with his parents, but it is almost certain that they did not show any concern for his inner development. As a result, the feeling of being trapped and the desire to escape from home are prevalent in most of his writings. See Zhu Wei ^ "Guanyu Yu Hua" 5c 4k (About Yu Hua), in Zhongshan, 1989/4; and "Zizhuan" g (Autobiography) in Collected Works, Vol. 3, 381. 106 past and present, and his mature, reflective tone adds to the story the sense that it is possible to overcome the difficulties of existence, and grow into manhood. This is a new theme that Yu Hua's early initiation stories lack. A comparison of his manner of dealing with "abandonment" in the earlier and later works will clarify this point. In his earlier stories like "April Fourth Incident," Yu Hua depicts abandonment as closely connected to the cruelty and lack of love between human beings, and shows how it brings deep shock and fear to individuals, especially to innocent, but guilt-laden, adolescents. And when limited to the perspective of anguished teenagers, existence is certainly like being trapped in a maze leading nowhere. But by the time Yu Hua comes to write To Live he has, as he himself claims, moved to the next stage of his life; he has certainly gained a broader perspective on life, and realizes that "the mission of a writer is not to air his grievances, or to denounce or expose; rather he should show people nobility. This nobility is not simple beauty, but a transcendence which comes after understanding all things, treating good and evil equally, and looking at the world with a sympathetic eye."33 In this way initiation develops into enlightenment. To illustrate further, in To Live, Yu Hua opens up both his perspective and subject-matter, depicting how ordinary Chinese people endure and survive various catastrophes, and the "young man" retreats into the background as the recorder of others' experiences. However, even though the novel doesn't confine itself to adolescence and the experience of youth, the theme of personal growth and enlightenment through life still lingers. The protagonist is a centenarian man who has experienced all the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, and his account of his own life story constitutes the major part of this novel. The narrator, however, is a young man who wanders around and collects folk ballads in the countryside, and in one of his journeys, he meets this old man, who tells him his life story from youth to old age. This novel thus contains two related themes, revealed 3 3 Yu Hua, preface of Huozhe 5f (To Live), Collected Works, vol. 2, 291. 107 through Fugui IS M, the old man's, life story as well as through the dialogical relationship between the old man and the young narrator "I": one is to make known to the world the suffering and survival of ordinary people, here represented by a Chinese peasant family;34 and the other theme is that of personal growth and enlightenment. Originally a "wanderer" Vi! "? with a decadent lifestyle, Fugui endures all kinds of difficulties and ends up as a survivor who finally understands the simple but profound truths of life. More subtle, but equally important for understanding the work, is the connection between this account and the life of the young man who listens to it. The novel opens with the narrator's self-portrait in which he depicts himself, too, as a wandering young man just starting his life journey and looking for the true meaning of life. His travels into the lives of ordinary people are thus suffused with the atmosphere of self-education. Now and then, the narrative is also interrupted by the narrator's own comments and reflections on the old man's story: This old man was the one I met first. At that time, I had just started my wandering years; I was young and free of care, and every new face interested me; anything I didn't know attracted me deeply. It was at that moment that I met Fugui. . . The meeting with Fugui filled my later days of collecting folk ballads with happy expectation. I thought there would be numerous people like Fugui in that fertile and prosperous land . . . However, since then I haven't met such an unforgettable man as Fugui, one so clear about his own experience, who could talk about himself so brilliantly. He is the kind of person who can see his own self in the past, 3 4 According to the ancient anthology the Classic of Odes (Shijing i^ f In), every year the ruler would send a government official to the countryside to collect folk ballads as a means to know the peoples' feelings. Such collected songs supposedly formed China's first poetic anthology. This tradition has certainly been kept alive by Chinese writers over thousands of years. They have constantly seen themselves as the voices of the people. 108 who can precisely see the way he walked when he was young, and can even see how he got old. (Collected Works, vol. 3, 256-7) Therefore, even though the narrator assumes the position of recorder of the people, he is still a young man like Yu Hua's other protagonists, on the threshold of manhood, searching for the meaning and truth of life.3 ^  Thus, Yu Hua's recent works have shown that the "adolescent" perspective, which he intuitively adopted at the beginning of his writing career, has developed into a set of mature, dialectical visions of human life. He seems to imply that on the one hand, separation, and abandonment are existential problems that bring pain and suffering; on the other hand, however, they also set the stage for growing up and living independently in the world. True initiation or revelation is only achieved when there is a self growing against, but not denying, that harsh and alienated world. To use the metaphors from one of his stories "Summer Typhoon," if the inner growth of the boy Baiyang [E3 % can be described as a storm inside, it happens against the background of an unpredictable natural catastrophe — an earthquake. Such a dialectical understanding of individual growth and its cruel human environment also dominates the development of themes in Crying in the Fine Rain. To conclude my analysis of this novel, therefore, I would like to redress the balance between destruction, and growth overcoming destruction, by detailing several examples of the latter. Let me start with the central experience of being abandoned and the dominant motif of home in this novel. As I mentioned above, the protagonist Sun Guanglin was abandoned three times before he reached the age of twelve, twice by his real parents, and once by his adoptive parents. This abandonment constitutes the most painful event of his Unfortunately, in the film version of "To Live," this perspective or framework is lost. 109 adolescent years. And it is treated as both a real and figurative experience of leaving home — that is, home not just as a physical structure but also as a spiritual "place" where a person can find shelter as well as identification. I also noted that the novel opens with the boy's first memory of leaving his real parents' house and being taken away by a stranger, his adoptive father Wang Liqiang. At that time, this boy was too young to realize what was happening, and only much later does he become aware of the situation of being in a strange place without seeing familiar people: When I was approaching my seventh birthday, the changes in my life seemed to make me into another person. I should say that at that time I was always very confused about my situation: it was almost as though the drifting childhood years changed me in an instant from the Sun Guanglin in that noisy South Gate home to the constantly frightened me between Li Xiuying's moaning and Wang Liqiang's sighing. (158) The boy has become confused with his own identity and lost his sense of continuity. Such confusion and despair is most vividly described in the episode when, on his way to school, Sun Guanglin mistakes a strange boy for his brother, and after running after that boy and finding out that he is not his brother, in that instant he becomes aware that he won't ever go back home: "Suddenly I realized that I had long since left South Gate, and this abrupt shock of reality made me very sad. That was the moment I most wanted to go back to South Gate, but in tears I walked on in the howling north wind" (161). The sense of place and belonging that children develop when they start to notice the world around them thus appears to this boy only in the inverted guise of separation and displacement. A similar series of events surrounds his second abandonment. It is only after the boy becomes used to his adoptive parents and new home, and starts to establish his own 110 "social relations," for instance with his peers at school, that his adoptive parents leave him one after the other. His step-father Wang Liqing's extramarital affair is exposed, and his resentment leads him to homicide as well as suicide. The widowed Li Xiuying then shouts all day to express her sadness and anguish, and decides to leave town to return to her mother's home: "Li Xiuying forgot me: an overdose of sadness made her forget everything except herself. As the day gradually dawned, I, just twelve years old, suddenly became an orphan" (224). During this whole time, the adults care only about themselves, never showing any responsibility or consideration for the child, who needs most care at that moment. Now the boy is left with only one choice: to find his way back to the family that had abandoned him five years earlier. Here I should also draw attention to the interesting structure of this novel, which helps to illuminate this leaving home motif. As I mentioned, the novel, after some fragmentary memories of early childhood and being taken away from home by the adoptive father, starts with the boy's teenage years after he returns to his real parents' house as a stranger. After an account of his adolescent years since his return, the last chapter is devoted to the years in his adoptive parents' house immediately before he returns home at twelve, and the novel ends having come full circle to the point where it opened: the boy, after overcoming all kinds of difficulties, finally arrives home. He proudly announces in front of his real parents' house: "I am looking for Sun Guangcai (my father)." This circular arrangement, of ending the novel at the point where it starts, reveals a sad but also sophisticated understanding of the concept of home. On the one hand, this innocent announcement sounds ironic, since we already know from the previous chapters that what follows is not reunion and identification but entrapment and estrangement — the father doesn't want this son and the home is a house of pain. On the other hand, this ending bears witness to the hidden progress of the protagonist's growth into a young man who can find his way, who has matured from the little boy who was thrown away and had 111 no control over his fate six years ago. His trek and search for his home in the countryside depicted in the last part of the novel is therefore a meaningful symbol revealing that even though his life is destined to be a further series of abandonments, the boy can still persist in claiming his right to grow up, and in searching for his home. This home motive is further developed through its connection to the adult narrator's present life. During his account of the past, the narrator frequently interrupts to tell us the origins of this account and his present situation. We find out that the narrator-protagonist left home and went to university in Beijing at the age of eighteen. He once tried to forget his unhappy past, to escape from the shadow of South Gate: After I went a long way from South Gate, my old home of South Gate would never be able to make me feel any affection. For a long time, I stubbornly defended this idea . . . . Once there was a young woman who politely inquired about my childhood and hometown, but I actually became very angry with her: 'What right do you have forcing me to accept the reality I have already escaped?' (17) However, ten years later when he has grown older, returning to his hometown awakens his memories of childhood life in another light: he soon realizes that the past still remains there as experience to help him find a better life. At worst, it can serve as a warning to remind him that the past moral degeneration of others shouldn't be repeated in his own life: More than ten years later, I returned to my hometown, and arrived at South Gate alone in the night. . . . Although everything was completely changed, I could still precisely locate the site of my former home and the pool. . . The sudden appearance of the pool exposed me to another attack 112 of emotion. The pool in my memory had always brought me warmth; yet actually appearing now, it awakened the reality of the past. Looking at the floating dirt on the surface of the water, I knew that the pool existed not for consoling me but, more precisely, as a sign of the past — not only has it never disappeared from my memory, but still persists there in the fields of South Gate, in order to remind me forever. (17) To return to one's childhood is thus "a search for one's inner standing,"3°" and returning home spiritually means to come to terms with the past. In real life, the progression from child to adult is certainly an irreversible process; however, an inner growth towards understanding often manifests itself in the form of a journey back along the river of time. These two contrasting processes, which take place simultaneously, form the hidden structure of this novel. On the surface, we read a story about a lonely boy's childhood; underneath, the reflective tone reveals a process of self-revelation. There may be careless readings that assume that this novel is told from a child's point of view, that of Sun Guanglin as he is experiencing the events.37 Yet unlike those naive narrators who are child-like or mentally immature, this is a childhood story recounted by a much more mature adult narrator, and there is not only temporal distance between the protagonist and narrator but also a cognitive privilege and mental maturity. This process of recalling inevitably involves regrouping and interpreting past experience from the standpoint of the present. This explains why in the novel, childhood events are not reconstructed in chronological order, from his sixth to eighteenth year, but instead they are cut and regrouped into different categories according to the present narrator's meditations on life. Under "South Gate," the narrator describes the environment of his 3 6 Hodgson, The Search for the Self, 19. 3 7 For example, Chen Xiaoming "Shengguo fufa: juewang de xinli zizhuan" jj£ 5£ & %*Mtfi 'f> I l # (Overcoming the Law of the Father: A Psychological Autobiography of Despair), in Dangdai zuojia pinglun. 1992/4. 113 childhood; under "Trembling," he describes the adolescent experience, and under "Abandonment," he describes the desertion and betrayal of the children by adults. On the whole, the retelling of the past is integrated with his understanding in the present. Hence, putting the theme of the growth of the narrator-protagonist in an alienating and destructive world, that always threatens to deprive him of the possibility of growing at all, or even surviving , Yu Hua emphasises that the individual has to resist that environment and overcome the various difficulties — both outside and within his mind. This overcoming is sometimes achieved by the protagonist gaining the ability to love and to empathize with others, or finding the strength to pursue persistently what he believes, or simply by enduring the pressure and hostility against him. To illustrate, as he grows up, the narrator-protagonist constantly encounters the alienated world in the form of careless parents, bullying siblings and classmates, unjust teachers and ignorant villagers. So it is not surprising that alienation, rather than identification, becomes the only way that his self can assert itself and develop according to a different pattern from that of his demonic father, bullying elder brother, irresponsible teacher and abusive classmates. He must close himself off from these "others" in order to be himself. Thus, we notice that Sun Guanglin from a very early age has developed a solitary and observant personality. He is always sitting alone to one side, silently, critically looking at those things that happen around him. This detachment and distance originate in part from his exclusion from his family, but gradually develop into a conscious moral choice accompanied by suspicion of the behavior of adults. For example, in the family fights with the neighbors, the Wangs, in his brothers' bullying of other children, and in the abuse of the grandfather, he remains an outsider and never involves himself in such bad behavior. When he is mistreated by classmates in school, he decides to be alone rather than remain part of the crowd. Another kind of overcoming emerges in the novel when, in spite of the separation and loneliness that are essential conditions for growing up in the Crying in the Fine Rain 114 ethos, the narrator-protagonist chooses to identify with those who are, like himself, young, weak and helpless. Several lyrical and moving scenes take place among the children in this book when sincere care and warm love appear despite the indifferent adult world around them. Examples include the protagonist's two childhood friends when he is in Sundang; the sympathy and friendship between Lulu # # and the protagonist, which overcomes the difference in their ages; the friendship between the protagonist and Su Yu ^ the protagonist's identification with his grandfather, and, finally, the attachment and love Lulu shows to her. The love that Lulu, Feng Yuqing's illegitimate boy, shows to his mother is especially demonstrated when he overcomes all difficulties to reach the prison and be close to his mother. This filial effort is such a contrast to the abandonment the adults, including the father of the protagonist's friend Guoqing, inflict on their children. It is in these simple but pure forms of partnership that sympathy, compassion and identification between human beings are displayed. Planted and grown in a harsh and barren soil, their fragile flowers bloom with even greater fragrance. This is a noticeable change in Crying in the Fine Rain, when compared with Yu Hua's previous works. With the novel's extended length and more comprehensive picture of human life, Yu Hua's vision of human nature and human relations is thus enriched, and contains a certain amount of warmth and hope. Another form of personal growth presented is physical maturation into adulthood, with its first stirrings of sexual impulses. This novel explores adolescent life both from the point of view of psycho-physical development and from the influence it brings to the protagonist's life. The onset of puberty is described as an experience of "trembling" (zhanli MM): When I was fourteen, I discovered a mysterious activity in the dark night, which presently gave me a strange but wonderful feeling. At the moment when this incomparably intense pleasure appeared, the first experience of 115 trembling also made me very startled. This was the first time I discovered my body using a reaction of terror to express its happiness. (66) This scene of sexual awareness might be compared with another famous scene in a story by Yu Dafu f P #i A written early this century, "Sinking" (chenlun tfl i%). However, whereas Yu Dafu's May Fourth generation usually linked personal obsession with its social implications,38 Yu Hua's generation emphasizes more the significance of personal life in itself. Celebration of the human body and physical development is an underlying feature of their works. Chapter Two of the novel examines this progression to adulthood in detail, a progression combining happiness and guilt in a curiously Chinese way. The narrator-protagonist shows how, in an ignorant and careless environment, this natural process can become a personal odyssey in which the protagonist has to struggle for years against ignorance to reach enlightenment. There is a long memory of the experience of masturbation, describing the times when he would feel trembling and excitement by night but guilt and remorse in the daytime. Unaided by either parent, and unable to confide in his teacher, or even his siblings and classmates, he must struggle alone to understand what is going on. The following passage reveals this adolescent's lonely struggle: "My physical development went on as my face grew ever paler. I often stood by the pool of South Gate, watching my own reflection in the water. I saw an emaciated jaw and tired-looking eyes drifting listlessly in the water. . ."(72-73). The teenagers in the novel have to deal with these unsettling experiences alone, trembling in the darkness. Often they cannot overcome the psychological pressure and are destroyed by it, as the experience of the brothers of the Su family shows. Su Hang becomes a shameless hooligan and Su Yu commits a sexual 3 8 Kirk A. Denton has written an essay on "the May-Fourth dilemma of the intellectual self s relation to the nation." See his "The Distant Shore: Nationalism in Yu Dafu's 'Sinking,'" in Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, and Reviews, Vol.14 (Dec. 1992). 116 assault goaded by insatiable curiosity. As for the narrator-protagonist, he describes being trapped in masturbation, and his struggles with sexual impulses as some of his darkest experiences. Personal growth in this novel, however, gains its most profound expression in the growth of consciousness, a development that distinguishes it from Yu Hua's other stories. This theme of spiritual growth and maturation is even presented through the choice of the retrospective form: an adult narrator looking back on his childhood and adolescent years.. The intriguing relationship between the protagonist — a lonely, awkward and wounded boy — and the narrator — a much calmer, more confident adult who is trying to come to terms with his own past — is both one of identification and of distancing. And the two worlds of past and present are clearly joined by the reflective tone of the narrator. The function of the narrator — an adult "I" in his thirties — is not only to tell what happened in his past, but also to act as a reflective and understanding interpreter. His reflective tone permeates the whole story and gives the work a thoughtful atmosphere. This reflective awareness of self and self-development apparently reflects a belief that only if one knows and understands one's own being can one reach fulfilment of self and gain the ability to shape oneself.39 This narrative position is made clear at the very beginning, when the narrator discusses his first memory in life: I see myself: a shocked child, opening his frightened eyes wide, the shape of his face vague in the darkness. The crying of that woman lasted for a long time. I was so anxious and scared waiting for the arrival of another voice, a voice that would appear to answer the woman's cries, which would be able to stop her weeping, but it didn't appear. Now I am able to Refer to The Search for the Self, op.cit, Appendix 1. 117 realize the reason for my terror at that moment: it is because I never did hear a voice that came to answer her. There is nothing that makes a person tremble more than lonely helpless crying. (4) Not only are the events or feelings from the past mediated by being placed in the form of the narrator's memories, but his own analysis frequently accompanies what he describes in this manner. Throughout the novel, this consciousness of the adult narrator throws light on the benighted past by constantly intruding into the story to give deeper psychological analysis, moral judgment and sympathetic understanding for the characters, as well as for the narrator-protagonist himself. This capability of understanding presents itself especially in the evaluation of the various characters in the novel. Yu Hua has produced an imaginative and powerful narrator who can explain the characters and himself much better now than in the past when he encountered them as a protagonist. One example is the narrator's account of the grandfather's story in Section Three. This section is divided into two parts: the first is the account of the grandfather as a young craftsman; the second involves the grandfather's later years in South Gate. Both are connected with the narrator's own childhood experience. The former account, as the narrator indicates, comes from the grandfather's telling: "I can't find out any more about my grandmother's life in that family. Their past life has been buried with themselves. In the first few years after my grandfather lost his wife, loneliness and sadness made him very enthusiastic about relating grandmother's past, and when his dim eyes shone, my grandmother revived in his telling" (111). The latter account is partly the narrator's observations when he was a child at home. Yet the peculiarity of this whole section is that most of it consists neither of eye-witness accounts nor of the narrator's personal experience. For instance, many of the occasions when his father mistreats his grandfather take place when he is away in the adopted family. He acts 118 like an omniscient narrator in order to imagine the past and to understand the mysterious figure, his grandfather, who has left such a puzzle in his childhood life. Sometimes he is a kindly, calm old man with a strong will; at other times he is a coward, laughable but calculating underneath: "When I became an adult, I started to establish the true image of my grandfather . . ." (107). In this way, the narrator is able to complete his own version of his family history, and the need to trace his ancestors, even when no certain facts support his conclusions, demonstrates his growing consciousness of self and its links with the past. 40 The significance of this reflective narrator makes itself obvious when we consider most of the characters in Yu Hua's other stories: those destructive, unthinking creatures without authentic existence and devoid of inner emotions. In Crying in the Fine Rain, as I have mentioned above, the characters are much more rounded and have more human touches. And this change, although it may have its "real-life" basis too, reflects the growth of the narrator's consciousness and ability to understand. As an example, I would cite his treatment of the elder brother's change from the image of his father to that of a relatively mature individual, mentioned above. The most important result of this personal growth is self-knowledge gained — "the discovery of one's true identity and beliefs." As I have indicated, the adult narrator realizes that from the beginning this retrospection is a consolation that finally comes to soothe the wounds of the past. Recalling his dark experience of masturbation, the reflective narrator has undergone a change of self-judgment: "That worn toilet made me ashamed when I recalled it later, and for a long time, I couldn't help blaming myself for doing the ugliest thing in the ugliest place. Now I refuse such an attitude of self-recrimination. The choice I made in the past has made me realize that I was a boy who couldn't find any place to hide. This choice was forced on me by outside reality, and was This aspect is dealt with more fully in my chapter on Wang Anyi's Fact and Fiction. 119 not my own will" (67). It is in retracing the past that the narrator-protagonist realizes the self that had been crushed by reality; it is in interpreting the past that the narrator-protagonist reasserts his self as a growing consciousness. By emphasizing the reflective understanding of growing up in that difficult social situation, the narrator-self is proven to be a truly conscious subject who can care and understand, as well as give meaning to his own life. By attaining the status of a mature narrator, this character in Yu Hua's novel has overcome the terrible obstacles of existence, and managed to discover the depth of life. 120 Chapter 3: On the Margins ill . . . when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was. I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, as if lurking and flickering in the depths of an animal's consciousness. I was more destitute than a cave-dweller; but then the memory — not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be — would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of non-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself. In a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned-down collars, would gradually piece together the original components of my ego. 1 Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time When I was young, I used to feel excited by sudden storms. I would stand in front of the window, looking at the raindrops chasing the people in the fields, looking at the white curtain of rain hide pieces of the forest, and I would feel so satisfied. Later, I found that (writing) fiction provided me with the possibility of reviving such memories, and I always set the time of my stories in the summer. Sometimes, with the change of seasons, the protagonists might stroll under trees in the fall, but in a short while, the air would become wet, the summer would come around again, and the storm would begin without any hesitation — I became really addicted to it.2 Ge Fei, "What is Fiction?" 1 Marcel Proust, In Search of Time Lost, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, London: Chatto and Windus, 1992. Vol. 1, 4. 2 "Xiaoshuo shishenmeT /h i& H if yA (What is Fiction?), Beijing Wenxue, 1989/3. 100. 121 Ge Fei is one of the young Avant-Garde writers who first emerged in the second half of the 1980s, publishing several well-crafted stories like "Lost Boat" (Mizhou "Blue Yellow" (Qinghuang # jt), "The Flock of Brown Birds" (Hese niaoqun $1 & ^ !¥) and "Whistling" (Hushao D|?> Hf=j). His works distinguish themselves by their carefully selected perspectives, labyrinthine structures, and allusive and imagistic language. Sometimes, they appear "obscure" to more traditionally minded readers who are looking for "stories": they feel that his use of Borgesian-type imagery such as chess-boards and mirrors is too delicate and riddle-like, that his lyrical and tranquil accounts lack real events, and contain too many "narrative lacunae."3 However, Ge Fei's narratives go far beyond mere technical experiments, and to decipher them we must seek the origins of the philosophical concerns behind his fictional world. In an article entitled "The Core and Configuration of a Story,"4 Ge Fei provides an analysis of the techniques of modern fiction. He feels that the structure of modern fiction has greatly departed from traditional models. The latter were based on temporal continuity and the cause-effect principle, which imitate "objective reality." Modern writers, however, no longer try to represent such an objective reality: instead they present 3 "Narrative lacunae" (xushu kongque $L j£ S i<&) is a useful concept for describing the structure and even the philosophical concerns of Ge Fei's fictional world. As for the origin of his style, some critics find it in the postmodernist narrative techniques of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges; others however feel it is related more closely to a traditional Chinese aesthetics of lacunae: see Jing Wang's discussion of Ge Fei's fiction in her "The mirage of'Chinese Postmodernism': Ge Fei, Self-Positioning, and the Avant-Garde Showcase," in Positions, Fall 1993, 365. My understanding of Ge Fei's use of lacunae is that it cannot be treated as a separate technical issue, but must be related to his whole concern about presenting human existence in the marginal encounters between memory and reality, past and present. Hence, in my subsequent analysis, I generally concentrate on the function of Ge Fei's various stylistic features, and their relation to the world he describes, rather than merely seeking technical influences from Western or Chinese literature. 4 Ge Fei "Gushi de neihe yu zouxiang''' $t9-$)P:iW.^}M\u} (The Core and Configuration of a Story), Shanghai wenxue, 1994/3, 70-76. 122 the "reality of sense" (ganjue de zhenshi >$> % $J % This shift towards emphasising what we might call psychological reality almost inevitably leads to abandonment of linear structure, and the adoption of an open (or "radiating") structure in its place. In this latter case, Ge Fei maintains, the configuration of the story is decided by the core of that story. Thus when a writer starts a work, he or she often has an initial image or picture in mind. Such an initial image is the first indication of the story's core, and from here the writer develops the story in all temporal directions. Moreover, this core is often the central concern of a writer, an embodiment of his or her existential anxiety and personal obsession. According to Ge Fei, all serious writers have their own overriding preoccupations, which colour their personalities, emotional and intellectual conceptions, and individual worldviews. Such preoccupations will reappear in various guises, constituting the core of each writer's works. These comments on the technique of modern fiction are certainly relevant to Ge Fei's own writing. When surveying his works since 1986, that year that he published his first short story, it is not difficult to detect that the core of his writing is the representation of human memory. Ever since his first story "Remembrances of Mr. Wu You (Non-existence)" (Zhuiyi wuyou xiansheng ill '\L |ft 5fc ^ fe), Ge Fei's exploration of reality and human life, and especially of human consciousness, has been closely tied to this particular subject. ^  The exercise of memory can save people from the mistakes of their ordinary judgments and reveal to them truths they had forgotten ("Remembrances of Mr. Wu You;" "Blue Yellow "); memory evokes deeply-hidden desires and dreams but ignores impending danger in real life ("Lost Boat;" "The Poem of an Idiot"); memory can also revive real feelings and sensory perceptions that would otherwise disappear in the grey monotony of everyday life ("The Background" [Beijing # ;§>:]; "The Trip to Yelang"|Ye/a«g zhi xing ^ UP ^  fx]). Even though sometimes "memory is poisonous 5 For Ge Fei's early works, see his short story collections Mizhou ^ ^(Lost Boat), Zuojia chubanshe, 1989, and Hushao ^ n$ (Whistle), Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1992. 123 wine,"0 it provides the only traces of one's past life, which, in Ge Fei's fiction, is the only place where human beings can experience the ecstasy of being alive. As a result, the characters in Ge Fei's stories frequently find themselves helplessly drawn down into the river of memory like sleepwalkers, bewildered or enlightened by the moon of the past reflected in the waters, and unconcerned about events still happening all around them. As one critic points out, in Ge Fei's fictional world, "the act of remembering becomes the meaningful centre,"? and memory comes to occupy almost the whole of peoples' existence. If Ge Fei's stories often appear to be detective stories,8 then their only fugitive is memory, and to find clues and traces leading to the past constitutes their only plot. Moreover, memory is not merely the subject of Ge Fei's works, but also a guide to the logic of their labyrinthine structure. In most of them, external events or actions are rare, especially those seen from an outer perspective. Instead, he normally presents events surviving within a particular character's or group of characters' memories. So each real event is "suspended," and internalized into a human psychological reaction. Characterization is also usually achieved through presenting characters' tortuous memories, rather than by describing their behaviour or physical appearance: in this way, Ge Fei reveals their deepest desires, fears or confusion. Very often these memories are contradictory and fragmentary, riddled with gaps and blanks; sometimes, the introduction of more than one person's version of events complicates the picture further. Yet though the juxtaposition and interweaving of 6 Ge Fei, Mizhou, 1989, 81. 7 Jing Wang, "The Mirage of'Chinese Postmodernism,'" Positions, Fall, 1993, 366. 8 Zhang Xudong |fl finds that the structure of some of Ge Fei's works is similar to that of detective stories, beginning with suspense but very often leading to no solution, "Ziwo yishi de tonghua: Ge Feiyu dangdaiyuyan zhuti de jige wenti," d $t M iH J £ i£: fa # ^ ft © n EE Vf f# Jl -t* IR] M (Fairytale of Self-consciousness: Ge Fei and Several Themes in Contemporary Chinese Literary Discourse), Jintian 4* 3c (Today), 1990, No. 2. 124 different memories gives his stories a labyrinthine feel, actually Ge Fei's narrative style is not that difficult if the reader discerns the outlines of the lingering memories that lead the narrative forward. Ge Fei tends to end his stories in one of two ways, both of which illuminate his conception of the relation between memory and reality: one way is to conclude with a moment of revelation when memory encounters reality, as in "Lost Boat." The other way is to leave the work open-ended, implying that each memory leads only to the next, and no "definite reality" exists, as in "Brown" and "Blue Yellow." Of course, memory9 is not a new topic in literature, whether Western or Chinese. 10 Especially in modernist Western literature, with its great interest in presenting human psychological reality, memory has been explored to an unprecedented degree. 11 Increasingly during the twentieth century, artists and writers have noticed and sought to describe the profound relation beween memory and artistic or literary representation. For example, the French writer Marcel Proust based his whole writing on the idea that creation 9 Here I am using "memory" (Jiyi iB tZ.) in its broader meaning, including both the acts or performances of remembering, and the general category of that which remains of the past. As an important mental activity, memory holds a significant place in the learning system and aesthetic experience of human beings. Research has shown that memory not only has the passive ability to retain the traces of past experience, but is also a creative, generating and transforming mechanism of human consciousness. It guarantees the continuity of personal identity, sustains living links with others, dead or alive, and helps to make sense of our lives. It also imposes an aesthetic unity on the multiplicity and diversity of experience through time, by establishing relations of similarity and contiguity. In other words, memory (re)constructs reality. Finally, memory might be further divided into its cultural or collective, and its autobiographical or individual, aspects. See "Memory and Poetics," Chapter 1 of Diane Oenning Thompson's The Brothers Karamazov and the Poetics of Memory. Cambridge University Press, 1991. !0 See, for example, Stephen Owen: Remembrances: The Experience of the Past in Classical Chinese Literature. Harvard University Press, 1986. 1 1 See Richard Terdiman: Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis. Cornell University Press, 1993. 125 is the translation of memory. He believed that "the function and the task of a writer are those of a translator." 12 Thus, on the one hand, the intimate bond between human life, personality and memory has become a favorite artistic subject, and its implications and significance for personal experience and especially self-consciousness have been explored with great enthusiasm. On the other hand, the mechanism of memory has been used as a dominant means of organising the artistic system of the novel, whether structurally, aesthetically or semantically. I 3 Typical methods include using a retrospective framework for the narrative, the technique of association, and synthetic (rather than chronological) structure. Proust's In Search of Lost Time exemplifies all these methods to the highest degree. Ge Fei's approach to human life through memory and his conception of the essential connection between memory and fiction are unique in modern Chinese literature. In large part, this fascination with memory is a personal obsession. I 4 Thus he often uses highly descriptive language imbued with personal sensory impressions to answer abstract questions like "what is fiction?" or "why do you write?" He says, for instance: "Fiction writing is the most important part of my daily life, it brings me into a free space which I can go through alone, and it gives me the chance to revive some undescribed experiences of reality and memory. In writing, the passing of time makes me feel peaceful." 15 Yet this extensive and conscious utilization of memory in Ge Fei's writing should be considered along with two important factors, which have largely shaped the cultural milieu of post-Mao China. It is only against this cultural background that we can hope to 12 "Time Regained," in In Search of Lost Time, op.cit. 13 Diane Oenning Thompson's research on The Brothers Karamazov sees memory as "a dominant means of organising this novel's artistic system." Refer to Thompson, op.cit. 1. 14 In a personal letter of Sept. 15, 1995, Ge Fei writes that he agrees with a French writer's statement that "writing is a battle with forgetting" (xiezuo jiushi fanyiwang M jfe Wt Jtk & 3a 7&) and he has even published an article called "Xiaoshuo yu jiyi"/b i& -fej ifi '\L (Fiction and Memory) to discuss the central relationship of the two. 15 From the brief self-introduction for his short story collection, Mizhou, 1989. 126 understand the emergence of Ge Fei's concern with memory. First, there is the profound influence of modern Western literature and philosophy on the Chinese mind, especially among younger intellectuals.lo" Among these Western currents of thought, works on Existentialism (Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus) and Psychoanalysis (Freud, Jung) have been most frequently translated into Chinese, and have consequently exerted the greatest influence on Chinese writers' understanding of the human condition as well as the relationship between human consciousness and reality. These philosophies have also helped to open up a new perspective among Chinese intellectuals regarding the existence of the unconscious and subconscious in the human psyche. The fact that these two schools have had such an overwhelming influence on the Chinese consciousness certainly has its sociological causes. After the nightmarish and catastrophic experience of the Cultural Revolution, all optimistic worldviews became suspect and their foundations were challenged, just as in the post-Second World War period in Europe. On the one hand, this resulted in claims for "the absurdity of existence." On the other hand, there was an urgent call for a new humanism that demanded respect for the rights of each individual and recognition of the central and unique value of individual consciousness. Since the writings of the existentialists tended to emphasise the will of the individual, "humanist" Chinese intellectuals have found much of their philosophical support from the school of the absurd. Another channel through which "post-revolutionary" Chinese intellectuals have received their inspiration is Western literature, especially that of the so-called Modernists, 1 0 A large number of the books published in the 1980s were translations of Western thinkers and writers since Nietzsche. See note 9 in my "Introduction." Just one example can show the influence and popularity of Existentialism and Pyschoanalysis among urban educated Youth: popular local Beijing writer Wang Shuo 3£ $3's "Wanzhu" M i (The Jokers), which describes the life of a group of wandering youth in Beijing, provides a cynical depiction of this "fashion": whenever one of them tries to attract a girl, he begins to talk about Sartre or Freud to show off to her. This detail is indeed characteristic of Wang Shuo's "anti-intellectualism," but it is quite a realistic reflection of Chinese urban youths' enormous enthusiasm for Western culture. 127 beginning with Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Proust, and including Faulkner, Borges, Joyce, Woolf, and Marquez, and poets like T. S Eliot and Yeats. It is not only their experimental forms that have greatly influenced the younger generation of Chinese writers, but also the changed paradigm evident in their perspective on life, their challenge to all manner of conventions, both literary and social, and their conception of reality — especially revealed by their extreme interest in peoples' interior lives. In many ways, therefore, Ge Fei is typical of his generation of intellectuals. He entered university in Shanghai in 1981 majoring in Chinese literature. After graduation, he remained at that university teaching Chinese literature and creative writing: a position he still holds today. As a college-educated youth of the 1980s who started writing while still at college, the above-mentioned Western influences were central to the formation of his intellectual perspective. Ge Fei, like his contemporaries, has cultivated a rebellious attitude toward the socialist tradition of modern Chinese literature, which views literature as a simple mirror or record of a time and society. By contrast, he feels more affinity towards modern Western literature and classical Chinese literature. He declares that Borges and Marcel Proust are his favorite writers, the former for his idea of literature as philosophical game, full of symbols and ingenious structures, and the latter for demonstrating that creation is the translation of memory. Both exemplify the idea that "a fiction writer must simultaneously be a philosopher,"!7 which Ge Fei has set as a criterion for his fiction. Certainly in his apprenticeship period, one can detect an obvious imitation of these writers' styles, and even frequent borrowing of symbols and images from their works.18 17 From Ge Fei's speech at a conference entitled "Xiaoshuo bentiyu xiaoshuoyishi" / J N i& ^ ^ i& M iH (The Essence and Concept of Fiction), Shanghai wenxue, 1989/6. 18 Some critics have already noted the symbolism in Ge Fei's works; one brief analysis of "The Flock of Brown Birds" by Chen Xiaoming reveals the close ties between Ge Fei's early works and those of Borges. Refer to Chen, ed.: Zhongguo xianfengxiaoshuo 128 He has also been influenced by Classical Chinese poetry and philosophy. As a result, his imagistic and allusive language, and frequent use of classical imagery and figures of speech give his fiction a refined but lingering charm. 19 Along with the influence of Western ideas, the second cultural factor important for understanding Ge Fei's preoccupations involves the revival of personal memory in a post-revolutionary society. A noticeable phenomenon in countries that were formerly totalitarian societies, such as China and the former Soviet Union, is that an awakening individualism and confirmation of self has gradually emerged to challenge the former collectivist ideology. As is well known, revolution, nationalization and collectivization once not only deprived the people of their private property, but also formalized their ways of working, living and even thinking. The communist depreciation of the worth of the individual, the enforced suppression and annihilation of the self, and the subordination of the individual to the group were once so complete that even diaries, private letters, and communications between lovers and couples were examined by the authorities without any jingxuan 41 HI 5fe #K i& ft (Selection of Chinese Avant-Garde Fiction). Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1993. 105-107. 19 My first meeting with Ge Fei influenced greatly my understanding of his works as a whole, and On the Margins in particular. That was in the summer of 1990, at the Institute of Comparative Literature, Peking University. Like many literary seminars and salons at that time, this seminar, which was entitled "modernism and contemporary literature," included several literary critics, scholars, university teachers, graduate researchers (both Chinese and foreign) and writers. Yu Hua, Ge Fei and Liu Yiran WL were among them. Ge Fei didn't talk much, but he mentioned Borges and Proust several times, and seemed very much to admire them for their ability to express philosophical ideas in literary works. During the lunch break, I had a chance to talk. The conversation started with the book he was holding. It was the second volume of a Chinese translation of In Search of Lost Time. The translation of this seven-volume masterwork was a huge project still in progress. Ge Fei recommended this work so enthusiastically that he even offered to lend me the first volume when I told him I had difficulty finding it. Obviously he had also brought it to Beijing with him. That day, two young writers impressed me with their different styles: Yu Hua, with his ironic comments on Zhang Yimou's "Romanticism" in his cinematic works and his careless manner; and Ge Fei, with his "dream-walker's" eyes and expression, and, despite his reticence, his real enthusiasm for Proust. It was at that time, I believe, that Ge Fei was preparing or even starting to write his "Proustian" novel On the Margins, published at the end of 1992. 129 regard for personal privacy. The very idea of personal identity, with its private feelings and individual memories,was naturally denounced as inessential, even harmful for peoples' public identity and collectivist consciousness, hence it was to be obliterated.20 Scholars of sociology, history and the arts have in common noticed the changing nature of the relation between the state and the individual in recent Chinese society. A general trend towards increasing individual autonomy and reestablishing personal identity has occurred, cheek by jowl with the newly developing market economy supported by the "perestroika" policies of the Deng Xiaoping era and the resultant collapse of the Communist ideology regarding human nature and consciousness. Not surprizingly, when people are granted some freedom to express their true inner concerns, they will enthusiastically explore private spaces once more, including particularly their personal memories. One scholar of Russian literature has noticed that a major theme in the literature and literary scholarship of Russia (formerly part of the totalitarian Soviet Union) is memory. 21 There, individual memory becomes a synecdoche for reviving a lost wholeness. There is a parallel process going on in China today, though with a slightly different appearance, since the government and officialdom still exert quite strict control over cultural production. Chinese expressions of private sensibility can be found most notably in two guises: there are the dozens of autobiographies and memoirs continually being published in English about the personal experiences of Chinese individuals, now expatriates, during the revolutionary period — two of the most famous being Wild Swans: 2 0 I still remember that even in primary school, Mao's criticism of petty bourgeois consciousness would be quoted to children who were just starting to display independent and outstanding thinking. 21 Diane Oenning Thompson points out that "memory has recently become a major theme in Russian literature and scholarship. This interest has arisen largely as a response to those Soviet policies which aimed to suppress and efface whole areas of Russian history and culture." See Thompson, op.cit. preface, 13. 130 Three Daughters of China, and Life and Death in Shanghai. 22 These stories are written overwhelmingly from an individual perspective, and concentrate on the private lives of their subjects, yet also reflect a whole historical era. Another manifestation, less straightforward but more relevant to the artistic world, is the profound change occurring in contemporary literature within China. The literature of the 1980s, especially the works of young writers emerging in the late 1980s, has taken a different route from the mainstream of previous modern Chinese fiction, i.e. socially-oriented realist works which concern themselves with public events and often neglect the presence of inner human experience. Recent writers have not only expressed to a great degree anxiety about lost identity and an orientation toward reestablishing the self as an individual entity;23 they have also been at the forefront of a movement which aims at freeing literature from the violence of politics and reviving artistic autonomy in the name of the subjectivity of literature. 24 With these factors forming the background for his writing, we can better understand why Ge Fei has chosen to explore a fictional field seldom examined by previous modern Chinese writers. From the very beginning, Ge Fei's experiments with narrative, which positioned him among the group labelled as avant-garde or experimental 2-^  Men Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai, London: Grafton Books, 1986; Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, New York: Simon & Schnster, 1991. 23 The declaration "I - do - not - believe" (wo bu xiangxin $c ffi fg) by the poet Bei Dao it lib, and the question "Who Am I" (wo shi shui $t ^ M) posed by the novelist Zong Pu in the late 1970s seem to mark the ideological starting point of contemporary Chinese writing after Mao's death. See Bei Dao, "The Answer" in Geremie Barme and John Minford, ed. Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience, Bloodaxe books, 1989. 236; and Zong Pu, "Wo shi shui" $c Jk if£, in ZongPu xiaoshuo sanwenxuan, Beijing chubanshe, 1981. 24 As I mentioned in my introduction, in the mid-1980s, an article entitled "Lun wenxue de zhutixing" (On the Subjectivity of Literature) by Liu Zaifu, provoked a nationwide debate, and this controversy can be seen as a theoretical expression of the persistent concern for individual perspective and artistic autonomy since the later 1970s. For Liu's article, see Wenxue pinglun, 1985/6 and 1986/1. 131 writers, should be attributed to this new concern with peoples' interior world and consciousness, and especially the significance of memory in their lives. Before On the Margins, the majority of Ge Fei's fictional works had already explored human existence and consciousness through memory. In fact, some of these works are simply, according to my understanding, allegories of memory, for instance "The Trap"(Xianjing |$) and "The Flock of Brown Birds." However, in these shorter works he wasn't able systematically to develop his idea of the central place of memory in human life: it is as if he could only capture some traces of recollection. Also, it seems he hadn't yet found a form where memory — that universal, eternal experience of human beings — could be presented through a particular historical being. Perhaps, that is why sometimes Ge Fei's early works give the impression that there is too much craft in their narrative technique but that they remain relatively light in substance — here, the title of his first story, "Remembrance of Mr. Nonexistence" might be an ironic comment on this drawback. However, with the publication of On the Margins, Ge Fei finally discovered a way to explore memory on a much broader canvas. A Shattered House and a Destroyed Self On the Margins was written in 1991, and according to Ge Fei, the conception of this novel was directly related to his experience befriending an old man called Zhong Yuelou i4" ft ^  in his hometown, who became the real-life prototype of the narrator-protagonist in On the Margins.^ Zhong, like the narrator "I," had been through all the 25 In the preface of On the Margins, Ge Fei writes: "The influence on my writing of the contact between Zhong Yuelou and myself has more to do with stylistic factors than with subject matter and ideas . . . Maybe the characters in On the Margins have nothing to do with Zhong Yuelou, but I know very well that they face exactly the same fate." See Bianyuan, Zhejiang weyi chubanshe, 1993. 2. In subsequent references to the novel, the page numbers are given in parentheses according to this edition. This novel was first published in Shouhuo (Harvest), 1992/6. All the translations of Ge Fei's literary works, articles and letters in this thesis are mine. It is to the real Zhong Yuelou that this book is dedicated. Confusingly, Ge Fei uses the same name, Zhong Yuelou, to refer to the 132 vicissitudes of life in the rapidly changing years of the twentieth century. During the Cultural Revolution period, he was one of those singled out for terrible humiliation, and his close friend, undergoing similar suffering, could not bear it and committed suicide. Before this friend died, he sent the old man a letter telling him his intention. Understanding the friend's bitterness, the old man didn't prevent him, but instead sent him an elegy as he had requested, including the lines: "The same sounds I echo; the same spirit I seek" {tongsheng xiangying, tong qi xiangqiu |RJ P ^@ JK, 1^1 % ffi ^). Yet despite all this pain, the old man survived to witness another huge change during the Deng Xiaoping era, and died a natural death after On the Margins was published. Compared to the death of the other man, the real Zhong Yuelou's determination to live on inspired Ge Fei's writing of this novel. It moved him to pose the question: "In a country with such a practical sense of reality, if a person like him experiences all kinds of vicissitudes, yet still lives on, then what kind of thing supports his existence?"2^ it was to look more closely at the catastrophic effects of society on the self, and the human ability to endure and even recover, that Ge Fei composed his novel. And inevitably, he looked for answers to this problem that would transcend the conventional concepts of reality, self and society provided in previous paradigms of "socialist alienation" and its "objective" approach.2? As a result On the Margins concerns itself exclusively with "a self-motivated process of de-alienation from within."28 narrator-protagonist's friend in the novel — who commits suicide in the Cultural Revolution. The fictional character Zhong Yuelou in fact resembles the friend of the real Zhong: see main text below. 2 6 Personal letter, Sept. 15, 1995. 2 ? In these previous works, as I suggested earlier, the approach to reality is exclusively a social and historical one, and historical determinism by its very definition makes history the destiny of the individual. If, as these works claim, the identity and substance of a human being depends totally on his or her public life and historical position, then the narrator-protgonist of On the Margins is nothing. He has failed at climbing the social hierarchy, is treated as a counter-revolutionary in political terms, becomes a cuckolded husband in his family life and ultimately a despised, lonely old man in his village. 2 8 Jing Wang, Positions 3: 2, 1995. 474. 133 Relatively short for a novel, the structure and content of On the Margins nevertheless provide an excellent case study of the new narrative mode of the late eighties and early nineties, which can claim to have totally broken away from the social realist tradition. One could call Ge Fei's work a mimesis of consciousness, in which the only protagonist is "this varying, this uncircumscribed spirit with as little admixture of the alien and external as possible."29 Like Ge Fei's other pieces mentioned above, On the Margins is once again a mental narrative with inner life as its focus. The framework of this two hundred page novel is relatively simple, and can be summarized in one sentence: an old man recalls his personal past. Told from a first-person, autobiographical perspective, the narrator "I" is a bed-ridden old man in his late eighties living in a southern village, who describes himself in a series of vignettes from different stages of his life and in various places. Using the theoretical terminology of Dorrit Cohn, we can decribe On the Margins as a combination of autonomous monologue and memory monologue.3^ it consists of forty two episodes, clearly divided between two spatio-temporal realities. One is that in which the "F narrator is remembering — a relatively short period from sometime in the late 1980s to the spring of 1990 — and the setting is the narrator's home, Garden of Date and Pear (Zao liyuan ^ ^ SI).3 * It is worth noting that even in these remembering-narrative sections, we do not see merely a momentary present without temporal substance, but instead notice the passing of time and subtle changes of emotion and growth within a mind. As I will demonstrate, these sections display a process of overcoming nothingness 2 9 Virginia Woolf, "Modern Fiction," in The Common Reader, New York, 1948. 213. 30 For the concepts of "autonomous monologue" and "memory monologue," see Dorrit Cohn, Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction, Princeton Univ. Press, 1978. Chapter 6. 31 Since the names of the characters and places in this novel often have meaning, rather than being randomly chosen, I translate them into their English equivalents wherever possible, and give the Chinese only after the first occurrence. 134 and death to reach peace and understanding.32 This act of remembering is presented as an autonomous monologue — the old man's perceptions of his surroundings — which evokes the other part of the novel — memory monologue. The other spatio-temporal reality is that which the "I" narrator remembers. These remembered episodes cover a whole lifespan running from the narrator's early childhood through his adult years right up to the moment when they merge into the remembering act of the present. The memories involve the narrator-protagonist's various adventures, or more accurately displacements, as well as the different women, friends and enemies he has encountered in society. Not explicitly stated, but still carefully implied, is the fact that this eighty-year personal life parallels the most turbulent time in modern Chinese history, from the early Republican period in the 1910s to the Deng Xiaoping period beginning in the late 1970s, and on to 1990. It may be helpful, first of all, to unravel the complex thread of this personal life, with reference to its social context, and then to show how Ge Fei obscures that context by concentrating on private concerns. The narrator-protagonist's journey in life starts on the eve of the Republican revolution, when his father, a Qing government official, leaves the old city of Jiangning to flee back to his hometown, Wheat Village (Maicun |E M). His father dies soon afterwards, and the boy's childhood is overshadowed by his mother's depression, and his own nightmares and loneliness. Quite early on, his father's maid initiates him sexually. He is determined to escape this old place, full of death and ghosts i l This is a process (rather than just a moment's realization) which is not made very explicit in the novel, but I was able to deduce it after reading the novel for the second time, especially after careful examination of Sections 4, 18, 22, 33, 37, and 42. For example, in Section 4, it is summer with rainy weather, and Leper Song is still alive. Xiaoqin is still innocent and quite friendly to the old man. In Section 18, it is fall, and the old man is on the verge of death. In Section 22, it is winter with snow, and Xiaoqin is gradually becoming impatient with the old man; in section 42, the story moves to spring, Xiao Qin has become totally estranged from him, and the old man is left utterly alone. 135 of the past, but his journey is delayed again and again by an arranged marriage with one Azalea (Dujuan £h §$) and the death of his depressed mother. Finally, he becomes a student in a military officers' school in the early 1920s, and after graduation he takes part in several battles, which are among the major confrontations of the Northern campaigns and the first Civil War period. During that time, he meets a person who becomes his lifelong friend, Zhong Yuelou M who is a doctor in the army. The narrator-protagonist gradually becomes tired of the cruelty and meaninglessness of war and attempts to escape. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, far from inspiring him to acts of patriotism, only exacerbates his weariness, and once wounded in battle and saved by local villagers, he seizes one chance to escape. However, during his period of recuperation in Eastern Station (Dongyi ^  #), he witnesses a raid by the Japanese against Chinese civilians, including their public rape of his lover Butterfly. (Hudie^ which will destroy her and her family forever. The narrator-protagonist finally returns home, only to find that his wife, Azalea, has had an affair with the village head, his enemy Leper Song (Song Laizi 5fc 'M ~P), though this was owing to her mistaken belief that her husband had died. Since Azalea is too old to bear children, she asks him to sleep with Little Button, the maid who had stayed in the household even after the narrator's father died. Little Button leaves after she gives birth to a stillborn baby. It is now the 1940s, and an underground revolutionary movement gains support in the village, a sign of the impending change to a new Communist "dynasty." After the 1949 revolution, however, Leper Song still remains as the village leader. The narrator-protagonist is expelled from his household in the Garden of Date and Pear and moves to a smaller house outside the village. Soon, he is accused of counter-revolutionary activities, sent to a reform camp, and forced to work there for more than ten years. 136 Zhong Yuelou, the narrator's fellow soldier in the Nationalist army, is also regarded as a "class enemy." During the Cultural Revolution, he and Zhong undergo even more humiliation, public criticism, insults from the villagers and betrayal by relatives and friends. Zhong cannot stand the pressure and commits suicide. However, the narrator-protagonist survives, outliving even his beloved Azalea and his enemy Leper Song. In 1981, after he is rehabilitated, he visits Butterfly, his erstwhile lover, whose transformation into a totally alienated person makes him realize the irreversibility of fate. Finally, with the deaths of his enlightened teacher Xu Fuguan and the maid Little Button, he becomes the oldest man in the village. He is occasionally visited by the great granddaughter of Little Button, and it is her arrival that brings him to reminisce about the past. The narrative shifts repeatedly from moments of remembering to remembered events, and the power of the novel lies in the relationship between these two worlds. The coexistence of two spatio-temporal realities in On the Margins emerges as particularly distinctive when one compares the novel with Yu Hua's Crying in the Fine Rain which, despite its similar mixture of remembering present and remembered past, doesn't attempt to elaborate upon the circumstances surrounding the adult narrator's monologue. By contrast, Ge Fei clearly indicates that only through the narrator's remembrance can fragments of the past emerge like ice from water, and his present consciousness inevitably shapes the past, changing and transforming it and investing it with meaning. One cannot overlook the fact that past events are presented as remembered parts of the narrator's consciousness, triggered successively by his present situation. And this double reality gives us a clue not only to what is remembered but also to how and why it is remembered, namely, that the activity of remembering somehow restores a sense of worth to the protagonist. 137 Since this design is an important device for understanding the theme of self in On the Margins, I would like to take a closer look at the kinds of circumstances that trigger the remembering mind of the narrator. There are six complete sections — sections 4, 18, 22, 33, 37 and 42, as well as some introductory and concluding sentences in other sections, which concentrate on the moments of remembering, and they take place exclusively in the Garden of Date and Pear. More precisely, the "I" narrator is now virtually confined to bed in one room within this house, and his remembering occurs in that room. This physical setting, the only reality now perceived by the old man, seems to be a projection of his psychological state. He has lived in this house, on and off, ever since his early youth, and it bears traces of much of his personal experience. To the old man, it seems to have "become dilapidated and ruined in one night. . . and through the window, I can see the broken walls and ruined pavilions hidden behind the trees"(88). The decline of the house is due not only to the ravages of time, but also to lack of care over the last couple of decades — it was taken away by the village leader and used as an office, and only recently returned to its owner, who is now alone. As the old man's memory revives the prosperous days of his early years when human sounds and flourishing plants filled the house and garden, its present deserted state reminds us that the old man shares a similar experience with his house. He too is in bad physical condition, and after years of suffering and neglect, is waiting for his last day: "I am already old, just like a dying tree, breathing my last breath in silence" (15). More significant than this shared decline are the personal relations and private memories embodied in and evoked by this old house. As the old man's monologues jump from his visual and auditory perceptions of the house to the scenes from his past evoked by those perceptions, we gradually come to realize his deep attachment to this place: the hidden relationship between the narrator and his home. 138 Since his childhood during the Republican revolution, when his father fled from the chaotic urban world back to his rural hometown, this house has been a kind of witness to his growth as well as to his suffering. Inherited from a local gentry family, it was initially an almost Utopian retreat distanced from the violence of warlords and revolutions, and the narrator-protagonist stayed here until he first left home as a young man. In this place, he experienced the death of his father, the secret affair of his mother, early feelings of paranoia, first love and marriage. And in his subsequent wandering years, this house became the symbol of peaceful domestic life. After he returned exhausted from his travels through the country in the late 1930s, he again stayed in this house, living the life of a recluse. However, the social turbulence that had seized the world outside finally invaded this secret rural place. During the mass campaigns and collectivization of the early 1950s, the narrator was expelled from his house, and it was taken over by the village government (149, 161). The house was only returned after the old man's rehabilitation in the early 1980s, but by this time he has become a lonely and destroyed person just like his ruined dwelling. The second characteristic of the Garden of Date and Pear is its function as an outward manifestation of and inspiration for the introverted and self-generated remembering mind. As with the settings of Ge Fei's previous works, which are usually on the margins of society and isolated from the real world, such as the "waterside" (shuibian 7jC ;&) in "The Flock of Brown Birds," and the "Madhouse" (Jingshen bingyuan ft # $rc) in "The Verses of an Idiot," the Garden of Date and Pear as location for the remembering mind is far more than simply a rural courtyard. Rather, it is a regained private space whose walls shut out the noise of the outside world. We notice, too, that the Garden of Date and Pear, like its lonely owner, stands out in the village, and later this uniqueness is transformed into a kind of isolation and enclosure, especially after the years when class division and class struggle had cast their shadows over peoples' relationships. 139 Real people now seldom visit this place, and no events of significance take place there: the sense of enclosure has become almost overwhelming. In the first three of the six sections where the present situation is described — Section 4 "Little Button" (Xiaokou /\\ ft); Sectionl8 "The Death"(siwang £E "t); and Section 22 " Xiaoqin" (/h — the old man frequently mentions his rare contacts with the outside world. Through his description of his surroundings, however, we notice the changing seasons, going from summer to autumn to winter — and hence the infrequency of those contacts. We discover, that the only time the villagers visit him is when he is about to die, and they are in a hurry to bury him. We also discover that there is a retarded girl called Xiaoqin who shows some compassion and visits him now and then, and occasionally, when she brings some food and cleans the house for him, she also brings some news about the village. The old man tries to tell her about the past, though she shows little interest in his story. But as the narrative continues, it becomes clear that Xiaoqin has also grown into just another young local, ambitious to leave the village and find work in town. She begins to show her impatience with the old man, comes less and less frequently, and finally doesn't show up at all, even pretending not to know him. She, too, becomes one of the "others." In the other three parts describing the present — Section 33 "The Destination " (Guisu !)3 ?f); Section 37 "Little Button" (Xiaokou /h ft); and Section 42 "The Sound of Silence" (Jijing de shengyin M # f$ ii), even those peripheral contacts with the outside world disappear: not only does the surrounding world retreat still further, but even the sense of passing seasons is lost. Now what the old man perceives are only objects in his immediate vicinity: a cup, a withered flower, a radio in his room. There is no longer any communication with others or with the world outside the house. He has completely become "a prisoner of the past," and one might say that the narrative now proceeds with 140 the only remaining member of the audience having disappeared. It has become the lonely monologue of a person aiming to communicate only with himself.33 Thus when I say that this novel presents an "interior monologue," I do not simply mean that it is unvoiced, but also that the remembering mind belongs to such a solitary and anti-social person.34 As a result, "memories have replaced concrete living as the locus for human significance."3 ^  The physical separation of the old house from the outside world is also a projection of the spiritual alienation of the old man from the people around him and society and history in general. It reveals a mental orientation of deep suspicion towards the outside world and defensive withdrawal to the subjective inner self. Several passages in the novel illustrate this point. For instance: "Every morning, I carefully distinguish the various noises from the village . . . No matter from which remote corner they come, when they reach my ears, they have transformed into an indistinct hum"(88). Everything in the world merges into a single formless mass and this mass is definitely hostile: "The new generation in the village looks at me with a curious and scornful contempt, as if they feel impatient with my being over eighty and still living"(15). "I have spent the majority of my life in the village. But now I feel totally estranged from it again . . . I am afraid of bumping into anyone, just as one with diseased eyes is afraid of sunshine" (15). As the narrative This situation, where the recaller is totally isolated from the world and drawn deep into his inner world, is typical of the characters in Ge Fei's fiction. We may remember the writer "I" in "Brown Birds," who hides himself in an other-worldly place called "Waterside," or the urban youth who is lost in a modern city in "The Trip to Yelang"; or the psychologist who finally becomes an inmate of a madhouse in "The Poem of An Idiot." Even in those seemingly action-oriented stories like "The Organ" (Fengqin JxL ^)and "Lost Boat," the characters are also trapped in memory and forget the world around them. 3 4 This inwardness and solitude becomes particularly noticeable when contrasted with the public spaces in previous Chinese novels: streets, squares, battlefields, workshops in factories, busy fields in the countryside, or even crowded households of several generations. See my Chapter 1 on social realist novels. 3 5 This is Richard Terdiman's comment on Proust in his book, The Dialectics of Isolation: Self and Society in the French Novel from the Realists to Proust, Yale Univ. Press, 1976. 178. 141 gradually unfolds, we find that this sense of agoraphobia and paranoia has its origins in depression, from which he has suffered ever since he was a child, added to fear of others that is largely a result of years of being humiliated and mistreated as a "counter-revolutionary" since the early 1950s. The hostility of others causes in the old man persistent doubt about his self-worth and a continuous anxiety of identity. Like the majority of characters in Ge Fei's other stories, this old narrator is timid, introverted and sensitive, sometimes even displaying an artist's sensibility. Unlike the "heroes of the epoch" (shidai deyingxong flf ft f$ ^ $t) found in socialist realist works, these people are just small figures who are drifting on the tide of time, having little control over their fates. Born in this changing and chaotic period, they very often cannot deal with what life throws at them, and are miserably destroyed by the outside world. The narrator-protagonist of On the Margins was originally a descendant of country gentry, but later became a Nationalist military official and hence, in the Communist period, a counter-revolutionary. He was thrown into prison and only rehabilitated in the early 1980s. These enforced identities have made him lose confidence in his humanity, causing constant feelings of inferiority and nothingness. Hence his comment: "I am afraid of bumping into people, just as a person with diseased eyes is afraid of sunshine . . . In the village, I tremble all the time, and dare not go out in the daytime. Sometimes when I have to go to the grocery store to buy some cigarettes, or some toilet paper, I have to go along a remote path under the cover of darkness. I say to myself, I am a poisonous weed, which grows only in shit" (15-16). This shame and sense of being nothing especially makes him anxious about the coming of death. It is very evident that the old man's recalling starts and ends with the deaths of his lover, Little Button (in Section 4), and of his childhood teacher, the centenarian Xu Fuguan JC M in Section 42) respectively. The deaths of these two, his contemporaries, forcibly remind him of the unavoidability of his own death, and in fact during his recollections there is a moment when he comes face to face with death: "I am a 142 dying person. In the eyes of the villagers, I have died already"(88). In this case, the ruthless villagers feel that he has lived too long as a burden to society (he is among the few old men who need their help); and some even suggest burying him before they have made sure that he is dead. This recurring anxiety of identity and confrontation with the emptiness of mortality drives the old man to redefine himself, not according to the standards of the outside world or the perspective of others, but by his own act of remembering himself. A Private Vision of History Discussing the importance of events and chronological order in the development of realist narration, Terdiman points out: "The essence of the realist paradigm is its portrayal of the world as a terrain of human action . . . , [and] the dynamic tone of realist narration . . . is the account of a concrete event."3^ This emphasis on action and events must base its logic of causality on a time chain. And in fact, as Marston Anderson argued, modern Chinese fictional narrative, with its social promises and with Marxist theory as its ideological base, evaluates highly the progessive aspect of human life, and class struggle as the dynamic force to push history forward. Thus events consisting mainly of tangible activities become the basic elements in such works, which inevitably build up to their only end: provoking the masses to revolution.37 As a result, such a linear structure and attempt to imitate real events has, as I mentioned earlier, become almost a definitive requirement for the modern Chinese novel. By contrast, we notice that On the Margins does not attempt to tell a story where events are related in the sequence of their occurrence. Instead, in the form of remembrance and interior monologue, it describes the imprint left by events on a memory 3 6 Richard Terdiman, The Dialectics of Isolation: Self and Society in the French Novel from the Realists to Proust. Yale University Press, 1976. 100. 3 7 Refer to Marston Anderson: The Limits of Realism: Chinese Fiction in the Revolutionary Period. University of California Press, 1990. 143 and sensibility and displays a private and personal perspective towards history and reality. Hence this novel confines the reader's attention to the inner world of the protagonist-narrator, not to the activities of the past life itself, and the 42 episodes that constitute On the Margins are actually mental scenes joined loosely through mental association, rather than dramatic events joined by temporal or causal order. To illustrate this point in more detail, we notice first that in all forty-two sections of the novel, a complete objective account of an event is never even attempted. These episodes present a kind of coverage of the past, but do not fill in the blanks; thus they remain like so many fragments. Each section presents one or more of these fragments of past events as it happens to be remembered, including subjective impressions, reactions and inner reflections about the outside world. Continually, the account emphasizes the narrator-protagonist's feelings and reactions, both in the past and present. These basic units I call mental scenes, to indicate their imagistic and emotional character. For example, in the mental scene of his years as a Nationalist soldier, the narrator hardly gives any idea of which battle and exactly what year he is talking about — the public facts beloved of historical fiction — and instead emphasizes scenes in which his peaceful village was destroyed by the fighting, his memories of young women and their warmth, and the fear and horror he experienced when burying wounded victims on the battlefield while they were still alive. In some sections, all significant actions or events seem to be deliberately avoided. For instance, Section 24 describes the protagonist returning home in the late 1930s after having wandered around the country for about fifteen years. It concentrates on his first catching sight of his home in the distance. After the narrator-protagonist briefly recounts the seven-day journey and the tears forming in his eyes when he first recognized his village, the rest of the episode is dedicated to a description of the village under the mid-day sun. No events of significance take place: there is only a stream of visual and auditory 144 impressions. However, the reader gains a sense of the importance of this place in the narrator's mind. Even in those sections that do involve events or actions, the emphasis lies more on the side of the narrator-protagonist's subjective reaction to them; frequently, too, the events are just used as a prelude to more reminiscence about the past, and thus are not related completely. Section 9, "Butterfly," is the account of his two encounters with a woman called Butterfly, in which he emphasizes the elegant, restrained and beautiful impression she leaves. Both are descriptions of his observation from a distance, giving hardly any idea who this woman is, or what the people in the scene are doing. The section starts with the narrator-protagonist watching Butterfly's father and fiance (though the identity of these two is not made clear at this stage) as they persuade her to leave. In fact, even this small detail is not made clear and only by relating this episode to later sections can we find out that she is fleeing from the Japanese. What we read here is only that two men talk with her one after the other, and finally the young woman reluctantly gets on a cart. This is the narrator's first encounter with her. Then follows a description of the narrator-protagonist's watching Butterfly riding a horse and saving her from her mount when it runs out of control, an episode that happened half a year later. Despite the factual confusion, the narrator's adoring impression of Butterfly is unmistakable throughout the section. Similarly, Sections 28 and 29, entitled "Xu Fuguan" and "Crossing the River" (Yuehe M) record the period in the early 1950s when the narrator-protagonist was sent to labour-reform prison. Life in prison also starts with a memory of childhood: the sudden change brought on by the family's move to the countryside and his parents' isolation from the outside world. A transitional sentence then joins this memory with a parallel reality — another sudden change in his life caused by imprisonment, which he feels is similar to his mother's confinement to the village in his early years: "During those days in Crossing the River labor-reform prison, the surrounding wall cut off my relations with the outside 145 world . . . Gradually, I even forgot where I was"(154). Now we realize that the preceding memory of his home is what he dreamed or recalled while in prison: "through the twinkling stars I see the past: I drown myself in the blue moon, and I smell the fragrance of the withering flowers, grass and trees in my memory" (154). After giving an account of his surroundings and boring life in prison, a casual remark while chatting with the other prisoners triggers his next memory of the past: a recollection of the woman called Flower and the Beekeeper House where she lived, which leads into Section 30. The prison is forgotten. Obviously, the narrator cares little about how and why he is put into prison, or about providing information on prison life and what goes on between the prisoners. Instead what concerns him, and what the novel overwhelmingly presents, is a psychological vision of reality, not a description of reality itself. The narrator breaks up the original events and rearranges them according to a psychological order, to form the basic units, or mental scenes, of On the Margins. A process that Richard Terdiman has called "depreciation of action" is taking place. The clearest consequence of such a subjective approach to human life is that when the past is examined, we receive a private vision of "public" history. As I mentioned above, since he is aiming to redefine himself through recalling his past, the memories of the old man in On the Margins are almost exclusively concerned with the personal, private "history" of one individual. "Public" history is relevant only insofar as it fits with the protagonist's attempt to rediscover himself through his memories, i.e., only in a very indirect sense. Although the eighty years of the narrator-protagonist's life coincide with almost all the important social events of modern Chinese history, events that could so easily lead in the direction of publicizing, or overlooking, the private — as in much previous Chinese fiction — On the Margins instead heads in the opposite direction, transforming even major political revolutions into mere stages in a personal journey. 146 Illustrations of this emphasis oh personal life, and consequent depreciation of social and public events, abound. The clearest indication of the reversed priority lies in the subtitles dividing the sections of the novel, which show the narrator's tendency to dwell on particular themes. They consist either of the names of people important to the old man, for example, the women he loved — Azalea, Flower (Huar JL), Butterfly, Little Button — his friend Xu Fuguan, and his enemy Leper Song, or of dates that have deep significance for him, like "The Winter of 1925"(Yijiuerwu man de dongtian — % H 3i ¥ tf) # ^), "1949" (Yijiusijiu nian — X m % ¥ ) , and simply "May" (Wuyue It M). Certain places occur too, such as "Wheat Village," his home village; "Eastern Station," where he stays for two years recuperating from a wound before finally returning home in the late 1930s; and "Crossing the River" a labour-reform prison where he is incarcerated for over ten years from the early 1950s to mid 1960s. Finally, the major events in his personal life are indicated with titles like "I Lost My Father" (Wo shiqu le fuqin ft 9K. ife T M), "I Got Married" (Wo jie le hun^^T W), "I Arrived in Xinyang" (Wo daoda le Xinyang It 3\ j£ T fit PH); and his general meditations on life come up in sections entitled more abstractly "Road" (Daolu H jifr), "Shadows" (Yinying $J J^), "Death" (Siwang K t ) , and "Enduring (Renshou U g). Judging by the titles, it is obvious that very few of these episodes of reminiscence are concerned with the broad historical picture. Instead, the autobiographical memory emphasizes landmark events in the narrator-protagonist's personal history, such as the family moving, his marriage, the first time he goes into battle, expulsion from his house, incarceration in reform prison, and the like. Interspersed with such major personal events are numerous mundane occurrences of everyday life that have stuck in his memory: a moment of puzzlement when he discovers his mother having an affair; a vivid memory of the smell of his lover; or the enormous fear caused when one of his nightmares comes true. 147 If there is a sense of important historical events vaguely lurking in the background, it is only because they have touched an individual life and not because of any intrinsic importance or interest they might claim for themselves. For example, when recalling his wartime experience during the 1920s and early 1930s, the narrator gives hardly any clue as to what is the site of the battle, which two sides are fighting, or whose army he is in. Because the events have now become recollections of this disillusioned old man, all wars seem equally unbearable, no matter what cause the army is fighting for. This version is certainly different from earlier patriotic novels, which concentrate on a wider historical perspective and ignore the complexity of individual motives. Even if the reader can patch together the references to campaigns and revolutions, what is presented in the novel is primarily the psychological impact on one protagonist of all the experiences of his life, which impact certainly differs from that for any other individual. Two further examples will demonstrate this point. The first episode in the narrator's recollection involves his family's move from the provincial town of Jiangning (£t CT) to their old hometown in the countryside. The historical background is the 1911 Revolution, certainly a significant event in modern Chinese history. However, the narrator does not include the revolution as an explicit item, but instead gives only his own perceptual impressions as a four or five year-old boy. There are three scenes indicating the historical backgound. First there is the brief but very sombre dialogue between his father and mother. The father says: "I think I have already reached the age when I must return to the countryside and read books"(2). This tendency to "be an official when the state is prosperous, and become a recluse or scholar when it is chaotic"(Z/H ze shi, luan zeyin ?r? % fir, fil M IE), the typical moral mode of traditional Chinese scholars, may remind the reader of the changing times, and the probable overthrow of the dynasty. But the narrator is not interested in presenting this 148 broad historical picture; instead, he directs the reader to the responses of individual people to these events, and their effect on an ordinary family. The second scene occurs as the family passes the city gate, and has to stop because a group of "criminals" are being executed: "After a while, I heard shots. At that time, I didn't know what was happening in this world, and neither did I know where this red sedan chair would take me. I only felt vaguely that an ominous fate was dropping down silently around us"(3). Here again, we see only "my" response to the revolutionary chaos. The third intrusion of revolutionary disturbance occurs as the family is escaping the city. They stumble across what seems to be a battle in a country field, which forces them to hide in a haystack: "Just after we blew out the lamp and hid in a stack of wet hay, we heard horses coming over the water. The sounds of shots whistled strangely above the wild and empty field, lingering in the air for a long time, as if waiting for the next volley to converge with them. My body shuddered spasmodically, as if every shot was hitting me. My mother trembled even more than me, as she wept in the wet hay. It was obvious that she didn't care about my fear at all"(4). Thus the historical events are limited to "my" perspective, the understanding of a boy just a few years old. We see his view of the gloomy face of his father and his mother's trembling body. The novel avoids all expression of "public" significance, apart from what can be glimpsed through the clouded vision of a child. As a second example reveals, sometimes the personal experience of historical events is quite different from the collective memory or official version of that history. Thus, in the Sino-Japanese war period, the narrator-protagonist is a military official. Yet his work is certainly not inspired by patriotic emotions, since he admits that, after several years of witnessing the absurdity and cruelty of war, of seeing former enemies (probably Communists and Nationalists) pretend to become reconciled, and high officials desert on the eve of battles, he is tired of any involvement in war whatsoever. As a result, he falls into deep depression once more, exacerbated by the terrible fear of facing Japanese 149 barbarity and worry for his wife who is left alone at home. Even when he is mistaken for a patriotic official by the demonstrating masses and asked to give a public speech, he can say nothing and thus is treated as a "traitor": "In those days my depression, which had not really been cured since my childhood, revived. In the time of Japan's invasion, my unhappy appearance led him (Zhong Yuelou) to conclude that I was frightened to death by the Japanese. He was so anxious to convince me, to awaken my consciousness that had slept for years. But I responded to him with sad pride and indifference . . . and as this misunderstanding deepened, I could only deal with my darkness alone"(95-96). He is certainly not a standard patriotic hero, but rather admits; to his recollecting self at least, typical human weaknesses. Such a confession reveals the true humanity of a tired soul. The numerous political campaigns of the Maoist regime are also presented indirectly, but because the old man is always a victim of these campaigns, his memories of that period inevitably dwell on wrongful treatment and personal suffering. He has no good words to say about Communism. During the mass campaigns to suppress "Counter-Revolutionaries" and the so-called class war against the "Five Antis," both occurring in the early 1950s, the narrator-protagonist is thrown into prison for over ten years.38 His memory deals with this episode first by selecting a conversation he had with his teacher Xu Fuguan one afternoon, in which Xu warns him of the coming mass movement. Then he 3 8 According to the novel, it seems that the narrator-protagonist was arrested and put into prison around the fall of 1953. The reason is hinted at during Xu Fuguan's conversation with the narrator-protagonist (149-152), in which the point is made that he lives in a large house while other poor-peasant revolutionaries must put up with much worse conditions. Though the four main mass campaigns in the early period of the P.R.C. took place in quick succession, considering the narrator-protagonist's identity as a Guomindang military official as well as his gentry family background, I would guess that his arrest was related to one or both of the campaigns mentioned in the main text. The Suppression of "Counter-Revolutionaries" took place between 1950 and 1952 and was directed against millions of Chinese who served in the GMD armies or organization, but later remained in their hometowns. The Five Antis Campaign (1952) was a class war directed against the bourgeoisie and businessmen in cities, and against rural landlords in the countryside. 150 catches a glimpse of a newspaper article that confirms this news. Totally overcome but helpless, he has a nightmare about being thrown into prison; and later the nightmare is actually realized during the above-mentioned campaigns: "When I dreamed, I didn't realize that I had experienced reality ahead of time" (152). A month later, he is taken away to a labor camp. The account finishes with a fortuneteller's subsequent interpretation of this strange occurrence: "We often think that dreams are imitations of real events, but actually it is just the opposite. Reality is just a simple imitation of our dreams" (152). The historical events are not made clear — in fact we are left without knowledge of the precise crime with which he is charged — but his huge fear and sense of inescapable fate are especially emphasized through descriptions of his feelings, his worries, and his dream. Rather than directly condemning the "Red Horror" of Communist rule, the novel describes a personal tragedy in terms that verge on black humour, and thereby demonstrates the absurd consequences of political events, as seen from an individual's perspective.39 We are given the impression that political violence leaves all people who dream of living a peaceful life in a terrifying situation where nightmares turn into reality. Structure of On the Margins Having noted the general emphasis on the inner life in On the Margins, I would like to examine the basic techniques that Ge Fei uses to structure the novel and bring this emphasis into relief. There are three basic narrative techniques that he adopts. The first involves the interweaving or juxtaposition of past and present, or of remembered moments and moments of remembering, in which the latter help to explain the former. As I noted above, there are six sections where the monologue clearly deals with the present situation: Section 4, "Little Button"; Section 18, "The Death"; Section 3 9 The absurdity of the situation is especially clear with the narrator-protagonist, who, despite having once served in the GMD army, didn't exhibit any brutality in the past, and had no intention of engaging in domestic subversion. Hence the injustice he suffers raises serious questions about the humanity of these political campaigns. 151 22, "Xiaoqin"; Section 33, "The Destination"; Section 37, "Little Button"; and the last section, "Sounds of Silence." These parts on the one hand, clarify the circumstances in which the remembering takes place, and on the other hand, function as transitions and clues to the memories of the past. For example, the first three episodes are memories of childhood, then in Section 4, the autonomous monologue of the old man appears, and the manipulation of subjectivity gradually begins to reveal itself. Following the rain at the end of Section 3, during which as a boy he is puzzled after coming across his mother's affair with Xu Fuguan, Section 4 begins with: "Now, the rain starts again," a description of his present situation, in which he is an old man reflecting on and understanding what has happened. Thus through the association of the rain, two spatio-temporal realities are merged, and the latter explains the former. Later in this section, a girl visits him, and brings him the news that Little Button (the great grandmother of the girl) is dead. This news then leads the narrative to Section 5, which revives the occasion when he first saw Little Button in the Garden of Date and Pear when he was very young. Next, the contemplation of mortality aroused by Little Button's death brings back childhood memories of witnessing the death of Miss Song, and his own visions of his father's ghost and their effect on him, namely depression. This can be considered the continuation of the first three sections after a digression into the present. Similar shuttlings between past and present are clearly indicated in the several sections whenever the old man talks about his present situation, and are also manifest in numerous transitional reflections scattered throughout the novel which help to join the memories of different places and times together. The second organizing technique is to give the memories of the past the general configuration of chronological order. The forty two episodes, of this novel, if one were to arrange them in chronological order, consist of personal recollections of past events, moving from childhood through adolescence, adulthood and maturity, and finally to old 152 age: the memories of the journey of a particular being through time. The beginning of the novel is also the first sensory memory of this narrator-protagonist, and the child's indistinct, dream-like sensory perceptions gradually solidify into scenes from real life. The first three sections are obviously arranged according to chronological order. The family moves to the countryside, settling down in the Garden of Date and Pear; and then father dies. After inserting a monologue from the present in Section 4, this memory narrative continues in Section 5 and the following sections. The rest of the novel exhibits a similar basic temporal progression. However, while it is true that the memories proceed along more or less temporal lines, also noticeable is the fact that there are few logical connections between events in different sections or even between events in a single section; rather, they seem to hover around one theme or one figure. As a result, the transition from one section to another indicates not so much a natural development of events, but more an abrupt change of subject. As I discussed earlier, the subtitles actually summarize particular themes or motives. Each section thus revolves around a central idea, image or figure indicated by its title, rather than continuing a story from the beginning to the end of the novel. Section 5, entitled "Shadows,"deals with several events happening in the narrator's childhood that are all related to the shadows of fear and death, but do not follow each other in any causal order. Section 6 involves memories connected with the mysterious figure Xu Fuguan, and also describes the narrator's childhood years, and Section 7 recollects a woman called "Flower." However in this first mention of Flower the narrator remembers her death, and his previous acquaintance with her is not brought up until much later in the novel (Sections 20 and 30). Again, there is no direct relation between this section and either the preceding or following ones: it belongs here simply because the death of Flower occurred at some point between the protagonist's first feelings of paranoia and his marriage — subjects dealt with in Sections 6 and 8. 153 Although the general configuration of the novel maintains some kind of chronological, or biographical, order, its micro-structure thus stresses more the idea of psychological progression. This is the third organizing technique, which gives the narrative a sense of variety and dynamism. The chronological order is constantly interrupted by sudden associations or conceptual leaps within the narrator's mind. Since this technique is the most important and idiosyncratic feature of this novel — an attempt to present the free movement of "the varying and the uncircumscribed spirit" — it is worth examining in more detail. Ge Fei tends to utilize three major types of psychological "interruption." The first is to juxtapose different times and events through associative or mental leaps. I touched upon this aspect already when I pointed out that each section is organized around a single theme or subject. I will give one further example to elucidate the point. Section 25 describes the narrator-protagonist's friend Zhong Yuelou, who has become the victim of political persecution since 1949. It is inserted between the narrator-protagonist's return home in the late 1930s and the sections on the changes in the village that he observed before 1949. However, the section on Zhong Yuelou is not limited to this period: instead much of his life, including especially his suffering from the late 1940s to the 1960s is also included here.40 In a manner similar to that of Sections 12 and 17, which introduce other aspects of Zhong Yuelou's character, this section obviously uses the initial events of the 1940s as a springboard from which to launch into a discussion of Zhong's personal suffering. Events that occur over different times, but are clearly associated in the narrator's memory, are brought together. The second kind of interruption involves the intrusion of a sudden recollection of another time and/or place into the account of a particular event. Sometimes such recollection will occupy a whole section, at other times only a paragraph or two. 4 0 These events include his enthusiastic involvement in the Sino-Japanese war, his confusion about which side to follow in the civil war before 1949, his exposure as a counter-revolutionary in the early 1950s, his visit in 1966, and his public criticism in 1967. 154 Depending on the chronological relation of the interruption and the main event, we could call this technique a memory-flashback or memory-anticipation. Examples include the insertion of Section 9 — the narrator's encounter with "Butterfly" in the late 1930s — into the account of his marriage and feelings for his wife from the early 1920s; a similar case is the insertion of Section 20 — memories of "Flower," his "secret" childhood love — into the account of his being wounded in a battle with the Japanese. Such chronological jumps also occur as relatively short units, paragraphs within the main account, as when the narrator mentions reading a report on East Station in 1952 in the midst of his description of staying in that station in the late 1930s (107); or when the memory of his childhood experience of going to school with his father surfaces while he is being publicly accused in 1967. Such inserted episodes are often presented as memories occurring within other memories. That is, they lie at a double remove from the remembering present. In such cases, we see not only that the narrator's intense inner life was a feature of his early years just as much as in his old age, but also that memory can help to provide a reflective illumination or ironic contrast to these often painful events as they happen. I will enlarge on this point below. The third kind of interruption occurs when instead of a complete, unified account, one event is broken into several pieces in the narrator's memory, and retold in different sections. It may even happen that some crucial parts of the tale are concealed at first, and only revealed at another time, in a chance burst of emotion. The story of Butterfly, which is one of the most touching episodes in the novel, is presented in three parts. The narrator-protagonist's encounters with her mainly occur from the summer and fall of 1938 to the spring and summer of 1939. According to the basic chronological outline of the novel, this episode should probably come around Section 20. However, the first part of Butterfly's story shows up much earlier, in Section 9, which follows immediately upon Section 8, "I Got Married," hence it seems initially to be set in the early 1920s. Yet Butterfly is introduced here because the narrator associates her with the beauty, gentleness 155 and innocence of his wife Azalea: "The day I left home was the first gloomy dawn of October. I walked far away along the road at the foot of Orange Hill. Azalea still stood there leaning on the door, still with the look that she had when she looked up at me in the past, as if I would change my mind suddenly and return to her side. All through my long military years, until I saw Butterfly for the first time in Dongyi, I remembered clearly that look" (34-35). Section 9, in which he is attracted to Butterfly, follows, and we soon determine that this actually happens much later, in the summer of 1938. Butterfly's beauty and pride on that peaceful and sunny afternoon contrast movingly with her later appearance. On this second occasion, in Section 23, she is raped by the Japanese. The whole account is a depressing story about the destruction of beauty. However, this part still conceals some information relating to the narrator-protagonist himself, who was a witness at that time. His response doesn't come into his memory until section 32, in the early 1970s when he is still despised as a class enemy. He is forced by Leper Song to give a confession of his behavior on that day. Owing to his cowardice then and to pressure from the silent villagers (since if anyone rebelled, more people would have been executed), he as a military man didn't stand up to the Japanese. His shame and guilt suppressed this memory into the depths of his consciousness, until outside forces once again brought it to light. Through the division of the story of Butterfly into these separate retellings, Ge Fei is thus able to suggest the sheer pain of the narrator's shameful memories: he cannot fully acknowledge them until many years later. Another example of concealment in one place, and later revelation of the same event with surprising changes, concerns the narrator-protagonist's memory of coming across his wife's affair with the Village Head, Leper Song. Sections 24 and 26 describe the first days after he comes back to his hometown and is reunited with Azalea, in 1939. Here, the account simply portrays the joy of finally returning home, along with a feeling of estrangement from his wife. However, the affair that he had actually discovered immediately after he came back isn't even mentioned in these sections. It only emerges 156 much later, in the early 1980s, when Leper Song is going to die and wants to tell this secret to the cuckolded husband as a final humiliation. This situation revives the narrator's repressed memory: "Actually I knew very well the thing that Song didn't have time to tell me: it had become a tight knot in my heart over these long and depressing years"(195). Then he gives another account (Section 39) of that day when he returned from his travels, and this time the peaceful surroundings, which he had apparently celebrated in Section 24, imply some potential danger: "I entered into the depths of the Garden under the lazy afternoon sun, and the self-pity aroused by this familiar scene prevented me from realizing the danger that was silently approaching"(195). Then comes the shocking scene of discovering his wife making love with Song, and his escape from the Garden to spend the night outside. On the next day he returns home again, and the account merges once more with what has been described previously in Section 26. Azalea's shock then was not only a result of the unexpected return of her husband, but also, as we now know, a guilty response. Here, shame, anger and sadness combine to suppress this memory until some outside event forces it to re-emerge. The narrator's memory doesn't present this past event in its original order, but instead follows a psychological order. The result of this utilization of the logic of the human mind is a less mechanical and more complicated understanding of human beings and the nature of reality. Lastly, in this examination of the structure of On the Margins, I would like to spend some time analysing the transitions between the various episodes in the novel. As with the initial choice of which episodes to retell, the transitions between each episode seem also to be arbitrarily decided by the reflective mind of the narrator. Sometimes, we notice a vague association between events that follow each other: the resemblance of a certain image or figure in both. For instance, the narrator uses a common climatic phenomenon to draw together one childhood night and his present situation, thus making a transition from the past memory to the present monologue: "I saw 157 the heavy rain of that last night (past). . . Now, the rain starts again (present)" (14). Another example is the transition from the account of a battlefield scene to a memory of kite-flying in childhood. The transition is smoothly accomplished by means of the image of hay burning from the roof of a farm house, taking flight like a kite. Sometimes the transition is rather abrupt, taking the form of a general summary or announcement, which suddenly moves the account from one topic to another. The opening of Section 8, "I Got Married," starts with the narrator's general comments on his dislike of marriage. These sentences have no relation to the preceding section, which describes his experiences of death and fear in his teenage years, and there is no transitional image or sentence. At most, we can say that there is a vague chronological progression, from the events of his teenage years to those surrounding his marriage and domestic life before he leaves home in the early 1920s. And his comments are followed by a group of related subjects: his arranged marriage, the wedding ceremony, the gradual establishment of mutual feeling between himself and his wife, and his lover's jealousy. Finally, there are frequent intrusions of the narrator's reflections, which at first seem like transitions to new subjects, but soon revert to the original account: what we might call temporary digressions. An example is the following paragraph inserted into the account of his sexual initiation with his father's maid, Little Button, in Section 16: "I often ponder what it was in Little Button that touched my body and soul? In my older years, the arrival and departure of Xiaoqin would always revive the figure of Little Button. I would watch her moving, and the old, but still fresh, memory of the past would often cause my tears to flow" (80). No matter what kind of transition is used, it is clear that the sovereign mind of the narrator creates the logic of the tale, and his consciousness manipulates the presentation of the past, directing the narrative from one subject to another. Below, I would like to examine the consequences of this constant focus on the narrator's mind. I will suggest that by using this technique, Ge Fei not only draws attention to the centrality of the inner self, 158 but also suggests that one can attain a sense of moral integrity and mental enlightenment even when nothing remains of one's life but memories. Salvation of Memory Besides shifting the focus of the novel to the private and personal sphere, the subjective approach towards human life in On the Margins also makes a more sympathetic exploration of psychological reality possible. As my examination of the novel's unique structure and its use of psychological time has shown, On the Margins is a sophisticated portrait of memory that presents the inner world of a human being: a rich and complicated field for a long time neglected in Chinese literature from the Mainland. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this approach, and a major achievement of this novel, is that it affirms the spiritual dimension of human existence, the survival and growth of inner humanity even when outside circumstances have remained unrelentingly grim. Returning for a moment to my analysis of the symbolic setting of On the Margins, the Garden of Date and Pear, as pointed out, is an enclosed and private space, existing in a state of nearly absolute silence and isolation. Located in a deserted corner of the village, no events take place there and seldom does anybody visit. We notice only a steady decline after years of neglect and harsh weather conditions. As I suggested, the house seems to mirror the state of the narrator-protagonist himself: his appearances in the novel, apart from a few scenes where he moves around his room to satisfy his biological needs, consist solely of him lying on the bed and remembering his past. I pointed out that this situation implies a state of paralysis and impending mortality. At the same time, however, we should also note the dramatic contrast between the old man's "paralysed" body and his mind, which is in constant and turbulent motion. There is also a parallel here with the stagnant appearance of the house, which conceals a vibrant life, captured in the sounds of insects, birds, and leaves in the deserted garden, and 159 contains innumerable imprints of the past in its old rooms, furniture and accessories, waiting to be triggered by the old man's fertile memory. I also mentioned that the "I" of this work, like the narrators in Ge Fei's other novels and stories, is an isolated recaller, whose memory often slides over social and political events, to meditate in lengthy fashion on the "irrelevant details" (xizhimojie % ^ ) of daily life and ordinary personal relationships: "My memory is formed from those trivial details which seem hardly relevant to my story; from those passing things that have already decayed: the brown-colored riverbank and almost heart-rending scenes from the four seasons. Yet I forget the main stem of things."41 Sometimes the narrator's memory leads him to the brink of ecstasy when confronted with the pure and simple beauty of nature: a date tree in spring (Section 3, "I Lost My Father"); or wild flowers (Section 30 "Beekeeper's House" Fengfang ^  Hr). At other times, his memories evoke deep sadness over what has been lost or destroyed. Thus, the narrator recalls the former peace of harvesting in a countryside now destroyed mercilessly by war (Section 13, "The First Time I Went to Battle" Wo diyici shang zhanchang -$c jf? — #C J l pjc W). Alternatively, memories recur of the fragrance and face of a woman with whom he was intimate (Section 20, "Flower"); of the deep sympathy he feels for those who suffer but cannot be helped (Section 21, "Eastern Station"); of fear when his nightmare turns to reality (Section 28, "Xu Fuguan"); and of shame at seeing the faithlessness of his wife (Section 39, "Azalea"). These "trivial" things, which are only trivial when people treat outside, historical events as more important than inside, spiritual ones, act as concrete embodiments of universal feelings and emotions, of the eternal rhythms of nature and ordinary experience. Such inner emotions have never been presented so vividly and powerfully in the literature of Mainland China over the past forty years. 4 1 Ge Fei, "Xianjing" |# (The Trap), mMizhou, Zuojia chubanshe, 1989. 11 160 The psychological truth of Ge Fei's portrayal is even more forceful because these trivial impressions or feelings usually come into consciousness unexpectedly, like the involuntary memories in Proust's In Search of Lost Time. They might arise through a confrontation with something as ordinary as a spring tree, or a flower. Such preoccupations reveal a deep human need to pursue goodness and beauty in life: a kind of necessary aesthetic sense that is part of human nature. Moreover, this sense often emerges suddenly from the moments of greatest cruelty and chaos around us, and becomes a source of strength encouraging a person to persevere. In On the Margins the narrator-protagonist's memory of playing with a kite and watching an old craftsman occurs just when a battle is raging around him: seeing hay from a burning barn roof flying high like a kite, the similarity of the image stimulates the memory, re-awaking the expectations and pleasures of childhood and of a peaceful life in harmony with nature. Such peace and joy are a strong contrast to the blood and death of war, and are probably the source of the narrator's ability to endure that terrible reality. Another example is his recollection of the sweet village woman called Flower (who is much older than he), while he is on the battlefield in the midst of the Sino-Japanese war (Section 20). In his semi-conscious state after he is wounded in the battle, there first emerges a memory of the fragile flowers in his home garden; then this image of flowers transforms into a woman with a related name, Flower, who, like Little Button, was one of his sexual initiators. The memory of the fragrance of her room and her gentle smile works like a ladder to draw him out from the muddy surroundings and terrible pain of his wounds. A similar situation occurs in Section 30, when he is locked in prison and can only dwell in his memories of past joys as a means to sustain his life. There is a recollection of Flower's beauty and sweetness and the desire of other men in the village for her, including his first visit to her beekeeper's house. With these trivial but persistent memories, the 161 narrator-protagonist somehow drags himself through an existence of outward suffering, demonstrating the effectiveness of association as a means to transcend a horrifying reality. Thus we find that the human spirit must struggle with the outside world to affirm its pursuit of peace and beauty, and to achieve completion. Remembrance can even help one belatedly to understand the extent of others' suffering, and in that light, come to terms with one's own similar feelings. Section 21 tells of an episode during the narrator-protagonist's stay in East Station, when Yuxiu, a woman successively deserted by several men and laughed at by her fellow-villagers and even by her own mother, shows some affection for him and offers herself to him. He refuses her, and her deep sense of shame leads her to commit suicide. The night before her death she sobs all night beside him, and the memory of that sad and wounded crying connects itself with a much earlier episode, one afternoon in his childhood, when he had felt similarly deserted by his sleeping mother. This very trivial detail, with its authentic depth of feeling, clearly reveals his new-found sympathetic understanding of the situation of that poor countrywoman.42 From the above examination of Ge Fei's structuring of the novel, we might conclude that psychological reality is the main focus of the representation of human life in On the Margins. And clearly, in the centre of this reality is a profound and lasting fear, aroused by the violent turmoil of the outer world, the eroding of human relationships, the unpredictability of fate and the inevitability of death. This sense of fear has accompanied the narrator-protagonist as far back as his memory can reach, from the moment when, as a young child, his family moved back to the countryside due to the Republican revolution and the overthrowing of the Emperor. Returning to his ancestors' house at the Garden of Date and Pear as a child doesn't bring this narrator any peace and protection. The decadence of an old-fashioned 4 2 Likewise, the later understanding he gains of his mother's suffering is also realized as a result of his own suffering: see Section 10 "Huhan" 5^  (Shouting) and Section 17 "Renshou" & g (Enduring). 162 lifestyle and culture present in the household is augmented by his father's depression and his mother's resentment and hysteria. Yet with the death of his father43 the narrator-protagonist is exposed to an even more frightening reality — his sleepwalking and later depression originate from insecurity after his father's death, combined with shock at witnessing the death of a girl from the same village and her brother's threatening attitude toward him. He starts consciously to fear the outside world, in which his fellow-villager Song has become a human devil. The sense of insecurity, of being left alone to face the secret darkness (since the mother is depicted as a weak, hysterical and self-centred woman) exacerbates his fear of death, which first emerges when as an adolescent he confronts the meaninglessness of existence. This relatively abstract and mysterious fear grows much more concrete and real when he leaves home to become a soldier in the warlord period, when people seem to cherish hostility and to fight each other at the least provocation. Seeing soldiers raping women, he worries about his wife at home; seeing the blood of warfare, and fire that destroys the corpses, he succumbs to chronic depression. Fear of human cruelty and abhorrence of peoples' bestial side even prevents him from becoming a patriotic hero like his friend Zhong Yuelou: all he wants is to flee from all kinds of warlike practices. As I noted, the 1949 revolution brings no end to the narrator-protagonist's frightening experiences, but merely tempers the physical violence with psychological humiliation. He is numbered among the small group of counter-revolutionaries who are constantly subjected to threats and attacks. What little he possessed in life is now taken from him: he loses his home, the rights and dignity of a human being, and becomes like a 4 3 The death of a father, almost a typical occurrence in modern Chinese literature, signifies the loss of the old social order and traditional culture. The May Fourth generation, with their iconoclastic position, celebrated this death. For example, Bajin's Family, and Lu Ling's The Children of the Rich. However, in recent works of the younger generation by writers such as Ge Fei, Su Tong, and Hong Feng, this death of a father is colored with a sentimental and nostalgic mood and a sense of bewilderment and anxiety of identity is detectable. 163 walking corpse, a living shadow. The humiliation he undergoes at the hands of Leper Song and the "proletarian dictatorship" clearly stems from personal resentment — the hostility between the two men starts from their young adulthood and deepens as a result of the affair between his wife and Song — but is disguised under the name of revolution. As a result, he suffers many injustices, ranging from being forced to kiss a chicken to being suspected of stealing a gun. And though a life experience such as his might seem extreme in its undiluted suffering, it is certainly the case that fear has been the normal experience of the majority of ordinary people in a society as chaotic and confusing as that of modern China, hence the narrator's account has quite far-reaching relevance. If fear is the main reaction of the human soul to an unbearable situation, then the act of remembrance provides the only protection and consolation to a helpless and powerless figure like Ge Fei's narrator. His friend, Zhong Yuelou, commits suicide because he can't bear that burden of fear. The reason that the narrator-protagonist survives is largely because of this ceaseless inner activity. Not only does the narrator-protagonist exercise his memory when he grows old; he also finds himself remembering past events throughout his life, which, in fact, is a way for him to come to grips with and seek to understand that reality. The reason that spontaneous memories emerge particularly when he is confronted with a terrifying reality and feels its unbearable emptiness, is because remembrance allows him to turn away from that reality, to look for another source of vitality in beautiful moments, beautiful objects and feelings of the past. There are numerous such recollections that come suddenly, with no apparent function other than to prevent the narrator-protagonist "I" from giving up on life too easily. Apart from those mentioned above, a particularly representative example comes at the most unbearable stage of the Cultural Revolution, when he is being publicly criticized and paraded around the streets. As he is taken into custody along a familiar country path, he remembers the morning his 164 father first took him to school, when the freshness and attractions of human life offered such a contrast with his present situation: When we were following the raised dyke in the middle of the rice paddy towards (the primary school), I felt as if I were walking on the old road of twenty years earlier. Early that morning, father was taking me to see Master Xu Fuguan for the first time. The world then was so fresh and clear. Light mist was covering the river bank, and reeds were wafting their fragrance; in the grassy thickets by the road, clumps of strawberries and cranberries were saturated with dew. The sunlight radiated through the fog beyond the hedge, transforming it with a multitude of colors. Young birds twittered, their sounds crisp and piercing, yet with a dense, moist tone. We walked onto the wooden canal bridge, and heard the gurgling sound of the flowing water; the boats on the canal were moving along in the thin mist. The sails on their masts came flapping down, like a flock of pigeons flapping their wings as they fly away into the distant sky. . . . That ancient picture has always stayed in my memory, and infiltrating my dreams it silently grows in my disturbed sleeping. (135-136) In this way, the narrator implies that one's spirit is not a direct reflection of reality; that sometimes it develops in a direction opposite from the one that reality leads one to expect. With the working of this human spirit to oppose arbitrary identities, memory never merely "photocopies" or imitates the outside world, but rather forgets, conceals, highlights or eternalizes. Memory imposes order on events and reveals the "I" as a substantial subject capable of understanding and sympathizing, of appreciating and reflecting — a spiritual identity that prevents the person from degenerating into an animal. So by the end of the narrative, the narrator-protagonist finally reaches a state of completeness where peace, beauty, sympathy and understanding — qualities so lacking in 165 real life — are attained in his inner world. He now vividly remembers the morning he first saw the proud, beautiful young Butterfly, and forgets the terrible ugly old woman of the present. He also finally forgives his wife Azalea for having an affair: "I now feel, in those years it was her disgrace that proved her chastity, since we can only see dawn from the dark night. Now she will never know my eternal longing for her"(216). In the narrator's words, he has learned the secret of "silent sounds," experiences when "even in the the most intense moments of the war, pervaded with the smell of smoke and gunpowder, we can also sense the fragrance of the earth, and the warmth of the eternal sunshine. . . . Zhong Yuelou said that only during breaks in battles can we truly be inspired by the peace and calm of country life and know our longing and desire for the earth. . . . My memory is like a moon hanging high in the sky of night, stopping on the margins of time. It passes a china cup, lays its light on my bed, and brings me inexpressible sadness, compassion, and deep longing for the past"(215-17). Deception, betrayal, insult, abandonment, and disturbance finally give way to silence, peace, understanding and reunion. Again, in the section "The End of a Journey" we read: "At the moment that my life is going to end, I suddenly consider again that I only experienced some fragments of what happened. . . . Those pure and beautiful pictures prevent me from giving a simple conclusion to my life, for example, deducing a certain meaning or a certain kind of people" (169). The external idea of identity is replaced by a self, an individual subject, which unifies and understands the past, the Other, and the world. Now, in the experience of remembrance, he finally discovers a sense of peace that has somehow outlived that fear. Poetry of Prose In his 1985 study of post-Mao period literature, Blooming and Contending, Michael S. Duke expressed his genuine hopes for Chinese fiction to develop beyond realist poetics: "Perhaps only a generation of writers younger than Dai Houying can reach 166 beyond the boundaries of Marxist ideology and realist poetics to probe deeper into the psychological depths of the individual and produce something closer to the poetry of prose."44 Duke's disappointment about the lack of such a poetic quality in modern Chinese literature, as I understand it, is a criticism of the lack of the aesthetic and transcendent aspects that we often expect in an artwork. Because literature, unlike historical or social documents, is concerned with the human heart and spirit, it should always reveal something that transcends particular social circumstances and immediate reality (poetry is perhaps the most representative form in this respect). Indeed the most deplorable feature of modern Chinese literature is that even the particularity and richness of human experience and the sense of the poetic present in classical Chinese literature have largely been lost4^ By portraying a particular human being's inner spiritual world, Ge Fei seems to display an understanding of reality and of the relation between the human spirit and the real world that differs from previous "realist" paradigms. He is successful in searching for the part of reality that distinguishes human beings from animals and helps them to transcend particular social circumstances and immediate reality. Ge Fei expresses in his novel the elevation of remembered reality over any objective record of events, and by doing this, he revives in his novel the poetic aspect of modern fiction. The poetic quality of On the Margins springs first of all from its basic assumption that human beings possess a lyrical soul that can transcend immediate reality and reach a state of enlightenment. It is for this reason that Ge Fei purposely utilizes an experiencing, reflecting self as narrator, since, as I have suggested, memory tends to merge inner 4 4 Michael S. Duke, Blooming and Contending: Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era. Indiana University Press, 1985. 181. 4 ^ Reading Owen's Remembrances, op.cit., I wonder why such a universal experience as memory, so important to the classical Chinese tradition, has apparently seldom been explored in previous modern Chinese literature. 167 reflections and perceptions of the past inseparably with the object remembered. The lyrical impulse of the soul can therefore be articulated through this "I" narrator, who remembers events and reflects upon them like a poet — crucially, too, a poet in an utterly unpoetic time. From the autobiography of this narrator, we recognize at once that he is not a hero of the times but a political outcast and social exile. The inexpressible sadness that runs through his whole narrative comes from the great emptiness and terror that confront a human being deprived of the usual trappings of happiness and inner peace. Yet at the same time his memory also reveals another side to his self. His propensity for lyrical reflection and remembrance demonstrates that he is rich and strong within, gives him strength to live on, and makes his life an example of the human spirit overcoming the chaos and darkness of history. On the Margins therefore is a "poet's" vision of his time as fashioned by his memory. 46 The poetic spirit of the novel's overall approach is both matched and mirrored by the details of its linguistic texture. In this aspect, among modern writers, Ge Fei is one of those who has contributed most to the restored lyricism of Chinese fiction. It is immediately apparent that On the Margins incorporates a great amount of evocative descriptive language and poetic imagery. The traditional conventions of narrative demand that a novel present a dramatic plot or character development according to a well-defined chronology, and the resultant orientation towards the neutral reporting of action and events in many ways prevents concentration on the imagistic language of poetry. The occasional scenic descriptions in Chinese works of formal realism tend merely to reflect 46 The self-depiction of a youth lost in a strange city in another work of Ge Fei's sheds some light on this kind of character: "I am a displaced person (buhe shiyi de ren 0^  "M. f$ A): in an accidental moment of the past, I was thrown out by the tide of fashion, like a fish thrown onto the riverbank by waves. I live in the past with the aid of memory and imagination." Likewise the narrator of On the Margins is also a failure in dealing with the outside world, and can only live in his memory and imagination. See Ge Fei, "Yelang zhixing" (The Trip to Yelang), mHushao, Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1992. 155. 168 the physical surroundings in which the action took place. On the Margins, however, with its aim to explore human consciousness and sensibility, largely eschews concentration on the development of events, replacing it with the careful elaboration of mental scenes woven in a colourful fabric of imagery and replete with sensuous details. Ge Fei's use of imagery ranges from striking individual sentences to whole sections where picture rather than action dominates. An example of the former occurs when the narrator recalls his father's face during their flight from Jiangning: "My father's face emerged out of the night. It was like an old tree soaked for ages in the rain, looking ghastly in the blue moonlight" (3). An instance of poetic description at greater length is the simple, static pastoral picture that greets the narrator-protagonist when he returns home from his travels as a soldier, and which remains in his mind for several decades. Only such a picture of peaceful "non-activity" could hint at the deep ecstasy of returning home, the sudden relief of a tired soul, and the quietness and seclusion of a place removed from the chaotic world crippled by war: After I came round the greener southern side of Julu mountain, that dilapidated village suddenly came into my sight. Lines of tobacco plants flourished along the canal and extended far into the distance. The ripe cotton waved in the breeze, basking under the sun. I crossed the wooden bridge over the canal, and smelled the fragance of burning charcoal and coal from the tea supply house in the village. The Garden of Date and Pear was empty, the branches of its date and pear trees crackled in the breeze. The vegetable field had been fenced with new bamboo, covered with ivy and wisteria, their flowers already withered. The room where we kept silkworms was tightly shut: I noticed that its door was covered with high weeds, and several little chicks were scrounging for food, carefree in the grass." (126-27) 169 Such vivid imagery originates from intense memories of past scenes, people, fragrances or sounds. It occurs spontaneously in the narrator-protagonist's mind and is closely related to his mood and feelings. Whether the narrator-protagonist is describing his longing for a young woman he loves, his terror and panic on the battlefield, or even his contemplation of the meaning of life and death, sensuous depiction almost always replaces conceptual statement as his main mode of discourse. This tendency reveals a vibrant sensibility in the human spirit, which asserts itself again and again in spite of disturbances from outside — in fact, it is largely such disturbances that provoke the spirit to seek an alternative means of fulfilment.47 It is not surprising therefore, that the imagery in On the Margins usually evokes an atmosphere of peace, beauty and harmony, which contrasts greatly with the outside reality of turbulence and violence. Noticeable is the fact that even cruel and ugly things in reality are often transformed into harmonious or beautiful images in the narrator's poetic vision. For example, death is obviously a terrifying experience when considered from an ordinary perspective, yet in Section 18, entitled "Death," the narrator describes a dying person in this way: first there is a sense of sunshine, which joins the present moment with his past experience of battle and with his childhood; then follows an image of the Garden of Date and Pear and the fields before fall harvest seen from his window: "Through the window, I see broken walls and ruined pavilions hidden behind the trees. Further away, there are fields of ripe rice and cotton plants. On the plain and in the brilliant fields, the sunflowers stand here and there, swaying in the winds of fall. Sometimes, I confuse them with the scarecrows" (88). Next he describes the sound of the trees in the garden, which 4 ' Psychologists have discovered that memory only lasts especially long for recollections of everyday occurrences "when they have a high level of sensory or aesthetic quality, which can provoke the pleasure of recalling them." See Katherine A. Benson: "Socio-Historical Context and Autobiographical Memories: Variations in the Reminiscence Phenomenon," in Martin A, Conway, et al. ed.: Theoretical Perspectives on Autobiographical Memory. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.320. 170 also brings back the voices of the women who once planted them, now living in another world. Then the narrator-protagonist talks about listening to the sounds from the village as his only link with the outside world. There follows a contemplation of death, which ends with another image: "The living and the dead are separated by only one fence; once you cross the fence, the flower of life will wither" (89). Finally, he completes this vivid image to describe his experience of dying: "Now, the fence before me is being broken. As for death, embodied in my body, flowing in my blood, I can feel its existence all the time" (89). Thus images create a kind of aesthetic pleasure, which can transcend and transform painful reality. Finally, connected with the stylistic aspect of the novel is the symbolic dimension of its imagery. Although as I mentioned before, a large number of the memories in the novel are of ordinary, daily life scenes — irrelevant details of "my" life — due to their recurrence throughout the narrative, and especially their reflective and speculative tone, they often take on a more universal import, and greatly help to emphasize the basic themes and rhythms of the work. One such image that runs throughout the narrative is that of the road. The novel opens with it: Now, I can remember clearly the road that leads to Wheat Village. For many years, it has been like a shaft of dim and shaded light glimmering in my memory. . . at that moment, I didn't know that this bare road actually included all the secrets of my long, but seemingly short, life. Now, at the other end of the road, my memory is still not enlightened. . . . I only remember a pink picture, only that it spreads out like a bottle of coloured dye overturned in water. It is the glow from a sunset, and from it gradually emerges my father's figure. (1) 171 This image of the road has three levels of meanings. One is the real road that leads to Wheat Village, which the narrator-protagonist has walked on numerous times throughout his life, ever since the family moved to the village one day in his childhood. This is the most basic and literal meaning of the road. However, with its context as part of the memory of a whole lifespan, its symbolic second meaning as a personal journey from innocence to maturity also emerges, especially in the peaceful and enlightened final section of the novel: During the moments around midnight, I often have this feeling that I am sleeping beside my mother, and fall into a deep sleep in the night of the remote past. But when I awake in the first light of the morning, I have already become an old man. When the road of my memory is suddenly cut, my mind is lost and memory becomes blank, but in front of my eyes there always appears suddenly a pink picture. I see the April rain, and us sitting in the sedan chair, going further and further on the muddy and steep road. (215) Finally, a third meaning of the road would see it as the route of memory that leads from the present to the past: such an image emphasizes the similarity between remembrance and a journey crossing space and time. Thus emerges the idea of memory as revisited and revisioned reality. Other images in the novel, such as rain, flowers, the Beekeeper's House, kite-flying, and more active figures like "shouting" (jiaohan ^ UfE), also contain philosophical implications that enrich their descriptive function. Like the recurrence of the road figure, they greatly enhance the poetic quality of the narrative language.48 4 8 I should also mention that along with its being permeated with visual imagery, the narrative of On the Margins is also characterized by the undisguised reflective tone of the 172 Now we are in a position to try to decode the title "On the Margins." There is no place in the novel that explains this title, but as the author points out in his preface, the idea of being "on the margins" embodies his whole philosophical understanding of the links between reality and human life: "In the spatial relation between individual and reality, we often live in some kind of marginal space (we are not outsiders). Seen from the temporal dimension, this is even more the case. I feel that reality is abstract — prior to experience, and thus empty — but existence includes rich possibilities, and even includes history."49 Relating the title to the novel's focus on autobiographical memory and personal history, "on the margins" likely refers to the position of the self, especially with regard to those individuals forced to the margins of social events. Exemplified by the narrator-protagonist, they are not the heroes of an epoch but ordinary little people, or even those suppressed by society. They are the unwelcome persons always left behind by social fashions. However, their true existence and identity cannot be summed up with the labels attached to them by others, by outside reality, labels like "descendant of country gentry," "nationalist military official," "counter-revolutionary," or simply, "a nobody." These identities only shatter a whole people into pieces, reducing them to category and type. They neglect the true nature and authentic feelings of each individual human being. It is opposition to, and anxiety about, these "objective" identities that triggers the act of remembrance. As Ge Fei's narrator puts it: "Reality is tiring; it is the monotonous and narrator. The frequent insertion of the old man's comments, explanations and reflections is accompanied by an overwhelmingly subjective syntax, revealed in phrases like: "Now I still remember clearly that. . ."; or "At that time I didn't know that. . ."; "I notice that. . ."; or "I vaguely felt that. . .". The movement of the plot in the prose narrative is thus well balanced with frequent reflections by the narrator and with the description of the sensory particulars of every moment, conveying a sense of contempl