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History, identity, and the marginalized: an analysis of selected works by Han Shaogong and Su Tong Hinrichs, Noelle E. 1993

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HISTORY, IDENTITY, AND THE MARGINALIZED:AN ANALYSIS OF SELECTED WORKS BY HAN SHAOGONG AND SU TONGbyNOELLE ELIZABETH HINRICHSB.A., University of Victoria, 1988A THESIS SUBMII1ED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIESDepartment of Asian StudiesWe accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAJuly 1993© Noelle Elizabeth Hinrichs 1993In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature) Department of Asiao' SluctitiiThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate AOleitokr .23, 1943DE-6 (2/88)iiAbstractSince Deng Xiaoping's liberalization of art and literature in 1977, literature in thePeople's Republic of China has shown rapid development. While there are indisputablymany sides to the "new" fiction of the Post-Mao era (1977 to present), the substance ofthe change can be summarized by saying that such works reflect an overall "return of theindividual" to modern Chinese fiction, in terms of characterization, authorial style, andpersonal vision. This thesis examines the return of the individual from the specific angleof marginalized character and motif, since they are frequently used by contemporarywriters to express an individual and often subversive perspective in fiction.The contemporary writers Han Shaogong and Su Tong both make use ofmarginalized character types and marginalized motifs in some of their key works. In thefour texts presented here, "Ba, ba, ba" and "Three Women" by Han Shaogong, and "1934Escapes" and Rice by Su Tong, marginalized character and motif are used to explore andarticulate authorial vision of history and identity in China. Each author defines theirmarginalized characters differently, yet there are basic similarities. Central characters inthe four works are characterized by their social marginalization; all refer to aspects ofhuman nature in general, and to the "Chinese nature" or cultural character in particular.Similarly, marginalized motif in each work underscores an alternative viewpoint.Regional discourse, myth, superstition, fallible narrators, and images of ostracism andalienation posit a challenge to the dominant ideologies and literary conventions of the lastforty years of mainland Chinese literature.iiiThis analysis of the techniques of characterization, narration and imagery, illustrateshow marginalized character and motif are defined in each work and how they are used tounderscore theme and meaning. Despite the continued obsession with China, bothauthors manage to convey their emphasis on history and identity with a covert culturalexploration. Ultimately, their work is ordered around aspects of human response and thehuman condition. They are not seeking to provide answers to the question of whitherChina, but rather to explore the individual's place in history in human terms.ivTable of ContentsAbstract^ iiAcknowledgments^ v1. The Return of the Individual in Modern Chinese Fiction: ^ 1From the Nativist to the Experimental: From Han Shaogong to Su Tong^ 7Marginalization as a Narrative Focal Point^ 172. Han Shaogong: Centering the Marginalized 24"Ba, ba, ba": Exploring the History and Identity of a Race^26Narration, Discourse and Imagery: A Marginalized Focus 37"Three Women"^ 493. The Experimental Writer Su Tong: History, Identity and Culture^73"1934 Escapes:" Determining the Self Through History 76Silence and Shadow, Cries and Reflections: ^ 88Rice: History, Hunger, and Alienation 96Identity and History: The Motifs of Rice, the Journey, and Fragmentation ^ 1104. Conclusions: Significance of the Marginalized^ 121Bibliography^ 128Glossary 132Appendix^ 133AcknowledgmentsI would like to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Michael S.Duke, for his careful attention to my research, his thoughtful criticisms, and his manyinsightful observations and helpful suggestions. I am also most grateful to the staff at theAsian Studies Library, to Enid Graham and Shen Dexiang of the Asian Studies Office,and to my colleague Li Tianming, for their kindness and willingness to help. Finally, Iwish to express my appreciation of my family and closest friends Ian Mitchell and LouiseYoung, for their constant support, encouragement and friendship over the past two years.V11. The Return of the Individual in Modern Chinese Fiction:History, Identity and the MarginalizedThe decade of the 1980's has been a fruitful one for writers in mainland China andfor their counterparts, the literary critics of both China and the West. Since DengXiaoping's {Ma] liberalization of art and literature in 1977 1, a "new" tide ofliterature has emanated from the People's Republic of China (PRC); one that is excitingboth because it follows on the heels of forty odd years of a stasis of socialist realistfiction, the only permissible school of fiction in the Maoist era (1942-1976), and becauseit posits a challenge to the more conservative and Party-approved brand of fiction whichhitherto dominated and still competes for position on the literary front. In addition, thesudden and rapid development of mainland Chinese literature since 1977 has allowed fora flourishing of not one, but many kinds of literary schools. This period of relativefreedom in literature has served to greatly encourage the development of a literaryproduct that is considerably more varied, and decidedly more mature on artistic andphilosophical grounds. Moreover, the fact that the impetus for this rapid stylisticdevelopment stems as much from global influence as it does from domestic forces andmodels of earlier works of Chinese literature is of considerable significance, and bearsdirectly on the context of this study.2 Thus, while there are indisputably many sides tothis "new" fiction, the substance of the change can perhaps best be summarized by sayingthat such works reflect an overall "return of the individual" to modern Chinese fiction, interms of characterization, authorial style, and personal vision. Furthermore, it is preciselyI See Michael S. Duke, Blooming and Contending: Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).2 The reference to earlier models here refers primarily to literature of the May Fourth era (1919-1937), yet still earlier models of vernacular and classical fiction appear to be influences, and some fictioneven plays with the jargon and characterizations of the Maoist era in order to parody that time period andthe remnants of it that are still in existence today.2this return which provides the larger context for the study undertaken here: a detailedexamination of the selected works of two mainland authors, Han Shaogong [44,,117] andSu Tong Lok], whose literary innovation and philosophical concerns bring a fresh andprovocative perspective to their fiction.This having been said, it remains to qualify the phrase, the "return of the individual"with a context. The most notable thematic feature of PRC literature written in the 1980'sappears to be its emphasis on the individual, a feature which was basically non-existent inthe literature produced in the nation during the Maoist era. An individualistic approach toliterature was characteristic of May Fourth writings however, and it is in this sense thatwe can speak of a "return" of the individual to modern Chinese fiction. From thisperspective, the intervening years of socialist realist writing can be seen as an interruptionof the development of the individual in modern Chinese fiction, in favor of a literaturethat served the needs of the revolution by emphasizing the collective over the individual.In keeping with the Maoist line to serve the workers, peasants and soldiers, all literatureproduced during this period focussed on class distinctions; to the extent that differencesin thought, feeling and action were attributed to a difference in class and not to thedynamics of the human personality. In the present day PRC, elements of Maoist erafiction are still strongly present, and in fact vie for prominence in the Chinese literaryfield.3 It is out of this relatively pluralistic state that I come to term the kind of Post-Maoperiod (1977-present) fiction that stresses the individual the "new" fiction of this period,in order to distinguish it from the other kind of conservative, Party-approved fiction (atriad defined by the critic Li Tuo [*Fr] as consisting of literature of the wounds, reform3 Li Tuo points this out in the article edited by Yu Xiaoxing. See Li Tuo (as edited by YuXiaoxing),"Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao" [Brief Record of Overseas Chinese Writers'Seminar], Jintian [Today], No. 2, 1990: 94.3literature, and reportage),4 which is more readily characterized by its tendency towardsthe exposure of social and political ills, reformism and overall didacticism.5In providing a context for the return of the individual in modern Chinese fiction, I amalso seeking to define the context of the more specific objective of the study to beundertaken here. In considering the scope of the phrase the "return of the individual," itseems obvious that it is a broad characterization that could be defined and exemplified inmany ways. I have therefore chosen to look at it from a very specific angle, one thatfocusses on a particular type of individualization in narrative; that embodied in the formof the marginalized character or motif. While considerable time will be spent on definingwhat is meant by "marginalized" in the pages which follow, it suffices to introduce it herein the form of its dictionary meaning, describing those who "occupy the borderland of arelatively stable territorial or cultural area."6 At face value then, the term "marginalized"fixes itself securely in the domain of that which "borders" the perceived norm or powerbase; be that in terms of people/ character, localities/ setting, and or language/ discourse.Beyond this, I use the term conceptually to express the ways in which it encompassesaspects of literature other than or related to those listed above, such as the presence ofimagistic motifs encoded in the text or an approach to the writing of narrative, if andwhen they are employed to evoke a sense of the marginalized. In this sense, the term"marginalized" is closely linked to the concept of the individual in life and in fiction inthat it represents certain qualities of being or of characterization, and or a certainconsciousness or approach that are not those of the majority / power base. In fine, my useof the term "marginalized" is intended to direct the focus towards the individuality andaltemativeness of the subject.4 Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao": 94.5 For a more detailed discussion of the characteristics of this vein of Post-Mao era fiction from 1977to 1984, see Duke, Blooming and Contending: 59-97.6 Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Ontario: Thomas-Allen and Sons, Ltd., 1984): 727.4As has been alluded to above, much of what is to be discussed about the presence ofmarginalized character and motif in selected works of fiction written in the Post-Maoperiod has to do with its relation to theme and meaning. In fact, the attempt to forge thelink between marginalization and theme stems from the observation that the presence of amarginalized character is very frequently found in recent works of fiction that focus onthe twin themes of history and identity. Furthermore, the marginalized characters are notjust coincidentally present in these works, but rather, are linked directly to plot andaction, either because the story itself revolves around them, or because they somehowinfluence the behaviours and consciousness of other characters to adopt a certain, thoughsometimes changing, perspective. In terms of what the reader perceives, the use ofmarginalized character and motif are integral to the overall impression given, and it is inthis way that it can be said that these images of marginalization are employed to articulatethe history and identity themes.For many, the attempt to analyze the themes of history and identity from the point ofview of the marginalized may seem to be putting the cart before the horse, insofar as thephenomenon of Chinese literary works focussing on the themes of history and identity isgenerally recognized by most scholars of modern Chinese literature, with a clear linkback to literary works of the May Fourth era (1919-1937). Nevertheless, to approach thetopic from this angle alone would set the parameters for an exceedingly large study, ofproportions too great to be undertaken here. Further to this, my interest in the specificstudy of marginalized character and motif is spurred by the observation that relativelylittle has been written about this phenomenon as it is present in contemporary Chinese5fiction.7 For these reasons, and because I believe there to be a definite link between theuse of marginalized character and motif and the articulation of the history and identitythemes, I have determined to begin from this premise. The objective is thus to discoverthe form and substance of this link in addition to its significance as an indicator ofdevelopments in contemporary Chinese fiction, of Chinese as well as global shifts inconsciousness, and of individual authorial vision.Finally, before discussing the writers and works that will be presented here, itremains to make one further point about the themes of history and identity which bearsheavily on the relevance of discussing together two authors whose works span a six yearperiod, and whom I determine to belong to different literary schools within the Chineseliterary scene. To this end, a brief return to the circumstances highlighting theburgeoning of the new fiction of the 1980's may best serve as an explanation. While it isprecisely the comparison between the heavily dogmatic and formulaic literature of theMaoist era and the provocative, varied approach of literature in the Post-Mao era thatmakes recent developments in fiction so refreshing, there is a line of continuity betweenthe two which, paradoxically, provides a point of departure for a discussion of certainaspects of the new Post-Mao era of fiction. This continuity, put quite simply, is therepeated emphasis on China and its culture, and the propensity of writers to view the7 One article that does focus on this subject is: David Der-wei Wang, "Jiren xing: Dangdai daluxiaoshuo de zhongsheng (guai) xiang" [The Currency of Abnormality: The Appearance of (Strange)Creatures in Contemporary Mainland Novels], in Zhongsheng Xuanhua: San ling yu ba ling niandai deZhongguo xiaoshuo [Heteroglossia: Chinese Novels of the 1930's and the 1980's] (Taiwan: Yuanliu, n.d.):209-11.6individual in relation to, or in terms of, the larger social and cultural whole.8 In manyways, and much more overtly, this same preoccupation is evident in May Fourth erafiction. The observation that this trend is present in Maoist era fiction is therefore notintended to eclipse the more direct links of the Post-Mao era fiction to its May Fourthpredecessor, but rather to highlight the fact that there is a sense of continuity throughoutthe fiction of the modern era which takes the form of a concern with the condition anddirection of China and Chinese society. The latter perception is of course shadowed bythe familiar words of C. T. Hsia, which succinctly expressed the defining characteristic ofMay Fourth literature: "its obsessive concern with China as a nation afflicted with aspiritual disease and therefore unable to strengthen itself or change its set ways ofinhumanity."9 Arguably, writers during the succeeding Maoist era had little choice but tofocus on China and its rebuilding, and on subjects that would illustrate the direction thenation and its people were to take, yet the point here is that these restrictions andexperiences are also central to the recent history of the Chinese writers and are thereforesignificant determinants of the type of fiction that has been written over the last ten years.Moreover, such a perspective allows one to view recent trends in mainland fiction not inisolation, but as a part of an ongoing developmentary process; in effect, as part of theevolution of modern Chinese fiction. Additionally, this perspective most certainlyprovides added insight into the preoccupation with the question of "whither China,"8 This observation is not meant to imply that the individual, in the sense of a character type, wascharacteristic of Maoist era fiction. Quite to the contrary, the individual disappeared during the Maoist eraas characters were dehumanized and typified in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Mao Zedong[0] in his Talks at the Yenan Forum on Art and Literature. Subsequent developments in Maoistliterature produced works that featured model characters, either heroes or villains, and plots that alwaysfocussed on the work itself and not on the individuals behind it. The point to be made here is that wherecharacters were identified and described, their social background was of central importance, not unlike thepractice in classical fiction of identifying a character through reference to his family and geographicorigins. Thus, traditional conventions in fiction no doubt had some impact on the development of theparticularly Chinese version of socialist realism in the Maoist era.It should also be noted here that many of the experimental works being published today are proof thatthere is now a movement to break from this perspective, and this includes writers like Su Tong, Yu Hua,etcetera.9 C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 2nd. ed. (London: Yale University Press, 1971):533-4.7which has so effectively manifested itself in an abundance of Post-Mao fiction dealingspecifically with the twin themes of history and identity.From the Nativist to the Experimental: From Han Shaogong to Su TongIn selecting the authors Han Shaogong and Su Tong for analysis, my purpose hasbeen to focus on two contemporary mainland authors who make use of a marginalizedcharacter type, and what I have chosen to call marginalized motifs, in some of their keyworks to express a very specific emphasis on the closely related themes of history andidentity. Thematically, there is thus a strong basis for comparison between the worksselected for discussion, even to the extent that they express similar underlying orsecondary themes. In addition, the thematic similarity is an interesting one, as it exists inspite of the fact that the individual styles of each author are quite distinct in terms of theirtreatment of the subject matter and markedly, in terms of the tone of their conclusions.Further to this, the two writers are interesting to compare because of their relativepositions in the body of fiction emanating from the mainland in recent years. Thespecific works selected for discussion are two works of novella length by Han Shaogong:"Ba, ba, ba" (1985), and "NU, Nii, NW (Three Women, 1986)10, and two works by SuTong, of novella and novel length respectively: "Yi jiu san si nian de taowang" (1934Escapes, 1990), and Mi (Rice, 1991).11 The discussion which follows and an analysis ofthe works themselves will hopefully illustrate why and how these writers have attainedtheir place in the corpus of contemporary Chinese fiction.10 Han Shaogong, "Ba, ba, ba," Kong Cheng [The Empty City] (Taiwan: Linbai, 1988): 131-181.Han Shaogong, "Nii, Nii, Nii" [Three Women], Kong Cheng: 182-246.11 Su Tong, "Yi jiu san si nian de taowang" [1934 Escapes], Qi qie chengqun [Wives andConcubines] (Taipei: Yuanliu, 1990): 15-78.Su Tong, Mi [Rice] (Taipei: Yuanliu, 1991).8As one might expect, the factors surrounding the sudden burgeoning of Chinesefiction in the 1980's are numerous and interrelated, and stem from political, economic,socio-cultural and foreign influences. One of the chief characteristics of the literatureproduced in this decade has been the quickly changing, and evolving, face of modernChinese fiction. As critics now look back from the viewpoint of the nineties and attemptto summarize this decade, many focus on the year 1985 as a pivotal one for mainlandChinese literature, as it saw the rise to prominence of one particular school of fiction, thexungen pai [#70A (the Nativist or "searching for the roots school"). In examining thephenomenon of nativist fiction in a few key articles, the Chinese literary critic Li Tuo haspointed out both its impact on subsequent fiction and its brevity as a trend to illustrate histheory that it is but a stage, albeit a highly significant one, in the ongoing literarydevelopment of Chinese fiction.12 To elaborate on his theory, one with which I am ingeneral agreement, Li Tuo feels that the various trends of Chinese literature from 1977 tothe present - that is, the literature of the wounds, literature of reform, reportage, obscureor misty poetry, nativist fiction and experimental fiction - are not merely chronologicaldevelopments of the same line of fiction, but are rather two competing and opposing linesdivided between the former and latter three stages.13 The Nativist School is thus a stagethat has both overlapped with and contributed to the development of other stages, mostsignificantly, the school Li Tuo refers to as the shiyan pai [t„„Tbia (literally, the"experimental" school).Following Li Tuo's line of thinking, there is thus a sense of the evolutionary aboutthe range of fiction from the Nativist to the Experimental Schools, both chronologicallyand substantively. With respect to the former, it is noteworthy that the popularity ofwriting nativist fiction was short-lived, with many writers moving on to explore other12 See Li Tuo, "1985," Jintian, No. 2, 1990: 59-73; and Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhuijiyao:" 94-103.13 Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao:" 94.9angles and approaches from which to express themselves in the years after 1987. Fromthe substantive point of view, nativist writing signalled an obvious break with Maoistdiscourse, often referred to as "Maospeak," that held sway throughout the Maoist era, andcontinues to hold sway in works of reportage and socialist realist fiction. Thisobservation, which has been made by many writers and scholars of Chinese fiction, is thebasis of Li Tuo's developmental linking of the obscure poetry movement to the nativistmovement, as in his words, ". . . when looked at from the surface, the connection betweentheir outer forms is not great . . . but their inner connection is identical; in terms oflanguage they both use the 'language of the margin' to challenge the 'language of thecenter.'"14 In this light, nativist fiction reflects a thematic concentration on tradition andon explorations of Chinese culture and society, as well as a symbolic and imagistic focuson the marginal perspective, which cannot but be considered a deliberate move on thepart of Chinese writers.The writer Han Shaogong is a central figure in the nativist fiction that emerged in thepivotal year of 1985 in that the works selected here, "Ba, ba, ba" and "Three Women," areoften cited as examples of the nature of fiction written in this period. Although HanShaogong is not considered the first to write nativist fiction in the contemporary period,with precursors like Wang Zengqi tt PA], Zheng Wanlong ft%J, Zhong Ah ChengF'3.14, and the Tibetan Zhaxidawa LIL2§1 jet among others,15 his early essay on thesubject has largely come to define the essence of nativist writing. Thus, in an articlepublished in January 1985, Han Shaogong remarked on the phenomenon as follows:"young writers are beginning to cast their vision out; to re-examine the national soil14 Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao:" 96.15 In addition, the influence of Shen Congwen's^fritiCi pastoral legacy on Han Shaogong's nativistfiction is worthy of note. Jeffrey C. Kinkley has explored the stylistic and thematic links between ShenCongwen, Han Shaogong and three other contemporary Chinese writers in "Shen Congwen's Legacy inChinese Literature of the 1980's," in From May Fourth to June Fourth, eds. Ellen Widmer and David Der-wei Wang (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993): 71-106.10beneath their feet, and to look back at the past of our people, [thereby] attaining a newliterary awakening."16 And, more categorically, he defines the goal of nativist writers tobe the unearthing of the "mysteries that determine the development of the race and theexistence of humankind,"17 and conceives of it as "a kind of re-recognition of the race, akind of revival of the historical factors latent in the aesthetic consciousness, and a kind ofobjectified expression of the pursuit and grasping of the boundless and eternal feelings ofthe human world."18 To this end, Han's view of "searching for the roots" arises from hissense of the link between the city and the countryside, where the latter is considered aliving museum of the history of the race. His conception of the roots of the nation istherefore expressed in his literature through the exploration of all the unorthodoxpractices of the country: the vulgarities and jokes, the popular legends and unofficialhistories, the folk songs and stories of gods and spirits, and the local customs of thepeople .19In an article published one year later in 1986, the scholar Chen Sihe [11,21,,fa]reviewed the movement in an attempt to summarize the ideology behind xungenconsciousness, and determined it to consist of three main reflections on literature andsociety. His analysis, which is also a definition of the nature of the nativist movement, isthat, "in the area of literary aesthetics, [nativist consciousness] reflects a re-recognitionand expounding of the cultural material of the race (including classical works ofliterature, ancient religion and philosophy, and historical documents); it employs thesensibilities of modern people to gain an appreciation of the ancient culture and customsthat have been handed down, as in the observation of the primeval forces of nature and inexperiences of folk customs and traditions of the people; and it unearths and critiques the16 Han Shaogong, "Wenxue de 'gen- [The 'Roots' of Literature], in Miandui kongkuo er shenmi deshijie [Confronting the Vast and Mysterious World] (Zhejiang: Zhejiang Art and Literature, n.d.): 4.17 Han Shaogong,"Wenxue de 'gen':" 7.18 Han Shaogong,"Wenxue de 'gen':" 5.19 Han Shaogong,"Wenxue de 'gen':" 7.11elements of the old culture that are still in existence in contemporary social life."20Certainly, each of these elements are present in the nativist works of the period, althoughChen Sihe perceptively makes the additional observation that what constitutes nativistconsciousness and searching for the "roots" is ultimately a matter of the individualinterpretation of the writer. This is why critical opinion of the nativist movement is sovaried, with the movement itself cloaked in a mist of uncertainty: Is it merely a renewalof May Fourth iconoclasm? Or a nostalgia for the social and literary traditions of thepast? Both? Or neither? Yet the paradox inherent in these questions is perhaps the key,for it illustrates the significance of a detailed examination of the works themselves, todetermine the extent to which the writer's personal style and treatment of the subjectmatter express a predilection for one or the other, or embodies the tension between them.In setting forth a definition, or better perhaps, an explanation of the nativistmovement, it is necessary to continually focus on the aspect of cultural exploration. Inthe context of nativist writing, cultural exploration has tended to be restricted to anexploration of the cultural practices of a specific "marginalized" or border group, such asthe people of China's northeastern provinces, the minorities of Xinjiang Vt and Tibet,or the mountain people of Hunan Mt] province if we consider the particular work ofHan Shaogong. Yet cultural exploration is also undertaken in the experimental fiction ofmainland China, albeit in a slightly different way, and it is this link, along with thechallenge of language referred to above, which illustrates the sense in which the nativistand experimental schools can be said both to overlap and at the same time, indicate anongoing process of development. This observation, however, makes a definition of theExperimental School difficult, as the movement is in itself rather amorphous. Perhaps itis then best to begin with the school's other title, xianfeng wenxue 10,314-] or "avant-20 Chen Sihe, "Dangdai wenxuezhong de wenhua xungen yishi" [Nativist Consciousness inContemporary Literature], in Wenxue pinglun [Literary Review], No. 6, 1986: 27.12garde" literature, since this is a term which generally embodies the dynamics and natureof the movement.As Li Tuo observed, the term "avant-garde" as it is applied to modem Chineseliterature is at best a confusing one, because it evokes comparisons and definitions fromthe body of earlier Western literature of the same name, despite the fact that the forcesbehind the respective movements are quite separate.21 Yet the term "avant-garde" doesfocus in on the characteristics of this later stage of Chinese fiction: particularly, thatelement of positing a challenge to the existing socio-political conventions of languageand subject matter in literature.22 Li Tuo's definition of the leap from nativist to avant-garde fiction is thus based on certain breakthroughs made by authors (Ma Yuan mgand Can Xue npet.,) in 1987 and 1988, and entails a new perspective on the act ofwriting literature that is twofold; firstly, to conceive of the creation of fiction as a processof encoding a system of language, and secondly, to use narration to effect a breakbetween real life and fiction in any given work.23 At this point, it should be noted thatbreakthroughs such as these developed in conjunction with the trend of the new fiction ingeneral, and that elements of experimentation in language and subject matter are presentin nativist works as well. In point of fact, the foregoing discussion is intended tohighlight the significant markers of the various stages of recent mainland fiction, with theunderstanding that there is no clear cut line between nativist and avant-garde works.Consequently, what is most significant in defining the so-called avant garde movementfor the purposes of this study is to recognize the shift in focus to a much greater21 Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao:" 97.22 My definition of the western "avant-garde" comes from M.H. Abrams, who defines it as follows:"a small, self-conscious group of of artists and authors who undertake . . . to 'make it new.' By violatingaccepted conventions and decorums, they undertake to create ever-new artistic forms and styles and tointroduce hitherto neglected, and sometimes forbidden, subject matters. Frequently avant-garde artistsrepresent themselves as 'alienated from the established order. . . ." M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of LiteraryTerms, 5th ed. (Toronto: Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1988): 109.23 Li Tuo, "Haiwai Zhongguo zuojia taolunhui jiyao:" 9813experimentation with narrative style, symbolic imagery and subject matter than waspresent in the works of the nativist period. For this reason, I prefer to use the term"experimental literature" to describe the most recent stage of fiction in China as it moreaccurately describes the level and scope of such works, rather than merely the essence ofthe innovative spirit behind them, which is no less a characteristic of the vitality ofnativist works.There is a great complementarity between nativist and experimental fiction, which itseems best to express in terms of a quality of literary spirit. Both schools of fiction areextremely dynamic, and the dynamism that they reflect has a shared origin and focus inthe act of breaking with established norms in literature, and inventing, re-inventing andexperimenting with literary technique. Su Tong, who is widely considered to be anexperimental writer, along with writers like Yu Hua [t*], Ge Fei [7IM, and Liu Suolarfijt .#_] among others, has recorded his own perspectives on the essence of avant-gardefiction in his preface to the collection Wives and Concubines, from which the story "1934Escapes" is drawn. His view of the concept of the avant-garde is that the use of the termis relative to its context; he states that "in all categories of culture there has alwaysexisted a kind of culture that is relatively radical and that carries with it a character ofrevolt and rebellion; they [these cultural elements] may gain the upper hand, or they maydisappear in an instant, but within them there is definitely a kind of active consciousness.Avant-garde writers possess a spirit of adventure and risk; on the literary stage they batterat the decrepit walls, destroying or creating, [thereby] pushing forward the developmentof literature."24 In this sense, Su Tong considers avant-gardism to be a cultural force thathas always existed, and one that is now merely finding its expression in the literature ofthe present time. Additionally, his words adumbrate traits that readers and critics ofexperimental fiction might put forward as the underlying impetus of this movement - the24 Su Tong, "Da-wen (Daixu)" [A Preface], Qi qie chengqun: 10.14challenge to express oneself through a self-created imagery and discourse, to continuallystretch the philosophical and artistic boundaries of literature, and to explore the worldwithout the fetters of conventional approaches. His words bring us back to the centralforce behind both the nativist and experimental schools, the way in which they bothillustrate a desire to challenge the existing norms of language and subject matter in orderto develop new literary techniques and a new focus.To return specifically to the writers Han Shaogong and Su Tong, a feature of each oftheir works is their ability to engage in a kind of covert cultural exploration on one level,while keeping their works anchored in the universality of human response and humannature. Their styles can rightfully be termed avant-garde for their innovative handling ofnarrative form and imagery, their creation of an individual discourse, and their skillfulemployment of modernist and post-modernist techniques. With respect to HanShaogong, his style in the nativist works selected here is primarily characterized byinnovation in discourse, ironic narration and the use of elements of magic realism tocreate an indistinct world that hovers between the real and the unreal. In "Ba, ba, ba," hecreates a regionalized discourse through his reliance on the mountain dialects andcustoms of Hunan Province, and makes use of the unofficial histories, myths andsuperstitions of the mountain villagers to explore and parody not only the puzzle of theirindividual existence, but that of the whole of the Chinese people. In doing so, a tension iscreated between tradition and modernity, as well as between what is good and bad aboutthe wealth of tradition that forms the backbone of Chinese culture.In "Three Women," Han relies on innovative narration and an imaginative blendingof imagery and symbolism to develop the themes of history, identity and the meaning ofexistence as the main male protagonist journeys back to his ancestral village in theChinese countryside. The story, which is organized around the central figure of his deaf15aunt, involves this protagonist as an alternately reticent and involved first person narratorwho views and speculates upon the present and past of individual characters, of theChinese people as a whole, and of the whole of humanity. Additionally, the personaldiscourse that is created expresses a concept of identity that is established throughlinguistic links, as well as through a highly symbolic relationship with nature and withthe history of the narrator's ancestral homeland, all of which are interwoven withelements of magic realism and stream-of-consciousness narration. Interestingly, thediscourse of "Three Women," as the title itself indicates, concentrates not only on manspeaking of and for himself, but also on man viewing and speaking for woman. Bothworks have cultural exploration at their core, with the former a more direct investigationinto the cultural attitudes and traditions of China, while the latter considers these aspectswithin the larger context of the puzzle of human existence in general.The two works of Su Tong's that will be presented here for analysis were writtenonly a year apart, yet there is more of a difference in their respective styles than there isbetween the above two works written by Han Shaogong. The first, the novella "1934Escapes," adopts a storyteller mode, wherein the implied author, who is also the narrator,recalls his family history through an open discourse in which he frequently communicatesto the reader and interrupts the story to express and emphasize the high level ofsubjectivity that has gone into its creation. In effect, Su Tong is here experimenting withinner-textual dialogue, insofar as characters in a fictional present are interacting with andinfluencing the actions of characters in the narrator's own story, set in the ostensiblyhistorical, but ultimately fictional past. Su Tong's innovations in style in this work arethus centred around his use of language, both in the form of the discourse outlined aboveand in terms of his approach to imagery, wherein language serves to anthropomorphizethe natural world. There is also a strong textual reliance on shocking imagery and somepreviously rather taboo subject matters, such as sex and sexual perversions, which serves16to jolt the reader into a new perspective on Chinese culture and humanity. The mainmotif of the story is one of escape, and it is embodied and underscored in the text byprovocative and paradoxical combinations of dream sequences and magical connectionsbetween separate worlds: city and village, past and present, life and death. Time isinfinite and open in "1934 Escapes," and Su Tong's treatment of history and identitywithin this framework allows for much critical and or suggestive commentary to beencoded in the ambiguity of imagery and symbolism.In the second of his works to be discussed, the novel Rice, Su Tong adopts a realisticstyle of narration with an omniscient third person narrator, which distinctly changes thetone of this text from that of "1934 Escapes." In Rice, the main male protagonist lives alife governed by feelings of hatred and alienation and seeks to establish his identity byembarking on a lifelong path of despotism and cruelty. All characters in the story aresimilarly motivated however, and Su Tong expresses the weight of the characters'emotions and motivations in a correspondingly heavy style. The strength of this worktherefore lies jointly in Su Tong's depiction of character and in his use of imagery andmotif. There is an intensely psychological treatment of the characters and of the subjectmatter, which focusses on the elements of human greed, hatred and cruelty that are oneaspect of the human will to survive. Furthermore, the motifs of alienation, fragmentation,and the journey are themselves highly expressive of the main themes of this story andtheir employment in the novel is one of the main indicators of Su Tong's skill. Finally,Su Tong also makes use of flashbacks and delusions to create an almost otherworldlysense of reality in the novel as he depicts the web of social and psychological relationsbetween characters and seeks to express the darkness and circularity of their lives. In thiswork, however, as with the others, there is still a central focus on the relation betweenhistory and identity, insofar as the novel focusses on one man's struggle to define himselfin the specific setting of China in the 1930's, where hunger dominates daily life and is17depicted as a defining characteristic of China's past. Moreover, there is again thepresence of marginalization in narrative tone and character in Rice, which leads us finallyto a more complete discussion of the definition and significance of the phenomenon ofmarginalized character and motif in the realm of contemporary Chinese fiction.Marginalization as a Narrative Focal PointIn present day literary criticism, use of the term "marginalized" to describe a type ofcharacter and motif invites confusion since the term has gained political currency inwestern philosophical debates on the nature of literary theory. Distinct conceptions of themargin/ marginal/ marginalized are key to deconstruction, feminist studies, and criticalperspectives on knowledge which examine the strategies of exclusion and power, and therelation of self to other.25 Most topical perhaps, is the way in which the margin isconsidered anew in the theory of deconstruction put forth by Jacques Derrida. Derridaconceives of the margin as fundamental to his strategy of differance (a term thatencompasses both "difference" and "deferral") which "challenges the possibility of anidentity, sameness, or inside that could be conceived of independently of the alteringpower of its difference, its other, or its margin. . . ." 26 The very idea of the marginexisting as a place or state in binary or hierarchical opposition to a center is brought intoquestion.25 Key persons in these areas of theoretical debate are Jacques Derrida (Deconstruction), JuliaKristeva, Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous among others (French Feminist Criticism), Michel Foucault(examining the pervasiveness of power-knowledge strategies in The Archaeology of Knowledge [1969] andThe History of Sexuality [19781) and Edward Said, who "traces the process by which knowledge andlearning can essentialize an exotic geographical margin as object, an other that becomes the medium of acollateral self." See Winfried Siemerling, "Margin," Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory:Approaches, Scholars, Terms, ed. Irena R. Makaryk (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993): 587.26 Siemerling: 585-6.18In feminist studies, marginality rather generally refers to the position of women inmale-dominated discourses such as literature, philosophy and history. Similarly, EdwardSaid considers relations between what might be called center and margin in his work onOrientalism and the Orientalist discourse, where he outlines the process by which adominating framework (as self) can contain and represent a geographical or cultural areaas its other.27 As these examples of usage illustrate, the concept of margin/ marginalizedin western literary theory currently addresses the issue of power-knowledge relations.In this thesis, the focus is on examples of individuality in modern Chinese literature.While cognizant of the theoretical underpinnings of the margin in western literature, myusage of the term is as a descriptive tool. It is intended to reflect and describe a kind ofcharacterization and approach to narration that is quite specific and definable, and usefulfor this analysis of modern Chinese fiction. Therefore, the description of marginalizedthat I apply to this discussion is derived from two concepts that are frequently evident inworks of mainland fiction. The first, fixing ren [60.16A], is a Chinese term which refersto physically deformed or abnormal people. The second, bianyuan ren [4,4A,], is theChinese translation of a western term which refers to people of marginal or border areas.The former category, fixing ren, encompasses characters who border the social circle;they are social outcasts because of an obvious physical, mental or social abnormality, bethat in the form of a disability such as lameness, blindness, deafness or disease, a mentalcondition of insanity or retardation, or in social behaviours and attitudes which revealalienation, cruelty, and perversion. The latter category, bianyuan ren, refers to a largerand in some sense less specific group, in that it concentrates upon people of marginal orborder areas and reflects a distinction that is set up along the lines of setting (locality),cultural custom and social and political status within the national arena. "Marginal27 See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).19people," are thus people of China's villages or minority areas, whose lifestyle sets themapart from the dominant framework of Han culture because of differences of language,customs, residence, beliefs, economics and or lack of a modern (westernized) education.Yet the term also refers to people who are technically within a dominant framework, butmarginalized from its power, as in the case of women and children, and even politicaloutcasts. Therefore, while the two categories are separated by specific contexts, there is aconcrete relation between them in that they both describe people, conceived of asindividuals or as members of a group, who are, for whatever reason, marginalized by apower base.The additional sense in which I have chosen to apply the term marginalized is in thedescription of the characteristics of certain literary devices or references contained withinthe text that exist outside of the category of character outlined above. In referring to themas motifs of marginalization, my intention is to indicate the linguistic and imagisticreferences in the text which set a tone for the narrative as a whole. Given the scope offour separate works, a wealth of examples can and will be highlighted in the textualanalysis which follows, but a general indication of what is meant by this terminology canbe exemplified here. A discourse that is regional, that is, one that uses local dialect or theperspective of local beliefs to tell a story, is focussing on those aspects of the groupwhich serve to define it as marginalized. Insofar as this is not the standard approach orhandling of narrative discourse in the PRC, examples of regionality reflect a marginalizedtone. Writers who use a non-dominant cultural or linguistic framework to shape theirstory are providing a perspective that is alternative to the established literary norms.Marginalized motif, then, is here meant to describe the way in which the story is told if itis narrated from the perspective of one who conceives of his or herself as alienated fromthe conventional attitudes and perspectives of his or her society. Its use is not restrictedto a linguistic approach alone however, and the other sense in which it is applied is in the20description of frequent references to marginality which are primarily indicators of theme,and which are expressed in the form of a repetition of imagery. An example here wouldbe imagery that evokes a sense of social isolation and alienation, and to a more horrificextent, imagery that focusses on disfigurement to express the self-lessness andfragmentation of the ideal human whole.Finally, it is necessary to address two important points about the use of the termmarginalized in the context of literature in the PRC. In comparison to the situation inmany western countries, literature in the PRC is tightly controlled by politics, so that it ispossible to speak of a power relationship between the dominant political framework andthe artistic community it seeks to contain. Thus, the nature of the situation in PRCliterary circles provides a context that justifies a consideration of the margin from amainstream perspective. By using the term as a descriptive tool, my intention is tohighlight the character type and/or narrative voice that is portrayed to indicate thedirection and imaginative nature of the author's literary vision. Secondly, the liminal roleof the margin brings us more centrally to the usefulness of the term marginalized as adescriptive tool. The fact that writers have consciously focussed on the margin, which isboth outside and yet integral to that which is inside, is a fundamental part of theirexperimentation. The term margin not only encompasses the direction of their literaryperspective, but also highlights the cultural exploration that is at the core of their work.The focus on the margin in the four texts presented here does not determine a mutualexclusivity of center and periphery, but rather emphasizes the relations between them.The texts describe the root or origin of the culturally and politically authorative group asclosely relating to or stemming from the margin or borderland that is portrayed.At this juncture, one may well want to consider the relevance as well as thesignificance of focussing on examples of marginalization in character and motif. In a21survey of several of China's foremost young writers of the 1980's, this kind of focus onthe marginalized is evident in many of their works, particularly those that touch upon ordeal directly with the themes of history and identity.28 On many levels, the link to themarginalized is obvious, as when you consider works of nativist fiction where the focus isclearly on the regional. On other levels, the link may appear more tenuous, but uponcloser examination it seems clear that there is an intended reference in works that focuson a marginalized character to aspects of human nature in general, and to the "Chinesenature" or cultural character in particular. This much it seems can be presumed from theobservation of the prominence of this character type in recent works of fiction, since it isone way of exploring issues of philosophical concern, such as the meaning of life and thebehavioural dynamics of human interaction, by human example, quite in addition to theexploration of the characteristics and motivation of a race.In considering the relation of the marginalized character and motif to the twin themesof history and identity, there is an obvious correlation to earlier works of Chinese fictionin the modern era. The theoretical currency of the term "marginalized" aside, the imageof such an outcast figure has its modern origins in the work of Lu Xun dig. Theimage of Ah Q [R-QJ lingers on, and remains a significant influence in contemporaryworks that deal with the history and identity of the Chinese people. Similarly, Lu Xun'smadman in "Diary of a Madman" has left its mark on the contemporary literary scene,and this is perhaps why so many young authors seek to articulate a vision through thewords of a madman, or the image of a cripple, or by describing actions of violence orcruelty. Yet these observations are not intended to categorize contemporary works as28 For example, Mo Yan's ] "Bai gou qiuqianjia" [White Dog and the Swings], "Huanle"[Happiness], "Ku he" [Dry River], "Jinfa ying'er" [The Yellow-Haired Baby]; Su Tong's "Yi jiu san si niande taowang" [1934 Escapes], "Guai ke" [The Strange Guest], "Waixiang ren" [The Outsiders: Father andSon]; Han Shaogong's "Ba, ba, ba," "Nil, NO, NU" [Three Women], "Lan gaizi" [The Blue Bottlecap], "Guiqu lai" [Homecoming?]; Zhaxidawa's "Ji zai pisheng kou shang de hun" [Souls, Tied like Knots on aLeather Cord]; Shi Tiesheng's sat "Hei hei" [Blacky]; Wang Anyi's "Ah Qiao zhuanitie"[A Biography of Ah Qiao], etcetera.22imitators of their May Fourth precursors, or to suggest that the cultural exploration beingengaged in today is no more than a reversion to that of the past, but rather to reflect on thesense of continuity between them. While it is on the one hand difficult to discuss theconcept of marginalized characters without referring to obvious parallels in the works ofLu Xun, it is hopefully made clear on the other that the writers of the contemporaryperiod are certainly developing their own approaches and devices to articulate theirthemes. In fact, in selecting to examine the link between marginalized character andtheme the intention is to illustrate how the works in question reflect or questionsomething profound about the history and identity of the Chinese people, preciselybecause it has substance to the authors themselves, and not just because it is an oft-repeated and widely accepted critique of Chinese society embodied in the form of Ah Q.In the four works presented here for study, marginalization, in fact a form ofalienation, is considered the narrative focal point. Thematically, imagistically andlinguistically it can be linked directly to the plot of each text. An in-depth examination ofthe texts under consideration is of course necessary to truly exemplify the ways in whichthese links are established, yet there are certain basic links to theme that can be discussedeven before undertaking an analysis of how the authors define the marginality of specificcharacters in each text. To begin with, the role of the marginalized character in all fourworks is to underscore the main themes of history and identity as well as to convey manyof the secondary themes to the reader. It is, for example, descriptive of the rural-urbansplit, and of the tension between tradition and modernity in a changing China.Furthermore, the focus on marginalized character allows the works to be anchored in amore universal perspective, since this character type facilitates the expression of manyaspects of the human condition, such as feelings of ostracism, ridicule, absurdity, cruelty,ignorance, hatred and empathy. In addition, it is employed to symbolize the circularity ofhistory and to question the significance of life, if not concretely, then at least in terms of23an abstract impression which is indicative of authorial vision. Finally, in combinationwith all of the themes listed above, marginalized character and motif serve to symbolizethe will to survive, and reflect the inner struggle of man to define self through theexploration of individual as well as national identity.Before beginning our analysis of the works selected here, one further point aboutmarginalization as a narrative focal point deserves mention. There is an aestheticcomponent to the use of marginalized character and motif in recent mainland literature.The point was earlier made that the Chinese are currently re-discovering their language,in the form of discourse that reacts against Maospeak and westernized language forms.They are choosing to focus on regional areas and are using oral and dialectical, and evenclassical forms of speech to tell the story. Overall, there is a desire to eschew the politicaljargon of the Maoist era by dispensing with it altogether or by using it to parodycontemporary situations and personalities. On a most basic level, this kind ofexperimentation with regional language forms reflects a calculated move away from thedominant cultural framework, that is tantamount to expressing authorial inclination for aquestioning, subverting perspective. Moreover, it is most significant that Chinese writersand readers are currently gravitating towards an approach which involves the explorationof the foundations of Chinese tradition, knowledge and culture, at a time when they arefinally able to express themselves individually. Certainly, the alternate perspectiveinherent in adopting a marginalized point of view fits the Chinese need for expression atthis time. The need to challenge the established political and cultural framework (in theform of its dominant ideologies, linguistic and literary conventions), to develop a modernChinese literary tradition, and to react against years of one way and one voice, are nodoubt part of the appeal of marginalized tone and character in literature.2. Han Shaogong: Centering the MarginalizedIn the many critical articles that have been written about Han Shaogong's nativistworks of 1985 and 1986, two main points readily surface and become central to theensuing discussions. The first point is that this group of works, "Homecoming')," "TheBlue Bottle Cap," "Ba, ba, ba" (1985), and "Three Women" (1986), mark a significantstylistic departure for Han Shaogong from his earlier realist style to one that experimentswith many western modernist approaches, such as surrealism, magic realism, andexistentialism, and also has a decidedly domestic focus on innovations in language andsubject matter. The second point revolves around Han Shaogong's choice of "strange"characters to carry the main action of the plot, and the psychological treatment that heengages in as a method of elucidating a character's nature, motivation and lifecircumstance to the reader.' Further to this, a personal yet widely accepted criticalobservation is founded on the relation between this departure in style and characterizationto a thematic emphasis on the exploration of cultural, historical and personal identity. Infact, Han Shaogong himself alludes to this connection between character and theme whenhe reflects on the process of his literary creation in "Ba, ba, ba" and "Three Women" asfollows:The protagonists of these two works are extremely familiar to me, as I wasonce their neighbour or relative. When I sat before the blank page silentlyrecalling their appearance, I thought of using a style that was true to life tometiculously depict them, and so I wanted to describe them in the customaryrealist style. But while writing, I could not restrain myself from giving Bing ZaiA k an extremely large navel, and placing a great wall behind Yao Gu's I1 An example of the guaiwu Olt or "strange characters" from the short stories and novellas listedabove are as follows: Huang Zhixian ] in "Homecoming?" [Gui qu lai]; Chen Mengtao n*4}in "The Blue Bottlecap" [Lan gaizi]; Young Bing (Bing Zai) in "Ba, ba, ba" [Pa Pa Pa]; Aunt Yao (YaoGu) in "Three Women" [Nii, Nü, Nii]. The degree and nature of the strangeness of these characters isvariously defined, and ranges from mental conditions of insanity and retardation to physical conditions ofabnormal development, deafness and impairing illness.2425back, and even went so far as to write in things like an earthquake that speaks of"resonance and response" between Heaven and Man. In this way, I seeminglytouched on some other kind of literary style.I strove to write of the typicality of these characters, and simultaneouslyinfuse my writing with rational considerations - either in the form of thoughtsconcerning the social history of mankind as in "Ba, ba, ba," or in the form ofthoughts on the condition of individual existence, as in "Three Women.". . . While writing, I discovered that my weak and indistinct thoughts werefrequently swamped by a certain kind of atmosphere, lost in a certain image, orbetrayed by the sudden onset of some kind of emotion.2This quotation, although lengthy, is an important indication of Han Shaogong'sapproach to literary creation in these works and his conscious use of characterization toevidence and exemplify the main themes of his stories. In essence, the process which heoutlines above reflects an intellectual and emotional approach to the design of the plot, atleast insofar as he admits to the expansion of character as a symbol in itself, and as avehicle, concrete or abstract, for the conveyance of certain philosophical themes. Giventhis, an appropriate characterization of Han Shaogong's approach to character anddiscourse in both "Ba, ba, ba," and "Three Women" seems to be his emphasis oncentering the marginalized. The phrase refers us to two important features of HanShaogong's style in these novellas: his preference for a specific character type that issocially outcast or marginalized, and his predilection for a regional focus in terms ofsetting and discourse. Yet, as with all well written works, there is a successfulinterlocking of plot elements in both texts, and the discussion would not be completewithout an attempt to reflect on this synthesis. Thus, the specific features ofcharacterization, narration (with attention to the nature of the discourse created), andimagery will be presented in the context of an ongoing discussion of their relation totheme. In an effort to illustrate the connection between marginalization and theme in2 Han Shaogong, "Hao zuopin zhuyi" [A Doctrine for Good Writing], Hong gaoliang: Ba shiniandai Zhongguo dalu xiaoshuo xuan [Red Sorghum: An Anthology of Fiction from Mainland China inthe 1980's] (Taipei: Hongfan, 1987): 139.26each of the two works, I will deal with them systematically in the following discussion,dealing first with the earlier work "Ba, ha, ha," and secondly with the more recentnovella, "Three Women.""Ba, ba, ba": Exploring the History and Identity of a RaceThe story "Ba, ha, ha" 3 is a unique work which explores a series of events in the lifeof the residents of a remote mountain village in China's Hunan province. Recounted byan omniscient and critically distanced third person narrator, the plot is alternatelyfocussed on a broad and narrow view of this village community. On the one hand, thevillage as a whole is taken as a character in itself and becomes the vehicle for animpersonal view of a kind of rural consciousness, while on the other, the plot is anexamination of the thoughts and behaviour of an individualized cast of characters. Themovement between this shifting perspective is skillfully accomplished through anabstract and inventive blending of myth, local superstition and the lore of local historywith the concrete events of the plot. In this respect, Han Shaogong's style in this novellatranscends the boundaries of realism, as he presents the fantastic details of local beliefand superstition as a realistic framework for the actions and motivations of individualcharacters. Moreover, it is the shift from the individual to the collective in terms ofcharacterization and narratorial voice which allows the work to be read allegorically, andgives rise to the expression of its main themes: the circularity of history in the context of3 Quotations from this work will be drawn from an authorized English translation by Martha Cheung.Han Shaogong, Homecoming? and Other Stories, trs. Martha Cheung (Hong Kong: Renditions, 1992).Page numbers given in text.In some cases I have supplied my own translations of words where I feel the above does notsufficiently convey the sense of the original. For example, I have chosen to refer to the work by its pinyinromanization "Ba, ba, ba" rather than use the Wade Giles romanization "Pa Pa Pa," simply because thepinyin system better captures the phonetic sense of the original. Also, I refer to the village as "Chicken'sHead" rather than "Cock's Head" because the former is the literal translation of the Chinese ji tou ets,and because it reflects the folksy and absurd tone of the narrative.27Chinese culture, the ignorance of those who blindly adhere to tradition and superstition,and the insolubility of the link between individual identity and the social history ofmankindTo begin with characterization, there are four characters who are given individualdescription in the novella: the main protagonist Bing Zai, his mother, the village tailorZhong Man [j'4'A] and his son, Shi Ren [Z/C=- J. Each of these characters isindividualized for the role they play in bringing forth the afore-mentioned themes, as wellas for the color their strange and comic actions add to the story. In addition, theinteractions of the latter two, the tailor and his son, serve to introduce a secondary themethat dovetails neatly into the first: the tension between tradition and modernity in China.The main purpose of the characterization of the tailor and his son, who represent traditionand modernity respectively, is to symbolically highlight the conflict between these twoapproaches to life in the context of a village that has remained isolated from the rest ofthe world. To this end, while Han Shaogong has taken measures to give the village aname and the specificities of regional custom and dialect, he is equally careful to set thestory in an open time frame with a generic locale. The village in this narrative could beany village in China existing at almost any time in Chinese history, as seen from the pointof view of character motivation, cultural beliefs and life philosophy.4 It is for this reasonthat I consider the village to be a character in itself, since the narrator presents the culturalattitudes towards tradition and ritual as if culled from the collective mind of the villagers.Through the expression of these attitudes the village is defined as a mysterious place,where the people are highly superstitious, dependent on the land for survival andincapable of separating the natural and human worlds in their daily life. The village4 One concrete example of this typification is found during the poisoning of the old and sick. TheJ ynarrator describes an elderly woman, grandma of the Yutang^i family, as "basking in the sun like adoor god. She was so old you could hardly tell if she was a man or a woman. .. She could not hear whatwas said to her, and would only glance indifferently at whoever went up to address her. Perhaps in a lot ofplaces one would come across old folks like her - a living symbol of this type of village." (86-7)28mentality, not unlike that of the individual characters mentioned above, isconfrontational, cruel, ignorant and laughable. Yet the continued existence of thevillagers, even in the face of self-wrought disaster, is of great symbolical significance inthat it reinforces the central theme of cyclicality - the idea that their history will berepeated again and again.The plot of the novella revolves around one particular character, the village idiotBing Zai, who is mute except for his ability to roughly stutter two sentences: "Ba ba ba"and "F- Mama."5 Ironically, his ability to speak only these two sentences brings abuseand derision upon his head when times are good, but is precisely what elevates him to thestatus of an immortal capable of pronouncements on the future when the village, ChickenHead, falls upon hard times and into a dandy comical battle with the neighbouring villageof Chicken Tail. By the story's end, both villages face disaster; the old and sick engage ina mass suicide through poisoning and the healthy young men and women burn their hutsdown and move on in time honored tradition. Only Bing Zai, who is considered theweakest and most dispensable member of his village, remains alive despite his seriouspoisoning, thus becoming the hopeless symbol of a history doomed to repeat itself.The character of Bing Zai is the technical and symbolic focal point of the story,insofar as he is the catalyst for the action of the plot as well as the imagistic referencepoint from which theme and meaning are drawn. Yet he is also the epitome of themarginalized character, being physically and mentally inferior to the other residents ofChicken Head Village, and socially ostracized by almost all of them. His introduction tothe reader comes in terms no less certain to identify him as an outcast, as follows:5 The phrase "Ba ba ba" [gt'61 is the Chinese equivalent to saying "Da da da" (i.e. Daddy) inEnglish.When he was born, he showed no sign of life for two whole days, his eyesremained closed, and he refused to feed, scaring his folks out of their wits. It wasnot until the third day that he started to cry. . . . Very soon he picked up twoexpressions, one was "Da da da," the other was "F- Mama." Time passed; he wasthree, then five, then seven or eight years old; but still these were the only wordshe could say. Besides, his eyes were dull, his movements slow; and his head wasbig, fleshy, and lopsided, like a green gourd turned upside down. (35) 6From this description, it is evident that a tone of black humour is used to describe BingZai. As he grows older, he comes to be known as the "little old man" for his aging faceand childlike mind and body, and there is no attempt to portray him in an appealing orsympathetic light. He is described in repulsive and comic terms, with a head that rollslike a "pepper grinder,"7 a loose-limbed and staggering walk, and crossed eyes thatconfuse and discoordinate his performance of the simplest everyday activities. In short,he is an absurd figure, bordering on the grotesque, that quite haplessly plays a role in theequally absurd sequence of events in the plot. In this sense, Bing Zai is actually acaricature employed as the primary agent of farcical action in "Ba, ba, ba." Yet HanShaogong's comic victim is not alone in his foolishness and ignorance. The villagers'range of behaviour towards Bing Zai, from bullying to foolish worship to hatred, reflectsthe dark side of human nature as well as the ludicrous extremes of their superstition.However, it is notable that Bing Zai's marginalized status is what enables the villagers tomake him the object of their ridicule and abuse.The lack of sympathy extended to Bing Zai by the locals is not incongruous to thenarrative, and a detached and critical view of Bing Zai is intentionally extended to thereader through the darkly comic tone which describes his marginalization. In choosing torender Bing Zai in an innocently offensive and comic manner, Han ShaogongCheung has translated the first of the two phrases as "Papa." I have changed it here, and insubsequent quotations, to "Da da da" (a translation of "Ba ba ba") in order to better convey the incoherencyof Bing Zai's speech.7 The full description is as follows: "His neck was weak, and his head had to roll like a peppergrinder, tracing a big arc before steadying into the turn." (36)2930purposefully defamiliarizes the character to the reader, so that the aspects of marginalitywhich define Bing Zai serve to describe him both as a character and as a symbol. Thus,the focus of the narrative is not concentrated so much on what Bing Zai suffers through inhuman terms, but on what his marginalization signifies in symbolic terms. In thisrespect, Bing Zai's marginalized status introduces aspects of the human condition, such asostracism, ridicule, absurdity, cruelty and ignorance, which ground the narrative in theuniversality of human response and human nature. Yet the depiction of the marginalizedBing Zai also expresses a critique of the Chinese national character through the self-symbolism of the protagonist, since the latter both embodies and exposes the culture andtraditions of a people that choose to conduct themselves in this manner.8The complexity of Bing Zai as a symbol works as a counterbalance to his simplicityas a caricature. The self symbolism of this character is one of the ways in which a kind ofsynthesis is achieved between the implied author's broad and narrow views of the peoplein Chicken Head Village. Again, this can be exemplified by a further expression of BingZai's outcast status in the village, since physical and mental deficiencies are not the onlycriteria by which he is defined as marginalized in the narrative. Of equal importance isthe fact that his social links to the village are tenuous. His mother, while a midwife andcommunity busybody, is after all an outsider who "married in," and there is no moreconcrete a link established through the father, whose identity is unknown. Moreover, theambiguity of the identity of Bing Zai's father is one of the subtle yet powerful links to the8 This is indicated by Han Shaogong in an interview recorded in 1988. Considering the question oftheme in ''Ba, ba, ba" he comments: "It is difficult to clearly state the themes of "Ba, ba, ba." Generallyspeaking, it is a critique of the national character that coincides with one part of my own opinions. Yet it isnot completely in keeping with this view, nor can I thoroughly express it. If everyone feels that I havedescribed something deep and profound occurring on our soil, then I feel that this is sufficient."Han Shaogong (as interviewed by Shi Shuqing), "Niao de chuan ren: yu Hunan zuojia Han Shaogongduitan" [Heirs of the Pheonix: A Conversation with Hunan Writer Han Shaogong], Bafang Wenyi, 1988,No. 9: 153.31three primary themes outlined above. Consider the implied author's anecdotal depictionof Bing Zai's social connections as follows:Young Bing had a lot of "dadas", but he had never seen his real father. Thestory had it that his father, tired of his ugly-looking wife and fed up with themonstrosity she had given birth to, had long left the village to become an opiumtrader and had never been back. Some said he had been killed by bandits, otherswould have it that he was running a bean curd shop in Yuezhou 4+0, yet otherswould tell you that he led a wild life, had squandered all his money on women,and had been seen begging on the streets of Chenzhou rg-, *11 Anyway no onecould say for sure whether he actually existed; it had become a mystery of littleimportance. (36) [1] 9In the foregoing passage, Bing Zai's identity is paradoxically linked to the men in thevillage, and to no-one in particular. While his lack of a real father is one aspect of hissocial marginality in the context of the village as a community related by kinship, thereare linguistic and situational factors which symbolically connect him to all of the villagemen Linguistically, there is the fact that the village custom is to call those men whomyou would normally refer to as your "uncle" as "father," and vice versa.10 Additionally,Bing Zai's inability to say anything other than "Ba ba ba" when happy and "F- Mama"when angry means that he commonly refers to everyone, particularly men, as his "Ba ba,"or father. There is therefore a definite symbolic link between the marginalizing factor ofBing Zai's mental condition and the marginality of his "fatherless" social status in thevillage. Through the restriction of Bing Zai's vocabulary to these two sentences alone,Han Shaogong opens the narrative to a highly symbolic reading. While Bing Zai's idioticmouthing of "Ba ba ba" is one of the reasons he is the object of constant mockery, theirony is that all who seek to ridicule him for his speech become his symbolic relations.Thus, Bing Zai's propensity to call everyone in the village his "father" is an indication of9 Superscript numbers in square brackets refer to the Appendix.10 Although this will be discussed in more detail in the following pages, there is an explanation ofthis practice in the narrative itself. It is the custom in some remote villages of Hunan to refer to your uncleas your "father," and vice versa, with numerous reversals in the usage of other kinship terms.32the symbolic bond that exists between them. In this sense, Bing Zai's main charactertraits: ignorance, idiocy and a strong will, are equally those of the villagers, which is asymbolic indication of the individual's link to the social whole.As the foregoing indicates, the theme of identity in "Ba, ba, ba" is manifested in thespecific issue of Bing Zai's parentage, but it is also extended to the Chinese race as awhole through a kind of allegory of ideas that revolves around the self-symbolism ofcertain characters. In other words, Bing Zai's identity and life circumstance is a vehiclefor the exploration of the cultural identity of a race. This relation between the individualand the social whole can be exemplified through a brief return to the question of BingZai's natural origins. Once the ambiguity of the identity and whereabouts of Bing Zai'sfather is established, there is only the odd, ostensibly casual speculation on who his fathermight be. Significantly, however, these references occur only in the context of theimplied author's exposition of the origin of the village or in the depiction of a villageritual. For instance, the lengthy description of village lifestyle in the second chapter (ofeight) mentions an individual named De Long 04] as the singer of the local folksongswhich describe the villagers' arrival to the area. Yet after presenting the lyrics of one ofthe songs, the narrator provides this anecdote:It was said that an official historian had once visited Qianjiaping $and pronounced that there was no truth to the peasant's songs. The official saidthat Xingtian's [it ;41. ] head was chopped off by Huangdi [40 I when the twowere fighting for the throne. The four big families of the region-the Peng I, Lift ], Ma A, and Mo clans-had come from the area of Yunmengze W,V1]and not from "the shores of the East Sea." It was when war broke out between theearly kings, Huangdi and Yandi [ 4fr], that the refugees fled southwest along thefive rivers into the land of the barbarians. The strange thing is, there is not theslightest reference to the terrors of war in the ancient songs.But the folks of Chicken Head Village never cared for the words of theofficial historian. Instead they believed what De Long's ancient songs told them,even though they were none too fond of De Long's faint eyebrows. Eyebrowsfaint as water presaged a poor lonely life.33Having entertained his folks with his songs for over a decade, De Long leftwith his small green snake.He was probably Young Bing's father. (46-7)Two main observations can be drawn from this anecdote, and both are directly linkedto theme and meaning. The first is that the character of De Long, however briefly he ismentioned in the overall story, is of considerable allegorical significance because herepresents the traditional culture and mythology of the people of West Hunan. As asinger of folksongs, his social role is to transmit and reaffirm local culture and legend tothe villagers. Because of this, his role in the story is a very symbolic one, and thespeculation that he is probably the natural father of the village idiot is a concreteconnection between the traditional culture and legend that De Long represents, and theidiocy and ignorancy of related popular beliefs, epitomized by the character of BingZai.1 1In relation to this, the second observation drawn from the anecdote cited above isfounded in the conflicting views of the official historian and the villagers on the truth ofthe locals' arrival to the area. Despite the historian's "official" record of the history ofthese people, the narrator tells us that they prefer to believe in their own legends, which isone more indication of the strength of their cultural beliefs and their reliance on tradition.This is further exemplified by the fact that there are definite parallels between the eventsdescribed in the folk songs and the events of the plot of "Ba, ba, ba" itself. Just as theancient songs speak only of the glories of the people and not of the terrors of war, so dothe village people move away from their village without comprehension of the role theythemselves played in the disaster. Here, the implied author's ironic reflection on the11 The connection between De Long and Bing Zai is indicated once again when Bing Zai's mother iscalled forth to participate in a ritual, and the village leaders refer to her as "De Long's wife." (69)34omission of the details of war's strife and bloodshed reinforces the idea that the songsembody a kind of life force for the people, and that this speaks both of the idiocy of muchof their behaviour as well as of the strength of their collective will. In this way, thecritique of the Chinese national character, which is one of the main themes of this story,is expressed allegorically through the ignorance of the villagers' blind adherence totradition and superstition.The two sentences that Bing Zai utters have a strong connection to the themes ofhistory and identity in the story "Ba, ba, ba." As the foregoing indicates, the phrase "Ba,ba, ba" refers to the symbolic connection between Bing Zai and the villagers, whilecharacterization and imagery expand this connection to incorporate the relation betweenthe individual and the race, and the self to the social whole. Yet Bing Zai's other phrase"F- Mama," is no less significant. It is here, once again, where Han Shaogong makes useof symbolism to most effectively present his themes to the reader. On one level, thesetwo sentences are nonsense, hence the absurdity of the villagers who consider them to bedivination symbols for yin [Ft] and yang V#1, yet on another symbolic level they signifythe basics of human existence in their combined reference to sexual relations betweenmen and women. Therefore, the vulgar words uttered by Bing Zai in his idiocy are alsoprofound, and they are the vehicle for a conceptual return to the origins of human life.This interpretation of Bing Zai's speech is also reinforced by the final description of BingZai as having an uncharacteristically large navel. As Han Shaogong himself indicated inthe quotation at the beginning of this chapter, the navel is a symbolic feature: with it,Bing Zai's connection to all of mankind is symbolized. In the context of the wholenovella, the character of Bing Zai is thus representative of the continuance of human life,and this symbolism extends both backwards into the past, into an individual identity thatis inextricably bound up with the ancient songs and myths, and into the future in the sense35that he has curiously survived despite war, hunger, poisoning and being a victim of hismarginalized status.The culmination of all of the symbolic references in the text comes on the final page,and I have chosen to cite it in an effort to tie together the various threads of theme andmeaning that have been discussed. The passage reads:Young Bing had surfaced from no-one knew where. Believe it or not, hesurvived. What was more, the running sore on his head had stopped festering anda scab had formed. He was sitting naked on a low wall and stirring the water in ahalf-full earthenware jug with a twig, stirring up eddies of reflected sunlight.Listening to the song in the distance, he clumsily clapped his hands once and,mumbling in a very very soft voice, he called again and again the name of theman whose face he had never seen-"Da da."Although he was skinny, his navel was the size of a copper coin, and the kidshovering around him stared at him with wonder and amazement, with admirationtoo. They glanced at that admirable navel and offered him a handful of pebbles,smiling, looking friendly. Then they clapped their hands, like he'd done just now,and shouted,"Da da da da da!"A woman came and said to another woman, "Is this big enough for theswill?" And she walked up to Young Bing and took away that half jug of swirlinglight. (90) [2]In this passage, the fluid connection between the main themes of this novellarevolves around the reader's final impression of the marginalized Bing Zai. To achievethis effect, Han Shaogong uses magic realist techniques to present incongruencies in BingZai's situation which run counter to a logical reasoning of the plot. In addition, Han reliesheavily on the web of interrelated symbols established in the story to convey a particularperspective on the issues of history, identity, and culture as they are summarized in thispassage. Consider, for example, the fact that Bing Zai miraculously survives and appears36to flourish amidst the village ruins. As the village idiot, his continued existence at thestory's end signifies that the idiocy and ignorance of traditional Chinese culture andsuperstition will persist. However, by virtue of the same symbolism, Bing Zai alsorepresents the strength and resilience of the national character, and it is this paradox thatHan Shaogong presents us with in his exploration of the traditions and attitudes of theChinese race. Furthermore, the song that Bing Zai hears in the distance is the one thatrecalls the origin of the people, and its direct association with his soft mumbling of "B aba," is a concrete connection between the identity of the individual and the history of therace. Yet the final image is a dark and hopeless one. The children's admiration of BingZai's large navel and their joyful shouting of "Ba ba ba ba ba" would seem to be apositive portent of the future, yet the image is undercut by the two women who come totake away the "half jug of swirling light." Ultimately, Bing Zai is left in darkness, andthe message that is conveyed is of a people who are doomed to repetition and cyclicality.The parallels between myth and practice are too obvious: their origin myth is a cycle thatthey repeat but do not advance from.Bing Zai's marginalized status makes him a most effective symbol. He is a catalystfor the expression of the negative qualities of human nature because his physical andmental deficiencies undermine the norms of human social interaction. The character ofBing Zai is therefore a physical image that directs the reader from external observationsof culture and custom to inner explorations of human nature and existence. In this sense,his marginalization is a medium through which the writer delves into people's innerselves to reveal certain characteristics of human behaviour. Thus, Han Shaogong usesBing Zai's behavior and spoken vulgarities as a fertile ground for profundity and for thesymbolic expression of the connection between the individual, the race, and the socialhistory of mankind.37Narration, Discourse and Imagery: A Marginalized FocusIn telling the story of the half mute Bing Zai and the people of Chicken HeadVillage, the implied author of "Ba, ba, ba" adopts a critical stance which involves both hissteady distance from the subject matter and a pervasive ironic tone. Thus, while theforegoing discussion of character highlighted Han Shaogong's use of symbolism,particularly character self-symbolism, it did not fully express the satiric narrative voicebehind character depiction. Narratorial distance from the subject and satiriccharacterization are two parts of a whole: both are brought about by an alternatelyintrusive and unintrusive narrator that is employed to express the third person omniscientpoint of view.12 The intrusive narrator in "Ba, ha, ba" describes character motivation andaction primarily through "telling" and employs a sarcastic tone of voice to remain at acritical arm's length from the events of the story. The unintrusive narrator, on the otherhand, is frequently used to describe the details of local custom, mythology and setting,yet it is also duplicitly employed in character depiction. One example of the duplicitousnarrator is found at the beginning of Chapter Five. The narrator "tells" the reader of thevillagers' decision to sacrifice Bing Zai to the God of Grain by saying that, "to take thelife of this useless blockhead was in fact to do him a good turn. He would be spared thepain of having his ears boxed, and he would no longer be a torment to his mother." (62)In this case, although the narrator adopts an ostensibly unintrusive voice to express thevillage viewpoint, there is an underlying sarcasm in his objectively recording the equatingof violent death with having one's ears boxed, and listing the former as the better. Thereader is in this instance well aware that the views expressed are likely not those of the12 Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms: 145-6.As Abrams uses the word "narrator" to define the unintrusive and intrusive modes, I have chosento do so in this paragraph. As my preference is for "implied author," I will use that term throughout therest of the discussion.38narrator, and a subjective and critical view of village character and action is thusconveyed.Other than "telling" about character and character motivation in the novel, theimplied author relies on "showing" as a method of character depiction. However, whilethis method establishes psychological insights into individual and social character, it isalso employed as a vehicle for indirect satire. To this end, two characters, the tailorZhong Man and his son, Shi Ren (also called Ren Bao ,i=r), are recalled asillustrations of the psychological distancing and satirical undercutting of character in thenarrative. As was mentioned earlier, these two characters represent tradition andmodernity (or, in Han's own words "conservatism" and "reformism") 13 in an allegoricalreading of the story. The former, the tailor Zhong Man, is a strong proponent of tradition,filiality and established custom; he is suspicious of new-fangled things like leather shoesand motor cars. He also has an intense fear and dislike of women that is born out of themany superstitions he holds as irrefutable truths. Ren Bao, on the other hand, is ZhongMan's opposite. Much to his father's consternation, he is the one who wears leather shoesthat click-clack along the village paths, who aspires for the modernity of the town, andwho advocates the use of vernacular over classical Chinese. However, even though thesecharacters represent two conflicting approaches to life, neither perspective is givensupport by the implied author whose critical stance is maintained throughout the narrativeas a result of the psychological distance imposed between the implied author and thesubject.13 Han Shaogong ( as interviewed by Shi Shuqing), "Niao de chuan ren," Bafang Wenyi, 1988, No. 9:153.39To illustrate this, the first example focusses on Tailor Zhong Man. When he goesinto the forest and reflects on the custom of marking trees for coffins, his thoughts runthus:In fact, he hated these damn trees for their evil intent. A gentleman doesthings the proper way: there's a proper way to sit, a proper way to stand, even aproper way to die; he mustn't lose his dignity when he dies. When you die, youdie, why all these preparations? He'd come with a knife He'd pick a tree, lop offthe branches, sharpen the stump into a piercing stake, and end his life by throwinghimself onto the stake. It'd be a glorious death. He'd met people who had diedlike that. One of them was Cripple Long agj 31 over at Mazidong 3-3P]. . . . After his death, it was found that he had raked the soil in front of his stakeinto a criss-cross of loose earth with his fingers. You could tell it had been apainful death, a glorious death. The event had made it into clan records. (62)In this passage, a psychological insight into individual character is provided by theunintrusive narrator, who "shows" us the motivation of the tailor. Furthermore, thisinsight gives the reader a perspective on the tailor that counterbalances the previouslyestablished image of him as a traditionalist and as one whose word "carries weight"14 inthe village. The passage shows him to be quite obviously eschewing village tradition infavor of a violent (but in his own mind "glorious") death through which he would gainlocal and historical notoriety. The tailor's desire for a martyr's death is thus an expressionof a shallow nature that revolves around image, insofar as he so obviously has no cause todie for and is contemplating the act out of his own need for recognition. This insight intothe tailor's true motivation undermines the perception of him as a honorable and selflessman. Quite simply, Zhong Man's views are subverted because the implied author and thereader are in agreement that the kind of death he aspires to is not necessarily glorious.Moreover, the satire presented here is not restricted to the character of the tailor. Inmocking Zhong Man's twisted attempt at propriety through violent death, the writerextends his critique to the Chinese race and seeks to ridicule their privileging of historicaland heroic image, as well as their blind faith in traditional rites and propriety.14 The text describe Zhon Man as "someone whose word 'carried weight' in the village" (shi ge you'hua fen' de ren" tErtiN t7g1,9) OA). (38)40One other example rounds out the discussion of indirect satire in "Ba, ha, ha."Narrative "showing" of the tailor's son Ren Bao also sets up a psychological insight intothe character and undermines it through satire. Throughout the narrative, Ren Bao ischaracterized as the modern and educated son of the village, yet that which the impliedauthor both "tells" and "shows" about him reveal him to fall somewhat short of theseideals. His advocation of modernity is no less a mask for the attainment of a certainimage than is his father's adherence to the rites of propriety. At the time of the villagecouncil's discussion of the sacrifice to the God of Grain, Ren Bao happens by and thenarrator delves into his mind as follows:Today, a council was held in the temple to discuss the details of an offering tothe [God of Grain] - a custom [Ren Bao] frowned upon. He had seen the folks ofQianjiaping perform the spring ritual; now that was a real offering. But look atthis god-forsaken place. Here the fields were ploughed only once a year, the landwasn't properly tilled, and the irrigation was poor. How the hell could you growanything?. . . Nevertheless, he went to the temple to have a look and saw hisfather kneeling just like the others before the altar. He sneered. How ridiculous!Why didn't they touch their caps in salute? He'd seen people saluting inQianjiaping. (53-4) 15The first few lines of this passage reveal Ren Bao's obvious disgust at his father andthe others praying to the God of Grain, which is an offense to his modern sensibilities.Yet the next few lines reveal that Ren Bao's disgust stems not from their superstitiouspractice of prayer and sacrifice to the God of Grain, but rather from his Ah Q-likeperception of the inferiority of the village image compared to that of Qianjiaping. In thiscase, the expression of Ren Bao's thoughts indirectly undermine his character. The readerand the implied author share the understanding that superstition and ritual are herepresented as backwards aspects of culture, yet Ren Bao, the reformist, misses the point: it15 I have substituted "God of Grain" for Cheung's translation "rice god," and used the Chinese name"Ren Bao" rather than Cheung's too broadly translated title of "Idiot Ren."41is the fact that the villagers do not engage in the rite the proper way (that is, with enoughpomp and ceremony) that engenders his dismay. The irony of the incident implies thesuperficial nature of "modernity" or "reformism," and Ren Bao is made to look ridiculousfor his posturing and for his naive ignorance as to the true source of the backwardness ofthe village. In presenting this insight into Ren Bao, the implied author imposes apsychological distance between himself and the character, just as was done with thecharacter of Zhong Man. Furthermore, this distance is extended to the reader because thesatiric tone serves to undermine any integrity the reader might attribute to thesecharacters on the basis of psychological insights. The reader and the implied author arethereby estranged from character and action and stand above them as more knowingobservers.In "Ba, ba, ba," Han Shaogong's aim in undermining character through satire is toreinforce his critique of the national character as well as to bring to light the negativefeatures of certain aspects of Chinese culture. In order to draw these themes out inallegorical fashion, the maintenance of a critical distance between the reader and thecharacters depicted is essential. The same critical distance is employed in other areas ofnarration, however, such as in the implied author's description of superstition and ritual in• bs,the novella. As the Chinese critic Hu Zongjian 49f; points out, one of the factors inthe establishment of distance in Han Shaogong's works is his deliberate destructuring ofthe plot, which puts the stylistic emphasis on narration.16 In his view, the primaryindications of narrative distance are found in Han's particular brand of character depictionwhich relies heavily on symbolism and abstraction. As the foregoing discussionillustrates, I have made the same observation with respect to my analysis of "Ba, ba, ha,"yet I would expand this observation of narrative distance to include Han Shaogong's16 See Hu Zongjian, "Han Shaogong jin zuo san si" [Random Thoughts on Han Shaogong's RecentWorks], Wenxue pinglun, 1987, No. 2: 56-63.42handling of motifs such as myth and cultural anecdote, and the description of superstitionand ritual noted above.In a novella length work like "Ba, ba, ba," it is notable that anecdotal descriptions ofvillage beliefs, superstitions, history and ritual make up a full quarter of the narrative.Given their relation to theme and meaning in the story, it is understandable that they bepresented as a framework for the plot, yet their employment in the novella is not strictlyto provide background information on the villagers. Additionally, they serve to interruptthe main action of the plot: creating, through a shifting narratorial perspective, a furtherdistance between the reader and the subject. With this shifting between plot action andsegments of custom, belief, superstition, etcetera, the reader's view is constantly pulledaway from a direct and consistent focus on the plot towards a more abstract view of thecultural framework of characters and events. A good illustration of this can be found inthe second chapter where the implied author focusses entirely on the fairytale setting andcultural history of the village, with the exception of the brief mention and loose definitionof the character De Long. While no other chapter in the narrative is devoted soexclusively to the expression of culture and custom, cultural anecdotes are heavilyinterspersed throughout the text and continue to have the effect of breaking the logic ofthe plot and the unity of action up until the last page. Stylistically, this is an importantfeature as the insertion of these segments of myth and superstition builds on the novella'smain themes throughout the narrative. Moreover, these segments are key to thephilosophical impact of the story since the thematic effectiveness of the novella rests onthe writer's ability to reinforce the sense of an insoluble bond between the individual andthe social history of mankind.The recording of village myth and custom as a central part of the narrative affects theoverall tone of the story by opening it up to a critical perspective achieved through43narratorial distance and impersonality. One factor in this distance is the abstraction of thevillage into a fairytale place through the use of descriptions of superstition and mythwhich blur the line between the real and the unreal. To refer back to Han Shaogong'sown description of his technique in "Ba, ba, ba" (see pages 24-5 above) he incorporateselements of the fantastic into a realistic foundation of life-like descriptions of characterand setting, as is done in magic realist narratives. The following definition of magicrealism puts this aspect of Han Shaogong's style in "Ba, ba, ba" into perspective: "theauthor of a magico realist narrative. . . implicitly presents the irrational world view asdifferent from his own by situating the story in present-day reality, using learnedexpressions and vocabulary, and showing he is familiar with logical reasoning andempirical knowledge. The term 'magic' refers to the fact that the perspective presented bythe text in an explicit manner is not accepted according to the implicit world view of theeducated implied author." 17 While it would be erroneous to say that "Ba, ba, ba" is amagic realist work, elements of magic realist technique are present in the implied author'srecounting of village beliefs and superstitions as a rational world view. The followingshort passage describing the neighboring village of Chicken Tail is one illustration ofthis:The villagers had always regarded the tree and the well as fertility symbolsand worshipped them regularly by burning joss sticks and incense, in the hopethat more boys would be born in the village. One year, several girls were born insuccession and one woman produced a mole, and the atmosphere in the villagegrew tense as people tried to find out why. After some time, it was said thatthings had gone wrong because a lad from Chicken Head Village, on passingthrough, had climbed the camphor tree to gather some bird's eggs, and had brokena branch. (63)It is through other stylistic devices, such as the satire of character and an overallstructural irony in the course of events, that the implied author informs us of the gaps17 Amaryll B. Chandy, Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved Versus Unresolved Antinomy(New York: Garland Publishing, 1985): 21-22.44between his (rational) world view and that of the villagers. Also, verbal clues are presentin the form of the implied author's frequent use of "it was said," "it so happened," and inhis accounting of the ambiguity and indistinctness of village belief and linguisticconcepts. Certainly, this latter factor is one of the reasons that the work cannot bedefined as a magic realist narrative, but the ambiguity, the conjecturing, and the speciousrecollection of "history," are an indication of the influence of magic realist techniques onHan Shaogong's narrative style. In blending fantastical elements of myth and superstitionwith the realism of concrete plot action, he uses the former to advantage and achieves theoverall abstraction of character and setting.One other important aspect of Han Shaogong's narrative style in "Ba, ba, ba" and afurther example of his "centering the marginalized" is found in his creation of a regionaldiscourse which centers on his use of dialect." The specifics of this discourse are closelylinked to the presence of the segments of local belief, custom, myth and superstition inthe story insofar as they both contribute to the overall marginalized tone of the narrative.In other words, they both enhance the reader's perception of the village as isolated, thusserving to accentuate the gap between the periphery (the village) and the center (urbanareas). Han Shaogong's specific focus on the dialect of the Xiangxi b-4 gal area (WestHunan), which is in large part composed of archaisms and linguistic concepts born out oflocal beliefs, definitely locates the story at the margin; it thereby posits an indirectchallenge to the perspective of the Han center. The four observations that followillustrate the effectiveness of Han's use of a regional discourse in "Ba, ba, ba."Firstly, as was alluded to above, the creation of a regional discourse to tell the storyof Bing Zai and the residents of Chicken Head Village adds an air of authenticity to the18 Han Shaogong's use of regional dialect links him to important precursors like Shen Congwen andWang Zengqi among others. See page 9 of this text above for additional comments and references.45narrative. Quite simply, it emphasizes the rural setting and reinforces the reader'sconception of the cultural idiosyncrasies and backwardness of the villagers. This isexemplified through the implied author's explanations of the local custom of kinshipaddress, where the convention is to call one's father "uncle," one's uncle "father," one'selder sister "elder brother," etcetera (43), as well as through the conventions of thevillager's everyday speech.19 Secondly, the specific use of dialectical terms in the text isin keeping with the narrative's overall shift in perspective from the center to the margin.In this respect, standard Mandarin, complete with political terms and words of foreignorigin, is not only incomprehensible to the villagers, but useless to them in their day today life.20A third result of Han's reliance on a regional discourse is that it opens the narrativeup to even more abstraction, by introducing dialectical terms and linguistic concepts inthe context of their ambiguity and obscurity. An examination of the actual words used inthe Chinese original illustrate this point, as the words hanhun mat] and mohu PON,which mean "ambiguous" and "vague" respectively, are scattered throughout the work.The implied author frequently draws upon these words to describe an obscure regionalphrase, as when Bing Zai's mother says, "Shi yi xia" rtt—T go and have a watch).(149) As the implied author elaborates, this phrase was "loaded with ambiguity. It couldmean 'I'll try and find out,' or 'I'll intercede for you,' or 'I can see to it for you,' or even 'I'llgo and take a look." (56-7) Numerous examples of this are found in the narrative, andthe implied author's apparent inability to provide a specific definition contributes to theoverall sense of cultural mystery and ambiguity. It is also of note that the implied author19 This is only discernible in the Chinese original. See Han Shaogong, "Ba, ba, ba," in Kong Cheng:135.20 The tension between the traditional and modern forms of speech is exemplified in the humorousexchange between Ren Bao and the villagers over the proper title for their letter of complaint. They argueat length over whether to call it a "supplication" or a "report," with the final result being "report-supplication." See pages 74-5 of the Cheung translation.46introduces the archaisms of the local dialect by focussing on the ambiguity of the originsof these people. The villagers themselves are not sure where they come from (shuo bu taiqingchu UTA01), yet their linguistic conventions put the emphasis on the "unity of alarge family," which has a direct bearing on theme.Finally, the Xiangxi area dialect that Han Shaogong uses to create his regionaldiscourse is a direct link to the nation's past. The dialect is full of archaisms such as theuse of the word qu gi for the present day pronoun ta ['it], the pronoun wu [ft ] for wo[], and the reference to nearby towns and cities by their ancient names, such as calling._ Icathe present day Yueyang iz. i v] by its historical name Yuezhou. In referring to a dialectthat has preserved ancient terms through everyday usage, Han Shaogong also emphasizesthe presence of the past in the village by illustrating the links of ancient culture to presentday life. The historical connection that is established through the regional discoursefacilitates the expression of the novella's main themes. In short, language, in the form ofdialect, is yet another symbolic referent to the resilience of Chinese culture, and points tothe fact that the people of this area are characterized by isolation and a lack of change.In concluding the discussion of "Ba, ba, ba" it remains only to touch briefly onimagery and its relation to theme and meaning in the narrative. The sense of history andambiguity surrounding the various components of regional discourse in "Ba, ba, ba" isunderscored by imagery which is used to blur the line between the real and the unreal.This is one of the aspects of Han Shaogong's work that most clearly exemplifies his useof magic realist techniques, in that he uses natural imagery to evoke a sense of villageisolation, timelessness and cyclicality. Images of fog, mist, ghosts, stories of peopledisappearing and the like are all employed to enhance the fairytale setting of the villageand to encourage the reader to suspend his disbelief about the events of the story.Moreover, the description of the natural world parallels the human world in such a way as47to accentuate the continuity of both natural and human life. The theme of cyclicality istherefore affirmed not only in the continued existence of Bing Zai, but in the lengthydescriptions of the timelessness and permanence of mountains, trees, and flowing water.There is a thematic relevance in the writer's juxtaposition of the human to the naturalworld, and in the villagers' conceptual crossing of boundaries from one world to the nextin their superstitions and beliefs. One passage effectively links the two worlds, and tiesimagery into theme at the end of the story when the men and women move off in themanner of their mythical forebearers:Men and women all sang in earnest, or more appropriately still, they shoutedin earnest. Their voices were inharmonious, dry, raw, harsh, and withouttremolos. . . . This type of singing reminded you of mountains with sinister cliffs,tall bamboo forests, and needlessly thick, heavy thresholds. Only a land like thiscould exude such sounds. (89)21 [3]Imagistically as well as thematically, the foregoing passage links the people to theirland. A sense of continuity is established between the specific events of the plot whichhave sent this resilient people on their journey, and the origins of their dark and primitiveculture, which stems in large part from their dependence on a daunting and perilous landfor survival. Furthermore, this link between environment and culture points to thequestion of the roots of the Chinese race, which is central to the exploration of cultureand humanity that is undertaken in this novella.The focus of this analysis of "Ba, ba, ba," and of the novella "Three Women" whichfollows, is the relation between marginalized character and motif and the expression ofthe twin themes of history and identity. As we have seen in "Ba, ba, ba," Bing Zai, theepitome of the marginalized character, is symbolic of both the identity and history of theChinese race. His personal identity is symbolically linked to everyone in the village, and21 I have revised this translation from the original.48to the mythology and superstition which forms the foundation of local culture. Beyondthis, he also embodies the negative aspects of the culture, and paradoxically, the positiveaspect of cultural resilience. This is also his connection to history: his survival indicatesthat the villagers' repetition of the events of the past will continue into the future.Underscoring these themes is a marginalized motif, embodied in Han Shaogong's creationof a regional discourse that is composed of elements of local language, custom,superstition and mythology. Together, marginalized character and motif provide thewriter with an ex-centric perspective from which to engage in his exploration of Chineseculture. Throughout the work, the writer never strays from his impersonal and criticalview of the subject, and the result is a provocative and philosophical critique of theChinese character.49"Three Women":The Connection Between Marginalized Character and PerspectiveIn comparison with "Ba, ha, ha," the novella "Three Women" reflects a more subtlereturn to many of the same themes, such as the link between the individual and the socialhistory of mankind, the exploration of aspects of the human condition, and the tensionbetween tradition and modernity. The latter theme, however, is less explicit in "ThreeWomen" and is primarily expressed through the extremes of rural and urban lifestyle andsetting. In addition, where "Ba, ba, ba" touched upon human origin in its symbolic returnto mother and father, the novella "Three Women" takes the concept one step furtherthrough its direct exploration of the puzzle of human existence. This is the main theme ofthe novella, and an interesting twist in perspective is added as the participant narrator, amale, puzzles over the question through his observation of three women. His interactionwith them stimulates introspection and self doubt, and is the catalyst for his considerationof personal identity and family history. Unlike "Ba, ba, ha," the novella "Three Women"is not a critique of the Chinese character. It addresses aspects of the Chinese past, but itremains anchored in the broader context of human nature and human response. Thus,while it explores Chinese beliefs, attitudes and circumstance, the question of what itmeans to be Chinese is second to the question of what it means to be human.For the reader of "Three Women" there is a text within a text. An alternatelyinvolved and reticent first person narrator, Mao Ta [iii], reflects on the character andcircumstance of his deaf Aunt Yao (Yao Gu), who is by local custom also addressed bymale title, as Yao Bo [4 iti ] or "Uncle Yao."22 His recollection of her in her later years,22 This is explained in the text, and is similar to the practice that was outlined in "Ba, ba, ha." I willrefer to her as Yao Gu rather than Yao Bo in this discussion because that is how she is most frequentlyreferred to in the Chinese original.Han Shaogong, "Three Women," in Homecoming?, trs. Martha Cheung: 92.50from seniority to disability to death, makes her the main character of his narrative. Yethis consideration of her character and behaviour involves flashbacks of their life togetherwhich draws him into the narrative as well. In effect, he begins to review his own lifethrough the window of his relation to his aunt. The result of this is that his own characteris exemplified to the reader, and he becomes the main protagonist in a broader text thatonly the reader perceives.The story itself revolves around the narrator's concern, frustration and guilt over thecare of his aunt. At first, he is concerned for her because of her deafness; later, after shesuffers a stroke, his concern turns to frustration over her tyrannical behaviour. Finally,being unable and unwilling to care for her further and receiving no help from hergoddaughter Lao Hei [f X j, he arranges to have her sent to the countryside to stay withher sworn sister Zhen Gu [*0], also referred to as Zhen Xu [1],23 (Aunt Zhen).Eventually, the narrator himself journeys to the village to attend to Yao Gu's funeral,where he is confronted with his feelings of guilt and confusion in what is to him theunfamiliar world of the Chinese countryside. These events form the framework of thestory, but it is the narrator's reaction to them that set the plot in motion. Although there isoverall a steady progression in the narrative from Yao Gu's deafness to paralysis to death,specific events are not relayed in strict chronological fashion. The narrator jumps backand forth between past and present, and fills the gaps in his knowledge of certain eventsby speciously reconstructing incidents out of his own imagination. In this sense, theemphasis of the work is primarily on narrative style. Furthermore, narration in "ThreeWomen" appears to encompass three interior perspectives: the narrator's perspective ofthe marginalized character Yao Gu, male perspective of female, and an urban perspectiveof the countryside.23 The suffix "xu" to the names of women is a custom particular to the narrator's home village. It isalso explained in the text on page 128 of the Cheung translation.51In determining specific instances of interior narratorial perspective, my intention is tohighlight the fact that all three in some way reflect the significance of marginalizedcharacter and tone to theme and meaning in the narrative. The first instance isstraightforward: the plot is set in motion by the narrator's articulation of his reaction tothe marginalized status of his aunt, Yao Gu. Her physical presence in his life has a greatimpact on his own exploration of identity and his quest for the meaning of existence. Inthe second instance, his recollections of Yao Gu and his efforts to care for her involvehim directly with three women: the aunt herself, Lao Hei, and Zhen Gu. In observing andinteracting with these three women to varying degrees, the narrator not only explorestheir different life experience and attitudes, but also what he feels to be their aura ofmystery - that is, they, as women, represent a form of existence with which he isunfamiliar. Through philosophical speculation on the women's motivations, struggles,weaknesses, and strengths, the narrator seeks to elucidate their conception of life as oneof the pieces in the puzzle of human existence. Finally, the aunt's return to the family'sancestral village causes the narrator to embark on a very significant journey "home" onthe occasion of her funeral. His view of the countryside, and particularly of the village,provide him with an historical context for his exploration of personal identity.Nevertheless, the return to the countryside is characterized by narratorial reticence, andthe reader does not lose sight of the fact that what is presented is an urban perspective ofa rural area. Given the prominence of these three interior perspectives to theme andmeaning in the novella, the discussion which follows will focus on marginalizedcharacter (Yao Gu), an examination of narratorial technique as it is embodied in aperspective of the marginal (male viewing female, urban viewing rural), and HanShaogong's thematic use of imagery.52As the foregoing indicates, Han Shaogong has again focussed plot action around amarginalized character: the deaf Yao Gu. In the narrative, she is defined as beingphysically, culturally and, during a certain period of Chinese history, politically cumsocially marginalized. With respect to the first, her deafness is a disability whichmarginalizes her from the story's outset, as is indicated by the narrator's opening line:"Because of her, we had to shout and scream nearly all our life." (91) Further to this, thestroke she suffers confines her to bed and results in the progressive debilitation of herremaining mental and physical capacities. To Mao Ta, Yao Gu's physical disabilities -first deafness then paralysis - are an integral part of her identity. Her physicalmarginalization is thus one of her defining characteristics, even to him Mao Ta's furtherconsideration of her cultural and political marginalization come later, and incidentally, ashe obtains information from a village woman about the locals' negative views of YaoGu's childlessness and widowhood, and as he remembers incidents from his own past,when Yao Gu was ostracized by Mao Ta's father out of the latter's fear of politicalpersecution. All of these details contribute to the impression of Yao Gu'smarginalization, in terms of the lifetime view that Mao Ta attempts to construct from hisown observations, memories and imagination, and in terms of the reader's perception ofYao Gu as a character who does not fit within the norms of society.At this juncture, it is of interest to introduce the comments of Han Shaogong on thecharacter of Yao Gu. In an interview published in a Hong Kong journal in 1988, HanShaogong is questioned on his emotional motivation in depicting the character of Yao Guas a strange and inconsistent character, when his earlier works focussed onstraightforward, model images of women. In response, Han reveals that the prototype forYao Gu was his own aunt, whose entire nature changed after she had a stroke.Furthermore, his decision to employ a character like Yao Gu in "Three Women" stems53from her effectiveness as a vehicle for his main themes. He reflects on her characterdepiction as follows, saying:Yao Gu's sex is not important. I was chiefly interested in expressing thestructure of consciousness that is deep within each person and reflecting on thecondition of individual existence. Under the oppression of feudal culture, peoplehad to firmly repress themselves, and the length of this repression led to a kind ofphysiological and psychological illness. Upon its collapse the other side ofhuman nature burst forth causing people to be utterly disgusted and bereft of anypleasant memories. This is a great tragedy. "24With these comments, Han Shaogong provides the reader with insights into the symbolicsignificance of Yao Gu's strange character depiction and unsettling pattern of behaviourin "Three Women." Moreover, the connection between her depiction as a marginalizedcharacter and the conveyance of the above message is made clear. The followingdiscussion will attempt to illustrate this point and elucidate the ways in which Yao Gu'sstate of being is not only the focus for exploration of the Chinese past, but also for aconsideration of the meaning of existence within the broader context of humanity. I willbegin by analyzing the ways in which Yao Gu's physical marginalization causes Mao Tato investigate the puzzle of human existence, as well as the links between personalidentity and family history.It is obvious from Mao Ta's own comments that the view he has of Yao Gu'scharacter and motivation has a great deal to do with her physical disabilities. To him, sheis an enigma and a substantial part of her mystery is encoded in her retreat behinddeafness - it alternately fascinates and confuses him, and stimulates him to continuallypuzzle over her experience of existence. This is made particularly evident in the openingpages of the novella, when Mao Ta imagines chopping sounds from the kitchen to be YaoGu inadvertently slicing off her arms and legs while cutting up the vegetables. When he24 Han Shaogong (as interviewed by Shi Shuqing), "Niao de chuan ren," Bafang Wenyi, 1988, No. 9:155.54runs into the kitchen to check on her, the startled Yao Gu proffers an unsolicitedexplanation as to her activities, which leaves Mao Ta musing, as follows:I hadn't asked her any questions, certainly I hadn't mentioned anything abouthot water. But perhaps to her, much of my silence - a large part of my existence -was not real. She thought that I'd said this or that and built up an illusion of me. Isomehow got the same illusion too. But did she ever have the illusion that I hadalso engaged in such casual, mindless slaughter? (94)The narrator's initial speculation on the possibility of the aunt's self-mutilation suggestshis paranoid state of consciousness about her deafness, and the passage quoted aboveconfirms his preoccupation with her disability. In this case, it is her verbal reaction to hissilence (she is obviously not sure if he has spoken or not) that prompts the narrator tocontemplate her experience of reality. His thoughts are then directed inwards to considerhis own experience of existence, which indicates the direct relationship between hisperception of her deafness, his reaction to it, and his introspection.Mao Ta's explorations of personal identity and family history are also ordered aroundhis perspective of the marginalized Yao Gu. To begin with, the narrator views himselfand his whole family in the light of Yao Gu's deafness, as when he considers his habitualshouting:It'd been two years already, two long, endless years, the world ought to havequieted down, and I shouldn't have had to scream and shout anymore. But I wasbeginning to suspect that my hearing was deteriorating and that the membranes inmy ears, grown hard like a layer of rock, were filtering out all the sounds so thatthey only reached me in a timid whisper. Was that how Aunt Yao went deaf?The story had it that her father, too, was hard of hearing. Moreover, of her fivegranduncles, two were also deaf. . . In fact, the whole clan had to scream andshout, shout and scream.Did they shout because they couldn't hear? Or had they shouted themselvesdeaf? (92) [4]55The significance of this passage is found in the use of a physical characteristic,deafness, to link Yao Gu and Mao Ta together and identify them in the context of thefamily history. Furthermore, the passage suggests that the family deafness is more thanphysical. On a certain level, the deafness seems to signify a more abstract reference tothe origin of their family troubles: are they victims of their circumstance, or did theirattitudes and behaviours bring such circumstances upon them? One other example,occurring later in the story, underscores this impression, and infers its reference to abroader sphere. Shortly after his arrival to the ancestral village, Mao Ta listens to a shopowner tell how his uncle was shot in a peasant uprising. Again, Mao Ta relates theincident to the family deafness:I knew for a fact that the dandy who excelled in horse-riding and gun playwas shot to death. . . . My grandfather was so terrified when the shot was firedthat he lost his hearing. The deafness was handed down to Aunt Yao. Of course,the history of deafness in our family could perhaps be traced to an even earliergeneration, to the generation before that, and the generation before that. . . Whathad happened in those days? (134) [5]This quotation exemplifies a level of symbolism in the narrative that is manifested inthe narrator's repeated emphasis on the family's deafness and in his perspective of YaoGu. Throughout the work, there is a symbolic connection made between silence andhistorical instances of cultural and political oppression. Yet even though themarginalized Yao Gu is herself an illustration of someone on the receiving end ofoppression, the narrator does not intend to absolve himself or his family of personal orsocial responsibility for the situation. Nor is Yao Gu completely the victim, as hersudden change of temperament after the stroke seems to accord with the tumultuous toneof the family past. In this sense, the narrator's return to his family past is problematic, inthat he recognizes the role his family, and perhaps he himself, have played in the troubledcourse of history. There is also an implied extension of the personal circumstances of his56family to the Chinese race as a whole in his tracing back the deafness to previousgenerations. The passage conveys a sense that the events of Chinese history and certainaspects of culture are responsible for deafening not only Yao Gu, but the entire family,and perhaps the Chinese people as a whole. In view of Han Shaogong's own comments,mentioned at the beginning of this section, the "events" are perhaps a referent to China'sfeudal past and deafness a symbol of Chinese capitulation to this circumstance.However, regardless of the author's intended reference, the fact that the narrator'sexploration of personal identity in this passage is expanded to incorporate the history ofthe race implicitly reinforces one of the main themes of the novella: the inseparability ofthe individual from the social history of mankind.Throughout the first part of the novella, the narrator's recollections of Yao Gu shapehis perspective on identity and existence. While this is due in large part to her role insustaining the family after the father's disappearance (a probable suicide by drowning), itis also a result of the narrator's inability to relate to her life experience or to understandher personal motivation, despite a lifetime of interaction between them. Primarily, this isbecause she is deaf, yet she is also a woman, and Mao Ta frequently views her only inlight of the latter distinction. The relevance of her gender to his exploration of heridentity can be illustrated through a brief examination of some examples from the text.The first example occurs when Mao Ta goes through Yao Gu's clothes to find money forher medicine: "They all smelt of mildew and exuded the stale musty odour peculiar to oldwomen. I seemed to have searched through her entire mysterious existence before Ifound a gold ear-ring that was worth a bit of money." (103) In another example heengages in a detached but sexual description of Yao Gu when he finds her unconscious inthe shower:The hair, wet, matted and soapy, was plastered over one side of the head,exposing the white scalp at the roots, and gave you the feeling that the mystery ofwomen lay entirely in their long hair, for their scalp looked quite ordinary, evencoarse and ugly, certainly not so very different from that of some bald fellow. . . .Falling away below the ribs were deep creases made by the rope belt used to holdup her trousers, and then the jagged twin mountain peaks that were the pelvis, thewhole enclosing a space big enough to accommodate a great world. (115)Interestingly, he considers his look at Yao Gu's body to be the first time he had ever seen"the real her."25 The thought prompts him to think of the one time in his life when he sawa photograph of her as a young woman, and again he speaks of mystery: "Faded andyellow with age, the photo showed a few enchanting women wearing lipstick andcheongsams. It was hard to tell which one was her, hard to know what sort of amysterious world was linked to the lipstick and cheongsam." (116)In these three examples, Yao Gu is consistently described in terms of her mystery,which seems rooted in several expressions of her womanhood: her clothes, her nakedbody, lipstick and a cheongsam. The fact that these are the focal points of the narrator'sdescription of her as mysterious illustrates the concrete link between her female identityand the male narrator's inability to understand her world. It is not until he sees her nakedbody - her womanhood - that he considers himself to at last have a window onto heridentity. Furthermore, there does appear to be a connection between the narrator's focus25 The description of the human body naked and exposed to observation is a recurring motif in HanShaogong's fiction of this period. In "Homecoming?" [Gui qu lai], the main male protagonist "I" reflectson his own nakedness as follows: "I looked at this blue body of mine and was suddenly overcome with apeculiar feeling: the body seemed a stranger, seemed alien. . . . There was only my naked self, the realityof my own self." Han Shaogong, "Homecoming?," trs. Martha Cheung: 13.In both "Homecoming?" and "Three Women" the image of the naked body is closely linked to theconception of personal identity. Han Shaogong's appeal for this motif perhaps stems from its profundity; itis a ready symbol of man stripped of his cultural veneer, and thus open to seeing his true self, his animalself.5758on her gender and his exploration of identity and existence. 26 On a symbolic level, YaoGus womanhood refers the narrator back to human creation. In his detached observationof her body, the narrator describes her physical features abstractly and in terms of theirfunction in the process of creation, as when he reflects on her nipples "drooping forlorn indespair" out of a "yearning to give suck." (115) Most importantly, his view of her pelvis,"the whole enclosing a space big enough to accommodate a great world," is indicative ofa perspective of woman as a signifier of existence. Thus, the gender of the marginalizedYao Gu is also a stimulus in the narrator's quest for the meaning of existence. She isinextricably linked to the puzzle of existence because, as a woman, she gives birth to life.The effect of Yao Gu's physical presence on Mao Ta is exemplified by another aspectof her character, which happens also to be a stylistic feature of the characterization of themain female characters in "Three Women:" Han Shaogong's contrasting of opposites incharacter depiction. For the moment, we will consider only the primary example of YaoGu to illustrate the ways in which her physical disabilities not only describe her asmarginalized, but serve to bring about the extreme transformation of her character. Priorto her stroke, the narrator's anecdotes describe her as stubborn, thrifty but generous,considerate and self-sacrificing. In addition, the consequences of her deafness manifestthemselves in her frequent silence, her preference for isolation from the world outside,and her martyr-like position at work and at home. However, the Yao Gu that emergesafter the stroke is transformed and becomes the antithesis of everything she was before.She becomes greedy, demanding, uncooperative, and sullen. Whereas in former timesshe would contentedly do household chores and conform to the wishes of others, she is26 The italicized emphasis on "does" here refers back to Han Shaogong's comments on theirrelevance of Yao Gu's sex to the message he is trying to portray in "Three Women." Theme and meaningin the story overall indicates that the focus on the form of individual existence is primary, yet evidencefrom the text seems to support the interpretation that I have presented here; that the image of "woman" isemployed to symbolically underscore the identity and existence themes. Thus, my point is not tocontradict what Han Shaogong says about the role of Yao Gu, but rather to note that her gender is a focusbecause it has close symbolic links to the question of existence.59afterwards determined to disrupt the household by refusing to use a bedpan, complainingabout the food, and demanding that Mao Ta and his wife cater to her every whim.Furthermore, her characteristic reticence is contradicted with her incessant tapping andthumping on the bedside table. To Mao Ta, no less than the reader, her sudden change inpersonality and behaviour is unexpected and shocking. Yet her transformation is of greatstructural and thematic significance to the narrative.To begin with, the inexplicable change in Yao Gu's temperament results in thedepersonalization of her character for the reader. The reader is initially distanced fromYao Gu because they are given no window on to her thoughts and motivations, yet hersudden transformation compounds this effect by robbing her character of its consistency.Already different because of her deafness, Yao Gu is now made even more unfamiliar tothe reader - becoming a "strange" character along the lines of Bing Zai in "Ba, ba, ba."Structurally, Yao Gu's transformation forestalls any development of her character andestranges the reader from identification with her character by imposing a critical distancebetween them. In addition, her transformation is the pivotal point in the plot because itcauses the narrator to observe her from a new perspective. Like the reader, the narrator isunfamiliar with the transformed Yao Gu, and his estrangement from her compels him toembark on a broader consideration of their past interaction and of the significance of herlife. In this way, the extremes of behaviour which render her character strange alsofacilitate its abstraction, with the result that Yao Gu becomes less a character than asymbolic functionary in the plot.The abstraction of Yao Gu's character as a result of her transformation is one of thesignificant links of her character to theme and meaning in the novella. As the narrativeprogresses, Mao Ta sees her less as an individual than as an example of the state of being.As a result, his interest in her existence is increasingly ordered around his observations of60her physical form and the treatment she receives at the hands of others, particularly whenshe is returned to the village for care. With considerable sarcasm, he records the detailsof her inhuman treatment there: the cage bed, the mud surroundings, her shaved head, andthe bamboo rod which was effectively employed to keep her in line. Yet his focus isultimately on the process of her physical deterioration. Thus, he imaginativelyreconstructs the process of her final decline in the countryside, and tells of her gradualdevolution to an ape, a fish, and finally, a creature.27With this description, Yao Gu is no longer identified as an individual but rather as asymbol. Through her devolution, she becomes a symbol of life at its most basic level,and a curious paradox is thereby expressed. On one level her reduced state of beingindicates the inconsequentiality of her life, while on another level she is still a beingcapable of emotion and profundity, as is indicated by her last mumblings about a bowl ofyam. In addition, Yao Gu's devolution makes her a symbol of the human condition,which ties directly into Mao Ta's exploration of the relation between the individual andthe social whole as one piece of the puzzle of existence. Finally, from this it can be seenthat the abstraction of Yao Gu's character is the vehicle through which Mao Ta expressesimportant aspects of his own world view to the reader.28 It is not just that she, as a closerelative, engenders his attention, but that her deafness and progressive debilitation - anddevolution - cause him to consider her, and life in general, from a new perspective.The foregoing discussion illustrates the ways in which Yao Gu functions as thecatalyst for the narrator's introspection and philosophizing Moreover, hermarginalization is one of the significant causes of his attention to her character, for the27 In the Chinese original, the progression is from hou oft to yu [ ,0„] to huowu [..1119P.28 It is noteworthy that Mao Ta's view of Yao Gu's devolution thereafter influences his perceptions ofthe human condition. At the end of the novella his last impression of Lao Hei is that "she, too, looked likea fish!" (159)61reasons outlined above, and because it is the vehicle through which he observes his ownand others' reactions to her as part of an ongoing investigation into human nature andmotivation. Her condition brings out his feelings of guilt and hypocrisy, especially as hecompares and contrast his own behaviour and response to that of the other maincharacters of the narrative: the two women Lao Hei and Zhen Gu. These two women,together with Yao Gu, function as a category of woman that is deliberately contrasted tomale perception and experience. The relevance of this contrast is that it reinforces themarginalized tone of the narrative in its male perspective on the characters andmotivations of the three women. Having discussed the character of Yao Gu in detail, thefollowing will address the character depiction of Lao Hei and Zhen Gu, to illustrate inwhat ways Mao Ta's perspective on them is relevant to theme and meaning in the novella.An interesting aspect of the depiction of the three female characters is that they allappear to embody a kind of double nature, which is a further example of what I earlierreferred to as Han Shaogong's attention to a contrasting of opposites in characterdepiction. A character profile of the women reveals an extreme from the modern,educated and urban Lao Hei, to the traditional, superstitious, and rural woman Zhen Gu.Between them, bridging the gap, is the marginalized, servile and enigmatic Yao Gu, whonotably comes full circle from rural to urban and back to rural in her lifetime. Inaddition, the narrator's view of all three women seems to focus in large part on theircontrary characteristics, or on a kind of character transformation. The primary exampleof the latter is of course Yao Gu, whose pre- and post- stroke temperament indicate anextreme in character transformation. However, Lao Hei is also described by the narratorin terms of a contrast of opposites: she is intelligent, hard yet compassionate, lacks socialresponsibility yet maintains a social honesty, and despises yet depends on male attention.Her character is thus defined by its contrariness, even to the point where the narratorrecalls her earlier revolutionary zeal (that is, she embarked on her own "long march" in62her youth) and contrasts it with the now cynical older woman who claims to have "seenthrough everything long ago." (117) Moreover, the narrator judges her character quiteharshly. Although he notes her strength of character with grudging admiration, he findsher morally reproachable and is completely indignant when she suggests that they engagein a mercy killing of Yao Gu. Nevertheless, Lao Hei's role as Mao Ta's antithesis doesserve to balance and add to his perspective on life.The character of Zhen Gu, on the other hand, is handled somewhat differently. In theeyes of the narrator, she undergoes a kind of psychological transformation. Having nevermet her before his journey to the village, Mao Ta is predisposed to be grateful to her foraccepting the burden of caring for Yao Gu. When he meets her, his initial impression isof a kind country woman whose largeness "enveloped you at once and touched you to thequick, so that you wanted to snuggle up to her large plump bosom." (148) Yet, despitethis motherly impression, Mao Ta shortly thereafter presents a rather different picture ofZhen Gu; as the unconscionably cruel murderer of Yao Gu. Whether or not there is anytruth to this is never made known, but the reader is left with a strong impression of thedarker, more primitive side of human nature that is represented by Zhen Gu, who standsas a symbol of rural China.In considering the narrator's view of Lao Hei and Zhen Gu, it is noteworthy that heconsiders them both to be capable of unconscionable acts in their treatment of Yao Gu.This point is emphatically made in the narrative, particularly after Lao Hei suggests herplan to set up a phony suicide for Yao Gu, yet the narrator later admits that he comes to asimilar conclusion himself. With full comprehension of his hypocrisy, the narratorreflects, "As a matter of fact, Lao Hei had said something similar a month and three daysago. One month and three days. Was that the difference between me and Lao Hei? Wasthat what my aspirations amounted to? If it was, wasn't the world a little too fragile?"63(121) Insofar as it reveals the narrator's fallibility, this quotation serves to illustrate theimportance of the interaction between Mao Ta and the women throughout the novella. Inaddition, it highlights the functional role of his perspective of their characters andattitudes. Lao Hei and Zhen Gu, as two examples of very different women, expressdifferent conceptions of life through their words and behaviour. Given that "ThreeWomen" is a story that focusses on Mao Ta's exploration of the meaning of existence andaspects of the human condition, the reactions of these two women serve to round out hisimpressions of life. In effect, they both contribute to and counterbalance his perspectiveon existence.Moreover, Lao Hei and Zhen Gu add another dimension to Mao Ta's investigationinto identity and existence, precisely because they are women. Not only do theyarticulate views on life which are very different from Mao Ta's, they also live anexistence, as women, which he perceives to be far removed from his own life experience.As a result, he conceives of their identities as being cloaked in mystery. In this respect,his observation and consideration of them from the point of view of a male perspective onthe female complicates his exploration into existence even further. Although hisobservation of Yao Gu, Lao Hei and Zhen Gu is one way of exploring the issue, hisefforts are problematized by his inability to relate to their form of existence. Thus, theperspective of male viewing female in "Three Women" directly reinforces the theme ofthe mystery of human existence. Moreover, marginalized tone is reinforced insofar as themale narrator considers women to be the main object of his investigation into themeaning of existence, with the result that narrative focus is on the margin, hererepresented by the women, Yao Gu, Lao Hei and Zhen Gu.The second interior perspective of "Three Women" is the urban narrator's perspectiveof the Chinese countryside. Mao Ta's journey back to the ancestral village for Yao Gu's64funeral is the culmination of his explorations, and for the reader it is the event which tiestogether the themes of history, identity and existence. Entrance into this rural worldprovides Mao Ta with a physical and historical context for his thoughts on family andpersonal identity. Notably, it is once again Yao Gu who has brought about the change inperspective since her physical disability is the reason for his decision to send her back toher home village for care. His imaginative re-construction of what happens to her onceshe returns there (her inhuman treatment and devolution) is but one example of the waysin which he continues his investigation into the meaning of existence through his focuson her life and death. Furthermore, Yao Gu is the link between Mao Ta and the previousgeneration, and in this instance she is also the physical connection between the urbanMao Ta and his rural ancestry. In the process of experiencing the environment thatshaped Yao Gu and his own father, Mao Ta is himself drawn into family history. In thisway, his story of her becomes the vehicle through which he explores his own identity.His journey to the village opens the window to an experience of the past, in that thevillage and its people represent cultural attitudes and beliefs that are not a part of hisurban experience. In addition, the journey "home" contrasts the urban and rural worlds,which adds yet another dimension to Mao Ta's exploration of history and identity.Technically, the shift in perspective between the urban and rural worlds involves akind of narratorial double view. The reader is familiar with the narrative voice of MaoTa, which up until this point has been expressed entirely in the first person. However, thepassage which describes his journey to the village is told in the voice of a reticent thirdperson narrator. The reticence is short-lived and lasts only a few pages, but it issignificant for the break it signals between the first and second halves of the narrative,and for the impression it leaves on the reader. With respect to the former, it is of notethat the passage is introduced gradually, through Mao Ta's reflections on the cultural andlinguistic links between Zhen Gu and Yao Gu, and himself:I had no idea when she [Aunt Zhen] and Aunt Yao became sworn sisters, orwhy, or whether the story of their relationship was dull or gripping. Just as I'd noidea why my folks told me that our ancestor was a spider, why there was the word"xu" [ I in the names of most women in my home village. . . . Some scholarssaid that the practice of communal times had left its mark in the language and thatthis was one of the surviving linguistic traces of such a practice. I was takenaback when I learnt about it, but of course it had nothing much to do with me. Itwas only because of Aunt Yao that I learnt there was an Aunt Zhen living in adark timber house . . . . (128)The passage reveals Mao Ta's sense of alienation from what he recognizes to beconnections to the family past, in the form of the linguistic link "xu" and the dark andsecret edifice of Aunt Zhen's house. Following this, the narrative voice changes, andMao Ta's actual journey into the countryside is told distantly. While it is ostensibly stillMao Ta who is narrating the events to the reader, the "I" is dropped, and the observationsmade are voiced without the use of a pronoun; ke kan [J - g ] and ke wen pup, are usedinstead of wo kan Mg ] and wo wen giVIL they would be translated as "one saw" or"you heard" in English. Notably, this change of voice is employed precisely at that pointin the narrative where anecdotes about local landmarks and customs are presented to thereader. As a result of the impersonality of voice, the reader is deliberately pulled backfrom the immediate story and made to observe the passage into the countryside alongwith the narrator. In this way, the sense of the narrator's distance and alienation from theland is conveyed to the reader, who becomes aware that the entrance into this rural worldpresents the narrator with an entirely new perspective and experience. There is thus aclear connection between the shift in narratorial voice and the shift in setting, whichemphasizes the fact that the story encompasses two very different sides of China: theurban and the rural.65Finally, Mao Ta's transition into the rural world directs us to an important aspect ofHan Shaogong's style in "Three Women:" his use of imagery as an extended expression66of his major themes. To an even greater extent than in "Ba, ba, ba," Han Shaogongemploys magic realist techniques in "Three Women" to blur the line between the real andthe unreal, and to establish a magical connection between the narrator and his ancestralhomeland and between the physical conditions and behaviour of members of the family.Moreover, imagistic contrasts and paradoxes are used to emphasize marginalized tone inthe narrative, insofar as they denote the significance of Yao Gu's character and conditionto the narrator's final conclusions on the meaning of life. In the following discussion, Iwill attempt to illustrate the wealth of imagery in the story by selecting prominentexamples and elucidating their significance to the themes of history, identity andexistence.As we have seen, Mao Ta's entrance into the rural world signals a change in hisperspective. Prior to his arrival, his thoughts on the identity and life experience of YaoGu, and on his own links to the family, had been based on philosophical speculation.However, once he is present in his ancestral village, he is confronted with landmarks, likethe little great wall and his ancestral home, and aspects of culture, like language andsocial conventions, which are at once alien and familiar to him. 29 His first reaction tohearing the villagers' speech is one example, as he notes: "The way they talked bore sucha close resemblance to my father's speech that I was stunned." (133) In addition, hissense of connection to the place is compounded by his discovery of the little path runningalongside the former site of the family's ancestral home:I could indeed see that smooth footpath - cool, light, delicate. The side near theditch was covered with a film of moss. It looked strangely familiar. Thisfootpath, I thought, had drawn boatloads of grain from the river and providedsustenance to my family, and to me, who was still living and breathing. Ah! So29 This paradox of the alien and the familiar once again recalls Han's focus in "Homecoming?" [Guiqu lai]. The protagonist "I" arrives in a rural village and expresses feelings and impressions that are akin tothose expressed by Mao Ta in his similar situation in "Three Women." In "Homecoming?" the protagonistmuses, "all this looked so familiar and yet so strange. . . . Damn! Had I been here before?" Han Shaogong,"Homecoming?," trs. Martha Cheung: 2.67that was it. Father had always refused to let me visit my ancestral home becausehe was afraid I would see this footpath. He must have known that the moment Iset eyes on it, it would rouse me to rebellious disobedience. (134)In both of these instances, the narrator is startled by his connection to a place that hepresumed to be unfamiliar. In the latter example, the footpath unexpectedly evokes asense of his belonging to the place insofar as it symbolizes the family's livelihood. In thisway, his increasing awareness of the physical links between himself and the family pastpresent him with a framework for his investigation into personal identity. Moreover, thenarrator's visual acquaintance with local landmarks such as this forms the foundation forhis personal re-creation of history, one which attempts to put into perspective his role andthat of his family in the puzzle of human existence.The narrator's link to the family past is also established through "magically" handeddown behaviour and actions. One such example, mentioned earlier, is the narrator'sfrequent consideration of the family deafness. Although the physical cause of thedeafness is unknown, the narrator considers it to be the result of horrible events in thefamily past. While this is an irrational view to the reader, it is nevertheless presented inthe text as a rational explanation, and is therefore one example of Han Shaogong's use ofmagic realist techniques. The reader is here not encouraged to question the narrator'sreasoning, but merely to accept his explanation for its symbolic meaning; that itexpresses the narrator's views on the probable link between the negative aspects ofsociety, culture, and politics and the weaknesses and troubles in his family. Still anotherexample is found in Han Shaogong's use of the recurring image of rats. Early in thestory, the narrator recalls his father's practice of jabbing at rat holes in times of trouble, inthis instance during a period of political upheaval in China. For reasons the narrator doesnot understand his father continues to poke into rat holes long after the family has trappedand killed the rats and "restored peace in [the] house." (109) However, later, when the68narrator is at wits end over the incessant demands of Yao Gu, he himself inexplicablybegins to poke into rat holes in his own home. Only when the narrator arrives in thevillage does he see the "magical" connection: as a child, his father had found money in arat hole in the wall, which enabled him to go off to the city to school despite the fact thatthe family had fallen on hard times. With this piece of information, the reader is able toappreciate the magical connection between the behaviour of father and son when solace issought in times of trouble.The image of rats occurs again at the climax of the narrative, during the narrator'smysterious and almost dreamlike experience of an earthquake. In this passage, Mao Ta'sperceptions of an earthquake are confusingly blended with his memories of Yao Gu'sfuneral, and the rats serve as the image that symbolically links the two events together.As Mao Ta runs along the streets alerting people to the earthquake, a tide of rats,panicked by the tremor, move over his feet and run before him, sweeping everything outof their way in their path to the river. Unsure whether or not he is dreaming, Mao Ta canthink of the earthquake only in terms of Yao Gu: "Was this earthquake caused by AuntYao's thumping fist?" (151) And, as the rat-tide moves on into the water, the thousandsof bodies seem to form a small island, which the narrator relates once again to Yao Gu:"No, it wasn't a rat-island. It wasn't. I saw clearly, it was the rush basket filled withcharcoal slags that was standing in a corner by the door of my house. It was Aunt Yao'sbasket." (155) Here, the image of the rats links the narrator's physical experience of theearthquake together with his emotional response to Yao Gu's life and death.Yet the rats are themselves symbols of humanity in this passage. In his descriptionof their teeming mass, endlessly pushing forward, Mao Ta evokes their parallels to thehistory of human existence, and particularly to the Chinese experience, by going so far asto note that the sound of their splashes was "like the cheers that broke out in a certain69square." (155) While not overtly stated, the message evoked through the use of thisimagery is direct enough in its allegorical impact. The earthquake that follows Yao Gu'sdeath is reminiscent of the 1976 Tangshan Viii- L14] earthquake which was widely held tobe the prophetic sign from Heaven that Mao Zedong's "rule" had come to an end.30 Inaddition, the image of panicked rats confusedly running forward is most certainlysymbolic of the Chinese people, blindly following Mao to an uncertain future. At thevery least, the symbolism of this passage reflects one significant aspect of HanShaogong's authorial vision: his cataclysmic view of the events of the Chinese politicalpast.The entire scene is the culmination of the narrator's exploration into history, identityand existence, and the three themes are effectively linked in the final passage of thepenultimate chapter. In this passage, the narrator attains a kind of enlightenment on themeaning of life and death. His thoughts, which are expressed through stream-of-consciousness narration, range from the mythical legends of human creation to theimmortality of the landscape, and finally to the trials and glory of the human race. In theend, the earthquake occurs and the little great wall falls to ruin, as if signalling a symbolicend to Yao Gu and the troubled ages that she represents: pre-Revolutionary "feudalism"and the Maoist era.31With this return to Yao Gu, it remains to touch briefly on one other aspect of HanShaogong's use of imagery to underscore the novella's themes. Key images in the30 This observation is based on the traditional Chinese belief in the "Mandate of Heaven," which heldthat periods of devastating natural disasters signified the withdrawal of the divine mandate to rule. Giventhat Mao Zedong died only a month and a half after this major earthquake, it is popular belief that the twoevents are connected: that the Tangshan earthquake heralded Mao's death.31 It seems clear that Yao Gu is representative of both of these eras. She is born, raised, and marriedin a rural community during the pre-Revolutionary years (considered the "feudal" age by the ChineseCommunist Party), yet she makes the transition to the revolutionary period and becomes a commitedworker, studying the example of the model Communist Party Secretary Jiao Yulu lgoll (see pages 104,111 in the Cheung translation), in the new society under Mao.70narrative, such as silence, whispers, roars and tapping are contrasted for thematic effect,and all seem to revolve around the condition of Yao Gu's deafness. To begin with, thenarrator questions the relation between the family deafness and their habitual shouting,with the result that deafness is symbolically linked to history and the family scars throughthe motif of sound. Whispering also has a connection to the political upheaval of therecent past, since the narrator associates this image with troubled times during theCultural Revolution and the subsequent ostracism of the marginalized Yao Gu. Yet quitein contrast to these images of silence, the transformed Yao Gu begins to tap incessantlyon a tabletop as a means of getting the family's attention and voicing her demands.Moreover, through the use of magic realist techniques, Yao Gu's tapping is oddly andinexplicably heard by Lao Hei, thousands of miles away. Finally, as we have seen, thetapping is also associated with the earthquake and the narrator's very real impression thatthe two are somehow closely connected. However, all of these contrasts have a directbearing on theme.The silence that is characteristic of Yao Gu throughout most of her life is symbolic ofher status as a marginalized and oppressed member of Chinese society. In this sense, thedirect focus on her deafness in the narrative is expressive of authorial view on the culturaland political oppression of the Chinese past. If we recall Han Shaogong's own commentson the character of Yao Gu (see page 53 above), we return to his explanation of themeaning behind her silence and subsequent transformation. Yao Gu's deafness is thephysical manifestation of her repression, a kind of symbol of Chinese acquiescence to thepolitical and societal status quo, just as her final tapping and bodily debilitation areexpressions of the resulting "physiological and psychological illness" of the Chinesepeople. Yet despite her transformation into a demanding and noisy invalid, Yao Gu's lifeends darkly. Her incessant tapping may well be an example of the other side of humannature bursting forth (see page 53 above), but it brings her no release from oppression,71and therein lies a message central to theme in "Three Women." The description of thelast months of Yao Gu's life in the countryside leaves a powerful impression of crueltyand continued repression. Mao Ta, no less than the reader who accompanies him on hisnarrative journey, is left to consider the fact that neither of the eras, pre-Revolutionary orMaoist, that circumscribe Yao Gu's life are bright ones. 32 In this sense, the events ofChinese history described by Yao Gu's existence in "Three Women" are truly bereft ofany pleasant memories.Mao Ta's conclusions on existence are put forth on the last page of the novella, whenhe recalls that Yao Gu had left the world muttering about a bowl of yams. Valuing thesimplicity of her last words, he considers them to be the profound answer to the meaningof life, "When you've eaten you do the dishes. That's all. Xu." (161) As the final touchin a narrative riddled with philosophical speculation and introspection, this concludingmaxim leaves a twofold impression on the reader. Within the confines of his own story,Mao Ta considers himself to have pondered over and resolved the question of themeaning of life. However, from the point of view of the reader, who sees Mao Ta as themain protagonist of a broader text, the conclusions he accepts are problematic. Thereason for this is that the overall structure of the narrative, and its interior elements ofcharacterization and imagery, together present the reader with another, in some wayscontradictory, impression. The noise and tremor that are associated with Yao Gu'sdemise seem to contradict the narrator's simple conclusion on the inconsequentiality oflife. Furthermore, the presence of the other two female characters, Lao Hei and Zhen Gu,not only complicate the narrator's exploration into existence by presenting him with a32 This impression is compounded by a consideration of the ambiguity of Han Shaogong's use of theterm "feudal culture" in the quotation on page 53 of this text. Given that the term "feudal" is frequentlyused as a safe term to criticize negative aspects of society and politics in the present, Han's reference to the"oppression of feudal culture" is double edged. It can quite readily be taken to refer to the oppressivesocial, political and cultural practices of the decades immediately preceding the Communist takeover in1949, as well as to the negative aspects of politics and society in the Maoist era, from 1949 to 1976, someof which are possibly still existent in present day China.72condition of existence that he cannot really comprehend, but they also act as foils to hisperspective on life. Finally, there is the fallibility of the narrator himself. Throughout thenarrative, Mao Ta's awareness of his guilt, hypocrisy and uncertainty is expressed directlyto the reader through the vehicle of his introspection. The depth of his own soul-searching and the range of his philosophical speculation on the meaning of individual lifesuggest that his simple conclusion on the matter is but an extension of his inability totruly make sense out of the puzzle of human existence.Inspired by Yao Gu's life experience, Mao Ta's maxim is nevertheless his bestsolution to the philosophical dilemma over the indeterminable mysteries of existence.Not knowing what he is waiting for, what awaits the people of a city "struggling toemerge from a chrysalis of scaffolding and safety net,"(160) he sees a need, not unlikeVoltaire's famous Candide, to dispense with his rather fruitless philosophizing andconcentrate on life in the present. Whether out of a sense of hope, acquiescence orindecision, Mao Ta finally passes over the web of questions about history, identity andexistence and fastens onto a solution that is simple and personal: merely to do his partand leave the greater scheme of things to take care of itself.733. The Experimental Writer Su Tong: History, Identity and CultureIn the latter half of this discussion of marginalized character and motif and theirrelation to the themes of history and identity, we turn to an analysis of two recent worksby the experimental writer Su Tong. Already an accomplished author at age thirty,Su Tong represents a score of new mainland writers who have moved beyond the specificregional focus that is characteristic of nativist fiction to explore a wider variety of subjectmatters in innovative and often shocking ways. He is thus not alone in engaging inincreased experimentation with literary techniques, but his fresh approach to narrationand plot structure conveys a most individual perspective on the issues of history, identityand culture. In addition, he is a prolific writer who displays great stylistic diversity in hisworks, which range from short stories to novellas, and recently, to full length novels.The uniqueness of Su Tong's style hinges not only on his experimentation with theliterary devices mentioned above, but also on his particular brand of imagery, which issuccessfully employed for its dramatic effect. In the two works presented here, "1934Escapes" and Rice, imagery is always closely related to theme: recurring motifs andimages occupy so central a position in the story that they become features of characterthought and behaviour. In this sense, Su Tong's use of imagery not only conveys a mood,but often a symbolic message which underscores theme. In the discussion which follows,I will attempt to illustrate how these aspects of Su Tong's style in "1934 Escapes" andRice contribute to the marginalized tone of the narratives, and how this impression relatesto authorial vision on the issues of history, identity and culture.74In the prefaces to his two early collections, Wives and Concubines (1990) and A SadDance (1991),1 Su Tong outlines the important features of his literary orientation. In theformer, he describes his personal approach to writing fiction as follows:My own particular failing is that I am always buried in the minor details ofthe life of the past but lack any plans for the future. The realm of art is a kind oflight; it may be bright or it may be dark; it may exist or it may not. The worldthat I hope to attain has several elements; I hope for naturalness, simplicity,peacefulness and breadth; I also hope for abundance, complication, and multiplechanges. All these elements have one aspect in common; they must be purelyarti stic .2In his second collection, A Sad Dance, his form of literary creation is again indicated inthe preface, wherein he outlines his criteria for good writing:A good writer approaches the process of literary creation with an intenselyself-directed consciousness; he hopes to leave his particular brand on every part ofthe work and use his own groping method and style to form every detail and everysentence of dialogue. He can then rely on his own aesthetic approach to constructthe work. . . All of this requires the courage and intelligence of a loner.3With these two quotations, we can see that Su Tong's literary orientation is rooted inhis preference for an aesthetic approach to the writing of fiction, and most definitely, inhis belief that the expression of individual consciousness plays a central role in thewriting of "good" fiction. Certainly, Su Tong's own works display these qualities. Inboth "1934 Escapes" and Rice, the individual consciousness of the author is expressedthrough the overall tone of the narratives - dark and brooding - and in the form ofnarratorial voice. The latter, whether in first or third person, utilizes a range of narratorialpoint-of-view to ensure that the shadow of the writer is always present behind the detaileddescriptions of character behaviour and motivation. Yet each work also exhibits distinct1 Su Tong, Qi qie cheng qun [Wives and Concubines], Taipei: Yuanliu, 1990; Shangxin de wudao[A Sad Dance], Taipei: Yuanliu, 1991.2 Su Tong (as translated by Michael S. Duke), "Daixu" [Introduction], Qi qie cheng qun: 10, astranslated in Michael S. Duke, "Walking Toward the World: A Turning Point in Contemporary ChineseFiction," in World Literature Today, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991: 391.3 Su Tong, "Zixu" [Preface], Shangxin de wudao: 10.75features of the kind of literary style that Su Tong outlines in the preceding quotations. In"1934 Escapes" the key features are a naturalness of language, multiple changes in plotstructure, and a complicated look at the subjectivity of identity. In the novel Rice, SuTong concentrates upon psychological characterization and an abundance of symbolicimagery to develop a narrative that focusses on one man's struggle to define himself.Beyond this, the best indication of what he is trying to achieve through his fiction isfound in an analysis of the works themselves, which direct our attention to the breadth ofhis perspective on the issues of history, identity and culture.Thematic similarity is the basis for the comparative analysis of "1934 Escapes" andRice presented here. While many of Su Tong's works, such as "Opium Poppy Family,""Flying Over My Old Maple Village Home," and "A Profusion of Wives andConcubines,"4 reflect a similar preoccupation with the themes of history and culture, thetwo works that I have selected to discuss share the most direct focus on the link betweenhistory-culture and the identity of the individual. In addition, despite their markeddifference in narrative style and overall approach to the subject matter, the two works arealso similar in their focus on marginalized character and motif. This is the commonthread, perhaps one intended to foreground certain aspects of Chinese culture, that runsthroughout both works. It is this thread of marginalization - a form of alienation - that Iwill highlight in the following discussion, for its relevance to theme and meaning andauthorial vision.4 The Chinese titles of these stories are as follows: "Opium Poppy Family" [Yingsu zhi jia], "FlyingOver My Old Maple Village Home" [Fei yue wo de Fengyangshu guxiang] and "A Profusion of Wives andConcubines" [Qi qie cheng qun].76"1934 Escapes:" Determining the Self Through HistoryThe context for the first of the two works, "1934 Escapes," is the recent social, and tosome extent political, history of the Chinese people. In this novella, the theme of historyis intentionally articulated through the highly subjective view of the participant narrator.The story, which centers on the relationship between family history and personal identity,is driven forward by the conflict that rages within the narrator's own consciousness abouthis paradoxical sense of affiliation with and alienation from his family past. Given thecentral role of the narrator, who by his own admission actively "creates"5 the familyhistory, the sense of conflict that is reflected in his verbal quest for identity is furtherechoed in the type of imagery used and in the form of narrative structure. Through theconflict presented in this story, the narrative addresses the issues of identity, history andculture by focussing on the narrator's consideration of how he is linked to the largercultural body in which he lives, and how he embodies the tensions between the presentand the past, and urban and rural, in the context of a changing China.The latter point indicates the direction of marginalized focus in the narrative, since ittakes shape in narratorial perspective on character. Primarily, the narrator characterizeshis grandmother, Jiang Shi [ It], as marginalized, yet he also extends this view down tohis father and finally himself, since his look into the family past seems to confirm thecontinued existence of certain marginalizing traits, such as muteness and a sense ofalienation, into the present. Yet the story also addresses marginalization in the form ofthe central motif of escape. I consider this motif to contribute to the marginalized tone ofthe narrative because the "escapes" in the story are for the most part indicative of the actof breaking away from the group, or of remaining alienated and marginalized. Some5 Throughout the story, the narrator openly discusses how he "composes" (puxie^, "imagines"(xiangxiang re4t) and "creates" (chuangzao [NM) the family history.77characters, like the narrator's grandfather Chen Baonian [NiT (the husband of JiangShi), become completely assimilated into the destination of their escape (that is, the city),while others like the narrator's uncle Gou Zai att, the narrator's father, and even thenarrator himself are characterized by feelings of alienation as a result of their escapes. Ineffect, they are marginalized from a part of their identity that they wish to regain butcannot. Notably, the story is centred around the narrator's exploration of the ways inwhich he is set apart from - yet still held captive by - his family origins as a result of theescapes of 1934.In order to set the stage for this story of escapes, it is best to begin with a synopsis ofthe structure of the work. The story begins with the reflections of the main protagonist,who is also the narrator, on his identity, which rests heavily on his relation to his fatherand the eight family ancestors whose pictures hang on the wall of their house. Uponestablishing his obsession with his own identity, he then proceeds to extend hisconsideration of the matter to an exploration of the lives of those family members whosehistorical presence he feels so strongly. His method of "inquiry" (tanjiu ), is towrite a family history about his ancestors from Maple Village, which focusses on theevents of one disastrous year, the title year of 1934.The second story of the narrative is thus the family history of 1934, the unfolding ofwhich is directed by the narrator and contained within the framework of his own story. Inthe family history, the narrator proceeds to introduce and describe five of the ancestorswhose lives in that year have a direct bearing on his own sense of self as he writes fromthe standpoint of the present: his grandmother Jiang Shi, grandfather Chen Baonian, theirson Gou Zai, the wealthy distant cousin Chen Wenzhi [Nki] and the little womanHuanzi Eff_31, who is not a member of the Chen family by blood or marriage but whosepresence in the family history bears directly on the protagonist's identity. In chronicling78the history, which is a blending of fact, fantasy and imagination, the narrator repeatedlyinterrupts the plot line with commentary on the unfolding events, on the nature of thepeople he describes and, significantly, on how their lives affect his own outlook and senseof self. The following look at the ways in which the narrator focusses on the motif ofescape will illustrate how the thematic and structural links are made between the twostories and how this contributes to the overall sense of meaning.It is made clear at the outset of the narrative that the narrator is seeking to escapefrom his father, and by extension of this idea, from his family past. A vivid descriptioninforms us of the intensity of and the reason for the "escape":Turning my head to look again at my shadow on the ground, I saw myself inthe deep night of the city painting the image of a fleeing figure. A kind of innatefear and confusion caused me to cover my head and scurry away. I'm like myfather. As I ran desperately through the dimness of the night-darkened city, myfather's shadow came behind in roaring pursuit. . . . I understand: at that time, mydesperate flight was a kind of escape.(15) 6 [6]As the above quotation illustrates, the narrator begins his account out of a sense offear and confusion that he is like his father, afraid of and unable to escape the presence ofthe past, in this case a kind of personal history, long enough to determine his ownidentity. Interestingly, however, the fear which drives him to escape is born of a kind offascination that compels him to return to his past, so that in effect the protagonist isescaping to that which he wishes to escape from. To elude pursuit, he jumps into and infact creates a history that he has never seen. In the plot movements which follow thenarrator begins to build his identity upon this history, thereby linking his own escapes tothe cultural and historical framework which identifies his ancestors. In this way, hisescapes, flight to the city at age nineteen and the act of writing the family history, can beconsidered a kind of quest for identity.6 Su Tong, "Yi jiu san si nian de taowang" [1934 Escapes], Qi qie cheng qun.All subsequent quotations from the story come from this edition. Except where specified, alltranslations are my own.79In the focus on the year 1934, we are presented with the main indication of thesignificance of history to the narrator's quest. Initially, he is introduced to the year as oneof disaster by his father, but without explanation, as follows:Over and over again he said, "1934. Do you know?" Afterwards he told me againin a louder voice, "1934 was a year of disaster. 1934. Do you know? 1934 was ayear of disaster." (18)The ambiguity of his father's words allow the narrator to use his imagination incomposing the family history, as he seeks to elucidate the ways in which 1934 was a yearof disaster for his ancestors. Historically, the decade of the 1930's was one of calamityfor China; a time beset with political turmoi1,7 flood, famine and disease of epidemicproportions.8 In the narrator's family history, however, it is a year of disaster for manyadditional reasons and, significantly, the motif of escape runs through them all.A brief summary of these events suffices to illustrate this point. His grandfather,Chen Baonian, escapes to the city leaving his wife Jiang Shi behind, pregnant andwithout anyone to help her support her six children; her eldest son, Gou Zai, soon followssuit to join his father, despite the fact that life under his father's tyranny is in actual factno better for him; the women of Maple Village are left behind when one hundred andthirty-nine of their men leave to find work in the city;9 five of Jiang Shi's children are lost7 From the mid twenties through to the late thirties, China was characterised by political turmoil inthe form of resistance to the Japanese incursion, ongoing fragmentation from warlordism, and rapidlyswinging power struggles between the Nationalist and Communist-led armies. In Su Tong's narrative,1934 seems to be a year representative of social and political unrest in recent Chinese history. As a matterof intrinsic interest, it was also the year of the Communist Long March. See Craig Dietrich, People'sChina: A Brief History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986): 22-26.8 For facts on the living conditions of the Chinese peasantry during the early decades of the twentiethcentury see R.H. Tawney, "Poverty, War and Famine,"in The Chinese Revolution: 1900-1950, ed. RanbirVohra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974): 102-7; and Lucien Bianco, Origins of the ChineseRevolution: 1915-1949, trans. Muriel Bell (London: Oxford University Press, 1971): 82-107.9 Considering that the women do not want the men to leave, I interpret the mass exodus as a form ofescape for the men. Later, the narrator himself says," Nineteen thirty-four was a year of escape for thebamboo workers of Maple Village."(37)80to the cholera epidemic - an escape from the miseries of life;10 and Huanzi, brought to thevillage to have Chen Baonian's baby, finds herself the victim of Jiang Shi's abortionmedicine, and retaliates by escaping back to the city with Jiang Shi's baby, who is thenarrator's own father. Finally, the central character of Jiang Shi also escapes frompoverty and starvation by becoming a concubine of the wealthy but lecherous ChenWenzhi The narrator articulates his last glimpse of Jiang Shi through Chen Wenzhi'seyes:[He] saw that woman standing on top of the slope like the numerous branchesand leaves shaken loose from a stalk of bamboo. Chen Wenzhi had a premonitionthat at the end of the year 1934 this stalk of bamboo would escape and be plantedright in the palm of his hand. (76)The narrator's choice of the word "escape" (taowang []) is deliberate, as it is theactual description of the characters' actions in almost every one of the instancesmentioned above. In this sense its repetition becomes the echo of his own inner desire forescape, given the fact that he is the one writing the family history. Thus, Su Tong's use ofthe motif provides the narrative with an overall unity, linking together two stories that areconstantly interrupted by the non-linear progression of their plots. In addition, it servesto reinforce the concept of the exploration of cultural and personal identity which drivesthe narrative forward as a whole.Having discussed the relevance of the escape motif to the identity theme, it isnecessary to illustrate its relation to marginalized tone in the narrative. All of the escapesembody a kind of blurring of the boundaries between separate worlds, so that theytranscend the line between such separate realms as dreams and reality, fiction and fact,rural and urban, past and present, and life and death, but do not eliminate the distancebetween them. While this aspect of the motif is primarily a stylistic feature of the novella10 Jiang Shi alludes to death as a form of escape when she admits to aborting Huanzi's child: "I boresix children, all of whom grew up and died. . . dying in the mother's belly is better than being born." (74)81that is expressed through Su Tong's particular brand of imagery, it also establishes astructural and marginalizing relation between certain categories. Thus, the motif ofescape does describe the marginalization of the poor to the wealthy, of women to men,and of rural to urban. Narratorial perspective on the character of Jiang Shi bestexemplifies the link between escape and marginalization and introduces the secondarytheme of the narrative: the conflict between urban and rural.The narrator's descriptions of the life of his grandmother Jiang Shi indicate that tohim at least, she is marginalized on three counts: she is poor, female, and rural. As avillager and long term field worker, her life is obviously characterized by hardship andeconomic uncertainty, yet her husband's escape to the city compounds her problems byleaving her in almost total destitution. This is why she is driven to watch the local menleave the village for the city and to crazily and pathetically ask: "Where is ChenBaonian's money?" (36) Furthermore, it is the harsh reality of her situation at the close ofthe family history, when she is penniless, childless and broken in spirit, which causes herto make her escape to Chen Wenzhi Although an escape and a last chance for survival,this action serves to underscore her marginality, not only as a victim of poverty, but alsoas a female victim of male power.The narrator focusses on Jiang Shi's treatment at the hands of the Chen family menas one way of exploring the personal as well as cultural traits that shape the course of thefamily history. Thus, he describes Chen Baonian's cruel and abusive treatment of JiangShi on their wedding night, and reflects on Chen Wenzhi's relentless observations of heras a sexual object from the roof of his black brick building. However, the emphasis onthe marginality of women to men in "1934 Escapes" is not restricted to the individualcircumstance of Jiang Shi, and the narrator gives several descriptions of other women inthe family history who are marginalized by men. Consider for example, the anecdote82about the beautiful Fengzi [U] (Pheonix) who is sold to Chen Wenzhi by her brotherChen Baonian for a few acres of land. The narrator reflects on this tragedy, as follows: "Iimagine Maple Village morality was eroded and corrupted, rose and fell, generation aftergeneration, in just this manner." (30)11 Shortly afterwards, the narrator again links thesexual desires of the Chen men to their own early demise, and to the ruination of twohundred years of beautiful Chen women, saying: "those women who entered the Chenfamily compound. . . were like beautiful wild horseflies sadly and indifferently stingingthe bodies of the Chen men. After they had sucked the morbid, mildewed blood andsemen of the Chen men, they lost their original beauty; after that, they were pushed intothe firewood house in the back courtyard to chop firewood or cook the meals. . . . "(32)1 2In presenting descriptions such as these to the reader, the narrator not only expresses aview of personal shortcomings in the character of his male ancestors, but of culturalpractices towards women that perpetuate their victimization and oppression.Finally, the narrator conceives of the character of Jiang Shi as a kind of Earth Motherthat symbolizes the rural world. While this image provides her character with a certainsymbolic strength, it also reinforces her marginalized status, and that of all the women inthe village, as the rural victims of the massive migration - the escape - of the village mento the city. Two examples illustrate the ways in which Jiang Shi's marginalized status, asboth a woman and a villager, is linked to the theme of urban-rural conflict, and to history.The first occurs when the narrator "observes" the effects of this desertion on the women,and comments on the situation as follows:Decades later, faintly hearing the sound of the rebellious Chen footsteps passingthrough the family history, I was at a loss and dispirited. You women of my oldhome, why weren't you able to keep your men at home to live and die with you?Women should not have been left behind like my grandmother Jiang Shi to sink11 From an unpublished translation by Michael S. Duke of Su Tong, "Nineteen Thirty-Four Escapes,"Wives and Concubines: 16.12 Translation by Michael S. Duke: 18.83or swim in a bitter sea; Maple Village should not have become a village ofwomen. (37)In this quotation we have an example of the social conflict that began in Chinaduring a period of mass migration to the cities: broken homes, poverty for the rural - andlargely female - population and, from the point of view of the narrator, the discontinuityof culture for a generation of youth who have rural roots but an urban consciousness. Inthis passage, the narrator's link to the women of his old home is a strong one, revealinghis sympathy and connection to them for the bitterness and hardship that he perceivestheir lives to have held. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that his view of the urban-ruralsplit is articulated through the image of the women's marginalization. As if to reinforcethis impression, the narrator inserts the vignette of a Maple Village woman following herdeparting husband along the road in an attempt to stop him from leaving, only to havetheir struggle end brutally when he cuts her down with his bamboo knife. In this scene,man and woman symbolize urban and rural, and point to human cruelty and victimizationas well as the beginning of a widespread social phenomenon and a changing culturalorder.In the second example, the relations between Jiang Shi and Huanzi are the focal pointof the urban-rural theme. Throughout the text repeated descriptions of Huanzi and JiangShi characterize them as urban and rural respectively, and the conflict between them isarticulated as one based on this difference as much as on their mutual jealousies. AsJiang Shi pursues Huanzi, who has fled with her only remaining child, the tension andseparation between the urban and rural worlds is brought to the fore. In a very movingscene, the trail of Huanzi's footsteps leads Jiang Shi to the banks of the Yangtze River,yet despite her desire to regain her son, she cannot or will not cross over. It is just as shesays to the other villagers when they query her upon her return home:84"Did you catch up to your child?" Leaning against the wall, Jiang Shiunexpectedly smiled at them, "No, they crossed the river." "They crossed theriver and you didn't chase after them?" "They went into the city, I can't followthem there." (76) [7]The riverbank is the border of Jiang Shi's world and thus, it is culture and not distancewhich in this case perpetuates the rift between urban and rura1.13In the foregoing examples, the urban-rural theme addresses the link between theindividual and his culture through the narrator's exposition of the character and hardshipsof his grandmother Jiang Shi. In terms of relating marginalized tone in the narrative tothe promotion of these themes ( the conflict between urban and rural, and the trio ofhistory, culture and identity), it is significant that the narrator "creates" the history ofJiang Shi, and openly admits this to the reader. His active description of Jiang Shi andthe Maple Village women as marginalized is an indication of his own perceptions on boththe course of Chinese history and the effects of recent social and cultural change. Withrespect to the former, the narrator's awareness of the women's marginalization is intendedto illustrate certain negative features of culture to the reader, while the latter can beconsidered the cause of the narrator's own feeling of rootlessness in the context of achanging China. Given that the rural world, symbolized by Jiang Shi, is portrayed as ex-centric and relatively powerless in the face of urbanization, the reader is forced toexamine the effects of the sharp dichotomy between China's urban and rural populationson a generation of individuals, like the narrator, who have rural roots but an urbanconsciousness. In considering the development of the identity theme in "1934 Escapes,"it is to this paradox we now turn as we briefly examine the narrator's relations to thecharacters he describes.13 The narrator earlier says: "Thus, the border of the world in my grandmother Jiang Shi's mind wasthis length of mighty river. She was unable to go beyond it." (75)85In reflecting on the urban-rural split through an exploration of character in his familyhistory, the narrator links "their" story to his own quest for identity. The relationshipbetween Jiang Shi and Huanzi is thus of key importance to the narrator, as it is their briefinteraction in the winter of 1934 which is responsible for the removal of his father to thecity. Huanzi, whose name itself means "link," is precisely that, the link between thenarrator's rural ancestry, the past, and his urban upbringing, the present. As he himselfreflects:They [Jiang Shi and Huanzi] appear in the family history as two of the mostremarkable images of motherhood. Perhaps they were two different meteoritesthat collided in 1934, and the silent blue sparks that flew out from the impact weremy father, myself, our sons and grandsons. . . . (77)In this passage, we are given one of the most direct statements from the narrator on thesubject of his own identity. Coming as it does at the close of the family history, there is asense that the narrator has determined self through his journey into the lives of hisancestors, yet it is contradicted both by the novella's ending and by the discord betweenthe "historical" events the narrator records and the way he feels about them. One of thesignificant indicators of this conflict is found in the narrator's own sense ofmarginalization from his family past. Despite the fact that he proudly admits to cityfriends that he is an "outsider" (waixiang ren 04115 /j) (77), the course of the narrativerather contrarily reflects his uncertainty and distance from the lives and identities of hisrural ancestors. This is yet another example of marginalized tone in the narrative; thenarrator's views on identity and history are not only described by his marginalizingviewpoint (that is, an urban view of rural society and a male view of women), but also byhis own feeling of alienation from all sides: present, past, urban and rural.Throughout the novella, the reader is struck by the darkness, perversion and crueltythat characterizes the family history. It is a tale that repeatedly focusses on the misery ofits players, leaving no-one unscathed from the hardships inflicted on them in the86disastrous year of 1934. There are no innocents in Su Tong's novella, as each character isboth victim and victimizer. In setting out the parameters for this message however, SuTong incorporates another sense of history into the narrative that extends beyond theconfines of the year 1934. Philosophically speaking, "1934 Escapes" presents a certainview on the course of human history through the grounding of character action in humannature. In this sense, the narrative is both about social and cultural order in China and thedynamics of human interaction. Evidence of the latter is illustrated by certain incidentsof plot action, as follows: Gou Zai rebels against his mother, yet longs for her afterwards;Jiang Shi and Huanzi share a symbolic bond, yet hate each other; the narrator's fatherhates his older brother Gou Zai for hitting their mother's belly and causing him to leavethe womb too soon, yet still sets out a pile of grass for his soul to come back and rest on;and the narrator himself wishes to escape from his father, only to realize the strong bondhe feels to his father when the latter falls ill. These are examples, howeverindividualized, of a kind of "real" history of the human race, which manifests itself in acast of characters that incorporate the bad, the good, and those in the middle. Moreover,in developing morally ambiguous characters, and characters engaged in contradictorypatterns of behaviour, Su Tong has added a level of complexity to the identity theme,which is furthered by the introduction of an unreliable narrator.Strong connections are made between all of the ancestral characters in the narrator'sfamily history. As he composes the past, the lives of the characters he describes areconstantly interwoven. The process begins with the narrator's own father, with whom hefeels a kind of confused affinity despite their marked lack of communication, andexpands to incorporate those relations, in particular Jiang Shi and Huanzi, who have themost direct connection to his father's identity. Thus, while the narrator initially views hisfather as some kind of oppressive shadow, he gains a certain sympathy for him as thenarrative unfolds, and begins to see him more as fellow victim than victimizer.87Similarly, the narrator is in conflict over the character of his grandmother Jiang Shi,who is the central figure in the family history. In almost every instance she is portrayedas a victim: as the abused and deserted wife of Chen Baonian, as the long-sufferingmother of Gou Zai, and as the grieving mother of five children struck down by thecholera epidemic. With the arrival of the pregnant Huanzi to the village, however, JiangShi's character loses its status as victim and becomes victimizer. After recording JiangShi's admission that she caused Huanzi to miscarry, the narrator is beset with misgivings,and makes the following comments: "Actually, I ought to avoid the description of thisscene. It is only uneasily that I smear the image of my grandmother Jiang Shi, but facingthe family history of 1934 I have no other choice." (74) Through these words, thenarrator reveals that his sense of morality is in direct conflict with his sentimentalattachment to the character of his grandmother. In addition, it seems as if he is not reallyable to solve the dilemma, except to confess it, as he has done, to the reader. Notsurprisingly, the narrator's sympathies are also extended to Huanzi and her unborn child,as he laments the loss of another link in his family chain:If he (or she) had been born into our old home in Maple Village, my clan wouldhave had one more relation, Father and I would have had one more person to longand wait for, and the eternally distinguished Chen Family blood line would haveput forth one more tributary. Had such been the case, would my family historyhave been even richer in detail? (74-5)Again, the narrator is seeking to derive his own sense of identity from his ancestors,but is troubled by the fact that his family history is colored by events such as these, whichat best speak of a kind of immorality and pathetic cruelty. He himself does not know theanswers to the questions that he poses about the behaviour of his ancestors. Thus, theambiguity with which the narrator regards his ancestors reflects his own uncertainty as tohow their lives define his own. In constructing a family history, he is in actuality seeking88to define himself, as if by an examination of family character and circumstance he cancome closer to reaching some kind of understanding of who he is as an individual, and ofhow he fits into Chinese as well as family history. The paradoxes of narration andcharacter as outlined above are a key aspect of the narrator's quest for identity, and itremains only to discuss the third aspect, his use of imagery, to round out the whole.Silence and Shadow, Cries and Reflections:The Imagery of IdentityThe symbols, motifs and images used in "1934 Escapes" are numerous and varied,but a close reading of the story reveals two sets of images which consistently reinforcetheme and meaning in the narrative. The images, outlined in the section title above, arethose of silence and shadow, cries and reflections, and they are set in oppositional pairs tohighlight the fact that they act in conflict with each other throughout the novella. It isprecisely the fact of their conflict, however, which links them so closely to the identitytheme because they embody the narrator's often contradictory feelings about his culturaland personal past. Additionally, imagery adds an element of fantasy, presented throughnarratorial imagination, which adds both color and depth to the story. With respect totheme, the imagery used also serves to heighten reader perception of the events of thenarrative, thereby deepening the sense of meaning for the whole. The discussion whichfollows will attempt to illustrate in what sense these images operate as a paradox and howthey relate back to aspects of marginalization and the culture, history and identity themes.The first image the reader is met with in the novella is the image of silence. In theopening lines, the narrator makes the following cryptic statements:My father was probably a mute fetus. His profound reticence has caused ourfamily to be shrouded in a barrier of murky fog for a full half century. In this half89century I was born, grew up, flourished and became senile. The essence of myfather's Maple Village bloodline has extended itself to me. I was probably a mutefetus. I too am profoundly reticent. (15) [ 8 ]As has been pointed out in the first part of our discussion, the narrator relates his ownidentity closely to that of his father, despite the fact that he is unhappy with this parallel;it is in fact what we understand him to be escaping from as the story begins. Incomposing the family history and weaving in his own recollections about the lack ofcommunication that exists between himself and his father, the narrator pursues this motifof silence in an attempt to explain its origins. Thus, we have repeated descriptions of thegrandmother Jiang Shi's silence: when she is married and endures Chen Baonian's cruelfingernails tearing into her flesh and his abusive hands on her face and body at night,when she gives birth to her children, and when in the act of intercourse with her husband,she is considered "as silent as a withered old tree"(62) by the secretly watching Gou Zai.It is Jiang Shi's characteristic silence, however, which makes it all the more effectivewhen she does speak, as sound then works in opposition to silence to underscoremeaning. Consider for example, the impact of her repeatedly crying out Chen Baonian'sname after seeing the departing bamboo worker murder his wife on the road, the desolatesound of her singing mourning songs to her own strange rhythm, and her crying out toChen Wenzhi in the end - a final cry dredged from the depths of a spirit in defeat. Boththe silence and the cries stem from the personal disasters of 1934, and are thus directlyrelated to the narrator's exploration of identity.The muteness of the father is also counterbalanced in the narrative by his cries as aninfant. While it is implied in the narrative that his silence is the result of being beaten byGou Zai while still a fetus in his mother's belly, it is nevertheless the father's urgent criesas an infant which repeatedly jar his mother back to "life," that is, when she is in a tranceor on the brink of losing consciousness. The relevance of this to the plot is obvious; if itwere not for the father's sharp cries when he is feverish, he would not have woken Jiang90Shi from her own feverish dream so that they were both able to go outside and drink inthe life-restoring dew. Similarly, his loud cries rouse Jiang Shi from her slow descentinto the "Pool of Corpses" (the place where the bodies of the cholera victims are disposedof) so that once again, she is able to go on living and provide for herself and her infantson. The father's actions are thus a key factor in the continuance of the Chen familybloodline, and the whole existence of the narrator depends upon the instances in whichthe father countered his characteristic silence with life-restoring cries.The other significant contrast between silence and sound is expressed in therelationship between the narrator and his father. The silence that the narrator constantlyrefers to with respect to the connection that he has with his father stands in markedcontrast to the communication he seeks to establish with his father through the narrativeitself. This is reflected in one key scene in the story, where the narrator expresses hisfeelings for his father, who is sick in the hospital, by drawing upon the image of silencein a poem that he recites. In describing a father and a son who "walk shoulder toshoulder," and who "need not say even one word" (45), the narrator's conception of hisconnection to his father comes to light. Interestingly, however, the image of silence inthe poem is contrasted to the narrator's own very verbal act of communicating thesesentiments to his father. Furthermore, his father's reaction to the poem breaks theirsymbolic silence, as follows: "On this day, speaking to me loudly, my father escapedfrom his state of muteness. I stared at him as if staring at an infant; in this way, I prayedfor Father to be brought back to life." (46) From these two quotations, we see that theimages of silence and sound embody the relationship that the narrator has with his father.Given that the link between father and son is one which the narrator is struggling todetermine through the family history he writes, these images, in all of theirmanifestations, are central to the narrator's search for identity.91Taken together, the motifs of sound and silence that are illustrated above underscorethe marginalized tone of the narrative. They are descriptive of Jiang Shi's oppressed andmarginalized state, of the narrator's father's state of dislocation from his family originsand of his eventual escape through death, and of the narrator's alienation from his fatherand all the ancestors that came before him. In addition, the image of muteness suggeststhat the events of the national and family past have silenced the people, or at least hints ata relationship between cruel and tyrannical behaviour and the psychological disabling ofan individual. The second set of contrasting images, shadow and reflection, compoundthis impression, and again serve to conceptually link together the views on culture andsociety that are being expressed.In writing the family history, the narrator draws repeatedly upon the images ofdarkness and gloom to express the rot, pestilence, desolation and misery that characterizethe lives of the ancestors he portrays. The image of the shadow thus occurs frequently inthe story and symbolizes the darkness of the family history, the oppression of culture andsociety, 14 and the fear which pursues the narrator throughout his journey into the past.As with the image of silence, the image of shadow is also used by the narrator as asymbol of his quest for identity. Thus, the narrator is obsessed with his shadow at thestory's opening, telling us how he stands in the city at night "studying his shadow" in theglow of a streetlight, and how he was "at that time being pursued by his shadow." (15) Ifwe refer back to the narrator's initial recognition of his desire for escape, it is also ashadow, his father's, that follows behind him in roaring pursuit." (15) In this context, the14 One very good example of this is found in the description of the shadow of Chen Wenzhi's brickbuilding cast over the back of the toiling Jiang Shi. As the shadow of Chen Wenzhi stands atop the roofgazing down on Jiang Shi working in the fields we are presented with an image that is symbolic of thesocial oppression of the wealthy over the poor, and of man over woman.(19)92image of the shadow is symbolic of the narrator's crisis of identity as he recognizes it tobe something that is infinitely personal, yet dark and indistinct.The contrasting image to the shadow is that of reflection; the glow and brilliance offlashes of light. In a text dotted with images of darkness and shadow, it might beexpected that images of light would express feelings of openness or release in thenarrative. In "1934 Escapes" however, it is only seldom that the images of light supportor reinforce a positive concept. In fact, the imagery of light is most frequently used todescribe the reflections in the eyes of the characters, where it is typically blinding,piercing, evil or frightening. Consider the following examples from the text: ". . whenhe was beating Gou Zai, a tyrannical flame, characteristic of all the men in our clan,shone from Chen Baonian's eyes"(61); and, "Jiang Shi's eyes were half flowing with tearsand half burning with the flames of an abundant hatred." (74)In both of the examples cited above, the imagery of light describes a kind ofviolence, thereby expressing the dark side of the characters under discussion. Viewed interms of opposition, the image of light, or reflection, is only visually in contrast with theimage of shadow, while conceptually it complements the imagery of darkness and gloomthat characterizes the narrative. Considering the narrator's exploration of his family pastas a kind of quest for identity, we can see how the darkness and violence that theseimages convey is linked to his perception of the cultural and social environment whichsurrounds him. The imagery thus succeeds on two levels: by heightening the emotionalintensity of the narrative itself, and by articulating the consciousness of the narrator,whose world view is reflected in the type of imagery used.As a heading for this section, the word "reflections" has been chosen because it canbe interpreted literally, as above in the discussion of imagery, and figuratively, indicating93that this story is about the reflections of the narrator on his personal and cultural identity.In concluding the discussion of imagery, it remains to touch once more on the image ofthe shadow, as it brings the identity theme around full circle in the closing lines:I want to use the death of my grandfather Chen Baonian to offer up a bigbasket of flowers to my family history. Then right away I will pick up this basketof flowers and go out, walk across the late night streets, walk past your windows.If you open your windows you will see my shadow cast upon the city; drifting.Who can say what shadow that is? (78) [ 9 ]In these lines, the narrator poses a question to the reader that reflects his own ratherambiguous stance on the identity issue. Yet rather than interpret this final query as a kindof denial of identity, I would suggest that the progression of the narrative has in fact ledthe narrator to draw some conclusions about his relationship to the past. As we haveseen, the protagonist begins his investigation of the family history in an effort to freehimself from it; as if by recording the events of the past he can detach himself somehowfrom the sorrow and evil that lie buried there. Ultimately, however, the process ofcreating the history seduces him even as he seeks to exorcise it from his consciousness.The final lines quoted above illustrate the result of this process: the narrator has notresolved the conflict of identity that is within him, except to recognize and admit that heis as firmly anchored to the past as ever. The reader is left with a final sense that theprotagonist feels himself to be made up of all the identities that came before him in hisfamily history. In the end, he values the bloodline connection even as it troubles him andpresents him with problems.In "1934 Escapes" Su Tong has directly addressed the issue of the subjectivity ofidentity within the framework of history. Yet Su Tong's approach to history is not simpleand straightforward in this work. Quite to the contrary, it is problematized by thenarrator's own admissions of fallibility and uncertainty about the people and events he94recalls in his story of the year nineteen thirty-four. To a great extent, this uncertaintypertains directly to his own ambiguity about his personal identity, yet it also suggests abroader perspective on Chinese history. In considering both the fact that history isforegrounded in "1934 Escapes" and the fact that Su Tong adopts a metafictionalapproach to the writing of the historical record, it seems clear that he means to provide analternative perspective on history. With this in mind, I will briefly consider the vision ofhistory that is suggested by the blending of fact and fantasy in the narrator's look at hisfamily past.To begin with, the narrator's focus on the darkness, hardship and misery of hisancestors in the year 1934 indicates that he is seeking to make a point about certainaspects of history that are not a part of modern day China's historical record of thisperiod. The narrator's imaginative re-construction of history, which highlights thenegative features of Chinese society and culture, indicates that for him at least, there is aneed to speak of the misery, perversion and sickness precisely because it is not a part ofthe standard historical record of the Chinese Communist Party. Narratorial exposition ofthe cruelties and disasters of 1934 suggest that China was not then the picture of thestrong and progressive nation that is suggested by present day history books. Thisimpression is underscored by the narrator's frequent admissions that he cannot knowwhether what he tells you is accurate or not. Why, if he is uncertain about events thattook place long before he existed, does he bother to create and re-create them and bringthem to the attention of the reader? Quite simply because he believes them to havesubstance, insofar as he can only imagine dark and morbid events such as these to haveshaped the confused and fearful lives of himself and his father. In effect, the narrator of"1934 Escapes" is working backwards from the present; he considers the feelings ofalienation and dislocation which define the lives of himself and his father in the present tohave originated in the circumstances of history.95Finally, it should be noted that the narrative itself can be considered a most vocalchallenge to a long-standing silence, a muteness, about Chinese history. The narrator of"1934 Escapes" is exploring, creating and re-creating the events of the past by instillingthem with meaning - a meaning that he hopes will provide both a context for his ownexistence as well as another perspective on the Chinese national past. However, not onlyare the escapes of 1934 futile and hopeless for the majority of characters, they alsoindicate the narrator's marginalization and alienation from his self-directed context. Thenarrator's poem is sufficient illustration: "My old Maple village home/ Has been silentfor many years/ And we/ Who have escaped here/ Are like wandering blackfish/ Forwhom/ The road back is eternally lost."1515 Translation, Michael S. Duke: 2.96Rice: History, Hunger, and AlienationDiscussion of the novella "1934 Escapes" provides us with a useful point ofdeparture for the consideration of Su Tong's first novel, Rice.16 In this work, Su Tong'spreoccupation with the themes of history, identity and culture is continued, although thestructure of the narrative reflects a marked difference in writing style. Rice is written in arealist style, but with a twist; strong emphasis on the characters' dreams and fantasies adda psychological depth to characterization that complements the dark and heavy tone ofthe narrative. Using this approach, Su Tong achieves a psychological realism, andheightens the effect with a unique brand of harsh and haunting imagery that underscorestheme through the introduction of a series of related motifs. In Rice, both characterizationand imagery incorporate marginalized character and motif. The discussion which followswill attempt to elucidate the ways in which these aspects of marginalized tone express aperspective on the link between history, identity and culture, as we focus on thesignificant features of narrative structure, narration and imagery.In considering aspects of narrative structure, it is useful to return once again to thecomparison with "1934 Escapes," for one of the notable structural features of Rice is thatit likewise employs an historical framework as the setting of the story. However, onenotable difference in the use of history as a framework in each work is its relativeprominence vis-à-vis other elements of the narrative, such as characterization and plotaction. In "1934 Escapes" for example, history is foregrounded by an overtly controllingfirst person narrator who actively adopts an historical framework to tell the story of hisancestors. In the novel Rice, on the other hand, there is no such overt consideration ofhistory. Rather, history is relegated to the background of the narrative, where it is de-16 Su Tong, Mi [Rice] (Taibei: Yuanliu, 1991). All quotations come from this edition.97centred by the individual actions and life choices of the main protagonist. The latterobservation has a very central link to theme and meaning in Rice, since the depiction ofthe life and character of the novel's main protagonist, Wu Long agi, is the primaryvehicle for the expression of authorial vision on history and culture in China. Moreover,history in Rice is presented both in the form of the specific setting of China in the 1930's,as well as in the sense of depicting hunger as a defining characteristic of China's past.Finally, there is also a shift in focus: Su Tong departs from the rural setting common to"1934 Escapes" and the majority of his works to anchor the historical events of the novelRice in an urban setting, which provides the reader with a different perspective on theurban-rural dichotomy.The latter point leads us to one additional structural feature worthy of mention. Thecircular progression of plot events in Rice suggests a cyclical perspective on Chinesehistory and the nature of human existence. To exemplify this, it is useful to draw upon anobservation made by the Chinese critic, Wu Yiqin X th] in his article on Rice. WuYiqin highlights the three main phases of Wu Long's physical and spiritual wandering inthe novel as a progression of entering the city, seizing control of the city, and fleeingfrom the city.17 In categorizing Wu Long's life in this way, Wu Yiqin not only describesthe main course of action in the novel, but also draws attention to the fact that Wu Long'slife is carefully depicted as a process of moving from village to city and back to village.In my analysis of Rice, I regard this process of movement between village and city to beboth an expression of a rural-urban theme (describing the rural-urban shift that is so greata part of recent Chinese history) and of the cyclical process of human existence. Thelatter is also a theme of the novel insofar as the story describes the life process of anindividual who not only seeks to return to his rural origins, but who also manages to17 Wu Yiqin, "Zai xiangcun yu dushi de duizhizhong gouzhu shenhua" [Constructing Fable Out ofthe Opposition of Village and City], Dangdai zuojia pinglun [Modern Writers' Review], No. 6, 1991: 57-8.98transmit his behaviour and life attitude to still another generation. The main themes ofRice are thus the twin themes of history and identity, alienation, the dislocation broughtabout by the rural-urban shift, and the tenacity of the human will to survive.Further to this, the cyclical nature of plot action is perhaps best illustrated by asynopsis of the work. Written as a kind of bildungsroman, the novel Rice traces the lifecourse of the peasant Wu Long, who flees to the city at age twenty to escape the famineand flooding in his native Maple Village. The bulk of the story is concerned with theprocess of Wu Long's character development over the twenty year period following hisarrival in the city, which is characterized by his increasing despotism and cruelty. Insome sense, his life process may more accurately be seen as a journey down the road ofevil, insofar as his efforts to carve out an identity for himself involve his ruthlessascension to power as the manager of the local rice shop , and then as the criminal head ofthe city. His authority in both cases leads to a subsequent reign of terror and violentreprisal. Moreover, food and power are the important directives of the plot, since WuLong's initial lack of them is the motivating force behind the choices he makes in adultlife. After arriving in the city, he directs every action in his life towards the goal ofsecuring food and assuming power over women, business, family and finally the cityitself.Wu Long is afforded his rise to power by the individual choices he makes, thestrength of his will, a certain set of fortuitous circumstances, and, of course, by theparticular cast of characters with whom he interacts. To a very great extent, they allowhim to enter and change the course of their lives. While this analysis will concern itselfprimarily with the character of Wu Long, I will take this opportunity to introduce thecentral players in this urban drama: the two daughters of the rice shop, Zhiyun atand Qiyun 0 ti, their father Boss Feng At*, the local hoodlum Ah Bao niqh, the99city power-lord Sixth Uncle k-IN' 6], Baoyu [&5] (the bastard son of Zhiyun), and thesurviving children of Wu Long and Qiyun: their sons Misheng [ 1 ] and Caisheng11]. The lives of all of these characters are defined by feelings of alienation andhatred, and they are without exception either physically or spiritually destroyed by thenovel's end. However, the effects of destruction are also wrought upon Wu Long, and hisphysical decline and waning of power at the novel's end leaves him little choice but toreturn to his native village, even though he himself sees this last act as the culmination ofa lifelong dream to return to the country as a wealthy and powerful man.The foregoing synopsis provides us with a standpoint from which to view the overallcircularity of the events of the plot. Since cyclicality is an integral part of theme andmeaning in Rice, it will continue to be addressed in the discussion of style which follows.Thus, I will begin by focussing on the process of Wu Long's life through an exposition ofthe prominent features of narration, which includes Su Tong's particularly psychologicalmethod of characterization, and of imagery, which centers on the recurring motifs of rice,the journey and fragmentation.With respect to the first area of discussion, narration, the novel Rice employs areticent third person narrator who records the cruelties of character behaviour as distantbackground events of history: the famines and floods of China in the late 1920's and 30's,and the upheaval of the Japanese invasion. Furthermore, the omission of quotation marksto enclose segments of direct speech reinforces the passivity of narrative voice in thenovel. This practice has the effect of making direct dialogue seem secondhand, and givesthe impression that a kind of "historical record" is being relayed. Yet the psychologicaltreatment of characterization lends a certain immediacy to narrative action. Charactersare brought to life through the frequent descriptions of character premonition, dreams andfantasy. In a sense, Su Tong's technique in Rice is to present history subtly as the100unquestioned and real framework of the story, but to allow this framework to be stretchedand colored by the actions and psychology of individual characters.The psychological treatment of characters, particularly Wu Long, plays a major rolein conveying the main themes of the novel. Unlike the narrator of "1934 Escapes," theomniscient third person narrator of the novel Rice rarely comments on character orcircumstance. 18 Instead, the narrator seems to hide behind the character of Wu Long, andprovides insight into the latter's character through flashbacks and direct exposition of histhoughts, fantasies and dreams. It is through this form of characterization that theidentity theme is addressed. Wu Long's past is represented by his native Maple Villageand its central significance to his life is expressed through his many dreams andmemories of the place. Further to this, it is precisely because of the recurrence of MapleVillage memories that the reader recognizes the role it plays in shaping the later course ofWu Long's life.The first indications of Wu Long's concerns with his own identity are provided in hisrecollections of the village life from which he has just fled. We thus begin with anexample from the beginning of the story, which is a catalytic incident presaging much ofthe novel's later action. Shortly after arriving in the city by train, the starving Wu Longstumbles onto the city docks after running from the sight of a corpse. On the docks, hemeets Ah Bao and his gang (the Dockyard Brotherhood), who promise to give him somemeat if he will only acknowledge them all as "Father" (die [ ]). Succumbing to hunger,Wu Long finally pays homage, but the word he utters triggers some inner questions abouthis identity:18 At two separate points in the novel the local schoolteacher records the family lineage at the requestof Qiyun. These incidents are reminiscent of narratorial style in "1934 Escapes" and are the onlyperceivable examples of external judgement on character. The relevance of this to theme and meaning willbe discussed in the conclusion of this section.101Father. . . . Who is my father? Wu Long was extremely unfamiliar with thistitle. He was an orphan. In Maple Village he had had countless cousins and distantrelatives, but no father or mother; the villagers told him that they had died in thegreat famine of twenty years ago.(10)In this passage the reader is directed to two important points: Wu Long'sestrangement from any direct personal ties that would provide him with a sense of socialidentity, and the parallel between the death of his parents by starvation and the life anddeath situation which faces him in the present. With respect to the former, we arepresented with the first concrete link between Wu Long's feelings of alienation and theidentity theme. Yet the passage also makes it clear that Wu Long was born into famineand poverty, and that this circumstance has characterized his life up to this point. Thisfact, perhaps more than any other, is what defines Wu Long's character in the novel, sinceit is in some sense the very foundation of his identity. Notably, it is also the factor whichdefines him as marginalized when he first arrives in the city. Moreover, the cyclicality ofhuman existence, and to a certain extent, of Chinese history, is suggested by the secondpoint, in the parallel between the famine that killed Wu Long's parents and the one whichnow inspires his desperate flight to the city. In this instance, Wu Long is representativeof yet another generation faced with hunger, a fact which firmly locates him in thehistorical framework of the story. Viewed from this perspective, the novel is in one sensean exploration of the role of hunger in the formation of individual character and, byextension of this idea, in the course of Chinese history.On a personal level, Wu Long's orphaned status is one example of his socialalienation, yet his alienation is also described on a broader level: one that considers himin the context of his ambivalent feelings towards the rural world of his origins and thecity world that he eagerly adopts. As his frequent dreams of the flood and famine inMaple Village illustrate, Wu Long's identity is inextricably bound up in his associations102with his rural home. Yet despite his almost obsessive identification with the village, hebecomes almost irreversibly alienated from it upon his arrival to the city. For this reason,Wu Long's views of the city and the village can be considered the central paradox of hisidentity. While he is in some sense a bridge between the two, he is ironicallymarginalized from both. This point can be exemplified by an examination of theconditions surrounding the rural-urban-rural cycle of Wu Long's life.While a youth in Maple Village, Wu Long's dreams of a move to the city expressedhis spiritual alienation from the rural world. Upon his arrival in the city, however, hefinds himself alienated and victimized by the metropolis. He is marginalized from citydwellers and city life because of his rural origins, his hunger, and his powerlessness. Forinstance, the preceding quotation (see page 101 above) illustrates how the orphan WuLong is forced to accept a "father" (Ah Bao) as a result of his marginalized and inferiorstatus. It is this initial incident of victimization which fills Wu Long with a hatred thatbecomes one of the strongest motivating forces in his life. From that point on, Wu Long'slife in the city becomes a kind of quest for identity that is most clearly manifested in hispursuit of power.Wu Long's feeling of alienation from the city gives rise to a concomitant shift in hisattitude towards it. What he once perceived to be a fantasy destination of factories, shopsand women,19 he now considers to be "a huge smokestack" (7), "an enormous decoratedgraveyard" (270), and a place where women represent immorality and impurity (40). Yethis view of the city as a place of abundant evils is actually ironic, because he himself is19 Wu Long's longing to move to the city was not just a response to the flooding, as is evidenced byhis later recollection of the summer months before the disaster: At that time it was as if he had apremonition of the changes to come in the autumn. Amidst his fatigue and exhaustion he fantasized aboutgoing to the city: the many factories and shops, the many women walking down the street." (54)103the epitome of all the evils he describes.20 Thus, while his increasing hatred for the cityinstills him with a futile longing for his native village, his sentiments are undermined byhis obvious addiction to city life and his reluctance to quit that lifestyle. In addition,there is also an ironic link between his pursuit of power and his inability to wholly (thatis, spiritually and physically) return to the village. In an effort to overcome his initialalienation from the city, Wu Long adopts city ways to ascend to power, which in actualityonly serves to put greater distance between himself and his rural origins. Wu Long'sspiritual links to the village are strongest when he is in the city, but the aforementionedfactors illustrate how he is in many ways irreversibly alienated from it throughout thecourse of the novel.In terms of the identity theme, the above aspect of Wu Long's paradoxical alienationfrom city and village can be considered further to determine how it is that his life in thecity is indicative of his efforts to define himself. To begin with, there are many subtleindications in the story that inform the reader of Wu Long's preoccupation with hisidentity. In addition to those already mentioned, Zhiyun catches Wu Long absorbed in arice pile and spies on him, only to discover that he is spelling out the characters of hisname in the rice. (121) Further to this, Wu Long frequently admits to the duplicity of hisidentity as when he tells Zhiyun: "What is false cannot become real. It's just like me: it'smy false self that's in this rice shop, my true self is still steeping in the flood waters ofMaple Village, I'm not real either." (162) [10] But perhaps the most concrete evidenceof the link between Wu Long's life in the city and his quest for identity comes in the formof his efforts to reverse his life circumstance. It is noteworthy for instance, that theorphan Wu Long obtains a family in the city; first, he has a relationship with Zhiyun20 The incidents describing Wu Long's evil nature are too numerous to be described here. It issufficient to say that throughout the story he defines himself as a rapist, arsonist and murderer. As Qiyuntells him after learning he blew up Sixth Uncle's house: "I believe you. Because you are the world's mostvicious man." (176)104which gives him control of the rice shop, and then, after her departure, he marries Qiyun,with whom he has three children. Following this, Wu Long extends his authority outsideof business and family to the city itself and in so doing, initiates a symbolic reversal ofroles. As the leader of the Dockyard Brotherhood (the local gang), he is no longer a"son," but rather a "father" in terms of the city power structure. One incident, occurringat the peak of Wu Long's power, illustrates this point, as Wu Long comes upon a sleepingyouth on the wharf and offers him two silver dollars if the youth will call him "Father."In this example, Wu Long is repeating what was so long ago done to him by Ah Bao, in adouble effort to assert his power and strength of will over another and to reaffirm thedifference between the inferior village youth he once was and the superior city man he istoday.Through scheming, violence, and manipulation, Wu Long carves out an identity forhimself in the city. Moreover, this identity is shaped by his aspirations to return to MapleVillage after having "made good" (yi fin huan xiang Rkoroln, 21 in the city, whichinvolves the establishment of a city-dweller identity and the adoption of a city mentality.The fact that Wu Long endures great pain to get a complete set of gold teeth is an extremeexample of his attempts to identify himself through the material trappings of the citypower structure. The gold teeth are in fact a symbol of Wu Long's aspirations, as thefollowing passage illustrates: "With his hand, he gently stroked the gold teeth in hismouth and said to the dentist: I'm very satisfied. In the past, when I was planting thefields in my old Maple Village home I dreamed of two rows of gold teeth." (182) Onlyminutes later, Wu Long's comments to the youths who accompany him illustrate a furtherconnection between the gold teeth and Wu Long's pursuit of identity:21 The narrator reveals this to be Wu Long's lifelong dream, as follows: "Wu Long envisaged thethrilling scene of the day he returned to the village in silken robes. Maple Village's three thousand mu ofland was now already under his name, and the land that the Maple Village peasants were right nowploughing and sowing was his land." (271-2) (The italics are mine.)105Do you know why I want to have a mouthful of gold teeth? I've never likedto parade about and show my wealth - do you know why I want to exchange goldcoin for gold teeth?. . . Actually, it's quite simple; I used to be poor - no-onethought of me as a person. Now, I'm going to use this mouth of teeth to speak topeople, and I want everyone to think that I am somebody to take note of. (182-3)[11]In this way, Wu Long intends for his gold teeth to become the signature of hisidentity; representing power and the attainment of his dreams. Moreover, that theidentity he assumes belongs to the city is made clear by his refusal to take home his realteeth because they once chattered in the winter cold, even though they carry the "bloodand essence" (jing xue AID of his parents. In contradiction to his earlier protestationsthat his "true" self remains in Maple Village, Wu Long's response to the dentist indicateshis current state of alienation from that place. Abruptly tossing the teeth away he says:"What real teeth? Everything I throw away is false." (183) This line of dialogue picks upon the dichotomy of true and false identity asserted by Wu Long in the narrative. In hisperception of the opposition between the urban and rural worlds, Wu Long remains fixedin a no-man's land: he wishes to cast away his village identity for one which symbolizespower and position, yet the novel demonstrates how he remains emotionally dependenton his rural past.From the foregoing, we can ascertain that Wu Long's pursuit of a city identity stemsin large part from his feeling of inferiority about his rural origin, which represents hungerand hardship, and his consequent marginalization from the city power structure. Yet inthe end, it is noteworthy that Wu Long's process of citification comes full circle. Hisdeparture for the country is the culmination of his dreams, but the fact that he is now acity person himself signifies his final alienation from the village and the "true" identity heseeks to return to. The spiritual connection he feels to his place of origin is therefore106undermined by the reader's perception of his physical and material connection to city lifeand the city mentality. Perhaps even more significantly, the physical costs of his rise topower, in the form of his bodily disintegration, will likely not even afford him theopportunity to complete the journey. In this sense, Wu Long rather ironically remainsmarginalized from both the urban and rural worlds, insofar as his life in both places ischaracterized by a kind of physical or spiritual alienation which he is unable to overcome.Wu Long's last thoughts on the train back to the village seem to emphasize this point, asfollows: "In a vast and tranquil mental state Wu Long imagined the circumstances of hisbirth, but regrettably he could think of nothing. He could only remember that he hadbeen an orphan since infancy. He could only remember himself in the flood waters,fleeing his Maple Village home." (299)From a structural point of view, the depiction of Wu Long's life process as one whichgoes from village to city to village is the chief example of the cyclical course of WuLong's life in the text. However, the theme of cyclicality is also described through WuLong's behaviour towards others, namely in the repetition of acts of human cruelty, and inthe transmission of Wu Long's guiding principle of life: hatred. To this extent, we seethat Wu Long's response to his personal life circumstance is rooted both in his individualattitude, which embodies a hatred of people and even life itself, and in the universality ofthis aspect of human response to the struggle for survival. In the novel, hatred isexpressed as the natural by-product, albeit not the only one, of human effort to survive inthe face of competition for a limited supply of food. The latter concept is quite clearlyexemplified through the actions of Wu Long, who paradoxically believes the world to bea miserable place with "not even one thing to make people happy" (218), and yet devoteshis every energy towards the goal of staying alive. Yet hatred is also the by-product ofhuman acts of cruelty, and the narrative's very direct focus on Wu Long's method of107survival is certainly intended to highlight the dark side of this basic aspect of humannature.What then is the role of hatred in Wu Long's life, and how is it related to the overalltheme of alienation and the tenacity of the human will to survive? To illustrate thecentral significance of hatred to theme and meaning in the narrative, two examples can bedrawn from the text. The first returns us to the incident where Wu Long confronts theyouth on the docks and asks him to call him "Father." To Wu Long's disgust, the youthcomplies and the passage which follows highlights hatred as a motivating force:Holding a club, Wu Long ruthlessly struck him on the head; while strikinghim he said: I hate you low bastards the most. For a piece of meat, for a couple ofcoins, you'll call anybody father? . . . Now I see hatred in your eyes. Now you'vegot it. In the past I was even lower than you; what did I rely on to get where I amtoday? Hatred is what I relied on. . . . You can really forget your father andmother, but you must not forget hatred. (192) [12]This passage is of great thematic significance to the narrative. Through it, the linkbetween human cruelty and hatred is made manifest by Wu Long's actions towards theyouth. Wu Long's violence is borne out of his own sense of alienation from others andhis overwhelming feeling of hatred: hatred for the cruelty done to him by Ah Bao so longago, hatred for the inferiority and hunger which forced him to submit, and hatred for theweakness of the youth, who is by no great stretch of the imagination another young WuLong being given a symbolic second chance to recover his dignity. Yet the key point inthe passage is that Wu Long is here perpetuating the cruelty that once victimized him. Inaddition, the chapter ends with the young dock worker wiping the blood away from hisface and spitting out two words: "I hate. I hate." (193) These words demonstrate that WuLong is but one link in a cycle of hatred and cruelty that will continue, insofar as he hassuccessfully taught his lesson of human survival - hatred - to yet another generation.Moreover, we see that hatred is not only a motivating force for Wu Long, but also a kind108of expression of his identity. His disavowal of father and mother indicate that he defineshimself through his hatred; in this instance, he perceives hatred to be his parent.The second example of the transmission of hatred and cruelty to succeedinggenerations is found in the actions and attitudes exhibited by Wu Long's eldest son:Misheng. In the second half of the novel, Misheng, who is only ten years old, coldly andcruelly suffocates his three year old sister Xiaowan [1,1,Zt as her punishment for havingtold on her brother for spending the family savings on candy. In this incident, threepoints of view describe the transmission of Wu Long's perverse form of retaliation to hisson. The first comes from the narrator as a kind of external observation: "Misheng'sfeeling of revenge was extremely violent, in this aspect he was exactly like his father WuLong." (168) And, just before she is about to be killed, Xiaowan makes a similarobservation: "she realized that the expression in Misheng's eyes was very similar to thatof their ruthless and tyrannical father." (169) Finally, Wu Long himself sees theconnection when he finds the runaway Misheng hiding on the riverside: "carefullystudying Misheng's face, Wu Long mumbled: you're truly like me, but how can you havea murderous heart at such a young age?" (171) Nevertheless, in spite of Misheng'ssimilarity to his father, or perhaps because of it, Wu Long brings the boy home andcruelly breaks his leg in punishment. From these comments, and the overall structure ofaction, the reader understands Misheng to be the product and continuation of an attitudeof hatred and cruelty.22 Certainly, the successful transmission of Wu Long's hatred andcruelty to succeeding generations is indicative of the cyclicality of these aspects of humanexistence. Furthermore, insofar as the narrative very obviously focusses on incidentswhich describe only the dark side of human nature, there seems little doubt that the story22 It should be noted here that it is at Qiyun's suggestion that Wu Long breaks their son's leg.Although Wu Long's cruel character is the focus of this analysis, the narrative makes it quite clear, as withQiyun's implication in the punishment, that society as a whole is cruel. The microcosm of the rice shophousehold is but the primary example.109sets out to draw a line between certain conditions existent in Chinese society and theperpetuation of acts of cruelty and hatred.In making the latter statement, my intention is not to overlook the significance ofindividual will in directing the course of events in the novel. Quite to the contrary, SuTong's psychological method of characterization not only serves to provide insight intothe factors which motivate the protagonist, such as hunger, hatred, and alienation, butalso to establish the individuality of his character. In this novel, Su Tong takes pains toreaffirm the significance and strength of individual will, motivation, and choice. Forinstance, there are many indications that Wu Long is himself aware of the role of his owndecisions in the path his life has taken, as when he despondently considers the cause ofhis physical decline, as follows:Wu Long soberly sought out his unpardonable mistakes; he had always hated thecity and city life, but his flesh had been drawn close to them, become entwined inthem: their hundreds and thousands of temptations were difficult to ward off. Hereally had not been ruined by women - he knew he had been destroyed by a kindof lifestyle and a kind of dream. (222-3)This passage confirms the reader's perception that the path of Wu Long's life was heldlargely in his own hands. In effect, his thoughts are tantamount to an admission of self-ruination. However, the novel does present a perspective on the role of circumstance inthe shaping of Wu Long's life, through the explicit description of certain key factors, likehunger, as his primary motivation.Beyond the careful consideration of individual motivation and choice in the finaldestinies of the characters, the novel also highlights the effect of the Chinese historicalcircumstance on the development of individual character through a constant emphasis onhunger and cyclicality. While the presence and significance of the theme of cyclicalityhas hopefully been made clear in the foregoing discussion, it remains to demonstrate the110relationship between hunger, identity and history as it is presented in the novel. Thehistorical framework of famine and upheaval in early twentieth century China is shown toplay a role in the life course of the individual Wu Long by causing him to make certainchoices and to adopt a certain perspective. Moreover, the story is actually about the waysin which the character responds to the circumstances depicted in the novel, and where thisleaves him at the story's end. As a result, there is a close connection between the external(historical) events of the novel, and Wu Long's individual pursuit of identity. Thus, I turnnow to a discussion of the most prominent motifs in the story, to illustrate the ways inwhich the fictitious life of an individual is woven into the ranks of historicalcircumstance, and what this blending suggests about the authorial vision of history andculture in China.Identity and History:The Motifs of Rice, the Journey, and FragmentationThe three motifs of rice, the journey, and fragmentation are closely interrelated in thenovel Rice. In choosing to discuss them separately, my intention is to highlight the waysin which they each contribute to the main themes of the novel: the twin themes of identityand history. As the analysis will hopefully make clear, all three reflect directly back onthe identity theme, and while their reference to history is far less direct, it is neverthelessan important part of the final message conveyed by the writer. We thus begin with themotif of rice, to determine the significance of its prominence in the novel, and the ways inwhich it shapes Wu Long's identity.As the title of the novel implies, the motif of rice is of central importance to themeand meaning; in effect, it is the motif which begins, carries and ends the story. Forexample, it is the smell and sight of the rice-laden handcarts which draws the starving111young Wu Long to the Feng family rice shop, and provides him with the incentive to staythere. Once he is entrenched in the family business, rice forms the very foundation of hisurban identity, insofar as it is the rice trade which affords him his wealth and position.Finally, it is again rice which functions so prominently in his dreams to return to thevillage a wealthy man, to the extent that he will only return there accompanied by a traincar full of rice. However, quite in addition to these concrete examples of the role of ricein the progression of Wu Long's life, rice is a most significant image in the novel becauseit is the symbolic referent to its opposite, hunger. That is to say, it is immediately madeclear that Wu Long's obsession with rice throughout the story stems from his earlierexperiences with hunger. Thus, the fact that rice becomes central to Wu Long'sphilosophy of life is indicative of the very great part hunger has played in shaping thecourse of his life and the form of his identity.A number of examples can be drawn from the text to illustrate this point. Thefollowing passages highlight the connection between hunger and rice (as sustenance andsurvival) from Wu Long's perspective:Wu Long felt that chewing and swallowing uncooked rice was actually just thesame as eating it cooked, both had the same purpose: to fight off hunger.(14) [ 13 ]Relying on rice was like relying on an enormous cradle; he felt that rice was theonly thing in the world to have such a mesmerizing effect, it was even moretrustworthy than the flesh of women, and even closer to reality. (92) [14][Thinking back to his flight from Maple Village] . . . he stubbornly recalled thatroad of escape surrounded by flood waters. Everywhere along that road werecorpses and murderers, poverty and pillage; cold and starving people were allsearching for some distant and immense pile of rice. (238) [ 15 ]These three passages, which appear at the beginning, middle and end of the novelrespectively, serve to highlight the frequent connections between the image of rice andthe feeling, or memory, of hunger. The fact that Wu Long's preoccupation with ricecontinues right to the very end of the novel indicates how directly his early experience112with starvation is related to the personal choices he makes in later life. Once his ownhunger has been appeased, his efforts to increase his wealth and power are not onlymotivated by his desire to retaliate against his earlier victimization, but also to ensure thathe never again goes hungry. His obsession with rice throughout the novel is thusexplained: even though his gradual rise to power in the city ensures that he is no longer avictim of hunger, his fears and memories of starvation keep him emotionally tied to thesight, smell and taste of rice. It is the only truly "clean"23 substance, and his sexualperversion of stuffing rice into women's vaginas is less an act motivated by lust than akind of fanatical act of purification. To Wu Long, rice is a thing of worship. As isindicated by the second of the above three passages, rice is Wu Long's cradle; it calmshim and gives him peace, and is the only sustenance he needs in life.In the novel, the motif of rice is linked to the cycle of human existence preciselybecause it is so essential to life. Thus, it is testimony to Su Tong's skill in imagery that hefirst makes explicit the connection between rice and survival, and then uses the motifsubtly in conjunction with the description of death or acts of human cruelty to furtherdevelop his themes. For instance, Wu Long watches Ah Bao's gang raid a ship full ofrice and when the captain jumps overboard to his death, Wu Long thinks. "year afteryear, evil crawls around everywhere like ants. . . For one boatload of rice, he had onceagain witnessed death." (57) In another example, the rice shop workers come across adead child in a bag of rice. The description of the body is graphic and shocking, but thereal significance of the incident is in its effect on Wu Long, who looks on the corpsealmost fondly and reflects: "A child who choked to death on rice, maybe he also camefrom the flood waters of Maple Village." (132) And finally, there is once again the23 The purity of rice is always compared to the impurity of sexual relations. For instance, right afterWu Long stuffs rice into Zhiyun, he explains his action by saying: "This is rice. Rice is cleaner than aman's cock, why don't you want rice?" (124) Again after Zhiyun bears her child Wu Long says: "I'mgoing to the [rice] storehouse to sleep, it's the only clean place." (141)113example of Misheng's murder of Xiaowan: he smothers her in a huge pile of rice. In eachof these incidents, and with respect to Wu Long's rape of the Feng family women in therice storehouse, the motif of rice figures prominently. As a symbol of sustenance, andtherefore of survival, its juxtaposition with incidents of death, cruelty, and lust serves tounderscore the miseries of life and man's inhumanity to man. Thus, hunger may be amotivating force for acts of cruelty in the competition to obtain food, but the inclusion ofincidents such as these indicate that the writer is also seeking to make the point thatcruelty is basic to human nature, irrespective of life circumstance.Through the symbolism of the motif of rice, Su Tong not only articulates a point ofview on basic human nature, but also on the link between environment and motivation.This idea is underscored by the second motif to be discussed, that of the journey. Inreferring to this motif, my intention is to characterize the physical and spiritualwanderings of the protagonist, which are focussed around his uncertain position betweenthe two equally significant parts of his life, the village and the city. However, as muchthat is relevant about Wu Long's physical wandering has already been discussed in theprevious section, where the course of his life from village to city to village wasexemplified, I will here consider the motif of the journey expressly in terms of Wu Long'sspiritual wandering, for its relevance to his determination of identity.Throughout the novel, Wu Long is haunted by memories of his physical journey tothe city by train. Moreover, the memories are a further insight into Wu Long's state ofalienation because they describe his uncertainties about his identity, which seems tobelong to neither village or city despite his frequent assertions to the contrary. Eventhough his physical wandering is brought to a halt with his arrival in the city (with theexception of his final departure for the village), his spiritual wandering continues. Wu114Long still feels himself to be on a journey, as his blurring between reality and fantasyindicate in the following passage:He heard the rumbling of the rails far away, and the train whistle reverberated inthe night sky. He saw a coal car pull in from the north; on top of the crow-blackpile of coal, a starving and distressed village youth sat huddled up. Once again,he was aware of the earth shaking, the rice shop compound was shaking - it wasalso a train car, slowly travelling through the open country; he was still on thatbumpy, wandering road. . . .I don't know where this train will take me. (103-4)At this point in the narrative, Wu Long has the first of several delusions that he isstill travelling on the train that brought him to the city. Given that feelings such as theseare occurring long after Wu Long has established himself in the city, the impression thatis given to the reader is that the protagonist feels himself to still be on a journey preciselybecause he has not yet found that which he is looking for: a sanctuary and place ofbelonging. Later in the narrative, this impression is confirmed by two other observationson Wu Long's mental journeying. The first comes from the narrator's external point ofview: "To Wu Long, his every location was forever a car on that train. It was alwaysbumping, always shaking" (224) The second observation comes from Wu Long directlywhen narrative voice briefly shifts to first-person, and occurs just after he recalls thestarving villagers fleeing down the road from Maple Village in their search for rice:24 "Ifound a long-lasting and seemingly inexhaustible pile of snow white rice, but I don'tknow how long this road is; I don't know where this road will take me to rest and beburied." (238) With these two quotations, the relation between the journey motif and WuLong's pursuit of identity is made manifest. Even though he finds a place for himself inthe city and establishes himself there, the continuation of his spiritual wandering indicatesthat he has still not found his place of rest. Therefore, despite his efforts to secure an24 See page 111 above.115urban identity and yet remain faithful to his rural origins, he continues to be alienatedfrom both places. Furthermore, the fact that Wu Long has found an inexhaustible supplyof rice and yet remains uncertain about his place of belonging indicates just how centralthe quest for identity is to his life course, and how neither city nor village was able tofulfill his need. It is therefore most significant to the impression of Wu Long's final stateof alienation that the novel ends with Wu Long still on the train, on a journey back to hisstarting point that will likely never be completed.Given that the journey motif suggests Wu Long's life-long and unsuccessful quest foridentity, it is related to the third and final motif, fragmentation, in that the latter refersdirectly to the physical effects of Wu Long's pursuit of identity in the city. In addition, itshould be noted that the recurring image of fragmentation (namely, physicaldisfigurement) is the manifestation of marginalized motif in Rice, and that it can bedirectly linked to the theme of alienation. There are thus several points brought forth bythis motif, beginning with the ways in which it describes the kind of life Wu Long livesin the city.As we have seen, Wu Long's time in the city is paradoxically marked both by hisaspirations to assume an urban identity, and his loathing and disgust with the city's evils.Within a very short time however, Wu Long himself comes to represent these evils interms of his behaviour and his appearance. With respect to the former, the hatred andcruelty of Wu Long's modus vivendi has already been exemplified, but the physicaleffects of his lifestyle are only brought to the fore by the motif of fragmentation.Throughout the novel, Wu Long's gradual descent into evil is accompanied by anincreasing number of physical scars: his missing toe, shot off by bandits hired by BossFeng; his left eye, poked out by the dying Boss Feng in a last act of cruelty and loathing;his venereal disease, brought on by years of sexual relations with prostitutes; and finally,116his torture at the hands of Baoyu, which costs him the sight of his right eye and twobroken legs, and leaves him on the verge of death. Collectively, these scars describe theeffects of a lifetime of victimization and victimizing In other words, they symbolize theacts of human cruelty which, whether he is giver or receiver, characterize the life courseof Wu Long.It remains to ask what connection there is between the identity theme and therecurring motif of fragmentation. This point is perhaps best addressed by Wu Long's ownimpression of his disfigurement when he looks in a mirror, which is expressed as follows:The image was seemingly ordinary in appearance, but there were somedifferences from that of the average person; he was incomplete, he had lost onebright eye and one innocent toe - would he perhaps even lose his entire lifethrough the suffering of this unmentionable disease? (222) [16]In this passage, we have the first concrete example of Wu Long's physicalmarginalization and fear of death, expressed through his perception of his bodilydisfigurements. Initially marginalized by his inferior rural origins, hunger andpowerlessness, the aging Wu Long is now returning to a state of marginalization, thistime physical, which he cannot reverse. Moreover, it is of central importance to WuLong's conception of identity that he remain whole, as is indicated by the expression ofhis desire to return to Maple Village: "Listen to me, if I'm going to die then I'm going toMaple Village to do it. Do you know why? I'm afraid all of you are going to smash mycorpse into ten thousand pieces." (223) Later, his fear of dismemberment is reaffirmed bythese thoughts: "Everywhere on my body are scars left by them; in this way, they haveslowly cut me up and dismembered me. I've probably already become a piece of stewedmeat in a dish." (244-5) Finally, his journey back to the village by train becomes a timeof anxious consideration of his final state of being. Now blind, the dying Wu Long lies inthe rice-filled train car and asks Caisheng:117But other than these grains of rice, what else is left?. . . You feel my body, tell mewhat I still have left. My toes are incomplete, my two eyes are both blind, I feellike there is something cutting off every piece of flesh; tell me, what do I stillhave left? (297) [17]Wu Long's disfigurement, his maiming, is symbolic of his ultimate alienation fromeveryone he interacts with. It signifies his victimization and every act of victimization heperformed on others. Furthermore, it symbolically undermines his life's work of attainingpower and position in an effort to retaliate against the lifetime of wrongs done to him.Intended to secure him an identity, a haven against hunger and marginalization, his life inthe city is ultimately what destroys him. By taking away from his wholeness little bylittle, his physical disfigurement contradicts the idea that he has successfully securedhimself an identity after a lifetime of effort. Even Wu Long's gold teeth, considered byhim to be the only thing he leaves behind that will not rot, are removed by Caisheng atthe novel's end. The loss of his gold teeth is certainly not an indication of his re-establishing a link to his rural identity, but rather a symbolic last step in signifying hisbodily and spiritual fragmentation. His final alienation.The three motifs of rice, the journey and fragmentation, all work to describe aspectsof Wu Long's effort to define himself in the novel. Rice is in some sense the initialmotivation for his journey to the city, insofar as he leaves the village in search of food,and fragmentation serves to highlight the result of his journey: a life-time of cruelty,hatred and ruination, which disappears into the anonymity of death. However,consideration of the protagonist's life course brings us to the question of history in Rice:how is it involved in the story of Wu Long, and how should its role in the story beinterpreted?118The connections between the very individual story of Wu Long and the historicalframework of China in the 1930's are quite subtle. The conclusions presented here arenot intended to be deterministic, but a close analysis of the novel indicates an authorialvision that focusses on certain outstanding concepts: hunger, alienation, human cruelty,and hatred, that are an integral part of the society that is presented through the microcosmof the Feng family rice shop. Along these lines, the Chinese critic Wu Yiqin suggeststhat the novel describes society's decline by symbolically depicting the decline of theFeng family rice shop. 25 While I agree with his analysis that the story describes a processof decline, I feel that the main message of the story does not rest there. As I haveendeavored to show through the foregoing analysis, the cyclicality of the events of theplot suggests that the attitudes conveyed by the characters of Rice will continue into thefuture. Moreover, there is certainly a sense that Wu Long is not the only individual todefine his life by hunger, hatred and cruelty, as the city-dwellers themselves demonstrate.Wu Long may have played a central part in the evil activities of the city, but cruelty andvictimization were existent there before his arrival, and the reader is given no evidencethat the cruelty, violence and hatred will come to an end with his final departure andprobable death.In addition, as was mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, history in the novelis presented in the sense of depicting hunger as a defining characteristic of China's past.The prominence of rice in the story, as the motif which links the narrative together and asthe source of Wu Long's psychological motivation, is thus expressive of the involvementof one aspect of China's recurring historical circumstance, famine, in the very individuallife of the protagonist. Thus, while it can not be said that hunger causes the hatred andcruelty demonstrated by character behaviour in the novel, it can be considered amotivating force in the course of their lives. Certainly, it shapes the course of Wu Long's25 See Wu Yiqin, "Zai xiangcun yu dushi de duizhizhong gouzhu shenhua:" 58.119life by making personal survival of paramount importance to him. It is perhaps this pointwhich leaves room to suggest that the inhumanity depicted in Rice is linked to authorialvision on this defining characteristic of the Chinese past. Perhaps the constant strugglefor survival in the face of famine and disaster precludes a conception of life that tooreadily puts the survival of others before that of one's self.Finally, in considering the cycle of hatred and cruelty in Rice, we are presented withauthorial vision on human nature in general, and Chinese society in particular, in the formof the schoolteacher. The teacher, who appears only briefly at Qiyun's request to updatethe family records, appears to be the shadow of the author, Su Tong. As the onlycharacter who seems external to the violence and hatred described in the novel, hisdecision to add a few extra words about the nature of family life in the Feng household istantamount to outlining authorial perspective on the horrors of Chinese society. Twobrief examples will suffice to illustrate this point: "Just as the primary school teacherfinished writing the three characters of Feng Misheng, he entertained another kind ofmood to add a very small line of annotation: 'legs deformed, the result of being beaten byhis father.' He knew Wu Long would not be able to read these characters, he wasn'tafraid of Wu Long." (176) Later, when it is discovered that Misheng begins to chaselittle girls, the schoolteacher once again steps in to give the reader his view:Public opinion began to consider Misheng girl crazy, but the East Street primaryschool teacher didn't agree with this viewpoint; he had once updated the Fengfamily records, with the result that he had a much deeper understanding of the riceshop family. The primary school teacher considered Misheng to be sufferingfrom a latent mental disorder; in the kind of household atmosphere present in therice shop, it was inevitable that his psyche would move towards a collapse. (277)With these quotations, we have an example of what was done overtly in "1934Escapes" through the articulation of a kind of personalized reflection on history. This120time, however, the writer wishes to create the impression that the speaker (that is, theschoolteacher) is presenting the facts, not imagining them. The schoolteacher's role inthis story is as an outsider to the family who wants to record life in the rice shop as it was.The reason for this seems clear. Authorial vision on Chinese history has focussed on therecord of its cruelty, evil and decay in order to foreground the weaknesses of Chinesesociety. The schoolteacher is an obvious reminder that the actions of Wu Long and hisfamily are presented not only as a part of history, but as a part of history that is notusually admitted or recorded. In presenting Wu Long's story within a historicalframework the writer wants the reader to know this side of Chinese history and society,just as the schoolteacher wants to give the cruelties of life in the rice shop permanency inthe records that future generations will read.1214. Conclusions: Significance of the MarginalizedMarginalized character and motif represent a certain type of individualization innarrative. As a category of characterization and an image governing narrative tone, theyrespectively reinforce an ex-centric quality of being and an alternate, sometimessubverting, perspective on the norms of society. The reason for their appeal tocontemporary mainland Chinese writers is straightforward: marginalization describesdifference and distance from the majority or power base in such a way as to foregroundthe multiplicity of voices that make up our human world. Moreover, it is natural to adopta marginalized perspective when one seeks a foil to the kind of society that exists. At atime when mainland Chinese society is slowly emerging from thirty odd years ofstringent ideological conformity in literature and society, use of marginalized characterand motif is one way of creating diversity in literary subject matter, point-of-view, andstyle.In the four works that have been discussed here, "Ba, ba, ba" and "Three Women" byHan Shaogong and "1934 Escapes" and Rice by Su Tong, marginalization is defined anddeveloped as both tool and metaphor. In Han Shaogong's narratives, the marginalizedcharacters of Bing Zai and Yao Gu are depicted as oppressed and downtrodden membersof society, and their role in the story is to facilitate Han's examination into socialinteraction, individual behaviour and the course of Chinese history. Neither character isgiven personal expression through voice or thought, yet this limitation makes them wellsuited to the purposes of the narrative, since it is human reaction to the lives andexperiences of these two marginalized characters that is central to theme and meaning.Bing Zai and Yao Gu are tools which direct our attention to the inner workings of the122human being, our motivations, desires, and life attitudes, while also describing aspects ofhuman nature and the human condition, such as fear, hatred, cruelty, absurdity, empathy,alienation and ignorance Likewise employed are Su Tong's characters: the alienatednarrator, father and grandmother in "1934 Escapes," and the despotic Wu Long of Rice.They are tools which develop Su Tong's vision of Chinese and world history: a cycle ofvictimization and cruelty which exploits the dark side of the human personality to ensuresurvival in a harsh and uncompromising environment. Beyond this, all of thesemarginalized characters function as a kind of metaphor for the society and culture thatsurrounds them. Mute, deaf, victimized, and scarred, they are employed as metaphors forthe ignorant, dark, perverse and cruel society that has fostered them.As metaphor, images of marginalization have a significant influence on the mentalpicture the reader is left with. Thus, if we consider the significance of the marginalized inthe four works of fiction discussed above, we see that it not only refers the reader to theuniversality of certain aspects of human nature and the human condition, but it alsoevokes a distinct point-of-view, in the form of a marginalized perspective, on theme andmeaning in the narrative. The marginalization and alienation of the main characters inthese stories animate the writers' vision of history and identity by forcing the reader intorecognition that the tale being told is intended to diverge from the standard, Party-supported view on these issues. Insofar as the writers choose to articulate their visions interms of darkness, ignorance, cruelty and alienation, we understand that the standard viewthey are reacting to is one which glorifies the Chinese race, history and culture, or at leastchooses to overlook the continued existence of negative social traits and inhumanpractices. A marginalized viewpoint, whether conveyed through characterization ornarrative tone, is therefore indicative of an intended individuality in the expression ofauthorial vision on theme. Furthermore, Han Shaogong and Su Tong's efforts to returnthe individual to modern Chinese literature through marginalized character and tone123reflect their desire to present an authorial vision of history and identity in the form of amental picture - horrible, nasty, pathetic, or ridiculous - that will long remain in ourmindsWithin the mainland Chinese context, the focus on the themes of history and identityhas a great deal to do with writers' active concern with the ills of Chinese society.However, it is also a by-product of their experimentation with the modernist "search forthe individual." Along these lines, Wayne Booth's observations on the "in-dividual" ofthe western modernist movement seem applicable to the category of "new" writers inPost-Mao China:For complex reasons, much modern thought about the "individual," the un-dividable center, has stressed the search inward for the core of the real "me," theauthentic self. . . . The search can be pursued back to one's mistreatment inchildhood, or further to unfortunate experiences in the womb, or finally to acursed genealogy. Sooner or later one hopes to locate and remove all alien stuffand discover bedrock - but what one discovers is emptiness, and the makings ofan identity crisis.1Although Booth is speaking of western literature and Romantic values, there is a distinctring of familiarity in his words. Han Shaogong explores the identity of the race throughthe image of a half-mute idiot and an oppressed woman, the latter characterized by adeafness that can be traced back for generations to the horrors of society that lie buriedthere. Su Tong engages in a dialogue on identity and history through the interplay ofinner-texts, yet his story still focusses on a disastrous genealogy and "unfortunateexperiences" in the womb. Amidst the plurality of voices ringing out from ancestors andschoolteachers, the search for identity that Su Tong so carefully articulates through theactions of his characters is of individual identities that are inescapably rooted in orsubsumed by history.1 Wayne C. Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress, 1988): 237.124In all four works the question of identity, which stems from or leads to an "identitycrisis," is addressed within the framework of history and society. Yet this brings us to afinal paradox on the role of marginalized character in the individual search for identitypresented here. All of the stories explore individual identity or incorporate aspects ofindividuality in their subject matter, yet all end up in ironic ("Ba, ba, ba"), resigned("Three Women"), discordant ("1934 Escapes"), and cautionary (Rice) accord with theidea that the individual is inseparable from society. The plurality of voice that enjoysexpression through marginalized character and motif is seen to be most basic in theconfiguration of the individual. Despite the individualizing process of characterdefinition in each narrative, plot action reveals just how firmly ensconced theprotagonists are in the trappings of the society that gave birth to them, and which they, inturn, contribute to and perpetuate.Consider, as a first example, the link between Bing Zai and the villagers in "Ba, ba,ba." Even though Bing Zai is mentally, physically and socially marginalized from villagesociety, he is the ironic focal point of village superstitions and the symbolicrepresentative of local culture and race. In the end, his marginalized status does not grantthe impression of individual self, but rather contrarily re-affirms the insoluble bondbetween the individual and society. Given the allegorical nature of the story, the fact thatBing Zai's individual characteristics are at once symbolic of those of the villagers bringsus sharply to Han Shaogong's bleak vision of race and culture in China: the existence of aprimitive and foolish society doomed to repetition along inhuman and destructive lines.In "Three Women," Han Shaogong's approach to identity takes the form of Mao Ta'sexploration into the individual existence of Yao Gu. Again, we note that the emphasis onthe individual is firmly grounded in the societal context; the narrator's investigation into125the life and death of Yao Gu is oriented towards the reflection of social and culturalattitudes, to determine how the individual fits into the puzzle of human existence.Furthermore, the details of Yao Gu's marginalization are presented for philosophical andsocial provocation. The marginality which defines Yao Gu enlightens the reader to theinjustices and cruelties of society, culture, and politics. In this sense, Mao Ta'sexploration into Yao Gus identity becomes the expression of authorial vision on theoppressive and tyrannical aspects of Chinese culture and the misery of the humancondition. Regardless of whether it is Mao Ta's civilized apathy towards the care of YaoGu or Zhen Gu's more primitive approach, the idea presented in this work is of a societyand a culture that fastens onto the dehumanizing and cruel aspects of human nature.A different perspective on the individual is shown by Su Tong in "1934 Escapes."Society, this time expressed through a definable family history and an oppressive culture,is still the tie that binds. Escaping to the past to define himself, the narrator finds himselfensnared in the net of voices, characters and roles that form the collective family identity.He is inextricably bound up in history and society as a result of his flight, since itironically faces him with the personal details of societal change - the rural-urban shift -that are responsible for his acute sense of dislocation. The narrator's sense of self remainsenmeshed in the society of his ancestors. Even Jiang Shi's escape from marginalizationunderscores the link between self and society. She escapes to become a member of thesame kind of society that marginalizes her. In this sense, Jiang Shi's life embodies thekind of morbid, parasitic society that Su Tong envisions to be the nucleus of the nationalpast.Finally, there is the novel Rice. The protagonist, Wu Long, goes on a lifelong questto define himself and ends up a fragment of the ideal human whole as a result of hiscomplicity in the evils of society. As an identifiable self throughout the narrative, Wu126Long's final state of self-lessness is the direct result of his individual actions. Yet there isan implicit suggestion that Wu Long's choices in great part reflect his maintenance of thementality of a "bad" society. Society, as it is depicted in Rice, is almost inescapablymalevolent. The story of Wu Long's life is thus not only an exploration of the bondsbetween the individual and society, but a statement on the environmental hardships andcruelties of history that make up the national identity in human terms.Within the mainland Chinese context, the "identity crisis" is very rea1.2 Chinesewriters, literary critics and their Western counterparts frequently refer to Chinese writers'restricted access to the great literary wealth of their national past and the stimulation ofinternational letters.3 The present period of great experimentation in literature is oneexample of writers' efforts to develop a truly modern literary identity out of the manyexperiences and influences that have come together for Chinese artists in the 1980's and90's. The Chinese "identity crisis," not unlike what Lin Yiisheng ftkfylij has termed the"crisis of Chinese consciousness,"4 has become fertile ground for literary exploration intobroadly universal and narrowly cultural humanist issues. The literary works of HanShaogong and Su Tong presented here illustrate both the ongoing development ofChinese literature in the present period and the artful consideration of personal vision andexperience, translated into works with a universal appeal. In the future, we can only hopethat governmental policies towards literature continue to be relaxed, so that writers have2 For further reading on the issue of identity in China see: Perry Link, Evening Chats in Beijing (NewYork: Norton, 1992) for urban/ intellectual interviews; Edward Friedman, Paul Pickowicz, Mark Seldon etal, eds., Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) for rural/ peasantinterviews.3 Duke, Blooming and Contending, 206. See also Chapter Two.4 Lin Yiisheng describes the "crisis of Chinese consciousness" as "that instability and uncertainty inthe sphere of culture which makes impossible viable solutions or lasting settlements of new cultural andintellectual problems resulting from sociopolitical and cultural change." Lin Ytisheng, The Crisis ofChinese Consciousness: Radical Antitraditionalism in the May Fourth Era (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1979): 152.127the opportunity to create unfettered by political restrictions. For writers like Su Tongwho shine a little brighter than the rest, the potential exhibited by their stylistic diversityand thought-provoking subject matter promises even greater results in the coming years.BibliographyAbrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 5th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart andWinston, 1988.Arac, Jonathan. Critical Genealogies: Historical Situations for Postmodern LiteraryStudies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.Atkins, G. 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Ill^14^* fa^a^E^/Ili^0 ft 4 a a ' I]' V 0 , ala A *^#il kt^ft tS) ffila a IQ,^Pa fil Mt 101 * iit ft * ?^E a^n , m^X B IA^i___ V: * AW lit ..E.^YE El .11: n^, *^* g nT * 4 fa , , T AI, ± Id^,^ka a^lk — IN"a- VE M 1E^Rt 'is 0 M ItX^PA^N 8 7fi. .^* M la^A kit M E^31E . ftg ik Tfig^, iffi : ft^a lot IMt 4* T^111^iri 3K n ,^a 7 ilfi lif * Mki^T^tt * 014^tot^YE^a YE VX A tk .1331.l134[4]^[5]135^[6]^[7]^[8]^[9].• t^T^1 litE MA ffiIIF fa M i^fgl .^M AO *^7 A K 2 R a n , tt* n 1:i^PA TA^B * ft`g^kE^ft V• I M ? -T kJ' fllif:t AL R^LT^• t IN^± VA^filft^,idif^ag Az t * x fr9' ft ,1,^fi' ?^Ric'^xxoim#J, fig t irl — It A A . M ils7E M ±^YI.1 X^ffi fiti^fiffl^k *— A 013^JA t K^ft^A teg*UV nfii^JA E V^'Ea . -7.^* A Pi^V t tY`. til , 7 re^a . A leit ft^?^f'F fttt * tit^9 *g^I ft M^X reg ill rti3frg a A^z ol 61; 11,3 vA* ° gi T ft^:, V^W IAt ft a'^±. frl x x Pn _ ?;E . 7 it^V _--z-n1 m ig^. % IS, R^III —AT 1^L--- E^6 40 Pi N n^* *-1 I^A 01 Ag IA ,^A* A M ri tn w m res3^& 11^iii^v, 4^M TEit t s A- It - E-feg A T^,^Z 6 9 0#0 Mg T ft A /.'^* ftn — IM a ,g61# 135ii fIN^A^- ft a 1.1 ±Et, M A. il A' W]^ft A^T^_h. a fiig ItL.ii^*^. a P* c rtd71 V 0'J— 111;.; 1* Hi E,ffj. C °^-36^fI ±1--1^R R^T t f Itt Zi ft E^t•-, -ft' 1 E-.^t4^a g136^[10]^[11]^[12]^[13]^[14]^i.^0'9 R-,--03 Vi^,„) R1 111:^fS:1 2 Vi ii• hit 1Ai XT ils,i tii; r --- gill^* a N itF3^ft,n ii3 1M )=H * 14 ' #1. 7 A c^t-q^f *—Cl'i I^m^To,^ril it * tti^VI Xi a^. a^4' 4'1;1 '",i, l'fl.^1:,k it 1511 q1,141^III a. A WI 0 4$^t_* ^a ftii, '4,-q^1_4'. R 11* fl't: fttJ it , IR II1 W.It •-,?.'i- 1'), itt -g.k:^k`.,-:, q a 41/^.tri^/in —^tt^tvi resi I`:. 'i"--2 X TIT it gi 14 1,:--;VI A _11 * PA 1-',4 fe^rIR^P_tT^,^ifti ---^ 03 A. )fi'.4. ifii fPeg PA ' IA th). tfi _A',:^, it f-W fi'^It^lk KR if_4 A , ful M IT ° r7r!..^n v/ A' VI; if A TA^?-.I'-' R , ?^T ft * , _^ft*^V,' MI 4t V 1' 0.%^tt^C^-1\ in —*'i:i'lV M T^3E 4-1, ; ie^,^nit...::. P- ? 4 Ws.) itliN o Z. 4 iti T. • — -'LA^4fi A C, 111 ? P a^frl^-K‘l- r, NI^. a gt )c t.t,^xEiv,^V ii PI 11'9 na' *^H left',J Ilt. 0.^a m N fiti^WA^Th. C N k^,^Ay, I.J. 'ia V. ,^ih P: ft -X^aZ1 VI; til a 6^tg, A. •N iR tit^N^61^q- rift N^2 09 vr,^Aft IRVA VR 1-), V k rat fri^fik^ffOf^it'A T 13^ft um 1 o MIftti M rfSz it- fri x ^)(^., ri.; t^fi I I- ift *ti ici ri 5* A Pi ts^. nti^, a IL^Ws] T . ,it! V ii 4.- a iti, A -L-it^w * T^4T IR T tLifi V. il 0_^-tcV^11 , M A[15] [16]— Vf3HA rIti qirt, If TAPH ti, *Vir 1.4 ft• a .'.— PI tIt.T4 -^iiiig 1- TITfEl 7.:n 1U fi''1W: lq, EA, P U112, t Iliill- .f_fiit ill iffiA. 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