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The representation of history in contemporary Chinese fiction : Han Shaogong, Mo Yan, Su Tong Lee, Vivian P. Y. 2001

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The Representation of History in Contemporary Chinese Fiction: Han Shaogong, M o Yan, Su Tong by  Vivian P. Y . Lee  B A . University of Hong Kong, 1988 M . A . University of Hong Kong, 1991  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T OF T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T F O R T H E D E G R E E OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Department of Asian Studies)  We accept this thesis as conforming To the required standard  T H E UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A January 2001 © Vivian P. Y . Lee, 2001  In  presenting  degree freely  at  this  the  University  available  copying  of  department publication  for  this or of  thesis  this  of  reference  thesis by  in  for  his thesis  partial  fulfilment  of  the  British  Columbia,  I  agree  and  scholarly  or for  her  of  T h e U n i v e r s i t y o f British Vancouver, Canada  D E - 6 (2/88)  Columbia  I further  purposes  gain  be  It  is  shall  that  agree  may  representatives.  financial  permission.  Department  study.  requirements  not  that  the  Library  permission  granted  by  understood be  for  allowed  an  advanced  shall for  the that  without  make  it  extensive  head  of  my  copying  or  my  written  Abstract  The main focus o f this study is the changing patterns o f historical representation in modern and contemporary Chinese fiction. Beginning with a critical evaluation o f Western critical theories such as Hayden White's concept o f metahistory and Paul Ricoeur's philosophical reflections on narrative and metaphor, it probes the "interweaving reference" o f history and fiction in contemporary Chinese fiction.  Selected works o f three major mainland writers - Han Shaogong, M o Y a n and Su Tong - are treated primarily as cultural metaphors that reflect on and re-imagine Chinese history in ways that deviate from the Utopian vision perpetuated by M a o Zedong's version o f modernity. In literature, this utopianism is exemplified in the so-called "revolutionary historical novel" that thrived under the patronage o f the Communist Party after 1949.  M y reading o f the three authors shows how this Utopian (revolutionary) rhetoric has given way to an essentially pessimistic view o f history that subverts and overturns the oppressive "optimism" sanctioned by the Party State. This "critical pessimism" is characterized by a parade o f the darkest and most abhorrent images o f cultural degeneration. From evolution to devolution, this deviant aesthetics represents a major change in cultural imagination in China, and it also expresses a collective anxiety toward the future.  T a b l e of Contents  Abstract  ii  Acknowledgments  iv  Note on Translations  v  Introduction  1  Chapter 1  Contemporary Poetics : the Return to/of History  25  Chapter 2  Changing Metaphors: Fictional Histories in Twentieth-  57  century China Chapter 3  History as Allegory: Han Shaogong  103  Chapter 4  Heroes, Bastards and Fictional Homeland: M o Yan  195  Chapters  Su Tong's Topos of Desire  264  Conclusion  350  Bibliography  364  ill  Acknowledgements  I am indebted to Professor Michael Duke, my research supervisor, for his unfailing support, guidance and self-example, which has set me on the right path during the course o f my study at U B C ; to Professor Andrew Busza for rekindling my selfconfidence, and for his always being a source o f inspiration, and to Professor Jerry Schmidt, for guiding me through the vast terrain o f classical Chinese literature. Special thanks are due to Professors John Cooper, George McWhirter and Glen Peterson for their critical insights and comments. I would also like to thank the Faculty o f Graduate Studies for their generous fellowships.  I owe a debt o f gratitude to Miss M i n a Wong, Graduate Secrety o f the Asian Studies Department, for her always willing to go the extra mile for graduate students; to M i s s Ellen Wong, whose help in preparing this manuscript has been indispensable; and to my family, for without their generosity and love I would be nothing.  A Note on the E n g l i s h T r a n s l a t i o n s  The following English translations are used for some o f the primary sources (in brackets):  "Homecoming? " and Other Stories, by Martha Cheung. (Han Shaogong: " B a B a B a , " " N i i N u N u , " "Langaizi" and "Quiqulai"). Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas, by Michael Duke. (Su Tong: "Yijiusansinian de taowang," "Qiqie chengqun" and " Y i n g s u zhijia") Red Sorghum Family, by Howard Goldblatt. ( M o Yan: Honggauliangjiazu) Rice, by Howard Goldblatt. (Su Tong: Mi) The Republic of Wine, by Howard Goldblatt. ( M o Y a n : Jiuguo )  Page references to Chinese and English texts are given at the end o f each quotation respectively.  Unless otherwise noted, all other translations from the Chinese  originals are mine.  V  Introduction  In the Western tradition since Aristotle, history and fiction have long been regarded, until quite recently, as distinct from each other in terms o f means and ends. While history describes "the things that have happened," says Aristotle, poetry or literature in general describes "a kind o f thing that might happen." Poetry, therefore, deals with "universals" and history with "singulars" (Aristotle 9:1469-364). Poetry, being the art o f imitation, can justify the impossible "by reference to the requirements o f poetry... or to opinion," for "a convincing impossibility [in poetry] is preferable to an unconvincing possibility" (24: 1486). Mimesis, or the poetic representation o f reality, attributes to mimetic art a rhetorical function the purpose o f which is the discovery o f universal truths or meanings by means o f a verisimilitude o f convincing impossibilities.  In Europe since the First World War, the breakdown o f faith in religious belief and human civilization has provoked radical changes in the perception o f reality in the arts and humanities, and hence in the nature o f human knowledge. A s pointed out by Erich Kahler (1973), reality in Western narrative undergoes a "progressive internalization" so that it is no longer conceived as an objective given, but rather a subjective construction by the human consciousness. This schism between external and internal reality also means that mimetic representation gravitates toward the problematic human psyche as the basis o f reality. The fragmentation o f the social order, nonetheless,  1  Introduction  2  is still "mirrored" by the fragmentation o f fictional narratives, whose internal dynamics usually exacerbate the sense o f formlessness rather than "form," disorder rather than order, in the conventional sense o f these terms. The turning inward to the erratic currents o f emotional life places increasing emphasis on the self as the basis o f human perception and knowledge. Subjectivity, then, replaces "objectivity" as the foundation o f "reality" in fictional representation.  This skeptical, indeed subversive, stance has been continued and transformed in recent years in postmodernism, characterized by a Derridean deconstructionism that throws into doubt all established epistemological paradigms by a critique o f repressive ideologies and the hegemony o f power (political/sexual/racial) perpetuated by a Eurocentric worldview. Setting its political and cultural agenda aside, postmodernism injects into contemporary culture a new stream o f subversion that, significantly enough, contributes to a radical rethinking o f existing categories o f values by transgressing social, political, sexual and cultural boundaries. The idea o f "text" and the textual construction o f reality directly contribute to the "textualization" o f human experience. "There is nothing outside the text": Derrida's provocative assertion comes to serve as the "dictum" o f postmodernist critical thought.  Against this background, the conventional boundary between history and fiction is bound to be redrawn. The question o f how, and to what extent and purpose, this is or  Introduction  3  can be done immediately comes to mind. Both historians and literary critics, in their respective fields, are divided in their approaches to this "boundary" issue. The most influential work on the part o f historians comes from Hayden White, whose Metahistory: the Historical Imagination of Nineteenth-century Europe has provoked many debates across the humanities. In some cases, it has become an authority in itself whenever questions concerning "historical reality" and "historical truths" are raised. B y adapting Frye's new-critical approach to literature in The Anatomy of Criticism, White sets out to delineate the tropes that define historical consciousness using the works o f major historians and philosophers o f history o f his chosen period. White's analysis o f the various historical and philosophical writings, texts in themselves, concludes that the historical imagination is governed by the tropes o f literature, so that historical truths (the meaning o f past events) are in effect products of the literary imagination. A s some critics have argued, White's theory o f tropes, insightful as it is, is limited to one kind o f "metahistory" (literary imagination), but since there are different kinds o f metahistories, the theory o f tropes alone cannot adequately determine the truth claims o f history.  1  The on-going debate over the "facticity" and "Activity" o f historiography also underscores certain new directions in literary discourse that seek to reformulate the relationship between history and fiction, leading to such dramatic revisions from a total  The reactions to White's thesis by historians are discussed in Chapter 1. For a critical survey on the postmodern "linguistic turn" in historiography, see Perez Zagorin (1999). 1  Introduction  4  separation to near-complete identity. The prerequisites o f objectivity and truth that used to apply to both kinds o f narratives, moreover, have given way to the problematization, i f not renunciation, o f these values. Obviously my description above is limited to the two extremes that mark the extent o f change in recent years, but an overview o f the polarization o f opinions and attitudes is useful to the setting up o f a conceptual framework within which the dynamics between history and fiction are reconsidered.  Before turning to my overall approach, I would like to draw upon certain aspects within the Chinese literary tradition relevant to my present concern. In the Chinese literary tradition, history and fiction are not diametrically opposed modes. Together with imaginative prose and philosophical discourse, historical texts are studied both as accounts o f past events and models o f the art o f writing.  2  In the Chinese tradition,  xiaoshuo (fiction) originated from historical anecdotes and gradually developed into a literary genre most notably in the Tang-Song period (seventh to thirteenth century); before which fictional narratives were treated largely as pseudo-historical accounts, unofficial histories, or biographies o f famous political and social figures.  From then on  fiction as a "supplement to history" no longer served as a primary objective, but writers of historical fiction still espoused the ethical view o f history in the Confucian tradition.  Among these texts are the Zuo zhuan {frfM) (Commentaries of Zuo), an expanded version of the Spring and Autumn believed to be written by Zuo Qiuming, an immediate follower of Confucius. As an important historical classic, it is also admired for its "animated prose.. use of the narrative and dialogue, moral comments and poetic quotation [that] exemplifies a mastery of the Chinese language rarely found in ancient 2  Introduction  5  In works such as Sanguo yanyi  « HlPf! tt))  {The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and  Shuihu zhuan (7JQfp(|p) {Water Margin) the dual impulse "to record historical reality and to realize the collective moral vision o f good and evil" gives rise to the unique form o f the classical historical novel (Zhu 109-114). This concurs with the Confucian notion o f wen (writing, literary cultivation), the primary task o f which is to convey the truth, or the True Way. Hence literature is considered to be primarily an embodiment o f the True Way and a means o f moral teaching, although artistry is also an important aspect o f accomplishment in wen ( L i u "Introduction").  In China, the historical vicissitudes o f the twentieth century have been reflected in the development o f a modern Chinese literature whose first ambition was to replace the classical tradition with a new mode o f representation inspired by the realist novel o f the West. A s L i n Yusheng (1979) has convincingly argued, this wholesale condemnation o f tradition is uniquely Chinese and extremely traditional in its holistic and "organismic" outlook necessitated by its ultimate concern for the spiritual/moral well being o f the Chinese race as a whole. In fact, the very choice o f the Western "model" reflects 4  uniquely Chinese social values and cultural preferences. Literature was still largely  texts." James L i u (37-38). See James Liu, Chapter 10; also discussed in Dong Naibin WJbWt, (86). L i n analyses the impact of what he calls an "organismic cosmology" (first adopted as official ideology in the Han dynasty which successfully integrated universal kingship with the entire social, cultural and moral order of things) on May Fourth intellectuals. L i n argues that "the iconoclastic totalism of the May Fourth era" originated precisely in this deep-rooted "organismic" conception of the traditional Chinese society and culture. See L i n (18-19, 29-30). 3  4  Introduction  6  conceived as a means for social transformation, an ideal not very far from the Confucian conception o f wen. The sense o f historical urgency (i.e. that China has to catch up with the evolution o f nations or face extinction), intensified by national and international crises on the eve o f the Second World War, is a defining characteristic o f Chinese literary modernity, whereas the modern intellectual sees him/herself as "the bearer o f light" and the agent o f History (as a linear process o f overcoming).  The growing influence o f M a r x i s m among Chinese intellectuals in the late 1920s and 1930s marked a turning point in the development o f modern Chinese literature. While the rebellious spirit o f the M a y Fourth Movement created the cultural climate for literary experimentation and relatively open-minded debates, leftist literature sponsored by the Communist Party successfully established its predominance in intellectual circles on the eve o f the Anti-Japanese campaign. I f Social Darwinism was the "model" o f historical explanation borrowed from the West at the turn o f the twentieth century, Marxist dialectics superceded it with the advent o f party politics and international war. In literature, this ideological battle is reflected in the transition from critical social realism to socialist realism and finally to the so-called "revolutionary historical novel" after 1949, in which the linear progression o f history characteristic o f the evolutionary model is replaced by a Utopian, and no less linear, process o f a heroic and victorious proletarian revolution.  Introduction  7  There is much truth in the saying that modern Chinese literature cannot be separated from politics, but much would be missed if the self-professed "historical mission" o f its creators is left out of the picture. A s L e o Ou-fan Lee has pointed out, Chinese modernity posits a new mode o f historical consciousness that casts the creative self at the forefront of History ("Modernity" 158-177). T o a certain extent, this Promethean predisposition explains why many writers were later attracted to the Utopian rhetoric o f revolution. Without losing sight of the discontinuities in aesthetics and politics, there exist certain temperamental continuities between the early generation o f M a y Fourth writers and their successors in later decades.  5  Beginning as a sub-genre o f historical writing, fictional narratives in China gradually gained their independent status as a literary genre, but their ultimate social and moral function remained more or less unchanged up to the M a y Fourth period. After 1949 fiction writing was largely restricted to perpetuating a Utopian historical vision, while moral and social values were subsumed under and determined by class values. The beginning of the post-Mao era, then, signals another turning point in the historical mission o f modern Chinese fiction, for it is a time when Chinese writers take stock of the lessons o f the past to open new paths toward the future.  5  According to L i n Yusheng, this included the young Mao Zetong himself. (5, n. 1)  Introduction  8  After an initial outburst o f grievance and yearning for justice i n the so-called scar literature (shanghen wenxue) that emerged shortly after the death o f M a o Zedong and the fall o f the Gang o f Four in the late 1970s, Chinese writers entered a new experimental stage in literary representation. The relatively relaxed political atmosphere enabled writers to renew their contact with world literature and explore the previously "prohibited zones" o f human experience. Meanwhile, calls for "cultural pluralism" and "cultural self-reflection" in the intellectual arena coincided with the emergence o f new fictional genres, beginning with search-for-roots fiction and other modernist - or even postmodernist - experimentation that exhibits an increasing aesthetic self-consciousness.  What this brief overview attempts to show is the dynamics between history and fiction in the development o f modern Chinese fiction. The main focus o f this study is what Paul Ricoeur calls the "interweaving reference" o f history and fiction {Time and Narrative 3: 181-192). M y primary concern is the way in which history is "figured" in the fictional works o f three mainland Chinese writers - Hah Shaogong, Su Tong, and M o Yan. A s I have mentioned, the representation o f reality in fiction and historiography has led to much discussion and debate among historians and literary critics both East and West. In recent years, "historiographic metafiction" as a literary genre has become a popular subject in postmodern and postcolonial writing. This kind o f fictional representation o f the past is characterized by a self-reflexive foregrounding/fictionalizing o f the endless exchange between the phenomenal world and the human efforts to  Introduction  construct narratives that seek to understand and explain it. It is, in short, a poetic gesture toward the myriad forms in which history may present itself to the human imagination. History as represented in the literary text thus undergoes an aesthetic-hermeneutic transformation through which new forms o f understanding and examining the nature o f the past are born.  In the Chinese context, and specifically that o f modern Chinese history, the "demystification" o f the official version o f history is a form o f political dissent and aesthetic autonomy often involves social protest, directly or indirectly. For this reason any theoretical explication o f fictional histories must take into account the actual sociopolitical realities o f the past decades and their psychological repercussions, i.e. the "felt history" (Forster 281) that has made the confrontation with (and narrative understanding of) the past possible in the first place. To a significant extent, this represents a uniquely Chinese way o f "writing back" to the center o f an autocratic political system whose power, unlike most former colonial governments, is still formidable. Apart from aesthetic and philosophical inquiries into the nature o f historical knowledge, fictional histories thus conceived remained "politicized" in the sense that they no longer serve a single course, be it political, national or ideological, as their predecessors did in the past. Ironically, the tragic results o f China's "modernization" in the past fifty years, leading to a widespread disillusion with the existing authority, contribute to a radical rethinking o f the past by a new generation o f writers from the mid-1980s onwards. They are more  9  Introduction  10  sober, more skeptical, and much more pessimistic than their M a y Fourth predecessors. While China's open door policy in recent decades has brought sudden wealth and prosperity to a few privileged social groups, this historical pessimism in the cultural and intellectual spheres aptly reflects the inadequacies o f a massive, though erratic, social and economic reform program driven exclusively by utilitarian motives.  Several factors have influenced my choice o f authors and texts for this project. First, Su Tong, M o Y a n and H a n Shaogong are among the most prominent writers manifestly associated with a regionalism that is inseparable from the kind o f historical imagination projected through their works. Second, their fictional narratives o f the past demonstrate a consistent effort not only to create meaning out o f a chaotic field o f past events (political movements, natural disasters, personal conflicts), but also to inquire into the nature (generation or degeneration) o f the Chinese cultural psyche from its "roots" to its present manifestations. Third, the regional outlook o f these writers, i.e. the specific locale created in their works, is a deviant move in the quest for national identity that has been a moral and ideological imperative ever since the M a y Fourth era. That is to say, the desire for political, cultural and spiritual unity or uniformity, no less than the historical processes that nurture and frustrate it, is transformed in the literary text into a quest for narrative coherence, hence narrative understanding, within a specific social and cultural milieu. O n many occasions, such an undertaking may have a "decentering" effect on official (Maoist-Communist) versions o f "what really happened" in the past.  Introduction  11  M y discussion explores different forms o f the historical imagination by examining the nature o f the transformation in the works o f these writers.  Finally, since the main concern here is the figuration o f history in fictional narratives, admittedly there are always more materials to be left out than dealt with in a single study. B y limiting my discussion to three authors (each representing a specific locale or domain o f cultural experience), I attempt to delineate the patterns in which fiction creates its own "metaphorical truth" (Ricoeur) by consciously problematizing the real and the "unreal," i.e. the historical and the poetic realms o f human experience.  According to Hayden White, historians approach their fields o f data to confront (and contain) the strange and the exotic, and produce narratives about past events in order to familiarize the unfamiliar. The literary text reverses the historian's course: in order to "read" the past, the past (real or imaginary) is first defamiliarized, so that the strange, the exotic and the grotesque become part o f the norm. M y reading o f the three authors examines the validity o f fictional histories as an integral part o f the human understanding o f the past, as well as the questions whether, and in what ways, fiction serves as a bridge between past, present and future in human consciousness; and i f so, how it operates in the literary text to invoke a creative (defamiliarizing) use o f memory and historical knowledge. K n o w i n g that literature is distinguished by its generality and specificity, I hope the limits imposed on my subject (a kind o f subjectivity) w i l l also accommodate a  Introduction  12  generality for further exchange and dialogue with other texts and contexts in a wider framework.  Chapter 1 "Contemporary Poetics: the Return to/of History" is a critical review o f modern Western critical thought on the nature o f and relationship between historiography and fiction. Narrative as a mode o f explanation (hence a form o f knowledge) is common to all cultures, and its complex relation to human historical experience and imagination w i l l be a point o f departure here, for fiction as a synthetic (and syncretic) form provides an imaginative access to the past as a subjective, idiosyncratic and yet aesthetically unifying experience. Specifically, I have chosen as the basis o f my discussion Hayden White's writings on the subject o f metahistory and Ricoeur's theoretical studies on metaphor and narrative. A s I have argued already, White's theory o f tropes, insightful as it is, runs the risk o f a radical relativism that somehow conflates history with fiction. This theoretical impasse can be resolved, I believe, by re-reading White's Metahistory through Ricoeur's Rule of Metaphor, in which he argues for the case o f "metaphorical reference" ("seeing.. as...") in articulating "metaphorical truth" that is beyond the reach o f ordinary, literal language. In Time and Narrative, Ricoeur develops his argument by asserting the "interweaving reference" o f history and fiction, so that fiction, being "quasihistorical," is able to "free, retrospectively, certain possibilities that were not actualized in the historical past." This kind o f "quasi-past" therefore "includes both the potentialities o f the 'real' past and the 'unreal' possibilities o f pure fiction" (Time and  Introduction  13  Narrative 3:191-192). B y resituating the real in the realm o f the "unreal" (symbols and metaphors) fiction does not offer historical explanations as such, but new ways o f "seeing .. .as..." that creates its own "metaphorical truth."  Chapter 2 "Changing Metaphors" examines the relationship between fictional representation and the changing conception o f history in the development o f modern Chinese literature since the M a y Fourth Movement (1919) to the present. M y main concerns here are: the adoption o f a linear, evolutionary view o f history and its effects on intellectual and literary discourse during the M a y Fourth period; the Marxist historical vision in the realist novel o f the late 1920s and 30's; the Utopian rhetoric in the "revolutionary historical novel" after 1949; and finally the changing metaphors in the post-Mao era (and beyond). This chapter is not intended to be a detailed study in literary history, but an illustration o f how fictional representation participates in the ideological discourse o f modernity since the M a y Fourth, and how writers and intellectuals nowadays strive to demystify the Utopian myth o f M a o i s m and thereby critically reassess their cultural heritage.  In Chapter 3 "History as Allegory: H a n Shaogong" I offer my reading o f H a n Shaogong's fictional works as collective allegories o f Chinese culture and history. The first part o f this chapter considers Han's ground-breaking stories - "Guiqulai" <§§:£3(£> ("Homecoming?") " B a , B a , B a "  > (Father, Father, Father) and " N u N u N u "  Introduction  tCtC'tC  <  >  14  (Three Women) - since they embody the kind o f collective allegory that  characterizes his style. History in the first two novellas is an obscure presence in the life and experiences o f the main characters who remain half-conscious or unconscious o f the social and political forces behind the deadly and grotesque occurrences around them. The third novella deals with a more concrete reality but is cast in the same mythical mode, in which traditional virtues and political vice combined distort and finally destroy a person's sense o f self. Han's fictional narratives, in effect, conjure up an oblique, mythical and nonetheless starkly threatening reality that looks backward to a forgotten, timeless antiquity and forward to the present. The historical nightmare articulated in these three texts undergoes a series o f nuances in Han's other stories, which finally lead to his recent full-length experimental work, Maqiao Cidian  ( J | ^ g n [ i S i )) ( A Dictionary  o f the Maqiao Dialect).  Han's other short stories, though less explicitly historical in design, exhibit a similar allegorical impulse with certain nuances in their encounter with time past. In stories such as " L a n G a i z i " (WM.-F) (The Blue Bottle Cap), "Beimenkou yuyan"  (itHUMm)  ( A Prophecy o f the North Gate), 'TJixue" ( M l )  (Bleeding Nose),  "Shanshang de shengyin" < LLLhfftiF a" > (Sounds from the Hilltop) and "Zuotian Z a i h u i " (B^^^Ht)  (Yesterday Farewell) the past is revisited as a kind o f traumatic  encounter that raises questions about memory, history and human perception o f reality. M a i n l y set in the Cultural Revolution years, these stories probe the psychological  Introduction  15  repercussions o f this historical nightmare by mapping personal tragedies onto the broader socio-political realities o f the recent past, which are very often rendered as a grotesque presence that resembles what Alejo Carpentier calls the "marvelous real" (Carpentier 7588). Han's penchant for symbolic intensity and dialectical thinking i n the treatment o f themes and characters in these stories sometimes renders his ultimate statement on his subjects unclear or ambivalent. This also reveals the inner tension Han experiences as a writer. That is to say, the attempt to relearn the truth o f the past always brings about disturbing knowledge o f the present, resulting in a more gloomy and despairing vision o f the future.  Han's incessant search for his cultural roots takes a new departure mMaqiao Cidian, his first and most recent novel and a new experiment in creating collective allegories out o f the "native soil" o f Chinese culture in the form o f a cultural lexicology, i.e. a fictional history o f words. A s a modern work o f fiction cast in a controversial, pseudo-traditional mode, it is a hybrid form that combines the anecdotal, episodic and prose narrative within the framework o f an anthropological glossary. A s i n his short stories, Han's fictional anthropology consists o f characters that are mainly cultural metaphors, a result o f the writer's persistent effort to dig deep into the Chinese cultural psyche for clues to its decline. B y subsuming each fictive historical anecdote under a cultural lexicon, Han's concern with language, especially the etymological roots o f words, as a source o f historical and cultural knowledge is overtly thematized  The  Introduction  16  peculiar form in which these stories are told facilitates the incorporation o f a wide spectrum o f apparently disconnected episodes within a "master narrative" that is essentially metafictional. In this connection, Han's exploration into the linguistic roots o f the Chinese cultural and historical past mMaqiao Cidian also reveals the writer's skepticism toward his own work and his role as a creative writer: " A l l languages are ... but signs describing some kind o f reality ... so its function should not be overstated" (430-431).  Han's rationalistic approach to Chinese history and culture, it seems, has led  him into an ideational cul de sac.  Chapter 4 is devoted to M o Y a n ' s major historical novels in which reality and fantasy are interwoven to tell tales about his native land, Northeast Gaomi Township. Hereditary traits and the degeneration o f the Chinese race in time, as is well known, are pivotal in M o Y a n ' s endeavor to mediate between past and present, transience and permanence through a narrative return to his ancestral roots. M y reading o f M o Y a n ' s novels is in three parts. Beginning with his family saga, namely Honggaoliangjiazu (UMtQ^MY  (Red Sorghum) and ShicaoJiazu  ii^J£M)  (The Grass Eaters).that  embodies his vision o f "human devolution," I proceed to trace the development o f this theme xnJiuguo ( M B )  (Republic o f Wine), a highly provocative novel about Chinese  culture in the vein o f L u X u n ' s "Kuangren riji" his two-volume novel Fengru feituan  ($EA 012)  (it^LIBW)  (Diary o f a Madman), and  (Full Bosoms, Fat Buttocks).  Introduction  17  In Red Sorghum and The Grass Eaters, the most dramatic episodes o f the exceptionally tumultuous periods in modern Chinese history are seized upon and transformed into a unique understanding o f the past. Red Sorghum presents an interesting case as a self-professed family history and a fantastic tale o f heroes and bastards, romance and lust, and most o f all the "devolution" o f the human species through natural and social disintegration. Nostalgia is conveyed through M o Yan's florid, extravagant prose but the ideal past is also skeptically circumscribed by its self-conscious fictionality. The conscious play between myth and historical truth is a rhetorical device and a complex mode o f cognition and signification L i k e H a n Shaogong, M o Y a n favors the first person narrator as the active interpreter o f reality. However, in these two novels the I-narrators are always intimately connected (as an "unfilial son") to the socio-cultural milieu in which the stories take place. A s a descendant o f a family o f heroes, the unfilial son passionately yearns for a spiritual reunion with his ancestors through an imaginative reinvention o f the past, supplementing his limited knowledge with & fictive omniscience. The juxtaposition o f past and present underscores the vision o f devolution as a nostalgic yearning for lost innocence. Devolution, thus, is coterminous with a longing for selfredemption and spiritual purification.  In The Grass Eaters M o Y a n ' s vision o f devolution takes a negative turn. Instead o f reinventing the heroic past as a cultural ideal that has been eroded in time, the moral failings o f the forefathers become a permanent birthmark o f posterity. The stunning  Introduction  18  discovery o f the half-human, half-bestial descent o f the family obliterates the redeeming vision o f purity and innocence in Red Sorghum after a painful recognition o f certain "genetic flaws" in human nature. B e that as it may, the imaginative content o f the text can still be grounded in more concrete historical contexts. In a series o f mythical and dream-like narratives organized around periodic (cyclical) locust attacks, the history o f the grass-eating family alludes to a number o f bloody episodes in Chinese history from the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing to the Cultural Revolution. This allegorical element thus resituates the notion o f "devolution" within the moral and socio-cultural realms o f human experience. In this light, "devolution" can be seen as a metaphor, or a kind o f literary hermeneutics that exploits the tension between nature and culture, primitive and civilized modes o f thought, as well as the paradoxical impulse to return to a "purer" state o f being as a buffer against the encroachment o f modernity.  "Devolution" is taken up and further developed in The Republic of Wine, a collective allegory that consists o f probably the most negative and horrifying images o f Chinese culture since L u X u n ' s "cannibalism" critique almost a century ago. This is M o Y a n ' s as yet most radical historical metafiction both in form and content. Primarily focused on the present, the author makes use o f both historical and literary precedents (both real and imagined) to conjure up a s\irrQ&\\si\cfin-de-siecle fictional landscape (Wineland) in a multi-layered narrative combining the epistolary narrative, social satire, popular romance, crime thriller, melodrama and fictional autobiography. The portrayal  Introduction  19  of grotesque and deformed characters in a world o f total moral and spiritual bankruptcy conjures up a bleak and •frightening picture o f "human devolution" and historical decline, culminating in the final destruction o f the hero (and the dramatized author). This novel, seen as an extension o f M o Y a n ' s historical metaphor, also reveals the inner struggles o f an artist trying to defend his moral vision in an uphill battle against the corrupting currents o f an increasingly utilitarian society - one that has apparently lost its sense o f direction in a ruthless race o f "modernization."  M o Yan's most recent long novel, Full Bosoms, Fat Buttocks, spans the entire twentieth century. It signals a return to the more humane realm o f human experience despite its bold imagery and fantastic content. In this novel M o Y a n seems eager to come to terms with his obsession with purity and hybridity, as seen from his treatment o f the bastard hero, his central character and first-person narrator. The bastard, Golden B o y , is a "weak" character who never grows out o f his infantile obsession with women's breasts. The true "heroes" in this novel are the female characters, whose "full bosoms and fat buttocks" conjure up an extraordinary image o f the Mother figure, culminating in Golden B o y ' s final vision o f a heaven o f breasts metamorphosed into "the highest mountain between Heaven and Earth." A s a symbol o f femininity, it goes beyond the conventional views o f chastity and female sexuality and redefines morality in terms o f the sanctity o f life. The tragic events that shape the course o f life o f individuals, after all, are subsumed under this transcending vision o f breasts. While this grand finale may not be construed as  Introduction  20  "optimistic," it does give a broader view o f M o Y a n ' s vision o f art and reality, and most interestingly art (fiction) as a kind o f spiritual redemption against the destructive forces o f history.  Chapter 4 "Su Tong's Topos o f Desire" begins with Su Tong's stories o f the South. Compared to M o Y a n ' s Northeast Gaomi, Su Tong's fictional homeland is a very different locale. The South, from the very beginning, constitutes an antithesis to the idealized domain o f M o Y a n ' s red sorghum country. A s the primary setting o f his fictional narratives o f the past, the decadent South defines the overall contour o f Su Tong's fictional topos. H i s major works, e.g. Mi  <  tiMf >  (Rice), Chengbei didai  (The Northern District o f the City), Yingshu zhijia < WM^M»  Family) and Nanfang de duoluo (  WiJlffiMM))  (Opium  (The Decline of the South), can be  seen as metonymic signs o f the South - a lyrical and haunting presence, an imaginary world in which history is an endless cycle o f frustrated psychosexual desire. Nonetheless, the South in these fictional narratives also possesses an evocative sensual appeal, one that Su Tong's narrators find it hard to resist.  In the Chinese literary tradition, the South is a complex and ambivalent symbol characteristically associated with banishment and exile; it is "alien and hostile to Han Chinese culture," barbarian and threatening (Schneider 60). In general terms, the aesthetic and political "otherness" o f the South has become an important part o f Chinese  Introduction  21  culture as a whole, whereas the north/south bifurcation can be seen as an expression o f the complexity and multiplicity o f an apparently static and homogenous ancient civilization. In Su Tong's fiction, the South embodies certain alluring characteristics reminiscent o f those in the classical tradition, but it is also radically transformed into an even more alienating and horrifying image o f "home" as a locus o f desire, a metaphorical space where history unfolds in the most bizarre tales o f human perversion. F r o m nostalgia to nightmare, the South is a haunting presence that pervades Su Tong's fictional imagination.  A central motif in much o f Su Tong's work is the construction o f family history. L i k e M o Y a n ' s Gaomi, Su Tong invokes the South - its past and present - as the imaginary homeland for his idiosyncratic "historical" research, unlike M o Y a n , in Su Tong's narratives of the South his spiritual home is devoid o f heroic grandeur. Instead o f a paradoxical impulse to return (to identify, to embrace, to revere), "escape" is the predominant movement. Yet, "escape" is also a paradoxical gesture, as the narrative always gravitates toward home as the ultimate source o f meaning. This aspect o f Su Tong's "home theme" is key to an understanding of the family histories in Qiqie  Chengqun ( jf^cfiSifjf ) {Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas), Rice, The Northern District of the City and Pusa man  ( # 1 1 1 1 ) (Bodhisatva Barbarian). In these stories,  "historical" events are structured within a recurrent pattern of escape and return, whereas  Introduction  22  characters are always caught within a vicious circle o f sadomasochistic cultural/selfdestruction.  Another favorite motif o f Su Tong is fate, or fatalism as a mythical force o f history. Although this suggestion is repeated in most o f Su Tong's historical fiction, fate can also be interpreted as a kind o f aesthetic encoding that underscores the subversiveness o f the use o f fate in the literary text itself. L i k e the unconventional image o f home, fate is a self-conscious fictional device that implies a critique o f its own way o f "seeing... as..." M o r e important, the creative use o f fate in these "southern" narratives as an alternative way o f "seeing.. as..." is a deviant gesture vis-a-vis the official "scientific" approach to history and the "truth" it represents.  The final part o f this chapter looks at Su Tong's venture into China's dynastic history in Wu Zetian ( W^SfK ) (Empress W u ) and Wo de diwang shengya ( $ £ l ^ ^ : E ^ £ j I } ( M y Life as an Emperor). A s Su Tong's most overtly historical works so far, these two novels take up dynastic decline and kingship as the two main themes o f Chinese history. However, they adopt two very different schematic designs: Empress Wu portrays the life o f the legendary Empress W u , an exceptionally talented yet fiercely aggressive woman in eighth-century China who usurped her husband's throne and became the first "female emperor" in Chinese history. My Life as an Emperor, on the other hand, is a fictional autobiography written by a deposed emperor, an imaginary  Introduction  23  piece that nonetheless synthesizes the most cliched but realistically horrifying scenes in Chinese dynastic history.  A s historical fictions, these two novels represent Su Tong's continuous effort not only to reinvent Chinese history for new meanings, but also to reinvent himself as a creative writer. In My Life as an Emperor the familiar locale o f the South is invoked and recast in a tale o f dynastic decline, whereas the confessional first-person narrative o f a deposed emperor shifts the ground o f a contemplation on collective destiny to a sentimental, subjective reflection on personal misfortunes. A s a fictional memoir with no specific historical analogy, the novel can be read as a compact allegory o f Chinese dynastic history as a whole. In Empress Wu, on the other hand, the author draws heavily upon traditional historiography in his portrayal o f the legendary heroine. In this particular case, the concurrence (rather than difference) between historical and fictional reality, ironically, turns out to be the biggest hurdle in Su Tong's ambitious project o f "telling familiar old tales in radically new ways" (Shiyiji 88). Juxtaposing My Life as an Emperor and Empress Wu, one wonders whether the self-imposed constraint o f historical accuracy may interfere with the literary imagination, since the parameters o f fictional representation are mostly determined by the overwhelming presence o f traditional historical discourse.  Introduction  24  In the works o f Han Shaogong, M o Y a n and Su Tong the past always invites paradoxical responses, i.e. estrangement and intimacy, sympathy and disgust, and most o f all, a consciousness o f time as a destructive force and a desire to resist it through narrative. If, as Hayden White says, the "ironic mode" o f historical imagination (i.e., a radical historical skepticism) has been influential in the twentieth century, the same is also true for the Chinese literary imagination in recent years. There are well known historical reasons for this skepticism, i f not negativity, given our knowledge o f "what happened" in the past few decades, when the erratic course o f "modernity" in China trampled over the old tradition without constructive clues for a genuine renewal. If the beginning o f modern Chinese literature represents an initiation into the linear progress o f modernity, the changing perception o f history in the works o f the three authors presents a more sober, and understandably more negative, vision o f Chinese culture as a reaction to a century-long historical impasse.  1  Contemporary Poetics: The Return to/of History  The problematic relation between history (as what happened in the past) and fiction has been a privileged theme ever since the turn of the century, in the works of modernist writers in the West (most notably James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Joseph Conrad) and also modern Chinese writers of the May Fourth period and beyond (Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Zhang Ailing, and Bai Xianyong). Recently, this "obsession with history" in fiction has given rise to what Linda Hutcheon (1988, 1989) calls "historiographic metafiction" in her two studies on postmodernism. This new genre is characteristically associated with the works of postcolonial writers like Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children, the Satanic Verses) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The General in His Labyrinth). This kind of fictional representation of history and reality overtly transgresses the boundaries between poesis and mimesis by foregrounding/fictionalizihg 1  the endless exchange between the phenomenal world (as a field of objects and events) and the human efforts to construct narratives that seek to understand and explain it (in the form of historical records, anecdotes, memoirs and fiction). As such, attention is being drawn as much to the "what" to be inscribed in the literary text as to the "how" and  1  Mimesis, according to Aristotle, is the "imitation of action," i.e. verisimilitude in representation. Poesis,  then, suggests the non-mimetic properties of literary language which is commonly associated with the "lyrical." Ricoeur's theory of narrative reinterprets Aristotle's mimesis (and poesis) in terms of a "poetics  Contemporary Poetics  26  "why" it is carried out in the literary text as a poetic gesture toward the myriad forms in which history may appear to the human imagination. History, as represented in the literary text, undergoes an aesthetic-hermeneutic transformation that enriches human historical imagination. On the other hand, the theoretical debate over the meaning and truth-value of historiography gained momentum ever since the appearance of Hayden White's Metahistory (1973), a treatise on the "tropological" (i.e. literary) nature of historical discourse (31-38). White's theory of tropes as the fundamental modes of historical consciousness triggered a heated debate among historians and literary critics in their respective fields. Meanwhile, Paul Ricoeur further explores the problematic of narrative representation of reality on the basis of a "phenomenology" of metaphor and narrative in The Rule ofMetaphor (1977) and Time and Narrative (3 vols. 1984, 1985, 1988). According to Ricoeur, metaphor and narrative understanding are the very foundation of truth claims in fiction and history, the two major categories of narrative through which human knowledge of the world is recorded and transmitted.  This chapter is intended to be a critical review of Western critical thought on the nature of, and relationship between, historiography and fiction in light of recent developments in literary and cultural studies. I will explore the ways in which theories of narrative can be usefully employed in the reading of literary texts that overtly or implicitly engage with history and historical representation on thematic, formal, as well as ideological levels. I will begin with a general discussion of the nature and problematic  of narrative." See Time and Narrative vol. 1.  Contemporary Poetics  27  offictionaland historical narrative as analogous and supplementary modes of representation in search of knowledge about the past, with special attention to the theoretical insights of Hayden White and Paul Ricoeur. The difference between White and Ricoeur regarding referentiality and truth in narrative, to a certain extent, epitomizes the controversy in modern Western critical thought concerning the nature of language, hence the possibility of knowledge about the world through language. The tension between language, especiallyfigurativelanguage, and its ultimate "signifieds" culminates in Ricoeur's theory of metaphor, leading to a reconsideration of the relation between mimesis and poesis ih Time and Narrative I will use this concept to try to disentangle 2  the intricate network of associations between history andfiction,and will argue that both fiction and history refer to the extra-textual world and retain their claim to meaning and truth without losing sight of their Active or metahistorical dimensions. My primary interest, however, is in the representation of history in the literary text which, I think, is by nature more disposed to confront the "bigger" problems concerning the relationship between representation and human perception of reality in general.  2  From Metaphor to Time and Narrative, Ricoeur develops what he calls a "phenomenology of time  consciousness" through the Aristotelian idea of mimesis and Augustine's reflections on time. Mimesis, he suggests, always involves poesis. Narrative representation of reality, as mimesis, requires a poetic treatment; likewise, poesis can never be totally severed from its mimetic intention, both conceptually and semantically..  Contemporary Poetics  28  Narrativizing the past: fictional and historical imagination  Narrative is a universal phenomenon across human cultures, for it is the primary means by which humanity makes sense o f reality.  3  Granted, narrative is also a  fundamental mode o f historical discourse without which historical explanations would be impossible. A s a kind o f narrative art, historiography, according to Hayden White, is not 4  an exact science but is a close relative o f fiction in terms o f its basic tropes and strategies of "emplotment." (Metahistory 30-31). This being said, it is important to note that White's observations, as we shall see, run the risk o f a radical indeterminacy o f meaning that discredits as much as legitimizes any form o f historical interpretation and misinterpretation.  5  However, White's theory o f tropes does illuminate the relationship  between historical truths and the historical imagination o f individuals (in his case the most influential historians and philosophers o f history in nineteenth-century Europe) that helps discover these truths; and that between human perception o f history and the kinds of tropes available for the construction o f explanatory models to interpret and represent the past in a particular cultural context. White's analysis of the modes o f historical imagination in 19 century Europe also suggests that these modes are literary (fictional) th  3  Recent theories of narrative have contributed to a "narrative turn" in historical tliinking; cf. White (1987),  Ch. 1 &2. 4  Cf. Rosen, 11-12; Schwartz, 23-26; Ricoeur (1984), Ch. 4&5, where he emphasizes the "explanatory"  function of narrative understanding which is crucial to the production of meaning in all forms of narrative. 5  Critics of White, mostly historians, have expressed dissatisfaction with his model of tropes. Wulf  Kansteiner, for example, speaks about White's "epistemological relativism" that "collapses history and philosophy" and "converges fiction and historiography" to the extent that "any link between the reality of  Contemporary Poetics  in nature.  6  29  They are also indispensable to human perception o f reality, precisely because  they are virtually inevitable in any attempt to communicate experience through narration. Does it follow that every act o f narration necessarily creates fictions? If the answer is "no,"  what, then, w i l l be the difference between fiction and history, and what kind o f  interconnectedness can be established between fictional and historical representation o f the past besides that they are ideologically informed textual constructs pretending to be "genuine" knowledge?  Before answering these questions, it is important to demarcate certain conceptual boundaries to avoid possible confusion. B y history I mean a field o f data, facts or real occurrences that is "neutral" (not to say chaotic, unformed or "unprocessed" in White's sense). Fiction is taken in the literal sense to mean the work o f the imagination to create narratives or "stories" which do not necessarily correspond to facts, events or empirical evidence as such (though it may do so on purpose). Historical narrative (or historiography) then refers to works by historians in narrative form that seek to represent  past events and their semantic position with the historiographical text" is severed. (Kansteiner 278). 6  In his "Introduction," White delineates these "modes" largely in terms of a "poetics of history," i.e.  historiographical styles can be systematically understood in terms of the modes of explanation (by emplotment, argument and ideological implication), each having their corresponding "story forms" (i.e. emplotment. - romantic, tragic, comic, satirical; argument - formist, mechanistic, organicist, contextualist; ideological implication - anarchist, radical, conservative, liberal.) These modes are set against the theory of tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony) that accounts for the different phases of nineteenthcentury historical consciousness. "In the poetic act which precedes the formal analysis of the field, the historian both creates his object of analysis and predetermines the modality of the conceptual strategies he will use to explain it" (Metahistory 31).  Contemporary Poetics  30  and explain "what happened" in the past based on available documentary and empirical sources. A s such, it is subject to proof procedures and logical scrutiny as a measure o f its truth value, while its quest for "objectivity" necessarily acknowledges the problems o f objectivity in a self-reflective process o f inquiry.  7  This understanding o f fiction, historiography and history is the basis o f our understanding of the interrelationship between historical and fictional representation o f history; hence the different configurations o f history in different kinds o f narratives. Thus an act of narration does not  necessarily create fictions, nor does it necessarily  represent the real as it is, or was. Conversely, narrative presents a vision of the real by means o f its formal coherence (including deliberate incoherence or "formlessness"). Insofar as history is the subject o f a narrative (fictional or historical), hence an "object" o f representation, what is involved is a sense o f reality as it is "emplotted," in Ricoeur's sense of the term, whose purpose after all is to create/discover a form out o f 8  formlessness, i.e. to make sense of the world, whatever that "form" may be. 9  Narrativizing the past, no doubt, involves literary imagination indispensable to both fiction and historiography; yet, the "literariness" o f historiography belongs to strategy  7  " . . precisely because history has objectivity as a project, it can pose limits o f objectivity as a specific  problem... to place i t w i t h i n the scope o f a critique o f ideology. T h i s . . . might be called the critical reflection of historical inquiry." Ricoeur 8  (Time and Narrative  1:176-177).  Different f r o m White, though equal i n emphasis, Ricoeur sees the plot as the most important element i n  mimesis, for it embodies the narrative time-consciousness that configures a n d refigures human experiences against die endless (and potentially meaningless) flux of events i n time. 9  (Time and Narrative 2:  Chapter 1)  W h i t e ' s idea o f "emplotment" is more formal, i n the sense that the plot o f history is predetermined by the  Contemporary Poetics  31  and style, while that of fiction is "generic" and intrinsic.  It follows, then, that it is possible to address the questions raised above in this way. The affinity between historiography and fiction in terms of their linguistic and tropological properties does not suggest identity or sameness. Historiography and fiction both ask and seek answers for questions on how reality (the past) is to be understood, but this is done on different epistemological and hermeneutic grounds. For one thing, history in fiction creates a past that is essentially symbolic, and its signification presumes an aesthetic distance that differentiates its world of plausible circumstances from the empirically real world, which makes up the entire field of historical research. Fiction and historical writing, then, are accorded different degrees of what I would call "mimetic advocacy," i.e. the relative creative autonomy with regard to factual data and lived experience. Yet, within the literary text, the fluid boundaries between fictive and real experiences deserve careful attention: as mere stories,fictionseeks to create meaning out of inchoate experiences (including that of the imagination as it resonates with experiences and memories of real events) by giving it an appropriate form, i.e. a beginning, a middle and an end, though their order in each case may vary. As a synthetic and syncretic 10  form, fiction effects "a concord of imaginatively recorded past and imaginatively  tropes available to story-tellers at a given time i n a given culture. See W h i t e (Metahistory 7-11). 10  In this respect, White's idea of "emplotment" as a narrative device to familiarize the unfamiliar (Tropics  87) is i n accord w i t h Ricoeur's "emplotment" as an essential means by w h i c h narrative refigures human temporal experience; i.e. to create a sense of order against what R u s e n calls the "structurally threatening temporal change" (12).  32  Contemporary Poetics  predicted future, achieved on behalf of us, who remain 'in the middest. " . By 7  n  resituating the real in the realm of the unreal, i.e. that of metaphors and symbols, fiction does not offer historical explanations as such, but consciously projects a vision of history through the Active world it creates. Here also lies the significance of a fictional reinscription of the past, where the dynamics between what improbably true in historical accounts and what is possible and believable in fiction becomes more intriguing. For fiction initiates a process of reinterpreting the past as a rhetorical gesture, one that displaces and defamiliarizes the real so that the world of the text projects certain ways of living, or what Ricoeur says "being-in-the-world," awaiting to be "refigured" in the process of reading . In what follows, I will discuss the issue of historical representation 12  in fiction beginning with Lukacs' theory of the historical novel; I will then explore the concept of metaphor and its potential for a more inclusive understanding of historical fiction in modernist and postmodernist poetics.  Historical Fictions and Fictional Histories: boundaries, genres and theory  In The Historical Novel, Georg Lukacs defines a "great" historical novel as "an  11  A c c o r d i n g to Kermode, literary ends i n the Western tradition internalize the apocalypse a n d turn it into  an "immanent" e n d M o d e r n literature, then, is a k i n d o f "broken myth," the m y t h o f ending and redemption that is perpetually postponed 12  (6-8).  A c c o r d i n g l y , it i s the " w o r l d o f the w o r k " through w h i c h "ways o f inhabiting the w o r l d . . . lie waiting to  be taken up by reading." T h e "confrontation between the w o r l d o f the text a n d the w o r l d o f the reader" begins the process o f the third stage o f mimesis or "mimesis " (refiguration). Ricoeur (Time and 3  Narrativff.2: 5).  Contemporary Poetics  33  artistically faithful image o f a concrete historical epoch" (19). This groundbreaking study by one o f the most important Marxist literary critics o f the 20  century may seem  out-dated almost three decades after its first appearance. Nonetheless, it remains groundbreaking in the sense that it constitutes a "paradigm" against which new ones have been established, albeit in very different directions. One may find his definition o f the th  historical novel, or the great historical novels o f the 19 century, too limiting for a fair assessment o f equally excellent works by modern (especially modernist) writers, not to say more contemporary ones whose treatment o f history is far from what the old master would agree as being "faithful" and "concrete." Nonetheless, Lukacs did make some valid claims about the representation o f history in fiction that have withstood the test o f time. For example, Lukacs argues that good writers o f the historical novel must have "a clear sense o f history as a process, o f history as the concrete precondition o f the present" (21); that "mere representations o f historical movements" are less desirable than individualized heroes: brought into a very complex, very live relationship with the age in which they live" (47); and that we can consider the "extensions o f the historical novel into an historical picture o f the present" as "self-experienced history" (84) because the historical novel concerns itself with "portraying the prehistory of the present" (337, italics original). Despite his skepticism and dislike o f modern(ist) literature, Lukacs' study o f the "great" historical novelists o f the 18 and 19 century also suggests, implicitly, that the return to history in fiction is always prompted by a deep-seated anxiety and skepticism toward modernity as a global process which threatens the existing order o f things, as in the case o f Pushkin, Gogol and even the "progressive" Goethe. In this respect, Lukacs' notion o f an "artistically faithful image" o f Jjistory is also informed  34  Contemporary Poetics  b y a u n i q u e l y " m o d e r n " i m a g i n a t i o n that is not too alien to what one finds i n B a u d e l a i r e ,  13 V i r g i n i a W o o l f , James J o y c e a n d T h o m a s M a n n .  In his attempt to set out the essential criteria for the historical n o v e l i n the social (not socialist) realist m o d e , L u k a c s d i d i n d e e d p a v e the w a y for a modernist engagement w i t h history that refuses to take "concreteness" for granted; instead, m e a n i n g is created by active  an  refiguration o f h u m a n experience o f the past t h r o u g h fictional narrative. H i s t o r y ,  then, b e c o m e s a " m e t a p h o r i c a l reference" to i l l u m i n a t e those aspects o f reality that are not (yet) available to literal i n t e r p r e t a t i o n .  14  History-as-metaphor, as I perceive it,  captures the "essence" o f fictions about history (and about history writing) as it makes r o o m for a b r o a d spectrum o f texts to c o m e u n d e r a c o m m o n interpretative f r a m e w o r k without neutralizing their diversity a n d i d i o s y n c r a t i c potentials to " r e d e s c r i b e " h u m a n experience i n different historical a n d cultural contexts.  Historical understanding and fictional truth  It is banal but w o r t h reiterating that fiction does m a k e truth c l a i m s about the w o r l d ,  13  Marshall Berman (1988) has convincingly argued for the similarity of Marx, Goethe and Baudelaire  with regard to "modernity" as a global historical process. Ricoeur's reading of Woolf, Mann and Proust explores the dimensions of temporal experience as representative of the modernist reaction to the flux of historical time. Ricoeur (Time and Narrative 2: Ch. 3). 14  In The Rule of Metaphor Ricoeur argues that "metaphorical reference" designates the kind of referential  function of literary language and therefore reaffirms the power of metaphorical language to "redescribe" reality; hence the value of "metaphorical truth."  Contemporary Poetics  35  no matter how dubious or doubtful such claims may appear to the critical reader. This "referential intentionality" of fiction, however, does not supercede the kinds of truths that history helps discover about the past for reasons given earlier. The formal affinity between fictional and historical narrative, as explicated by White and Ricoeur in different ways, can generate two possible conclusions. First, the formal and imaginative elements of both historical and fictional narrative are susceptible to the contention that historical knowledge is fictive in origin so that fiction, since it is free of the "hypocrisy" of objectivity and truth, confers a better sense of the past as a linguistic/textual construct subject to ideological and power manipulations  1 6  15  The second possible conclusion is that  the theoretical contention between historiography and fiction over the interpretation of the past as a result of contemporary literary and philosophical rethinking cannot completely undermine the sense of historical reality as represented by historiography even though fictive "invention" of the past also constitutes a "reality" of its own. At this point it is essential to draw a line between (fictional) history and false knowledge of history fabricated by state machines in order to consolidate political power. (Such a distinction is crucial to my reading of historical fiction in the following chapters, for the  15  See, for example, Cowart (1989), especially Chapter 1, i n w h i c h he says historical knowledge " w i t h the  greatest validity" concerns less "the rational judgment of the historian" than "the moral a n d imaginative discrimination of the artist," so that "the historically informed artist" is "the most reliable explorer of the past." 16  Historians and critics of W h i t e have attended to this latest tendency i n w h i t e ' s thought toward a more  post-structuralist approach, although they are also aware that White is struggling endlessly w i t h his o w n contradictions i n theory and practice especially w i t h regard to historical writings about the Holocaust. L a C a p r a , for example, remarks that the "absurdist" critics whose approaches White once found unsound "actually articulate things that are 'inside' White himself " (qtd. i n Kansteiner 281, n. 28.)  Contemporary Poetics  36  subversion of fabricated false histories is a central preoccupation of the "new historical fiction" in China today). As Paul Ricoeur has said, history is a rigorous discipline devoted to the "enlargement of our collective memory" and a "rectification" of it. This is done "on the basis of the presupposition that the past has left a trace ... that bear[s] witness to the past" {Time and Narrative 3: 118-119). This faith in the ontological reality of the past, hence the epistemological status of history, is built upon a wow-theoretical belief in the value of history to human existence:  As soon as the idea of a debt to the dead, to people of flesh and blood to whom something really happened in the past, stops giving documentary research its highest end, history loses its meaning. (119)  Thus, the question is not whether history is merely a textual construct that bears no real relation to the past as an objective entity but whether the belief in the actuality of a past (actual existence of people in flesh and blood and the things they did) is to a certain degree still knowable and worthy of knowing; and whether such a belief can be totally refuted by the claim that one can never be sure of what happened in the distant past simply because all knowledge is a self-referring text.  17  Fiction, in contrast, has more freedom in creating a world of its own which does not  17  "... a consciousness of the past as such performs a critical function. T o believe this does not require a  faith i n the objectivity o f interpretation or a prior belief that history is the sum total o f positive facts" B r o m w i c h (203-233).  Contemporary Poetics  37  necessarily reproduce but redescribes the real world by projecting ways o f "being-in-theworld" that produce meanings that are not (yet) articulated in ordinary, literal language. In other words, fiction refers to the real world by first locating itself in the domain o f the "unreal." Ricoeur, having sensed the inadequacy o f a purely theoretical formulation o f this essentially "abstract" human phenomenon (albeit formulated in his own extensive and sophisticated argument), stresses that the "interweaving reference" o f fiction and history {Time and Narrative 2: 82) is less a matter o f theoretical debate than discernment by common sense and confidence on the part o f both the author and reader o f historical (and fictional) texts. "Witnesses in spite o f themselves," says Ricoeur, best describes the kinds o f truths made available through historical inquiry (Time and Narrative 3: 117119).  So far I have examined the recent theoretical debate over the facticity and truth value o f historical narrative in relation to fictional narrative, not so much for the sake o f proving the "authenticity" o f historical narrative as o f probing the way in which fiction configures the past (lived and imagined) to create its own meaning. Let me reiterate that fiction does not and need not refute, replace or authenticate historical findings. A s it is, it is a mode o f imagining and apprehending the meaning o f the past through a "metaphorical" reprocessing o f human experiences o f and sensibilities toward the past, which in turn helps situate and define the present. It therefore differs from history in terms o f "intention" and "reference:" intention because it posits itself between poesis (self-contained artifact) and mimesis (what Luckacs calls a "faithful image" o f reality), reference because it does not refer to real objects as such but creates its own reference in  Contemporary Poetics  38  the order o f "seeing... as..." The tension between what " i s " and what "is not," moreover, is part o f the semantic function o f metaphor.  18  Insofar as all historical and  fictional representations o f the past involve mimesis in one way or the other, fictional histories complicate this process by subjecting historical mimesis to a poetic or metaphorical transformation, so that history-as-metaphor (fictional history) no longer corresponds to empirical knowledge, but is meaningful as a cultural metaphor that embodies a multitude o f dimensions in which the past presents itself to the human imagination in the present.  The self-conscious tension between representation and reality in all literary creations is overtly thematized in what comes to be known as metafiction, a concept that crosses over to the consideration o f history-as-metaphor once our understanding o f a "faithful image" o f historical reality is flexible enough to embrace those images that deviate from the real i n order to tell the truth. It is at this point that metafiction, metahistory and metaphor, and the interaction between them, deserve special attention. A l l three explicitly grapple with the problems o f referentiality and meaning in language; implicitly, their conceptual presumptions bespeak the dynamics between fictional and historical narrative, thus language and its truth-content. A s such, a kind o f matrix is made possible by cross-referencing their respective propositions. This matrix helps situate and identify history-as-metaphor within a network of texts and inter-texts, literary and non-literary, as we shall see in the following.  In the Wittgensteinian sense, "seeing... as..." underlies the semantic content of figurative language but  Contemporary Poetics  39  Metahistory, Metafiction and Metaphor  Hayden White's Metahistory: the Historical Imagination in 19 Century Europe is th  perhaps the inevitable textbook nowadays in any discussion on metahistory. In fact, White's study has enriched and radically transformed the concept by an archetypal analysis of the "linguistic protocols" (tropes and emplotment) that underlie the works of major historians and philosophers of history in nineteenth-century Europe. It has been widely acknowledged that although White's "literary" approach to historical studies invites as much praise as criticism, Metahistory and other recent works by White have been received with much enthusiasm within the humanities discipline, especially departments of literature, sociology and anthropology . To the extent that White's 19  insights have remained largely conjectural and hypothetical rather than confirmed among historians, applications of his theory yield the most exciting results in literary studies (Vann 146-147). Later on I will examine the propositions made by White regarding literary and historical writing that are compatible with the metafictional approach in literary criticism. M y purpose is to examine the implications of the two approaches (metahistorical and metafictional) on our understanding of representation, language and reality in general, and on the transmission of meaning in the literary text in particular. I hope to show that the common ground of metahistorical and metafictional criticism is as much their formal procedures as the philosophical and cultural assumptions behind these  does not nullify its truth content. Ricoeur (Metaphor  6).  Contemporary Poetics  40  procedures. Finally, I will introduce history-as-metaphor as a way of "seeing" (embodied in writing and reading), and its capacity to create meaning ("something") against meaninglessness ("nothing").  20  This way of reading, in the present context, is  restricted to literature and more specifically to fictions about history. On the other hand, such a reading endeavors to discover those metahistorical and metafictional traits in the literary text, traits that ironically deepen, rather than deconstruct, the correspondence between representation and reality in a non-literal, non-coercive way.  The word "metahistory" invokes a series of associations with the unhistorical or ahistorical aspects of historical discourse that are not susceptible to empirical historical analysis. These include the implicitly shared beliefs and assumptions within a culture, especially those that have "universal" qualities and implications like cosmological worldviews, the concept of order (and disorder), and most fundamentally the act of narration as a means to conceptualize and make sense of the endless flux of events in time. These metahistorical elements are not exactly "new," nor are they overlooked or suppressed by historians in order to create coherent narratives of the past.  21  Inasmuch as  the nineteenth-century view of a universal history is now found wanting in accounting for  19  2 0  C f . R i c h a r d T. V a n n ' s essay on the reception o f White. 1 owe this idea to P a u l Ricoeur's The Rule of Metaphor (1977), i n w h i c h he tackles the problematic o f  language, representation a n d referentiality i n a w a y that breaks away from a deconstructive "textualism." 21  Historians and philosophers o f history alike are aware o f this dilemma between the historical and the  unhistorical, a n d have always been l o o k i n g for way to resolve this tension i n their o w n works; c f . Schwartz and Rusen. Robert H o l t o n ' s review (1994) o n the development o f A n g l o - A m e r i c a n historiography since the 1 9 century, alongside W h i t e ' s on European historical thinking, explores this perpetual tension that th  Contemporary Poetics  41  culturally specific historical patterns, Hayden White seeks to locate this "universal" within the literary tradition of the West to account for the different modes o f historical consciousness that inform the works o f historians and philosophers o f history in what he calls the "golden age" o f historical studies.  22  B y implication, historical consciousness  does not determine but is predetermined by the kinds o f tropes and plot-types available within a cultural tradition.  23  In addition, these tropes (metaphor, synecdoche, and  metonym) must correspond to the historian's ideological orientation and "formal" argument in configuring a chosen set o f events in an appropriate plot (romance, tragedy, comedy, and irony). These "pre-critical commitments" to different modes o f discourse and their "constitutive tropological strategies," in turn, "account for the generation o f the different interpretations o f history" (Metahistory 430).  The value o f White's theory is that it alerts us to the linguistic and cultural factors that facilitate and inevitably limit the historian's endeavor to discover the hidden truths o f the past, and that the writing and reading o f history has to be so informed as to guard against dogmatism and ideological manipulations. Understanding the human past, then, has to be a self-reflective and self-critical activity, one that invokes the literary imagination for a creative understanding o f the world. A s many critics have pointed out,  partially defines the historian's task 22  Although the master historical thinkers in the 19 century managed to produced only "a host of th  conflicting 'realisms,"' the "great poetic, scientific, and philosophical concerns of [this] gold age" can free historical consciousness from the Ironic mode that characterizes the modem age. White (Metahistory 432434) 23  See White's "Introduction" to Metahistory.  Contemporary Poetics  42  White's idea o f historical truth as a matter o f moral and aesthetic choice is susceptible to a radical historical relativism that promotes absolute indeterminacy o f meaning rather than skeptical neutrality.  24  White's attempt to formulate "the different possible theories  by which historical thinking was justified by the philosophers o f history" in nineteenthcentury Europe (Metahistory 2), while accounting for the differences between the historians and philosophers o f history in terms o f their literary preferences, imposes a tropological uniformity on two distinct intellectual disciplines. A t its extreme, White's tropological formulation sees every interpretation as equally valid, and therefore equally false, because their meaning is contingent upon the linguistic protocols that their own culture permits:  [Interpretations] as possible models o f historical representation or conceptualization does not depend upon the nature o f the "data" they use to support their generalizations or the theories they invoked to explain them; it depends rather upon the consistency, coherence, and illuminative power o f their respective visions o f the historical field. This is why they cannot be "refuted," ... Their  status as models of historical narration and conceptualization depends, ultimately, on the preconceptual and specifically poetic nature of their perspectives on history and its processes (4, my emphasis).  A perhaps reductive yet possible deduction follows: the meaning o f a historical text is  White's recent writings show signs of this moral dilemma, as in the case of the history of the Holocaust. Kansteiner (292-93).  Contemporary Poetics  43  always contained in the tropes used to describe or emplot events of the past, and the significance o f historical events is a function o f a finite number o f explanatory models, i.e. combinations of tropes, plot-types, ideologies and formal arguments.  25  I have no intention to undermine White's achievement in bringing to light the connections between the stylistic, ideological and semantic levels o f historical (and fictional) narrative, but I do want to point out the poetic aspect of White's theory that gives the greatest force to his work. B y locating the metahistorical dimensions o f historical understanding within a new-critical framework o f literary forms, White implicitly locates his own text within the same, for his own formal inquiry, he admits, is inevitably cast in the Ironic mode,  26  and the choice o f a particular mode is a matter o f  "point o f view," which is "essentially a literary ... operation" {Content 85). If the analysis o f historical data and the "emplotment" o f events into a coherent narrative is fundamentally a literary pursuit, one might say that the most valid interpretation o f a historical text is also a literary one; and this is what White has attempted to do in Metahistory and other essays in The Content of the Form and Tropics of Discourse.  21  After all, there is no denying that literary and historical imagination have some basic commonalities regarding their formal and hermeneutic characteristics, and it is worthy o f our attention that fiction and history may sometimes converge tangentially in purpose and  25  According to White, "four principal types [of explanatory strategies] ... correspond to the four principal  tropes of poetic language" (31). 26  The dilemma of this pre-disposition forces White to appeal to an "openness" that will hopefully  transcend the Ironic mode that predominates modern historical thought" (434).  Contemporary Poetics  44  function. Yet, it is neither certain nor provable that metahistory "predetermines" the historical field before the historian actually begins his research. A s some historians have argued, there are different kinds o f metahistories at work at the same time in the composition o f a historical narrative, and these metahistories might well become 28  "historicized" as part o f a developing pattern o f human experience. Questions such as agency and autonomy remain at the back door o f a linguistic determinism: White's "poetic" analysis of the history o f historical consciousness in nineteenth-century Europe does invite a poetic reading o f itself, for White works so intensely in the realm of tropes and plots to the extent that history is subject to a metaphorical understanding that outbalances its epistemological c l a i m s .  29  B e that as it may, this "metaphorical" quality o f  White's work traverses the boundary between literary and historical thinking, while his self-conscious irony presents a case for metafiction, i.e. the self-reflexive "constructedness" o f his text is at once historical and fictional precisely because it is "metahistorical."  If metahistory in general concerns those "unhistorical" or universal forces behind a culture or a person's historical worldview, Hayden White's tropological analysis has redefined it as a linguistic codification that predetermines the possibilities o f meaning in historical narrative. In the latter case, history should be a morally and aesthetically self-  See, for example, "Historical Text as a Literary Artifact" (Tropics 81-100). 28  The range of historical genres and their unique function in specific space-time within and across cultures  have posed many problems to a comparative methodology. See Rusen (11-21). 29  White also sees historical narratives as "extended metaphors" and "structures of symbols" (Tropics 91).  Contemporary Poetics  4t>  conscious practice, its coherence the result of the formal properties of emplotment and its truth claim the consequence of tropological devices. Different as they are, these two understandings of metahistory do agree on one point, i.e. that historiography consists of a duality of consciousness. On the one hand, the past as an object of knowledge based on empirical evidence is a first principle of historical research; on the other hand, an awareness of metahistory complicates the relationship between the historian and his data, for not only the documents themselves but also the historian's interpretative act are subject to certain culturally determined or conditioned metahistorical forces. This tension need not short-circuit the production of meaning in historical narrative; ironically, the presence of tension prompts a "historical" understanding of what is presumed to be outside and above the historical subject concerned, including the historian's text.  These formal and cognitive procedures involving an active exchange between history and metahistory are comparable to those identified in metafiction, defined by Patricia Waugh as "fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality" (qtd. in Ng 122, n. 3). It is important to note that this skepticism of metafiction towards its referential function is an ironic self-reflection characteristic of modern (and postmodern) fiction. Posing questions, however, by no means suggests a complete rejection of referentiality. Instead, it deepens our understanding of the possible relations between fiction and reality, and therefore the meaning-effects that fiction may have upon human perception. Metafiction as a formal design has had a long history (ever since Sterne's Tristram Shandy, for example).  Contemporary Poetics  4  However, in recent years the notion has come to be associated with postmodernism, especially what Linda Hutcheon (1988) calls "historiographic metafiction." This "new" genre encompasses writers like Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jim Coetze, and other postcolonial writers who playfully combine historical anecdotes and fantastic tales to create a tension between fiction and history. In these stories, both form and content are part of the "reality" represented. Knowledge of the past is as uncanny as the surreal or grotesque experiences of the fictional characters. This kind of magic realism, unlike historical representation, defamiliarizes the real by familiarizing the unreal. The purpose of such a textual play, as I see it, is not to deny the actuality of history but to deepen the experience of history as a dialogue between the past and the present, the empirically real and the imagination, while the act of "looking back" is simultaneously a gesture toward the future.  30  In this sense, this type of fiction does perform a "historical"  function by opening up alternative ways back to a collective, immemorial past (e.g. oral histories, legends and myths)  31  In Midnight's Children and One Hundred Years of  Solitude, for example, myths and fantasies ineluctably interweave with "real" historical events so that these events are reinterpreted in terms of the "unreal."  Several questions arise in connection with this understanding of historiographic metafiction. First, to the extent that historical truth is always situated in a tensional  30  B o t h history and fiction about history perform this double movement.  See, for example, L u k a c s a n d  Rosen. 31  T h i s cultural function o f fiction is not far away f r o m the notion o f history as collective memory, c f .  Schwarz a n d Rusen.  Contemporary Poetics  47  relationship with the past (according to both the general and White's tropological understanding of metahistory), how does one assess the relation between metafiction and its "referent"?  32  Second, how do we understand the prefix "meta-" assigned to fictions  that self-consciously expose their "unreality" that is nonetheless pertinent to a conception of truth? How about those works that do not overtly break the rules of mimesis and yet embody similar epistemological doubts (for example, Doestoevsky's "dialogic" novels)? Finally, if we are able to talk about fiction's referential function and truth claims at all, how do we locate these crucial moments in the process of meaning production?  The first and the last questions were immanent when we discussed Paul Ricoeur's idea of "metaphorical reference" earlier on. According to Ricoeur, to "metaphorize" is to perceive "a previously unnoticed proximity of two ideas ... despite their logical distance," and is therefore related to "the work of resemblance."  33  In the Wiggensteinian  sense, it is "seeing as ..." that is the power of the imagination {Metaphor 6). This metaphorical "seeing as..." shifts its semantic value from the "form of the metaphor as a word-focus figure of speech" to "the reference of the metaphorical statement as the power to 'redescribe' reality." Thus, "metaphor presents itself as a strategy of discourse  32  M i m e s i s , as Ricoeur observes, always involves a tension between "the submission to reality a n d the  creative action" (Metaphor 39). B o t h historical and fictional mimesis, by extension, are subject to this tension i n various degrees. 33  Aristotle defined metaphor as "the transposition of a name." Ricoeur adds that its unique structure is the  "transfer of meanings of words" since "... metaphor is defined i n terms of movement. The epiphora of a w o r d is described as a sort of displacement, ... a process that concerns the semantic k e r n e l . . . of a l l meaningful linguistic entities." Ricoeur (Metaphor 12,17,18)  Contemporary Poetics  48  and develops the heuristic power wielded by fiction" (6). Later on I w i l l consider Ricoeur's theory o f metaphor as it is related to the problematic o f metafiction (and metahistory) in greater depth, but at this point one crucial insight from his analysis needs to be noted:  ... metaphor is the rhetorical process by which discourse unleashes the power that certain fictions have to redescribe reality... to ground what was called metaphorical truth is also to limit poetic discourse. Poetic discourse is justified in this manner within its own circumscription. (7, my emphasis)  Here Ricoeur spells out the difficult "solution" to the problematic relationship between fiction and reality (truth) by exploiting the "split reference" (Jackobson) o f metaphor which allows us to "speak o f metaphorical truth" in the " 'tensive' sense o f the word 'truth.'" A t the same time, there is a need to recognize the limits o f a discipline (like fiction or history) in order to "justify each approach within [those] limits" (7). Although Ricoeur's study mainly concerns the nature and different conceptions o f metaphor as it develops in the Western philosophical and literary traditions, his notion o f "metaphorical truth" and the limits o f each claim to truth does illuminate the relationship between history and fiction, and the concept o f "narrative understanding" that Ricoeur develops in  Time and Narrative.  To the extent that metaphor is a deliberate "categorical transgression" that threatens classification itself, it is also "the complement o f a logic o f discovery" which is also the  Contemporary Poetics  49  "power of metaphor to project and to reveal a world" (Metaphor 25-26, 93). Ricoeur's reflections on the paradoxical nature of metaphor throws light on the "defamiliarizing" 34  use of memory and history in (meta)fiction. In fiction, the ontological status of the past is metaphorized in the configuration of history. Categorical transgression, which is the property of metaphor, initiates a hermeneutic process within the limits of the literary text as an autonomous world of its own. In other words, fictional narrative creates its own meaning by an intuitive apprehension of resemblance between the probably real and the imaginatively true. The heuristic power of fiction is precisely this "seeing... as...," the power of the Active to redescribe reality by making metaphorical reference to a world outside of the literary text.  The "rule of metaphor" illuminates those aspects of fictional narrative as it "sees" reality "as..." In metafiction, self-referentiality is taken to the extreme as the text itself becomes an object of representation. Yet, a sense of reality is required to decode why and to what extent this Active play of reference distorts and alters its (and our) perception of the extra-textual world. In historiographic metafiction, the verisimilitude of traditional historical novels is given up in order to create a sense of history that seeks to estrange us from history, as it is ordinarily perceived. This process of "making strange" is also a selfironic move that defamiliarizes textual meaning. If meta-phor is always a movement, a displacement of meaning into a new and para-doxical context, in metaAction history is metaphorized through a "categorical transgression" of the boundaries between the  In Greek, para-doxa means a deviation from a pre-existing doxa. Ricoeur (Metaphor 27).  Contemporary Poetics  50  presumably real and the self-consciously false. This "double tension" o f metaphorical 35  reference in fiction, moreover, is not limited to metafiction. The complex network o f meanings and illusions created by fiction always exists within this double tension that characterizes all mimetic art forms. The concept o f metaphor, it seems, can mediate between fiction and metafiction without erasing their initial differences. Every work o f fiction can be placed on a scale with fiction (mimesis as imitation o f real action) and metafiction (shall we say "poesis"?) at its two ends, but the power o f metaphorical reference is not dependent on the relative position o f a text on this scale.  When Linda Hutcheon discusses the "subversiveness" o f postmodern historiographic metafiction, she particularly emphasizes its oppositional value ( against historiography, historical fiction and late modernist "radical metafiction") (Politics 7). She regards non-mimetic "auto-representation" as a distinctive strategy o f this kind o f fiction that "problematizes the possibility o f historical knowledge" with "no reconciliation, no dialectic" but just "unresolved contradiction."  36  Her "subversive"  theory o f postmodernism runs the risk o f severing all the links (literary and historical) between this new genre and others, both in time and in space. In Hutcheon's words^ the connection between postmodernist and modernist texts is characterized as that between the "haunting" and the "haunted."  37  However, when history enters the world o f  Or Jakobson's notion of "split reference." Ricoeur (Metaphor 7); cf. n.24. 36  Hutcheon (Politics 106). Hutcheon earlier had had reservations about the idea but later theorized it in her  two studies on the politics and poetics of postmodernism; cf. Ng (123) and n. 21. 37  This concept of "haunting' is used to overcome the charges against the "radical break" theory and the  Contemporary Poetics  si  (meta)fiction, its existence in the extra-textual world is not denied, nor our sense of its material existence being ridiculed. Instead, history is "metaphorized" into the fictional experiences of characters, who nonetheless speak "out of context" to the extraliterary , world. For example, in Midnight's Children, the modern history of India and its traumatic consequences as they are alluded to in the literary text are far more than just a "linguistic construct." (If this is so, why does Hutcheon interpret Saleem's grotesque and mutilated body as "totally imprinted by history and the process of history's destruction of the body"?).  38  Instead, history's true meaning to the Indian people and their culture is to  be "recovered" in a poetic vision informed by that history (national and personal), and also by the history of cultural imagination which the narrator invokes in his fictional autobiography. In Midnight's Children, history is both "authentic" and "fantastic" precisely because it is metaphorized to refer both to reality and to itself. In his novel, Rushdie ruthlessly mocks (and gravely denounces) the propagandistic use of news and history not to "deconstruct" history but to defend an authentic experience of history against dogmatic nonsense and complacent naivete.  39  Thus, history in this novel is as  much full of irony, romance, satire, comedy and tragedy as it is in other novels which are not metafictions (for example, V . S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River and E . M . Forster's A Passage to India) What distinguishes his kind of writing from the "traditional" historical  "extension" theory. Hutcheon (Poetics 49-50). 3 8  Hutcheon's quotation comes from Foucault (Poetics 118).  3 9  Episodes of parodic "appropriation" of historical events abound in this novel. For instance, news  headlines are adapted into a letter of sexual betrayal (259), while political and war news, sanitized by the government, is accused of spreading the "disease of optimism" that leads to the disintegration of families and nations (300).  52  Contemporary Poetics  novel perhaps is style, and style is as historical as it is metahistorical.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the prefix "meta-" means position (higher, after or beyond), change of position or condition, or a higher or second-order kind (metalanguage). These three definitions fit well with our understanding of metahistory (a position beyond), metaphor (change) and metafiction (second-order, metalanguage). White's notion of metahistory, it becomes clear, overlaps with that of metafiction as both are presumably a second-order kind, that is to say, a metalanguage. Historiographic metafiction further complicates the issue by a parodic "appropriation" of the metalanguage of two kinds of meta-narratives. It is parodic because its signification is more than a function of intra-textual play; i.e. its self-referentiality is meant to be an apparatus of historical reflections. It is possible to do so precisely because history is "displaced" (transformed, changed, moved) into the realm of metaphor where it confronts all kinds of magic, myths, legends and grotesque anecdotes that make up the fabric of a specific culture and its memory of the past. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, the history of colonialism and civil war miraculously merges into a "grand narrative" of Macondo, a fictional space where angels, witches, and mutants or metamorphosed human beings co-exist. Their magical existence not only marginalizes the "real" historical events but also demands a metaphorical (or metahistorical) understanding of history as a process of decay and destruction.  4 0  40  On the other hand,  In a later work, the modern history o f L a t i n A m e r i c a is embedded i n the twilight years o f General S i m o n  B o l i v a r . M a r q u e z ' s combination o f journalistic prose-style a n d magical realism i n this overtly " p o h t i c a l " novel aptly illustrate the range and possibilities o f this k i n d o f "historical f i c t i o n " as exemplified by One  Contemporary Poetics  to  Marquez's text can be read as a kind of "fictional witnessing" that preserves the collective memory of a culture on the verge of disintegration while attesting to the atrocities of history as an amalgam of political disasters and human folly. His metafiction, being self-reflexive, finally returns to history in the form of a metaphorical testimony. History-as-metaphor, therefore, preserves the "real" in fiction by multiplying our ways of "seeing... as..." Its truth-content, as mentioned, is situated within the tension between "what is" and "what is not," i.e. a metaphorical reference to the world that bears witness to the hitherto unheard of and unsaid, i.e., undocumented human experiences that demand to be articulated and understood.  Toward a Poetic Resolution  In this chapter my focus has been on the theoretical aspect of historical representation in fiction and historiography, with specific reference to Hayden White and Paul Ricoeur and the interlocking arguments they have inspired among historians and literary critics. M y intention has been to delineate some problematic issues concerning language and reality in general, and the implications of some recent philosophical/theoretical skepticism on the production and reception of literature and historiography in particular. I have tried to show how the concepts of metahistory, metafiction and metaphor can be usefully employed in clarifying and resolving some, though not all, of the conflicting claims of these various theoretical positions, as well as  Hundred Years of Solitude.  54  Contemporary Poetics  to reinstate a sense of meaning that is integral to all fictional and historical narratives.  Paul Ricoeur's idea of a three-fold mimesis, i.e. prefiguration, configuration and refiguration, seeks to explain the signification process of narrativization - a formula that incorporates the "metatextual" level of linguistic practice, the textual level of narrative meaning production and the intertextual, or inter subjective^ level of narrative understanding. Ricoeur's theory of metaphor defends the truth claims of figurative language, whose ultimate value is fundamentally (though not directly or simplistically) referential. I have used Ricoeur's philosophical reflections on narrative and metaphor to reread White's theory of tropes and metahistory in relation to a more general 41  understanding of the latter term by historians, and attempted to argue for a discretionary confidence (after Ricoeur and Kermode) in the extraliterary meaning-value of historiography and fiction, whose narrative nature does not necessarily erase its referential quality, and even less so the sense of historical truth toward which it labors.  The controversial aspects of White's theory are illuminating in another respect: White's Metahistory lends itself to a metafictional reading that uncovers its own literariness (as a self-conscious tropological construct). It is where metaphor presents itself as a mediating concept that restores the referential value of narrative representations  41  Ricoeur and White do agree on certain aspects of the relationship between narrative and reality despite  their differences, e.g. the significance of "emplotment" which for the purposes of the present discussion I have not dealt with in detail. For Ricoeur's comments on White, see Ricoeur (Time and Narrative 3 15254). See also White's essay on Ricoeur in Content Ch. 7.  Contemporary Poetics  55  o f history, and yet holds as valid a basic distinction between the kinds o f reference historical and fictional narratives attempt to make respectively. In fictions about history, especially historiographic metafiction, one finds a fitting analogy to the dynamics between the three "meta-concepts" mentioned above; yet the literary text somehow implies an answer, however tentative, to the seemingly unresolved questions raised by critical theory. A t least the fictional work is seen constantly grappling with meaning - its own meaning (or potential meaninglessness) as an artifact, and the meaning o f the things it refers to as real. In fiction, history is metaphorized, in the form o f narrative, and its meaning communicated through the act o f reading or refiguration. Since metaphor is primarily a means to "redescribe" reality through a tensional "seeing... as...," history-asmetaphor figures through the literary text as a "reinscription," i.e. displacement, movement and change o f meaning. This involves the operation of the paradox, in the sense ofpara-doxa that deviates from a pre-existing doxa (cf. n. 37). In literary terms, this involves a defamiliarizing use o f history as collective and personal memory (which harks back to the general concept o f metahistory that is present in both the prefigurative and configurative stages), and ultimately a refamiliarization of the unfamiliar, as in the case o f Marquez and Rushdie.  To conclude, history-as-metaphor realigns fictional history with reality (or genuine history) without collapsing one into the other. While history theoretically cannot be totally free from the charge o f being/wsf a finite assemblage o f documents, one's sense o f history, ironically, preserves its ontological status since human experiences, though rendered in/as texts, bear witness to the realness o f the past, hence its significance to  Contemporary Poetics  w  his/her present and future existence. These undeniable "traces" of history, as Ricoeur calls it, have to be recovered if we still believe in the value of a sense of indebtedness to those who have suffered and died. If history bears witness to these traces as they really were, "fictional witnessing" testifies to the "unhistorical" and non-empirical experiences of the past in the form of "seeing... as...," i.e. a mobilization of the symbolic resources of a culture to redescribe the past as a cultural inheritance, and therefore has to be invested with symbolic meaning that stays within and yet goes beyond the historical (temporal) existence of mankind.  In the next chapter, I will show how the "changing metaphors" of fictional histories in twentieth-century China bear witness to the national struggle for modernity since the May Fourth period. These metaphors are attempts to interpret and thereby "augment reality" by imposing certain "modern" visions of history in search of solutions to China's problems. Since the creation of a new national literature was considered by May Fourth intellectuals as essential to social transformation, the "interweaving reference" between history and fiction is inseparable from the political and ideological function it was expected to perform. As we shall see, this "legacy" of the May Fourth Movement played a significant role in the development of modern literature in subsequent decades. Given the traumatic experiences of the past fifty years, history-asmetaphor remains an important means for "reinventing China" today.  This phrase is from Michael Duke ("Reinventing China").  42  2  Changing Metaphors: Fictional Histories in Twentieth Century China  This chapter mainly concerns the changing perceptions o f history in twentiethcentury Chinese literature as a background to the fictional topoi o f the three authors discussed in the following chapters. M y discussion here is not intended to be a history o f modern Chinese fiction; rather, it looks at fictional representation o f history as a complex response to the challenge of the modern in twentieth-century China. To the extent that all fiction presents a certain worldview through the "world of the text" (Ricoeur) it creates, the metaphorical reference it makes to the reality outside of the text is also a certain way of "seeing... as..." that works toward a narrative understanding of that reality. In twentieth-century China, the tumultuous occurrences in the real world have shaken the worldviews o f old, in particular the Confucian system o f values identified by the forerunners of the M a y Fourth Movement as the ultimate reason for China's weaknesses.  1  M a y Fourth literature thus arose out o f a spiritual vacuum waiting to be filled by new ideas from the modern (and therefore powerful) West. Despite their didactic tendency, M a y Fourth writers do have the creative flexibility to incorporate new ways o f "seeing ... as..." as a means to make sense o f an increasingly alienating reality, as seen i n the proliferation o f literary societies, literary magazines and translations o f foreign authors  1  This "totalistic" nature of May Fourth antitraditionalism is wellrexplored by L i n Yijsheng in The Crisis of  Chinese Consciousness:  Radical Anti-traditionalism  in the May Fourth  SI  Era.  58  Changing Metaphors  showing a wide range of interests in European, Russian and Japanese literature. As Leo 2  Lee says, modernity in early twentieth-century China is analogous to a "new mode of historical consciousness" that finally shaped the course of modern Chinese literary and intellectual history ("Modernity" 158-177). By creating metaphorical reference to the past, fiction imposes a frame and a focus, or frames and focuses, on its own world whose meaning and value lie precisely in its being an image of history, hence an aesthetic inquiry into human experiences of the past.  For the purposes of this study, I concentrate on fictional representations of history since the May Fourth so as tp assess the contemporary significance of these literary precedents to fiction writing in China today. I propose to read the genesis of modern Chinese fiction in the May Fourth as a response to the challenge of the modern. As a matter of continuity, I venture briefly into the "aesthetics" of socialist realism under the Communist regime to look at the transformation of this time consciousness into a rhetoric of utopianism that ironically reverses the course of cultural modernity in Chinese history. The final part of this chapter concerns the changing metaphors of the 1980s and 90s, as well as the dilemmas and complexities revolving around the debate over tradition and modernity, the implications of the "cultural self-reflection" (wenhua fansi) advocated by contemporary intellectuals on the Mainland, and the reactions it provoked in literary and intellectual circles in the late 1980s and 90s. The present stage is significant primarily because, following Frank Kermode, this is the only instant we have a claim to and can act  2  F o r a detailed account of the literary activities f r o m 1919 to the forties, see L e o L e e ' s historical account i n  Changing Metaphors  59  upon, in the middest, yet, it is this awareness of the fleeting present that gives rise to a consciousness of what is no longer, as much as what w i l l be. The sense o f an ending, as Kermode phrases it, is indispensable to the tradition o f mimesis in the West; in fact, in 3  modernist (and post-modernist) literature the intensified sense o f fragmentation, disintegration and "formlessness" is also a continuation of this struggle with time and history. Without any intention to devise intercultural equations, I find in the recent emergence of the so-called "new historical n o v e l " in mainland China an interesting 4  counterpart to what Linda Hutcheon calls the "historiographic metafiction" as discussed in Chapter 1.  The New vs. the Old  Any mention o f modern Chinese literature by necessity refers, implicitly or explicitly, to its genesis in 1919, when a nation-wide protest against the humiliating resolutions at the Versailles peace conference provoked reform-minded intellectuals to 5  The Cambridge History of China (hereafter CHOC) Vol. 13. 3  Kermode suggests that the sense of an ending is necessary for "historical continuity;" for an ending is  indispensable to the "order of things." History, or historical narrative, is "a maker of concords between past, present and future, a provider of significance to mere chronicity," whereas the novel is an "imitation" of historiography" and a "synthesizing consciousness" (56). 4  See, for example, Wang Biao (1-13).  5  The former German concessions in Shandong was handed over to Japan, leading some 3,000 university  students in Beijing to hold a mass demonstration at the Tiannanmen. A boycott of Japanese goods and clashes with Japanese residents soon followed, and labor unions "joined in the broadest demonstration of national feeling that China had ever seen" (Fairbank and Goldman 267-268).  Changing Metaphors  60  launch an all out attack on traditional culture. In fact, what comes to be known as the May Fourth Movement - generally regarded as the Chinese enlightenment - is still looked upon as the exemplary model for intellectuals nowadays. Much work has been 6  done on the historical, cultural and political backgrounds of the May Fourth. What I propose to do here is to offer a critical assessment of the literary and intellectual reflections on Chinese modernity since the May Fourth, including works by critics and intellectuals of later generations who have made contributions to our understanding of May Fourth culture.  In his study of modern Chinese writers, Leo Lee (1973) examines the "romantic" generation of May Fourth writers and compares them to the notable romantics in the West. Later, Lee qualifies his findings by adding that attention has to be paid to the "temporal frame in which this [romantic temper] was manifested." The temporal frame he refers to is that of modernity, which  in China was loosely defined as a mode of consciousness of time and history as unilinear progress, moving in a continuous "stream" or "tide" from the past to the present; it also contained the valorized notion of the present as a new "epoch"... which leads prophetically to a purposeful future. ... Its dynamism was manifested especially among May Fourth and post-May Fourth Chinese intellectuals in an  6  L i u Z a i f u , among others, is a diligent student of the M a y Fourth. H e argues that the most serious problem  f a c i n g Chinese intellectuals today is the decay o f the "enlightenment spirit" as exemplified b y their M a y  61  Changing Metaphors  outlook of the ego's active fusion with the forward tide of history. ("Modernity" 164)  What this modern temporality replaces is "the traditional cyclical view ... shaped by the alternation of the "Five elements" and the Confucian notions of dynastic cycle" (160), or what Andrew Plaks calls the formal pattern of "complementary bipolarity" and "multiple periodicity" as manifested ih classical Chinese fiction, in which the linear and the cyclical are not mutually exclusive (335). What complicated this contention between traditional and modern temporality at that time was the urgency of national salvation; i.e. if China was to survive as a nation, it had to be transformed into a modern nation-state and rank itself as an equal among the great imperial powers of the world. Modernity, then, was unequivocally identified with Progress, which was believed to be the key to "wealth and power" (fuguo qiangbing, literally "enrich the state and strengthen the army").  The role  of intellectuals, then, is that of the bearer of light (i.e. the light of modern knowledge.)  8  From this perspective, modern Chinese literature, as the cultural embodiment of this Faustian-Promethean spirit, was motivated by two interrelated and yet conflicting  Fourth predecessors. See L i u (250-282). 7  Yan Fu  W$sL,  as B e n j a m i n Schwartz suggests, is the most representative figure i n promoting the idea o f  "evolution" a n d "progress" as the only means to national salvation. 8  F o r instance, " B e there no more bvuning torches thereafter, I a m the only light" ( L u X u n ) ; " W e have to be  the sun, ourselves the source o f light." (Guo M o r u o ) . Qtd. i n L i u (254).  C h a n g i n g Metaphors  62  impulses: "internationalism" and "nationalism". That is to say, the universality o f the 9  modern has to be reconciled with the awareness o f China's "belatedness"in the world historical process and the crisis o f cultural identity that results. In the words o f L u X u n , this sense o f "belatedness experienced by the young people o f an ancient country" is the cause o f an unspeakable "frustration" (kumen, in which the character kit suggests a sense o f bitterness):  The intellectual currents o f the world are sweeping upon us from all directions; yet we are still entrapped in three-thousand-year-old shackles. Thus we wake up, struggle, and rebel; we want to break away and participate in the affairs o f the world ... but we are latecomers. Because we have no part in the affairs o f the past, sometimes we have to take whatever is offered [to us] and end up in other respectable shackles. (Complete Works III: 549)  10  L u X u n ' s diagnosis o f the cultural frustration experienced by young intellectuals o f his time reveals the paradoxical nature o f a total rejection o f the Chinese tradition (treated by  9  10  Huang, Chen and Qian (6). Also collected in Er'yiji  (MBS)  (109-110).  Changing Metaphors  *  bi  many as the necessary step toward cultural modernity). The sense of universal frustration reveals Lu Xun's apprehension of the dreadful consequences of this "totalistic" ambition: China would end up losing its cultural identity and freedom as an independent nation, for she had to compromise her political and cultural autonomy vis-a-vis the West in the process of modernization. On the other hand, the conviction that tradition is the root of all problems necessitates a self-negation that is both heroic and tragic. This sense of frustration arising from an antithetical understanding of modernity and tradition is echoed by some present day Chinese scholars as they look back into the history of modern Chinese literature:  The path twentieth-century Chinese literature took toward World Literature was one full of humiliation and pain... There are two antithetical yet inter-related facets to Chinese literary modernity: the so-called "westernization" ... and "nationalization." (Huang et. al. 6)  The pain and humiliation integral to the experience of modernity, furthermore, intensifies the anxiety of a collective disaster, for "in Chinese literature, the anxiety about individual destiny is always assimilated into the anxiety about the destiny of the nation."  Changing Metaphors  64  This inexplicable identification between the self and the nation constitutes a "tragic consciousness" (beijuyishi) that is uniquely Chinese (14-18).  A s L i n Yusheng (1973) points out, the "totalistic iconoclasm" of M a y Fourth intellectuals stems from their "organismic" view o f culture and a belief in the power o f ideas to transform social reality. Since this conception o f culture comes from the Chinese tradition itself, the anti-traditional rhetoric of May Fourth immediately loses its ground when the use o f modern values to attack tradition is in fact a manifestation o f a deeprooted (and therefore unacknowledged) traditional way o f thinking. Alongside what L i n calls a "formalistic" contradiction is the notion o f history as both a progressive and a destructive force. The urge to modernize China necessitates a cultural self-negation on a collective scale. It is "cultural" precisely because this negation was a logical outcome o f the traditional "organismic" view o f culture. To the M a y Fourth thinkers, the "survival o f the (Chinese) species" depends on a totalistic negation o f Chinese civilization, while the possibility o f a creative transformation, an alternative favored by many Chinese intellectuals today,  11  was left out of the debate.  A n extreme example of this totalistic negation is L u X u n ' s Madman. A s is well known, the Madman's predicament comes from his "discovery" that the subtext o f the  11  "Creative transformation" is the present preoccupation of notable Chinese scholars such as L i n Yusheng,  Y u Yingshi and Tu Weiming. It involves a rigorous rethinking of traditional culture (especially Confucianism) in terms of its modern significance. See, for example, L i n Yusheng, "Zhongguo renwen zhi chongjian" (On the Revival of Chinese Qilture) in Sixiangyu  renwu and Y u Yingshi, Zhongguo wenhuayu  Changing Metaphors  Chinese tradition is "cannibalism" (chi ren de lijiao P^Afi^ilIifc)  65 m  "The Diary o f a  Madman" ("Kuangren riji") < J£A 0 IS) (Complete Works I: 277-292), L u X u n conjures up probably the most frightening image o f traditional culture in modern Chinese literature, in which the entire society, seen through the eyes o f the Madman, has since antiquity been practicing "cannibalism." A s a metaphor, this story o f the Madman is situated within the narrative frame o f the anonymous "Editor," a representative o f the cannibalistic tradition. Read allegorically, L u X u n ' s story effects a double denial by first announcing his indictment o f Chinese culture through the mouth o f the Madman, then framing it within the narrative o f the Editor who disconfirms the Madman's claim. It is possible that L u X u n had in mind the political sensitivity o f the problems he was grappling with at the time o f writing, so that he invented the Madman character as a mask for the "prophet" underneath (Fokkemma 95). However, the Madman's indictment o f Chinese culture has procured not only the spite and contempt o f others but also a maddening shock to the self, who, in isolation, fails in all attempts to communicate with the outside world. The Madman experiences the horror o f knowing what he believes to be the "truth," but this truth might just as well be his hallucination. In the narrative, the opposing voices o f the Editor and the Madman operate on two different levels: the literal and the metaphorical, and it is through metaphor that the meaning o f the Madman's speech can be decoded (for the "realism" o f the text points to madness as a clinical fact.) In this connection, the Editor's notes, rendered in banal classical prose, in dismissing the Madman's narrative as a clinical case o f schizophrenia, are intended to be a decoy - a  xiandai bianqian.  Changing Metaphors  66  "misreading" - that disconfirms the literal meaning of the Madman's diary. The fantastic content of Lu Xun's story, therefore, unlocks the poignancy of his attack on traditional culture under the disguise of madness. The last two entries of the Madman's diary, however, reveal his own guilty conscience: 12  Who's to say I didn't eat a few pieces of my younger sister's flesh without knowing it? And now it's my turn...  Although I wasn't aware of it in the beginning, now that I know I'm someone with four thousand year's experience of cannibalism behind me, how hard it is to look real human beings in the eye! 13 Maybe there are some children around who still haven't eaten human flesh.  Save the children ...  12  Complete Works (I: 292). The English translation is by William A. Lyell (41, first ellipsis mine).  Changing Metaphors  67  &Wn2iiAOT^ •  ?  Lu Xun's concern with "saving the children" is echoed in "Medicine," ("Yao") < H I > in which Lu Xun questions the validity of revolution as a cure (a bun dipped in the blood of a martyred rebel) to China's illness (the consumptive child Xiao Shuan) (Complete Works 298-311). The failed medicine bears out Lu Xun's conviction that the so-called cure (revolution) is but a futile but costly experiment. This elegiac tale dedicated to the revolutionary martyr Qiu Jin (whose failed attempt to overthrow the Qing government led to her beheading) expresses also the historical impasse facing the entire nation. Looking back in time, Chinese history has no lack of revolutions but the 1911 Revolution brought about the most far-reaching changes in terms of government, social structure and cultural values.  13  Going through Lu Xun's corpus, one discovers a  parade of lone heroes who, severed from the past, find themselves unable to relate to others in the present. They all exhibit a certain degree of existential angst largely because of the tension between youthful idealism and a crumbling reality that mocks their heroic aspirations (e.g. Lii Weifu in "Upstairs In a Wine Shop," Shi Zhuansheng in "Mourning  13  For a general overview, see "Introduction: Perpectives on Modern China's History" in  CHOC Vol. 13.  68  Changing Metaphors  for the Dead," and W e i Lianshu in "The Loner"). A s an archetype o f L u X u n ' s alienated modern man, the loner is caught within a vicious circle o f betrayal and self-betrayal: making compromises for a living is a kind o f self-betrayal, but he also feels betrayed by his own idealism. In fact, L u X u n more than once expresses his own regrets for the past:  ... nowadays such saying as "save the children" has become empty o f meaning even to myself. / . . . In fact, all my attacks on [the backward and unjust practices of] society in the past are useless, for the society didn't even know I was attacking [it]... / Perhaps I have nothing more  to say - for I don't know what comes after the horror ... but I am trying to save myself, too, in the old ways: one is numbness, the other is forgetting. (Eryi ji 44-45, emphasis and ellipses added)  m^^mmr...  > tt#&w  mm^mt±^n^im.mMm  m m m m . . . m m m ^ m m t ^ w w f  mmwm  •  ^mmifmm? . . . . f M a - f i « « S B - mmMm^ • -mm  L i k e his fictional characters, L u X u n ' s "horror" is the shattering o f hope, a hope that when "the old [culture] dies, China w i l l be more alive." This "disenchantment with culture," as it turns out, leads to a more appalling self-reflection: " N o w I realize that I, too, am helping out setting the banquet [of cannibalism]" (Complete Works III: 453-54). What complicates L u X u n ' s sense o f guilt is that he deeply regrets the "multiple pains" he has caused his young readers. In another essay collected in Er 'yiji  (ffflEJII)  , Lu  Changing Metaphors  6V  Xun spells out the horror he has perceived and communicated through his writing: "... China is entering a great epoch. Its greatness does not necessarily bring about life, but possibly death" (Complete Works III. 547). Haunted by the horror of collective annihilation, the writer is aware that by communicating this horror he has offended the entire society.  What is suggested here is that the burden of the past perhaps is too heavy on the fragile body of new China, and the New Culture Movement might have been yet another ineffectual cure, just as the 1911 Revolution (ironically spurred by the modern concepts of democracy, freedom and above all, nationalism) has accelerated the disintegration of the Chinese society at large. The then popular evolutionary view of history as a linear motion of Progress, moreover, is truncated by an unacknowledged awareness that history is also an alien, inhuman force. As a subtext of May Fourth antitraditionalism, this historical awareness brought about changes in the perception of reality and the way it is "seen... as..." in works of fiction. What follows is an examination of some new ways of "seeing... as..." in the development of realist fiction in modern Chinese literature.  Changing Metaphors  70  Realism and the Negation of the Past  It is a well-known fact that realism, especially critical realism, was sanctioned by the leaders of the N e w Literature Movement as the most suitable form o f a new national literature.  14  In the writings of Liang Qichao  WzfpfcM,  H u Shi f^M, M a o D u n  ^jjf,  and  Qu Qiubai H#cS, for example, the ideological (construed as the "social" and "political") function o f realism is always at the center of their aesthetics.  15  That is to say,  at the turn o f the twentieth century, the adoption o f realism as the ideal form o f a new national literature was bound up with the crisis o f national survival, a unique characteristic o f Chinese modernity that harks back to Y a n Fu's promotion o f Western learning in the late Qing as a prerequisite for China's attaining "wealth and power" in the world. This "dual tendency" o f cultural enlightenment and national salvation is noted by L i Zehou as the defining character o f the M a y Fourth M o v e m e n t  16  A s T u Wei-ming  remarks on the influence of the Enlightenment on Chinese intellectuals at that time, "the Enlightenment symbolized ... not liberty and human rights as ends in themselves but the 'Faustian spirit' unleashed by the social Darwinian quest for superiority" (105). One may  14  A representative example is, of course, Hu Shi's "eight no's" in regard to literary composition as a  remedy for the subjectivist, lyrical classical tradition. The central concern of Hu Shi was literary reform beginning with the vernacular movement (baihua wen 15  yundong). C f . n. 15 below.  Liang pioneered the practice of "modem" fiction as a means to reform the Chinese mind; Hu Shi later  advocated the adoption of the baihua (vernacular language) as the proper literary language of modem Chinese literature. His famous "baibu zhuyi" (principle of eight "no's") remains a classic example of May Fourth iconoclasm. See, for example, L i n (1979) and Lee (1973). 16  . This also explains why in the twenties many Chinese writers turned to socialist realism and Marxism.  Changing Metaphors  . 7 1  say that one important impetus behind the creation of a new national literature was social mobilization. The politicization of art (and in particular literature), sadly, was later intensified when Mao Zedong made it an official policy that "revolutionary realism" and "revolutionary romanticism" should be the future direction of literature and the arts.  17  Just as the vernacular language was designated to be the "official" literary language of modern China, fiction, among others, became the most important literary form due to its easy access by the public and its modern (western) outlook. Apart from the fact that vernacular fiction in the realist mode was entrusted with the mission of educating the masses and propagating reformist and revolutionary ideals, it was also the very means by which May Fourth iconoclasts rebelled against tradition, which they blamed for all the ills China had suffered. Consciously or subconsciously, this conversion to a Western literary mode satisfies the need for a total negation of the past so that the self and the nation can be created anew. As Fokkema observes, "the realist interpretation of the world is dependent upon a consistent belief in God, or fate, or science ... [it] had an alienating effect among the Chinese [in the sense that] it destroyed the Confucian world model" (91). (Fokkemma does not elaborate on the "Confucian world model" to be destroyed by the import of realism, but one can justifiably see it as a canopy term used by May Fourth intellectuals for the entire Chinese tradition.) Corollary  See L i Zehou ("Enlightenment" 7-50). 17  After Mao's "Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art," didacticism overtook individual  creativity in literary production on the mainland. As Cyril Birch ironically puts it, the "post-1942 work of fiction can be assigned to the realist mode only if we accept the arrival of the millemum on the mainland."  Changing Metaphors  72  to the realist ideal of objective representation is the eschatological and teleological view of history as a process of unilinear unfolding, i.e. the new conquering the old, the progressive the backward, the fit the unfit. This, coupled with the urgent quest for Progress, reinforced the antitraditional sentiment; i.e. the old, Confucian worldview of cosmic correspondences and cyclical patterns was effectively replaced by a linear view 18  of history as an evolutionary process. Thus, the Chinese adoption of literary realism is also an initiation into a new temporality, the time of modernity and its concomitant disintegration of traditional values. In other words, by eulogizing the representation of the real as the now, the immediate, or one's "epoch" against the past and the old (as Yan Fu did), the equation now becomes: the West = modernity = vernacular realism, if we were to extend the "monologic" argument of the May Fourth.  19  The binary opposition between old and new, past and present, China and the West, also embraces another antithetical pair: the epic versus the lyrical, as Jaroslav Prusek has taken pains to illustrate in his study of modern Chinese literature. Although 20  (403) 1 8  These are meant to be the representative and general terms that were identified with traditional Chinese  worldview. In fact, it is acknowledged that conflicting models of the cosmos and human world always coexisted in the Chinese tradition. See, for example, Plaks (335). 1 9  "Monologic" is used by Lin Yusheng to characterize the May Fourth frame of mind, whose "cultural-  intellectualistic" approach to the Chinese tradition. Rooted in the Chinese tradition itself, this "simplistic approach" "had the potential to evolve into an inteUectualisuc-hohsuc mode of thinking" and contributed to the "totalistic anti-traditionalism" in the May Fourth. Lin (Crises 26-30). 2 0  Prusek uses the "epic" to designate the narrative tradition of the West, and lyric that of China. He  emphasizes the superiority of the epic form: "The old literature in we-yen constituted in fact an immense  Changing Metaphors  later scholars such as C. T. Hsia have disputed Prusek's view,  73 21  it nonetheless resonates  with the kind of modernist sentiment of May Fourth intellectuals in their urge to abandon the old (Chinese way of seeing) for something radically new (Western way of seeing). The immense burden of the past, it seems, forced them to make this conscious choice despite the latent awareness that such a totalistic approach might not be as viable as they had expected. On the other hand, the unwillingness of the Chinese intellectuals "to embrace fully the modern West... as an intrinsic value," ironically, explains why they had perceived the Enlightenment mainly as a "triumph of instrumental rationality" (Tu 115). This polarization of temporal and historical concepts paved the way for a more extreme binarism in later years, when the incommensurability between old and new was used as a moral justification for the marginalization and prosecution of writers who did not conform to the doctrines of leftist aesthetics.  As far as literature is concerned, realism provides the coordinates necessary for the negation of the past through an initiation into a new conception of time and history. As this alluring, new temporality opened up a new dimension of historical experience for Chinese intellectuals, it gradually became a guiding light in political and aesthetic realms.  archive o f facts, ... but not as a rule w o r k e d u p into a higher artistic unity. It lacked, for the most part, epic character ... w h i c h links up ... interesting facts to a higher organic w h o l e . . . " (91, ellipses added). 21  " S i n c e he [Prusek] agrees w i t h the ' M a r x i s t theoreticians' that m o d e m Chinese history is nothing but a  record of the Chinese people's self-conscious struggle, under the leadership o f the Communist Party, against 'the survivials o f feudalism' and 'foreign i m p e r i a l i s m ' toward their f u l l liberation ... Hence he speaks repeatedly o f the 'mission of literature' [and] is apparently unaware o f the danger o f u s i n g the literary record merely as a record o f history, as a testament to the spirit o f the age." H s i a , " O n the  Changing Metaphors  74  The mutual implication of realism as a mode of fictional representation on the one hand, and a new conception of time and history as linear Progress on the other, reveals the metahistorical dimension of fiction writing at that time since fiction in this context is endowed with the sacred historical mission of national salvation. (Liang Qichao, for one, was both an influential historian and literary patron. For him, studying history and writing fiction, different though they are in subject matter and approach, served the same goal: national self-strengthening.)  I am not saying that all fictional works written in this period are histories or metahistories; rather, as fictions, they nonetheless participate in an ideological struggle with new ways of "seeing... as...," i.e. new ways of interpreting historical experience. A good example is provided in Mao Dun's full-length novel Midnight (Ziye ( ^ p ^ )  ) in  which an ancient philosophical text is destroyed by the wind and rain coming through a window accidentally left open. Mao Dun's novel attempts a panoramic representation of the political, social and moral conflicts in China in the thirties, using Shanghai as the epitome of the decadent and corrupt capitalist society under imperialist influence. The hero, Wu Sunfii, is an industrial magnate who rises from a traditional, agricultural gentry background to become the most formidable figure in metropolitan Shanghai, and falls rather unheroically, partly because of his unwitting speculations on stock prices, and partly because of the emergence of a new class of entrepreneurs who have no scruple cashing in on national disasters. Midnight, therefore, presents a vivid image of this  'Scientific' Study of Modern Chinese Literature: A Reply to Professor Prusek" in Prusek (231-268).  Changing Metaphors  75  inhuman, profit-oriented, modern market economy that is on the verge of self-destruction. The suggestive subplot indicates that labor unrest is boiling up in the cities as a logical consequence of imperialist expansion and relentless exploitation of the working class by the petty-bourgeoisie. This brief summary of Midnight has left out many details, especially those concerning the host of characters who bear out Mao Dun's social and historical vision. However, a relevant point here is that Mao Dun's novel, as a classic example of May Fourth fictional realism, has a metahistorical quality that is Marxist in 22  essence. This is characteristic of a great number of fictional works produced during this tumultuous period. In the case of Mao Dun, capitalist modernity is a formidable force that needs to be systematically guarded, accounted for, and finally overcome.  As an ambitious work that seeks to "faithfully depict" the social and political currents of his times, Mao Dun's novel has been a topic of interest to many literary scholars. Theodore Huters thinks that the realist mode of representing reality was accorded a universal validity, because it was conceived as "a power that could bring into being things that had never existed before in literature." This is also what Huters calls the "ideology" of realism that captured the entire May Fourth generation (159). In an effort to demonstrate the different modes of realist representation in the May Fourth era, David Der-wei Wang's reading of Mao Dun leads to the conclusion that Mao Dun's fiction belongs to the historical/political mode (apart from the lyrical/nostalgic and social/satiric modes represented by Shen Congwen and Lao She respectively) that is  For a detailed analysis of Mao Dun's historical novels, see Wang (Fictional Realism 25-110).  Changing Metaphors  76  "closely and constantly bound up with immediate political and moral demands." Wang's observations o f modern Chinese fiction, therefore, are situated within a range o f artistic possibilities within the realist genre, which he argues is far from "a unanimous discourse of critical realism" (as some critics insist) (Fictional Realism 293). Seen from this perspective, M a o Dun's historical fiction is therefore different from the "proletarian literature" o f revolutionary writers, for his "dark portraiture" o f petty-bourgeois life still contains a vision o f reality informed by critical intelligence and aesthetic selfconsciousness.  23  Revolution and Historical Fiction  Some historians have pointed out that Chinese history from 1800 to 1949 has been a "revolutionary process" (CHOC 13: 49-50) in which dynastic rule declined, was overthrown by an ineffectual Republic government that gave way to warlordism and was eventually replaced by a Communist regime. The Chinese revolutions of the twentiethcentury, therefore, are culminative points o f a century-long process o f social and cultural change. Throughout the late Qing, intellectuals were divided on the issue o f reform and revolution. A s I have mentioned above, the more skeptical minds like L u X u n abhorred the idea o f a national revolution, while others were increasingly drawn toward the  23  "Now for the future of 'New Literature' - or even more boldly, the future of 'revolutionary literature' -  the first task is to move it out of youth and students and into the petty-bourgeois masses, where it will take root. ... We should not merely do didactic propaganda of new ideas but should faithfully depict the essence of petty-bourgeois life." Mao Dun as quoted by Leo Lee ("Literary Trends" 426).  Changing Metaphors  77  nationalist ideals advocated by Sun Yat-sen. Given the patriotic nature o f the M a y Fourth Movement, the repercussions o f this political debate were far-reaching. In fact, "revolution" (geming, meaning "changing the mandate of Heaven") in the three-fold sense o f social, cultural and political action is a central preoccupation o f modern Chinese fiction in the first half of the twentieth century.  Just as the Enlightenment has its own spiritual foundations which cannot be reproduced or learned by a country that has developed its own system o f values and beliefs through thousands of years, realism in the West has a series o f religious and philosophical underpinnings that is totally different from that in China. In the Chinese context, "critical realism" carries with it a revolutionary impulse to transform Chinese culture as a whole. M a n y critics have pointed out that during the M a y Fourth period and after, the contention between "art for life's sake" and "art for art's sake" in the literary scene was a superficial one.  24  In fact, the debate over the "meaning" o f art (and  literature) has always led to the conclusion that art is for the betterment o f l i f e .  25  Despite  this "unity in disunity" in attitudes toward art and life among Chinese intellectuals, crucial differences exist in the concept o f "life," hence the role o f art in life. It may seem repetitive to mention this cliche in literary criticism nowadays. However, the notion o f "art for life's sake" is closely connected to what C . T. Hsia calls an "obsession with China" which is a moral burden of modern Chinese literature (History  24  See, for example, C. T. Hsia's introduction to A  Leo Li's Romantic Generation.  533-554).  This  History ofModern Chinese Fiction (2 edition) and also nd  Changing Metaphors  78  nationalistic subtext o f the new literature facilitated the taking over o f the entire literary scene by a coercive, self-effacing revolutionary rhetoric i n the late thirties when Japan began its invasion o f China. Thus, the preoccupation with "art for life's sake" deserves more attention than just an aesthetic preference, for this "obsession" with the motherland has to do with one's imagined relationship with the nation as the basis o f a collective selfidentity.  This romantic alliance between the individual self and the nation's " S e l f is translated into the protagonist's self-indulgence in Y u Dafu's semi-autobiographical work "Sinking," ("Chenluh" < yjilm ) ) in which a Chinese youth studying in Japan attributes his sexual frustration to the weakness o f his motherland. Y u ' s use o f two narrating voices (first and third person) serves as an implicit self-criticism, thus creating a tension between the two subject positions: the point o f view o f the indulgent I-narrator and that o f the implied narrator who does not share his romantic patriotism. The lack o f substance o f this Wertherian youth's shallow patriotism is self-defeating enough. It remains to be seen that this romantic self-nation complex eventually found its voice in revolutionary romanticism. H o w , one may ask, should the self be related to the nation? If misguided patriotism can deteriorate into a pretence for self-indulgence, in what way can a "national" literature be created? A s L e o Lee observes, "the clash between ... idealized images [of the self] and the increasingly somber realities incurred not a reevaluation o f the self but a reassertion o f the self." The tragic outcome o f this romantic  Lu Xun, for one, insisted that literature should be about life, and should be an improvement on life.  79  Changing Metaphors  self-reassertion is the "frenzied outburst of a collective will, guided by Mao Tse-tung, to destroy the old phoenix in order to hasten the rebirth of a new one" (Romantic Generation 296). This self-nation complex - manipulated by party politics - is selfevident in the so-called revolutionary literature in the late 1930s and 40s.  Ding Ling's The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River (Taiyang zhao zai Sanggan he shang) ( A £ l ^ ^ # j i f z : M i l )  is a well-known example of the so-called  "revolutionary historical fiction." In this novel, the "heroes" and "villains" are organized around class divisions, i.e. the landlord and the proletariat. The struggle between good and evil, in turn, is epitomized in the land reform that effectively eliminates the old gentry class. This novel not only exemplifies what Liu Zaifu calls "the hegemony of political ideology over literature" (142-169) but also demonstrates the power of ideology over the individual will of the writer herself. Liu points out that Ding Ling's novel is written in strict accordance with the Marxist view of history as a dialectical movement of class struggles, in which black and white, good and evil are determined by class origins instead of some higher moral principle. As a revolutionary historical novel Ding Ling's work elevates the revolutionary ideal to what Huang Ziping calls a "religious" level by adopting class values and historical dialectics as the absolute basis of morality and human values.  2 6  26  The polarization of old and new, past and present, China and the West that  The "religious rhetoric" i n revolutionary historical f i c t i o n is discussed i n W a n g Z i p i n g , Geming, lishi,  xiaoshuo (Revolution, History, Fiction): "The 'theological metaphor' involved i n the w o r d 'revolution' i s that there must be some transcendent cause, w i l l or force behind these immense, earth-shaking social changes. I n M a r x i s t diction, it is 'historical determinism.'  ' H i s t o r i c a l determinism' is the materialist  Changing Metaphors  80  characterizes Chinese modernity is now transformed (and narrowed down) into the polarization of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary. This parallels the historical development of the "revolutionary process" when, at this stage, social radicalism had transformed the anti-authoritarian sentiment into an overt class struggle along Marxist lines.  This religious rhetoric is, therefore, geared toward a teleological view of history  27  as a victorious process of class struggle. No doubt this socialist Armageddon must lead to the victory of the proletariat, rather than the ultimate redemption of individual human beings. Nonetheless, the "revolutionary time" adopted in Ding Ling's novel is redemptive in the sense that the proletariat is the subject of the future, a collective, ideal identity is forged in this kind of fiction that eulogizes the redemptive power of revolution as a future reality. Ding Ling's novel won her the Stalin Prize for Literature in 1951. Be that as it may, Ding Ling's version of the revolution did not materialize in reality, and she was persecuted in 1957 for indulging in counter-revolutionary "individualism" in her novel. In what follows, I will examine the representation of selfhood and nationhood in 28  revolutionary literature, and the way in which the rapture of revolution resulted in a rupture in the course of cultural modernity in China.  terminology replacing 'god' and 'heaven' " (88). 27  Class struggle was also an implicit factor o f the Revolution o f 1911  (CHOC 13:10), but the emphasis  shifted dramatically during the Communist R e v o l u t i o n and continued to be the central theme o f the Cultural Revolution. 28  D i n g L i n g was officially reinstated i n 1979 but, as Y i - t s i M e i Feuerwerker points out, D i n g Ling's story  also "underscores the extreme precariousness" o f the writer's vocation " i n a w o r l d o f radical political change." See Feuerwerker (1-18).  Changing Metaphors  81  In a recent study of Chinese modernity, David Der-wei Wang (1997) draws attention to the "repressed modernities" of late-Qing popular fiction. Wang maintains that these literary "modernities" were simply ignored or denied by May  Fourth  intellectuals preoccupied with their anti-traditionalist campaign. Wang's study is a reevaluation of classical fiction, where he locates the inherently "modernistic" qualities of late Qing popular literature comparable to those in the West. It is also a critical reexamination of the "legacy" of May  Fourth, i.e. how and to what extent the didactic  nature of its anti-traditionalism is responsible for the missed opportunities of a modern literary tradition to grow out of the indigenous culture itself. Another insight drawn from Wang's study is that the elitist didacticism of May  Fourth brought about its own demise  in the wake of a fully-fledged Communist Revolution in 1949. I am not saying that the cultural enlightenment project of May  Fourth is responsible for the political disasters in  later years; yet the irony remains: the antitraditional temperament of the iconoclasts was caught up with a nationalistic radicalism that left no space for its practitioners to confront their own contradictions, as Lu Xun  once attempted to do. As Michael Casster points  out, revolution became the chosen path of many:  [The  Revolution of 1911] generated not only China's new leaders but  also a mood and an attitude. Like their predecessors who concluded that the antidote to the Manchus' failure was to strike harder and deeper, the leaders of the New Culture Movement decided that the antidote to the failure of 191 lwas to strike even harder and deeper.... The Communists may be regarded as the third wave of a radicalism that with each wave resembled more closely a radicalism of  Changing Metaphors  82  impotence, a radicalism whose intensity is inversely proportionate to its practical possibilities, (qtd. in Tang 164)  As Wang has shown, the repression of the budding "modernities" in late-Qing popular fiction was not all-out and complete in May Fourth. Popular fiction aside, the ambivalence of Lu Xun, the outright deviance of Shen Congwen, the contributions of non-conformists like Zhang Ailing and Qian Zhongshu, as well as the aborted efforts of Shi Ciqun's psychological fiction, are demonstrable exceptions to the norm. Thus, I prefer to locate this rupture in the development of modern Chinese literature not in the May Fourth, but in the succeeding Communist decades that saw an escalating, almost puritanical, pressure that decries any signs of "petty bourgeois" decadence or "feudalistic" corruption in cultural productions. Using Ding Ling's The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River as an example, I try to demonstrate how this literature of rupture, in severing China's corrupt past (the force of darkness) from the socialist present (the age of light), produces a revolutionary rhetoric that runs counter to the May Fourth tenet of individual freedom and spiritual emancipation.  As mentioned earlier, modernity in China was conceived as Western knowledge and technology. The 1911 Revolution had replaced an old system of government with a modern one, but in China the social and political foundations necessary to sustain the shock of an imported modernity remained wanting. In a sense, modernity as a historical phenomenon signifies everything that is non-Chinese. To be modern, then, is to be nonChinese. For a nation that had hitherto prided itself as being the "central kingdom"  Changing Metaphors  83  (zhong guo), the psychological repercussions of this self-denial were beyond measure. This explains why modern Chinese literature at the turn o f the century always displays a sense o f belatedness in its general outlook, i.e. a sense that China is a latecomer to modern history, that time is running out for a remedy to present itself. In the works o f a few exceptional writers such as L u X u n and Shen Congwen, China's belated modernity has a more complex meaning that tellingly suggests the potential o f modern Chinese fiction to achieve higher ends, however much it has remained a thwarted potential for the better part of the twentieth century until quite recently.  29  Apart from its didactic  tendency, M a y Fourth literature does have a multi-vocal quality, one that was eventually discarded in the ideological battle between "art" and "life". In the succeeding decades, the uncertainties o f the earlier generation were purged; what remained of the "modern" outlook in these literary works was didacticism and a revolutionary passion fed by Maoist political ideology.  If belatedness is characteristic o f Chinese modernism at the turn of the century, this ironic self-consciousness was replaced by a futuristic self-confidence in revolutionary literature. If, in the previous decades, literature was commissioned to bring about social and cultural transformation, socialist-realist fiction was primarily the vehicle for ideological persuasion and propaganda. I have stressed from the very beginning the  29  Recent scholarship has put much emphasis on the legacy of May Fourth, especially that of L u X u n and  Shen Congwen. Shen's "pastoral" recreation of West Hunan pioneered the so-called native soil and "search for roots" fiction in China today. L u and Shen are regarded as the most influential writers from the May Fourth period. See, for example, Widmer & Wang.  Changing Metaphors  84  "political" nature of modern Chinese literature, and it would seem contradictory at this point to formulate an opposition between the political and the "apolitical" to characterize the change from critical realism to socialist realism. Nonetheless, a further refinement of this binary reveals a rupture within modern Chinese literature that parallels the "split" in the intellectual discourse on modernity as far back as in the late-Qing. In other words, revolution and reform - the two contending visions of China's future - made their way into the literary imagination of Chinese writers in search of a new collective identity of the nation and the self. Literature, therefore, construes a sense of nationhood while the preoccupation with a new national literature is inseparable from the inherently "monologic" nature of May Fourth iconoclasm. As Xiaobing Tang suggests, "The 30  cultural iconoclasm of May Fourth radicalism also called for a new culture, but the 'new' there still had all the underpinnings of a modernist desire for change and progress. ... A rhetoric of national crisis was integral to the political mobilization necessary to forge this new nationalist subjectivity and to legitimize its political sovereignty" (Tang 194-195). (What needs to be added to this statement is that it was the reality of national crisis that legitmizes this "rhetoric" in China in the first place.) When it comes to revolutionary literature, as we shall see in Ding Ling's novel, this monologism, instead of being a subconscious tendency, is transformed into a consciously held mechanical view of history and human motivations; that is, a universal explanatory model.  30  The "monologic" character of M a y Fourth anti-traditionalism, as L i n Y u s h e n g has argued, has its origin  i n the Chinese tradition, w h i c h L i n characterizes as "holistic-intellectuahstic." See L i n , Crisis.  Changing Metaphors  85  Revolutionary Time: Ding Ling  The adoption o f critical realism bespeaks an overwhelming concern with "art for life's sake," in which "life" is meant to be an individual volition, a struggle for freedom from the bondage o f the past. The collective meaning o f life in this undertaking lies in one's identification with the nation. History, according to the then popular evolutionary view, propels not just the self but the whole nation into the modern epoch, and thereby into the crises o f modernity. Just because the individual self is inconceivable without the larger, collective self, its "obsession with C h i n a " blurs the boundary between the private and the public, the personal and the national, so that selfhood is contained within and derives its sense o f being from "nationhood." If M a y Fourth iconoclasm is a response to the demand for "heroic sacrifice" in the face o f national crises (Tu 115), in revolutionary literature the sweeping currents o f revolution ceaselessly call for a selfless devotion o f the individual as a self-conscious historical subject. In the case o f D i n g L i n g , this selftransformation signals a passage from passivity to activity, or a leap from the margins to the "center stage" o f history:  I have been a keen observer o f human behavior ever since childhood, simply because I never enjoyed the privilege o f speaking in a feudalistic society, but only that o f listening ... I was too insignificant for anyone in my family to take me seriously; they wouldn't let me participate in even the most trivial matters simply because I was a poor little girl. Thanks to their negligence, I became a clear-sighted observer o f the disintegrating O l d W o r l d ... I am  Changing Metaphors  grateful to our present age, for it is the age of revolutions. If I cannot go beyond this age of grandeur, I must immerse in it body and soul. {Selected Works 1:2)  Unlike her immediate predecessors who were generally more ambiguous about the ultimate destiny of the self and the nation, Ding Ling (and those who were equally immersed in the "age of grandeur") had a much more straightforward answer to the uncertainties of the future:  [I wanted to] scream. M y heart was like a volcano, seething yet muffled. I turned to fiction because I had no other way out. I had no idea of the so-called "art for art's sake," nor was I toiling after fame. All I needed was the relief of an outburst, for the sake of rebellion and revolution.... In China, literature and writers are never free from politics. This relationship is predetermined by our social existence.... [Mao Dun, Ye Shengtao and others] called for "art for life's sake," [art] in the service of everyday life. Gradually  Changing Metaphors  87  we followed their path toward the left, and finally toward Communism. (4)  D i n g L i n g ' s preoccupation with "art for life's sake" has several implications. First, D i n g L i n g ' s conception o f the modern age, representative o f the left-wing view o f history, is a far cry from that o f her M a y Fourth predecessors, who in general were more inclined toward an evolutionary view o f culture and civilization despite the conviction that China was lagging behind in the world evolutionary process. D i n g L i n g ' s identification with the "age o f revolution," however, grows out o f a conception o f modernity as a global historical process that will eventually bring about the downfall o f the " O l d W o r l d . " D i n g L i n g ' s literary initiation, as seen from the first quotation above, is a reflection o f her self-awareness as an autonomous historical subject, a "seething volcano" yearning to break away from the old social order that silences her. In this way, she becomes fully human, an active agent embodying the spirit o f the modern age. In other words, D i n g L i n g ' s literary becoming also signals her rebirth into modern history (the "age o f grandeur"). A s a marginal figure, D i n g L i n g gradually found her way to the center o f the social-political order as a creative writer. Instead o f maintaining the stance  88  Changing Metaphors  of the alienated intellectual, this new historical subject has to identify with the "people,"  31  learnfromthem, and become one of them. "Had I not been with the people, had I not been whirled into the currents of the times, my creative life would have ended at an early age" (5) This manifesto-like profession falls in line with the guidelines for a new literature for the masses set out by Chen Duxiu.  32  More importantly, it internalizes a  central doctrine of Mao Zedong's Yan 'an Talks, "literature and the arts comefromthe masses, and to the masses they must return."  33  To Ding Ling and many left-wing writers in the 1930s and 40s, "art for life's sake" is more than just an aesthetic principle, for the words "art" and "life" are but two facets of the same coin under the cultural directives of Mao Zedong. This implies that 34  art no longer imitates nor reflects life, as it were, but conditions, redefines, and finally replaces life as the primary subject of literary representation. To modify what Theodore Huter calls "the ideology of realism" (159), the ideology of revolutionary realism not  31  "People" here is a political abstraction as defined by the Party, a kind of collectivity that supercedes the  individual will. 3 2  Chen Duxiu, a leader of the Communist Party, was also an advocate of new culture. Leo Lee  summarizes Chen's "literary jargons" as follows: to create a prosaic literature for the masses, to create a fresh and honest realist literature, and to create a socially relevant literature easily accessible to the masses. See Lee (Langman 5). 3 3  Li Tuo, "Resisting Writing" in Liu and Tang (275). In an ironic twist of fate, Ding Ling was later  criticized on the basis of this "principle." 3 4  In the same article, Li Tuo remarks that Mao had "thoroughly integrated his writing career with his  political career ... so that the two became indistinguishable," to the extent that Mao's writing "has become a separate genre in itself (274). Apter and Saich also stress the importance of Mao's "story-telling" to his rise to power.  Changing Metaphors  89  only anticipates but also manipulates existence in real life. To be more precise, revolutionary realism aspires to dictate human experiences by prescribing formulaic patterns of behavior based on party directives. It becomes, in brief, a false romanticism. In Ding Ling's The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River, there is a minor episode about a village girl's experience of a propagandist^ drama. Typically, the heroine of the play suffers psychological and physical abuses from a landlord family. After watching the performance, the girl recalls that the audience experienced a kind of catharsis: "Big Sister said the play was superb. Many people were moved to tears. The woman living next door cried the most, saying that she had lived just like the girl in the play" (Selected Works 18).  In the novel, the class struggle instigated by the party's land reform becomes such a play, a public spectacle in which the would-be audience is given a chance to be the hero. Curiously, in their attempt to "represent the people," the "life" contained in these works of "art" turns out to be the most idealistic abstractions of a Utopian ideology: the stepfromsocial realism to Communism was taken, as Ding Ling obliquely admits, at the moment the self asserted itself as a historical subject, i.e. as it gave itself up to the Party's version of history. Fictional narratives that seek to faithfully represent social reality, therefore, must adopt a temporal scheme that fits into the totalitarian vision of revolution which, in accounting for what happened in the past, always culminates in the present "our age" - the ever contingent now.  90  Changing Metaphors  A year passed, but there was no hope for them.... Just then the situation suddenly changed. Japan surrendered and the Eighth Route Army came to their district... everything was reorganized and the peasants clamoured to settle accounts with the landlords. Young Cheng threw himself into the movement, and it made a new man of him.  H e joined the militia of which  he later became an officer, and that summer when the peasants' association was set up he was elected chairman.  35  The central character, Cheng Ren, experiences a spiritual transformation at the dawn o f the new Communist era. Cheng is depicted as a marginal figure in the village hierarchy. Heini, his lover, was adopted by her uncle (a local landlord) at the age o f five and lives in the household as a maidservant. Like Ding L i n g herself, these marginal figures are hurled into the wave o f revolution and gradually find their place in the new social order. Cheng Ren, as seen from the paragraph above, is "made a new man" as he rises up as an active agent in the new age. This kind o f self-assertion is indispensable to any account o f the "awakening of the masses," or the so-called "turn over" (fanshen, or revolutionary  35  Selected Works,  22. Trans. Y a n g X i a n y i and Gladys Y a n g (24-25, emphasis added). Subsequent page  references to these texts w i l l be given at the end o f the E n g l i s h and Chinese quotations respectively.  Changing Metaphors  91  transformation). Zhang Yumin, another model hero, recalls his experience of a revolutionary transformation when he pours out his grievances to his commrades:  He grew up like a little ox, able to thrive as long as he had grass to eat.... As he described to them the past that he seldom liked to think about, he realized for the firsttimehow unhappy he had been, how lonely, oppressed and downtrodden! It was very comforting to have found friends for the first time in his life, and friends who were so concerned about him. Knowing that he was loved he felt happy and eager to live a better live. (44-45)  ftmirmmmmm > mm-xmrnm^ • mm mmxm^...^-mx^Mmmw^±m^x #  ! (43)  Cheng Ren and Zhang Yumin's fanshen is portrayed as a spiritual enlightenment through which the self breaks awayfromits isolation and becomesfrillyhuman as a collective being. Again, the present is always foregrounded as the moment of spiritual rebirth. In the second quotation, the juxtaposition of the past (a previous condition of subjugation) and the present (the moment of self-assertion through solidarity) neatly demarcates two  Changing Metaphors  92  states of being: the old self languishing and the new self flourishing. The inevitability of this transformation is justified by the supposed inevitability of revolution as the ultimate redemption of history. By implementing a reform of the system of land ownership, the State creates (or actually invents) a revolutionary class composed of the imaginary "oppressed" whose definition continues to change with the versatile political climate under the new regime. Revolution, in all circumstances, is a perpetual process of "renewal" that recognizes only the present, for it is only in the present, however fleeting and indeterminate, that revolution realizes its full potential. The past is doomed to oblivion, while the future is but a predictable consequence of the revolutionary "now":  A group of villagers rushed to beat him.  It was not clear who  started, but one struck the first blow and others fought to get at him, while those behind who could not reach him shouted: "Throw him down! Throw him down! Let's all beat him!"  (318)  One feeling animated them all - vengeance! They wanted vengeance! They wanted to give vent to their hatred, the sufferings of the oppressed since their ancestors' times, the hatred of thousands of years, all this resentment they directed against him.  They would have liked to tear him with their teeth.  (318)  They intended to continue the struggle against the bad powers in the village, settling accounts with each in turn.  They had the  Changing Metaphors  93  strength, as the events of the day made them realize... As the meeting broke up they shouted for joy, a roar like thunder going up into the air. This was an end, it was also a beginning. (318319)  mxnr ' m$m&w&±m - ^m^xmm^m > mxmm- "MT$L \ MTM \ xmn \" ( 3 0 0 ) xn^m-mmm - mm. \ iMmmth \ mnm in*m' mm^mm^mm^mm-mx%± r ° {Mvm^m^jm ° ( 3 0 0 )  mmmmmmn^r^ mnmrn^mm'  MM  0  ALWW  (304-5)  Here,fanshen as a mass political movement is invested with such emotional intensity the outburst of a vengeful malignance - that violence becomes a legitimate course of action, all because at this stage fanshen has attained a moral dignity in itself. The fictional masses, as if under a spell, are completely overwhelmed by the power of violence. The narrator, instead of maintaining her aloofness, seems to be equally engrossed in the excitement and concludes this episode with a prophetic vision of a "ne  Changing Metaphors  94  beginning." The grandeur of revolution, then, is given full expression by the elimination of the critical distance between the narrator and the narrated reality. The indulgence of the narrator in her subject, moreover, makes it possible to transform inscrutable chaos and apathy into a "grand narrative" of class struggle. The transitional present, in turn, construes a sense of permanence, for it is pregnant with meaning and promises for the future. It is both destructive and constructive, a frozen moment of exhilaration that is to be repeated in time to come, for it is only the beginning.  What makes this obsession with the fleeting present different from the critical realism of May Fourth is that this "present" has a definite end. The narrator, by endowing history with an absolute certainty, eschews the moral dilemmas of May Fourth writers as they pondered the meaning of cultural modernity. As a fictional representation, Ding Ling's novel aspires to a totalistic vision of history and reality typical of revolutionary romanticism. Any cursory look at the revolutionary historical fiction pursuing this common goal will discover the contradictions inherent in this mode of representation. First of all, as Huang Ziping remarks, revolution as represented in this kind of fiction is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself. This is further complicated by the reality of revolution as it is practiced by the government to consolidate its power. Second, since this "end" must persist, revolution becomes a selfperpetuating process. As a result, the brilliant future it promises is forever postponed as if by default. This was especially true for post-1949 China since the definition of  95  Changing Metaphors  revolution, together with the label "counter-revolutionary," depends entirely on an ever36  changing political vocabulary.  Changing Metaphors: The 1980s and beyond  Throughout the late 1980s and 90s, both Chinese writers and critics have repeatedly called for "pluralism" in literature and culture that can accommodate not only different but also conflicting views of life, art and reality.  37  This pluralistic tendency is  evident in the proliferation of new terminology for innovative works, e.g. neo-realism, experimentalism, postmodernism, avant-garde fiction, new historical fiction, etc. The list can run on indefinitely as East-West cultural exchange continues. Corollary to this is reconstruction of literary discourse vis-a-vis the rhetoric of Revolution-as-Progress, the monologic voice that speaks at every level of social and cultural exchange. What is involved in this new aesthetics is that the project of cultural self-invention in the PostMao era and beyond inevitably goes against the grain of  Utopian  history in its  representation of reality. In this connection, the disavowal of a teleological time scheme in fictional representation in favor of individual points of view and multiple temporalities can be seen as a literary subversion of official interpretations of the past. While a major  3 6  The self-perpetuating nature of revolution is discussed in Huang Ziping's Geming, Lishi, Xiaoshuo  (Revolution, History, Fiction), Chapter 2. For a critique of the ideological and propagandistic distortions of history in these fictions, see Liu Zaifu's article on the end of twentieth -century Chinese revolutionary literature. Liu (142-190). 37  Liu Zaifu, for example, uses Bakhtin's concept of "heteroglossia" to describe the current developments  Changing Metaphors  96  "paradigm shift" is yet to be realized, fictional histories are an important means to demystify the official grand narrative as they create imaginative (metaphorical) accesses to the past.  Whereas the social realism of Mao Dun, and later the socialist realism of Ding Ling and others, have a tendency, a desire almost, to seamlessly incorporate into fiction historical processes filtered through the lens of a totalistic political ideology, fictional histories in the 1980s and 90s, as we shall see, make use of the symbolic resources of Chinese culture to create alternative worldviews. Because of this, history-as-metaphor always involves a self-conscious irony and skepticism that is meta-fictional in nature. Be it historical fiction or historiographic metafiction, this characteristic stems from a conception of time and history that is peculiarly modern, in the sense that time becomes more complex and multiple, while history remains an unfinished text subject to endless re-vision. Fictional narratives, as Paul Ricoeur reminds us, create metaphorical truths where nothing is offered in reality. The main difference between the historical fictions of socialist realism and pluralistic narratives is, I think, a self-reflexive consciousness that informs the latter. This self-reflexiveness is typical of the historiographic metafiction I will discuss later. As has been mentioned, the ideology of socialist realism takes literally the official version of reality, hence erasing the distance between subject and object, art and reality, fiction and history. Under the Maoist banner of revolutionary romanticism, the elimination of critical distance between the narrator and her subject helps rationalize  in Chinese literature and culture. The beginning of heteroglossia signals the end of "monologism" (3-24).  Changing Metaphors  97  violence by manipulating human emotional responses to the most unnerving incidents in life, for violence, as it were, finds its authority in revolution.  38  From critical realism to revolutionary romanticism, historical fiction in China has come a long way from a search for meaning and cultural identity after the breakdown of the traditional system of values to a submission of the self to a totalitarian ideology that put an end to this project. It remains to be said that Chinese history from the turn of the century to the present has had immense repercussions in the literary realm that are yet to be confronted in present-day China. Li Tuo, for one, complains about the difficulty of writing as a resistance to "Mao  style." The difficulty stems from the effects of the  uncertainty that results after a powerful ideology has been discredited. In China, Mao style has dominated all spheres of human activity for several decades. Even Li Tuo, an outspoken literary critic on the mainland today, recalls that "removing [Maospeak from one's language] felt like depriving [oneself] of the potential benefits and the important right... to pass judgment... renouncing not only [one's] own long-held values related to this right, but also the system of ideas that generates and sustains such values" ("Resisting Writing" 274). To contemporary intellectuals and writers on the mainland, L i Tuo maintains, the biggest challenge is not only to resist a particular style of writing (and speaking) that has been the only permissible register, but also to do so consciously. In  38  The representation of violence i n revolutionary literature not only "normalizes" violence as a token of  good faith but also prescribes a l i m i t e d set of emotional responses to violence. F o r further discussion on this aspect of Communist culture, see L i u (142-190). H u a n g Z i p i n g , i n particular, links this phenomenon to the "apotheosis" of revolution (Geming  88).  C h a n g i n g Metaphors  98  China, an experimental spirit in aesthetic and critical discourse has grown out o f this new self-consciousness, as seen in the renewed interest in Western theory and, more important, "culture" as an independent subject o f critical reflection. Here, one glimpses at once the similarity and difference between Chinese intellectuals today and their M a y Fourth counterparts. O n the one hand, the renewed interest in Western thought and culture is a corollary o f the "cultural reflection" movement (wenhua fansi) that seeks to end the hegemony o f Maospeak. It calls for a cultural enlightenment and claims allegiance to its predecessors in the M a y Fourth.  39  O n the other hand, the project o f  wenhua fansi today is geared toward a pluralistic engagement with history in the postrevolutionary age, which includes a rethinking o f the Chinese tradition in terms o f its contemporary significance.  40  The project o f spiritual emancipation, however, is always complicated by a possibly unacknowledged self-negation, precisely because the universal nature o f Maospeak has become an integral part o f social life. To resist Maospeak, therefore, is to resist an already internalized system o f values. A s such, the negation o f the revolutionary tradition necessitates a critical rethinking, instead o f a total rejection, of the past in order to grasp the full meaning o f "what happened," a knowledge that has been denied most  39  L i u Zaifu is a prominent spokesman for the "cultural reflection" movement. Younger scholars like  Huang Ziping and Chen Pingyuan express similar views in their recent work. See Liu, and Huang, Chen and Qian. 40  Apart from the "creative transformation" project, the so-called "search for roots" fiction, for example, is  engaged in such a creative reassessment of Chinese culture. Notable examples are Wang Zengqi, A Cheng,  Changing Metaphors  _  99  people f o r half a century. After years o f suffocating under an oppressive, official monologism, in which the trauma o f revolution has completely overturned the anxious hope of Progress, what constitutes the "new literature" today is no longer the  Utopian,  didactic voice o f old, but an open-ended, uncertain, and pluralistic dialogue between conflicting voices, at least in the cultural sphere. If we accept L e o Lee's view that in early twentieth-century China the concepts o f aesthetic modernity and social modernity were neither clearly defined nor differentiated, a development that is totally different from that in the West, then the implications for cultural rethinking today would be the continuation of the "unfinished project" o f modernity. Lionel Trilling once said that modernism in Europe was "a culture's disenchantment with culture itself." In the Chinese context, this modernistic sentiment is indeed an important aspect of the so-called N e w Literature that emerged in the mid-1980s and 90s. The "disenchantment with (dominant Communist) culture," so to say, continues to inspire creative writers to search for alternative cultural metaphors. In fact, the term "new" takes on more complex meanings than it once did during the M a y Fourth and subsequent decades, when literature was largely in the service o f nationalistic needs.  The so-called "literature of the wounded" (shanghen wenxue) that emerged in the late 1970s, though not a major artistic achievement, is a continuation o f the critical expose fiction that deals with the traumatic experience of the Cultural Revolution. Beginning from the mid-1980s, what comes to be known as "search for roots" fiction  Zheng Wanlong and Zhang Chengzhi.  Changing Metaphors  100  renews the effort of Shen Congwen in recreating a cultural homeland that mediates between past and present, old and new.  41  Instead of a progressive or Utopian emplotment  of history, these works usually show an individualistic concern with time past, i.e. individuals in search of a personal knowledge of the past, a cultural identity, or a spiritual homeland. Meanwhile, a new generation of writers have produced highly experimental fictional works that break new grounds in the ways of "seeing... as..." Yu Hua, for example, approaches history as a surrealistic nightmare beyond human comprehension. In "Yijiubaliu nian" ("Year 1986"), for example, Y u Hua tries to locate violence in Chinese history. The Cultural Revolution comes back to haunt the present in the person of a madman, a former high school history teacher who apparently "disappeared" after his interrogation by the authorities. Ten years after the Cultural Revolution (i.e. 1986) the madman returns to his hometown obsessed with ancient ways of torture which he inflicts upon himself with sheer delight. Violence becomes a kind of "reflex action" in "Xianshi yizhong" ("One Kind of Reality") where it is exercised without any justifiable human motives, except that in the final episode the male protagonist, having tortured his younger brother to death, is caught and later executed by the police. His body is then dismembered by a group of doctors who need his organs probably for illegal transplant operations. The neutrality of the third person narrator, moreover, intensifies the horror by the matter-of-factness with which bodily dismemberment and mutilation are described. Although guilt or moral retribution is out of the question in this story, violence, beginning  41  An excellent study of Shen Congwen is Jeffrey Kinkley's The Odyssey ofShen Congw<  Changing Metaphors  101  as a mechanical reaction to the external environment, becomes an institutionalized practice that may pass without anyone's notice in everyday life.  A l l these developments signal the emergence o f new perceptions o f the relationship between art and life in response to a changing reality. They are, in brief, products o f what Hilary Putnam calls the "sensitive appreciation in the imagination o f predicaments and perplexities [in life]" that are essential to "sensitive moral reasoning" (87). I f fiction approaches history first as a defamiliarization, the varying degrees o f strangeness (or familiarity) reveal different attitudes toward language and reality, as well as different world visions. In this chapter I have chosen texts that are thematically centered on revolution as a historical process, from the critical realism o f M a y Fourth to socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism. These fictional histories, I believe, can be approached from two perspectives. First, fictional representation o f history can be conceived more in terms o f artistic design and function. That is, as an object o f representation, history is part o f (but not exclusively) an aesthetic experience, be it catharsis, transcendence, shock or horror. A n encounter with the historical experience in the literary text may bring pleasure o f understanding and comfort, or it may disturb our sense o f well being and control over life, or it may do both. This perspective is relevant to our consideration Of the works o f many M a y Fourth writers who, despite their didacticism, still strive toward an individual vision in fiction (including M a o D u n at his best). O n the other hand, in certain overtly ideological works, history is identified with a theoretical hypothesis like the so-called revolutionary historical novel. Given the  Changing Metaphors  102  narrowness o f its scope (in terms o f aesthetic imagination), which is usually inversely proportional to its scale (in terms o f the quantity o f material covered), this kind o f fiction usually identifies theory w i t h reality so that the use o f history mirrors not the reality as such but the theory itself, as we have seen in D i n g L i n g ' s novel. Thus, it is also a kind o f defamiliarization in disguise, only that it demands conformity rather than questions it. In the following chapters, fictional representation o f history w i l l be treated primarily from the first perspective, i.e. as self-validating works o f art that question established worldviews by redefining the relationship between the imagination and (historical) reality.  3  History as Allegory: Han Shaogong  As one o f the major writers to emerge in the post-Mao period, H a n Shaogong is widely acknowledged as a leading figure in the so-called "search for roots" literature (xungen wenxue), an important fictional genre that gained its momentum in the literary scene in Mainland China in the mid-1980s. In fact, it was H a n himself who popularized 1  the usage of the term "roots" in his article "The Roots of Literature"  (^ClI^IS >  ("Wenxue de gen") in which he laments the present generation's loss o f contact with China's cultural tradition and therefore calls for a rediscovery o f cultural identity through a return to the past:  Literature has its roots and it should take "roots" in the native soil o f cultural legends and folklore. I f the roots are not deep enough, the leaves w i l l not flourish. Thus "searching for roots" is a common issue among writers from Hunan today. (Selected Writings 354)  See, for example, Joseph S. M. Lau's "Visitation of the Past in Han Shao-gong's post-1985 Fiction" in Widmer and Wang (19-42); also Michael Duke ("Reinventing China" 29-53). 1  103  Han Shaogong  104  A s a Hunanese writer, Han, much in the spirit o f his M a y Fourth predecessor Shen Congwen (whose "native s o i l " fiction recreates an ideal realm of the pastoral world o f West Hunan) yet less optimistic about China's future, reasserts the significance of the Chinese tradition in the creation o f modern Chinese literature. While acknowledging his debt to certain foreign writers such as W i l l i a m Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Han nonetheless reiterates his position as a "root seeker," not to glorify unquestioningly the superiority of the past but to transcend the limits o f these "roots": " M o r e importantly, the traditional culture embedded in our native soil mostly belongs to the nonparadigmatic: colloquialisms, unofficial histories, legends, jokes, folk songs, supernatural tales ... when the time comes, the paradigmatic is reinvigorated by the non-paradigmatic ... by means o f a critical appropriation" (357).  2  This impulse to rediscover China's cultural past through a critical appropriation (literally "absorption," xixiu) is predominantly historical in nature, for he sees great potential for a national literature to flourish from the "blood-soaked book o f history" (yibu xie lin lin de lishi) (355). This also suggests that for Han, literature is a kind o f 3  cultural memory, or a means to preserve, rediscover and, "reinvent" China's past as a collective cultural heritage. A s we shall see, Han's project o f cultural reinvention through fiction is fraught with despair and ambivalence; yet it is through this painful process o f reckoning with one's cultural past (including its glory and its evils) that the  2  3  See D u k e (41 n. 11, 43 n. 16) for H a n ' s discussion o f his literary influences. This c o m m o n expression i n Chinese already embodies a certain collective perception of history.  Han Shaogong  105  self is empowered to confront the present (and the future). This is particularly relevant to Han's well-known stories "Guei qu l a i " < (ggg)  > ("Homecoming?"), " B a B a B a "  (Father Father Father) and " N u N u N i l "  ("Three Women")  which form something like a "sequence" in Han's uniquely "magical realist" style.  4  Han's association with magical realism (mainly the kind o f fiction writing exemplified by Latin American writers) bespeaks his thematic concern. A s Alejo Carpentier has said, the "marvelous real" is not something imposed or "invented" as an alternative or deviance to reality but is as concrete as everyday life in the history o f South America (75-88). Obviously Carpentier made this statement some fifty years ago to differentiate the kind o f magical realism which characterizes Latin American fiction from its European counterpart on the basis o f cultural and historical specificities. In the Chinese context, too, Han's magical realist narratives o f culture and history can be more fruitfully explored in terms o f the "marvelous real" i n representing and interpreting the Chinese historical experience, a reality that may look "strange" from a distance (temporal, spatial and aesthetic). A s John Burt Foster Jr. argues, "Only the sufferings o f the damned can capture the feel o f this epoch o f extremity" (Forster 277), and it is as an extension o f realism that magical realism gives vent to the "new attitudes toward epistemology and historical experience" that also "transform the author's handling offelt history" (281, emphasis added). Here the notion o f "felt history" (defined as "one powerful way that literature can depict history," "its physical impact on the body and the  4  Cheung considers "Nii Nii Nii" as the culmination of Han's developing style and historical vision(ix-xxi).  Han Shaogong  106  senses," and " i n essence... the eloquent gestures and images with which a character or lyric persona registers the direct pressure o f events" (273) is equally valid to our reading o f Han Shaogong and many other Chinese authors writing at the historical juncture o f the post-Cultural Revolution era and a new phase o f China's modernization. For their works too "dramatize the psychic costs o f social change" and "the crude impact o f historical forces [that] overwhelm the personality"(275).  This kind o f magical realist fiction commonly associated with Third W o r l d and postcolonial writers always invites an allegorical reading, by which I mean the marvelous reality in the fictional world always exhibits in its very composition a selfconscious engagement with history, not as a faithful imitation but as a metaphorical reflection o f history's imprints on human life. In the magical realist text the mundane and the magical virtually co-exist and even supplement each other in their ultimate signification. H a n Shaogong's fictional works, too, invite an allegorical interpretation. The fantastic or magical realities portrayed in "Homecoming?" and other stories are noted for their allusions to the tragic experiences in Chinese history, especially the Cultural Revolution in which H a n spent his adolescent years as a zhiqing (educated youth) sent down to remote areas in Hunan under the party's dictum to "learn from the masses." Both "Homecoming?" and "The Blue Bottle Cap," for example, are also noted for their portrayal o f " 'scarred' victims [who are] unable to exorcise the lingering memory o f a nation paralyzed by evangelical hysteria."  5  Lau (29). A similar reading is offered by Martha Cheung.  5  This allegorical representation  Han Shaogong  107  of the past as found in Han's works, however, should be distinguished from the kind o f political allegory sanctioned by the party, i.e. the notion o f "making the past serve the present" (gu wei jin yong), or "manipulating the past to attack the present" (jie gu feng jin), which privileges the typicality o f literature as a direct reflection o f social life as defined by the party.  6  A s I w i l l discuss later, Han's historical allegories are grounded in  an anthropomorphic interest in Chinese culture itself, so much so that these fictional histories are always embedded in deeper philosophical reflections on the human condition, the nature o f historical knowledge in general, and the collective identity o f "being Chinese" as it is culturally and historically defined.  Fiction, as it were, can be read as a kind o f "literary fact" vis-a-vis the historical event (Danow 5-6). Fictional histories thus give a tangible form to historical consciousness amidst the numerous transitions and ends and thereby constitute what Y i i Yingshi calls the "transcendent power o f culture" (13). Despite the fact that Han's rootsearching results more often in the discovery o f vice than virtue in the Chinese cultural past, he is consciously indebted to the Chinese literary heritage in the vein of the "strange" (guai) and the "extraordinary" (qi) (Lau 29). Thus, it is not difficult to appreciate the tension arising from a certain duality or doublebind i n his narrative reinvention o f China's past, a problematic that preoccupied L u X u n half a century before.  6  7  The rest o f this chapter is devoted to a reading of Han Shaogong's fictions as  The quotation is from Barme (60). The doctrine of the "typical" in socialist realism is discussed in Jie  (395-397).  L u Xun, despite his "totalistic antitraditionalism," is well-known for his interest in the "nonparadigmatic" within the Chinese literary traditions. See Lee, Voices. 7  Han Shaogong  108  collective allegories, so as to capture the author's unique vision of history embedded in his allegorical invocation of the Chinese past. It is also an unfinished project: in Han's own words, "the vast lands of China are awaiting a miraculous rebirth... So far we can only talk about a great civilization in the East in the vaguest terms" (Selected Writings 457).  Memories of oblivion: the allegorical tales  Since the late 1970s, when the Chinese government began to loosen its surveillance and tight censorship over art and literature, many aspiring writers who spent their youth during the Cultural Revolution have engaged themselves in rigorous efforts to make sense of the past in order to situate themselves within the complex fabric of the present. Having worked in the rural areas of Hunan as a zhiqing, Han Shaogong's early works are mainly realistic portraits of life during the Cultural Revolution. The more noteworthy works among these are "Moving the Red Forge up onto the Mountain" ("Honglu shanghan"), "Yuelan" and "Looking West on the Hayfield" ("Xiwang maocaodi"), which he himself admits are "naive products primarily prompted by a sense of indignation and a desire to 'speak out for the people'" (Yuelan 266, qtd. in Lau 22).  8  In his more mature works (from the mid-1980s onward), there is an obvious and quite dramatic change in his literary style that draws attention to its modernist and magical  From Han's afterword to Yuelan. Lau's essay contains a critical overview of Han's realist works in the 1970s and early 80s.  Han Shaogong  109  realist traits. In these works, the relationship between literature and reality is no longer 9  mimetic but, as Martha Cheung puts it, "dialogic" in the sense that "literature function[s] as a mediator of reality, moulding and shaping it into something that can be examined from different angles" (x). Reality, as it were, is no longer at the service of its faithful observer, but somehow becomes treacherous and unfathomable. Characters are usually caught up in increasingly inexplicable, sometimes traumatic, events in conflict with one's sense of causation or normality. In these stories, the individual has to actively interpret experience through his subjective consciousness instead of some stable reference from without. This may sound passe to the Western reader steeped in modernist poetics; however, in the Chinese context, this is at once an aesthetic and political gesture, a literary subversion of the monologism of the so-called "workers-peasants- soldiers" literature (gongnongbingwenxue). Ih Han's fictional world, the perceiving subject is always placed within unfamiliarframesof reference open to multiple interpretations.  I will begin my reading of Han's works with his three groundbreaking stories written between 1985-86, namely "Homecoming?" "Ba Ba Ba" and "Nii Nii Nii".  These  stories, I believe, embody the kind of collective allegory that characterizes his manner in the mode of magical realism as well as what Linda Hutcheon calls "historiographical metafiction" mentioned in Chapter 1. History in the first two novellas is an obscure presence in the life and experiences of the main characters who remain half- conscious or unconscious of the social and political forces behind the deadly and grotesque  9  Michael Duke, for example, includes Han in his conception of the "school of cultural exploration" of  Han Shaogong  110  occurrences around them. The third novella deals with a more concrete reality but is cast in the same mythical mode, in which traditional virtues and political vice distort and finally destroy a person's sense of self. Han's fictional narrative, in effect, conjures up an oblique, mythical and nonetheless starkly threatening reality that looks backward to a forgotten, timeless antiquity and forward to the present and the future. The historical nightmare presented in these stories undergoes a series of variations in Han's other fictional creations discussed later in this chapter. M y argument is organized around Han's treatment of fictional time and space as he explores the dynamic relationship between history, cultural identity and human consciousness.  "Homecoming? ": ghosts of the past  When it was first published in 1985, "Homecoming?" stirred up heated debate among Mainland critics due to its ambiguity and "provocative" content, as it contains implicit yet powerfully suggestive critique of the Cultural Revolution couched in a mythical narrative frame. It is almost irrelevant to pin down a "location" for the setting of this fictional world, for the imaginary locale is identifiable only through its characteristic image of a remote, ancient and isolated village on the verge of extinction, one that readers encounter mostfrequentlyin Han's texts. Symbolically, it can be anywhere that haunts, or simply a nightmare that re-enacts the ghastly experiences of the past. On the most apparent level, "Homecoming?" is a story about going "home," but  contemporary Chinese writers and sees in Han's works a "problematic critique of traditional culture"  Han Shaogong  111  this time "home" is a pure accident, a detour to a largely fabricated place of no traceable geographic or historical origin. Certain traces of past times occur here and there to suggest a contrast between now and then. The "square block house" and the "staring gun embrasures" are signs of the past as opposed to the narrator's "present." The village, moreover, was organized as a Dazhai, a production brigade in the Cultural Revolution when "nobody got paid anything." Most significant is the mention of a booklet containing "a miscellany of agricultural terms, the characters '1911 Revolution', Marx's essays on the peasants' movement, and a map." What seems to be missing is a sense of continuity between the two temporal spheres as if a void stands between them. The vacuum, as the story unfolds, is a lapse in the narrator's memory, a lapse that causes the disjunction between the unfamiliar reality of the present and the creeping sense of deja vu that leads to a threatening self-recognition. "Home," therefore, is where the narrator experiences an identity crisis.  In "Homecoming?" the narrator, Huang Zhixian (a zhiqing figure) accidentally arrives in a remote village in the mountains. He is, seemingly, mistaken by the villagers as one Glasses Ma (a zhiqing who used to teach in the village). M a fled the place after allegedly committing a murder ten years before. Huang, though astonished, fails to clarify this "mistaken identity" and is being dragged into this strange world as time goes by. In an almost dreamy manner, he develops certain "slips" in his memory which make his new identity look real to him. He begins to cultivate a "native" intimacy with his so-  ("Reinventing" 29-53).  Han Shaogong  112  called relatives i n the v i l l a g e and enjoys s o m e petty advantages ( f o o d and shelter) p o s i n g as G l a s s e s M a . H e c o m e s to realize that this G l a s s e s M a is a controversial hero i n the village.  Y e a r s ago, Glasses M a k i l l e d a notorious b u l l y a n d then disappeared.  Huang's  " r e t u r n " to the village, m o r e o v e r , is not just a " h o m e c o m i n g " but also a reminder o f a n u n k n o w n h o r r o r a m o n g the villagers.  C h i l d r e n see " d e v i l s " i n his eyes w h i l e the w o m e n  are terrified without any apparent reason. It seems another history, another past, has c o m e out f r o m n o w h e r e t o haunt h i m . A t the same time, his experiences i n the m o u n t a i n b e c o m e a n i g h t m a r i s h reality. N o t o n l y is he haunted b y the horrific s h a d o w o f G l a s s e s M a but he also feels that he is G l a s s e s M a h i m s e l f a n d is therefore guilty o f murder. O v e r t a k e n b y terror he runs a w a y from the v i l l a g e p r o b a b l y t o escape a m u r d e r charge. W h e t h e r he is H u a n g Z h i x i a n o r G l a s s e s M a w e cannot say f o r certain because he never has the courage o r the certainty to stand u p for who he r e a l l y is i n front o f the people. T h e story ends w i t h H u a n g t a l k i n g to a friend o n the phone. H e is stunned u p o n hearing his n a m e " H u a n g Z h i x i a n " c o m i n g out o f the speaker:  M y friend c a l l e d m e " H u a n g Z h i x i a n " . "What?" " W h a t do y o u mean what?" " W h a t did y o u call m e ? " "Aren't you Huang Zhixian?" " D i d y o u call m e H u a n g Z h i x i a n ? " " D i d n ' t I call y o u H u a n g Z h i x i a n ? "  1 0  Selected Writings 17. Trans. Martha Cheung (20). Subsequent page references to these texts are given at  Han Shaogong  113  "immmm^m?"  The most telling scene occurs when the narrator examines his naked body in the steaming bath water under the pale blue light of a lard lamp. Looking at his naked body, a symbol of the naked truth of being, Huang is taken aback by an intense sensation as if he has never really noticed its existence before. It is at this moment of nakedness and solitude that he suddenly remembers an old scar from a previous injury and gets into utter confusion:  A lard lamp hung above me, emitting a pale blue glow in the steam, giving a blue tint to my body. Before I put on my shoes, I looked at this blue body of mine and was suddenly overcome with a peculiar feeling: the body seemed a stranger, seemed alien.... There was only my naked self, the reality of my own self. I had hands and legs ... I had intestines and a stomach... and I had genitals... I, too, was a bluish fertilized ovum connected to a string of coincidences. ..II started to wipe dry an inch-long scar on my calf. I had received the injury in a football pitch, where I was hit by a studded boot. But, no, I was wrong, it seemed. It seemed that I'd got the scar from a nasty bite by a short, dwarfish man... He the end of the Chinese and English quotations respectively.  Han Shaogong  114  was coming towards me holding an opened umbrella and I was scowling at him... Then he went down on his knees... He jerked and pulled at the curb-robe round his neck ... I didn't know how long it was before [he] gave up [his] struggle and became quite still..." (13-14, last ellipsis the author's)  m±mmmmmm7  • ^mm^mm-mmmm^  ffim$}&& > ssfimsr ° W M P . . . mmm...  «Htw - f^-t^ji' ^Mf«0fM'  -m{fmm?mm....  Cffi]^S«%^mT'$»T3r5  (12-13)  Was it an injury in a football pitch or was it the scar of a real crime forgotten? His sense of self gradually dissolves as he begins to internalize the guilt of murder voluntarily. The shock of this strange encounter with the "past" prompts a swift denial: "No, I told myself with desperate finality, I'd never been here before, I'd never known any short, dwarfish man in my life. And I'd never seen any pale blue glow, not even in my dreams. Never" (14). The chain of negative statements, ironically, reinforces the weighty grasp of this unwanted past on Huang's consciousness as he can never really shake off this memory of a forgotten past.  Han Shaogong  115  It seems Huang's narrative is deliberately bleak in its vision o f reality that is not without a certain melodramatic black humor. A t the beginning, he already associates the landscape with a decaying body: the land was "like a body stripped o f skin and flesh," the calves "had inherited old age at birth," and the dark walls "were the coagulation o f many dark nights." H i s allusion to bandit stories recalled from childhood is but an unsuccessful attempt to interpret an experience beyond his grasp. Despite his bookishness, Huang's vocabulary is inadequate whenever it comes to self-expression, either because he doesn't dare or know how to respond. The keen observation o f details and the profusion o f imagery in description, as a result, out-strip his reasoning, resulting in an imbalance between seeing and understanding. Such a disjunction can be taken as an attempt to delineate the Chinese sense o f selfhood and the bigger issue o f the "gigantic T " the narrative invokes in the end: " I ' m tired, I ' l l never be able to get away from that gigantic I! M a m a ! " (18)  Huang Zhixian's predicament, as many critics have pointed out, can be read as a reflection o f the traumatic experience o f the Cultural Revolution. Unlike much o f scar literature, Han's story shifts its focus from the opposition o f good/evil to the more complex issue o f guilt. A well-intentioned murder is, after all, a murder. M o r e important, the story raises the issue o f collective responsibility: in giving their approval to the murder, are the "people" also accomplices to the crime? The role o f the villagers reminds us o f L u X u n ' s condemnation o f the onlookers in his short stories. Pursuing this line o f thought draws us closer to the Huang's (or M a ' s ) dilemma: the murder that makes  Han Shaogong  116  him a hero in the past also threatens to destroy him in the present. Unable to come to terms with his two conflicting identities, the narrator chooses to run away from the people to seek temporary refuge in an ambiguous present. The question remains: what should be done to remedy the damage? The story does not provide a clear direction, and it remains a central preoccupation o f Han in his later works. B y evading the exact when and where o f the setting, H a n situates this story in a timeless present that somehow prevents a straightforward allegorical reading. The enhanced sense o f uncertainty, progressing through the ambivalence o f time, space and finally the central character's self-identity due to conflicting interpretations o f a personal and collective past, further obscures "what really happened." B y implication, it is a literary reflection not only on the political disaster that thwarts and distorts the development o f the self, but also an investigation into the "dark and evil sides o f human beings" (Shi 128, qtd. in L a u 29). Nonetheless, the nightmare o f the Cultural Revolution still provides the best resource for Han's cultural exploration since it has unleashed probably the darkest forces in human nature that characterize twentieth-century Chinese history: " M y experience in those years brought to me my first sensation o f pain in life... Ideals had their biggest victory and also their worst defeat [in those years]" (Selected Writings 486). The ambiguous setting in the text thus enables a more complex philosophical reflection on Chinese culture and history beyond its mere political concerns.  Unlike his early realist works, and most "scar literature" (shanghen wenxue) which depicts social evils as something that can be eventually purged or overcome by  Han Shaogong  117  collective will, Han's evocation of the question "Who am I?" prompts a critical rethinking of the nature of this collective will as it develops through time. It is possible that the narrator's identity confusion is partly due to his lack of a reliable personal history. Symbolically, "homecoming" is a journey of self-discovery, or even self-denial in the tradition of Lu Xun. However, as the narrator returns "home," i.e. when he flees the village and returns to the city, neither of his two identities make sense to him. Huang's failure to come into being as an individual thus culminates in his exclamation "Mama!" in the end. Here, "Mama" may be just an expression of helplessness, or it may refer to the motherland that gives meaning to the "gigantic I." On a more subtle level, "Mama" implies a critique of the collective will that impoverishes the individual self. As a result, the self breaks down immediately when it confronts its own "nakedness."  "Ba Ba Ba ": grotesque descent  Compared to "Homecoming?", "Ba Ba Ba" is a more sophisticated work in which the treatment of time and history embraces Han's historical vision and critique of Chinese culture.  11  Like "Homecoming?" the story is set in a remote village in the mountains  isolated from the outside world with a way of life still dictated by ancient rites and customs. The exotic, dreary landscape of Chicken Head Village is typical of Han's allegorical landscape, i.e. an unfamiliar, symbolic space where mysterious local practices  Han Shaogong's attitude toward Chinese tradition has been regarded by many critics as negative and pessimistic in general (Michael Duke, Joseph Lau); in their introduction to the story, Wu and Cheng regard "Ba Ba Ba" as "vibrating with life" and "a brooding sense of perceptiveness and disquiet." Wu and Cheng 11  (1).  Han Shaogong  118  and eccentric behavior are the norm. The combination o f folklore, oral history and legends couched in an archaic dialect in this fictional history reminds the reader o f such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight's  Children, where  personal/fictional history is woven into national history to create a half-real, halfimaginative world, only that Han's novella is even more obscure in its temporal and spatial references, and the "history" recorded here is only recognizable in its portrayal o f human evil and cultural vices that are customarily associated with the M a y Fourth image o f "Chinese national character." A s a search-for-roots fiction, the story presents a skewed picture o f the barbaric, superstitious and to a certain extent cannibalistic ancient society that nonetheless survives the threat o f extinction. A s Wang Zengqi, a pioneer o f search-for-roots fiction in the 1980s and a former student o f Shen Congwen, remarks, this kind o f "shamanistic culture," he believes, "is a reality" in itself, and it is "a birthmark o f [the Chinese] nation" ("Preface" 2). Whether or not " B a B a B a " is a realistic representation o f the exotic rites and customs still practiced in certain parts o f China is not a relevant issue here. Instead, Wang's comments draw attention to the diversified nature o f search-for-roots fiction as a cultural phenomenon in China today. In this light, the "roots" being searched for is intrinsically varied in nature and in kind, so that any formulaic generalization about this new genre should be avoided.  B e that as it may, these kinds o f literary reinvention o f the Chinese cultural past do share something in common: a concern with time and history, especially when these  Han Shaogong two concepts interact with certain cultural perceptions o f reality.  119 12  In presenting " B a B a  B a " as a narrative o f grotesque descent, I w i l l concentrate on questions concerning the fictional creation of time and history as a thematic and schematic concern: what vision(s) of history, especially Chinese history, is presented in the story? H o w is it related to the cultural tradition portrayed? O n a meta-fictional dimension, I also want to show how Han's narrativizing of the past encodes in itself a strategy o f interpretation that forms part of the narrated content, so that the act o f historical representation is also fictionalized. These questions are also relevant to my discussion o f " N i i N i i N i i " and other stories later on.  The story of the demise o f Chicken Head Village begins with the birth of Bingzai, an idiot whose father has run away allegedly due to his disgust with his ugly wife. Bingzai's mother (whose name remains undisclosed) is believed to have brought a curse on herself when she accidentally killed a spider while tending to the firewood in the kitchen. Throughout his life, Bingzai's language is limited to two simple phrases: " B a B a " and " F _ mama" (Selected Writings 158). Chicken Head Village, as typical o f Han's mythical landscape, is far from a pastoral idyll. Its inhabitants are rigidly old-fashioned, superstitious, ignorant and self-centered (not far from L u X u n ' s portrayal in "The True Story o f A h Q"). Apparently the origin o f Chicken Head Village remains obscure, but oral histories and folklore have it that their ancestors migrated from a far-off land in the  This concern with time and history explains why the treatment of time in some search-for-roots fictions very often defy the realist convention. A s Wang Zengqi remarks on this issue, "time is both changing and unchanging... The main concern of search-for-roots fiction is the process of historical and cultural change" ("Preface" 4). 12  Han Shaogong  120  east centuries ago, and eventually settled in these mountains. A major crop failure shakes the entire village to its foundations. Out of panic they resort to the ancient rite of human sacrifice to the rice god. When it happens that Bingzai is chosen to be the sacrifice, he is saved by a clap of thunder, for the villagers interpret it as Heaven's dislike of this meager offering. Then a sorcerer is consulted. Finally, they decide to chop off the "head" of the Crowing Chicken Demon, i.e. the Chicken Mountain , which they believe is responsible 13  for the bad harvests.  However, this offends the people of Chicken Tail Village and a battle is in order. The villagers hold a meeting before the confrontation. They chop off the head of an ox to predict the outcome of the battle. When the ox falls forward, they see it as a sign of victory. After successive defeats, the villagers recall that Bingzai once muttered "F_ mama" when the ox fell. They carry the idiot to the temple, prostrate before him and seek his advice. Bingzai, probably distracted by a chirping bird, cries out: "Ba  Ba!"  Excited by this auspicious sign, the villagers set out for another battle. In the end, Chicken Head Village is badly defeated and the young adults are forced to leave the place for good. The elderly, after killing all the infants, commit suicide by drinking a toxic potion in accordance with their ancient ways. Bingzai miraculously survives, and the story ends with a resounding echo of "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba..." In this way the entire "history" of this ancient village comes full circle: utter destruction brought about by natural and human disasters forces the inhabitants to retrace the footsteps of their  13  Cheung's translation uses "cock" instead of chicken for all relevant place names. In my discussion  Han Shaogong  121  forefathers, and Bingzai, a symbol o f the "roots o f backwardness" (cf. L a u 36) seems to be a self-perpetuating virus that will never go away.  The allegorical content o f the tale probably lies in its depiction o f the selfdestructive backwardness o f Chicken Head Village. Since time immemorial it has remained trapped in a complete cultural stagnation:  The village perched high in the mountains above the clouds. When you left the house, you often found yourself stepping into rolling clouds... Sometimes you caught sight o f the armoured birds on the trees. Black as coal and the size o f a thumb, their call was loud and clear and rang with a metallic twang. They seemed to have remained unchanged since time immemorial. (40)  '  fiETf^ffMi  ° (Selected Writings 161-162)  This timeless existence finally bursts apart when change becomes inevitable. Yet, change is always disastrous to a culture that is ill equipped both technically and mentally for it. This image o f a backward, stagnant culture, reminiscent o f L u X u n ' s portrayal o f the Chinese society in "The True Story o f A h Q " and " A Madman's Diary," is personified in Bingzai, whose retarded growth is probably one o f the most terrifying  "chicken" is used to convey the sense of humor in Han's text.  122  Han Shaogong  images of Chinese culture in modern Chinese literature. Bingzai in the text is portrayed as a grotesque figure, his deformity aptly reflects the degeneracy of the entire village society:  When he was born, he showed no sign of life for two whole days .... his eyes were dull, his movements slow; and his head was big, fleshy, and lopsided, like a green gourd turned upside-down. Anyway, it passed for a head, whatever oddities there were inside it. (35)  After all the bloodshed and destruction, Bingzai stands fast as the "infallible," the survivor of the apocalypse. No one knows where he will go (probably nowhere) or how he will live his life (beyond simply existing), but it is certain that he will live a long life, for he is immune to even the strongest poison.  The demise of Chicken Head Village, it seems, signifies a "new beginning" that is also a repetition of a historical cycle: the young and the able will settle somewhere, and who knows if history will not repeat itself in the future? Bingzai, as the text implies, is one such certainty. David Der-wei Wang notes that Chinese literature in the New Period (i.e. the post^Mao period) is so full of "bizarre characters" (the crippled, the mute, the  Han Shaogong  123  "living dead, etc.) that it transforms the once glorified Socialist Heaven into a "grotesque haven" o f the psychologically or physically deformed (Heteroglossia 209). Given that the official doctrine o f socialist realism sanctions only a naive theory o f literary representation (as a disguise for political propaganda), the insurgence o f the grotesque in recent years constitutes a "return o f the repressed." This spectacle o f deformity curtly reminds the reader o f the "grotesque" nature o f the official, sanitized version o f reality. This aspect o f Han's tale o f mythical origin and decline adds another dimension to the collective allegory o f " B a B a B a " : in addition to a scathing criticism o f Chinese culture, the grotesque deformity o f Bingzai is a mockery o f the "Tall, B i g and Perfect" hero (an expression for the stock character type exemplified by Hao Ran's protagonist Gao Daquan, meaning tall, big and perfect, in The Golden Road), hence the "Heaven o f Socialist China" is effectively demystified. Instead o f a faithful reflection, the story offers a deflection o f reality that articulates a metaphorical truth in Ricoeur's sense. In searching for the Chinese "heart o f darkness," Han's fictional reinvention o f the Chinese past (distant and recent) presents a very complex vision o f his "native soil" full o f despair and indignation.  " B a B a B a " combines a linear time scheme with a larger, cyclical one. t h e story o f Chicken Head Village in general follows a linear pattern from its ancestral origin to its disintegration. Within this "historical" time frame, the narrative contains numerous references to time past, including pseudo-historical anecdotes and official records from previous dynasties. However, its geographical orientation is mainly couched in the  Han Shaogong  124  archaic term zhou, an administrative unit in ancient China. The larger, cyclical time frame is also evident in the ancestral history o f Chicken Head Village. W e are told that the origins o f the mountain settlements are unknown ("There was no knowing where these villagers had come from"), and this exotic world is shrouded in mysteries and indecipherable signs ("On the walls patterns had been carved with knives. They looked like birds, like animals, like a map, like squiggles, but they were indecipherable. W h o could know what had happened there?" [43]) What is known is that the ancestors came from a far off land in the "east" and settled in mountains perennially surrounded by mist and clouds. This piece o f knowledge, we are told, is transmitted through ancient folk songs that are frequently repeated in the text. Meanwhile, this ahistorical, timeless existence is disturbed by the introduction o f the historical, "real" present. Land reform programs, opium trade and other signs o f modernization (leather shoes, for example) appear occasionally as time-markers. These references to the passage o f time, though marginal, create an uneasy tension between time past and time present within the fictional time frame.  The cyclical structure o f the narrative is also evident in the repetition o f songs about tribal origins and migration. Ancient folk songs, as the narrator admits, are "a more detailed and authoritative account o f the history o f their ancestors" (43). Through these songs the villagers preserve their cultural memory. A s the story unfolds, these seemingly innocent tunes turn out to be a kind o f prophecy that foretells the fate o f Chicken Head Village:  Han Shaogong  125  Grandma led the clan, Oh, from the east afar, Grandpa left the east, Oh, a long long line behind, On and on they went, Oh, the mountains were so high, They turned back to look, Oh, their homes behind the clouds,  The road grew weary, Oh, was the end not near?  As this song is repeated in the story, history also repeats itself as the descendents are forced to migrate into the unknown future. The migratory pattern of the ancestors is bound to recur endlessly in time, and is equally meaningless except for the continuation of an absurd existence. After the exodus and mass suicide, the narrator contemplates the insignificance of human life in the eternal flux of time as he changes his focus to Bingzai, the idiot and only survivor of mass intoxication (another very telling metaphor). This final note strikes hard at the absurdity of human action and deepens the irony of the story: everything vaporizes in time, leaving only the vaguest traces which will never be understood.  Han Shaogong  126  " B a B a B a " is full o f inscrutable signs whose meanings cannot be decoded, mainly because they are far removed in time and space. The narrator, instead o f taking up the responsibility o f deciphering, admits his own limitations. H e can only approximate "meaning" through conjectures and speculations based on unreliable sources. Yet, his survey o f the strange customs o f Chicken Head Village is deliberately couched in an intimate tone, addressing the reader as " y o u " as i f in a tourist guidebook or travel journal: "When you left the house, you always found yourself stepping into rolling clouds." " I f you ran into another group o f peasants offering sacrifice to the rice god, they might well chop off your head and offer that as well. I f you ran into bandits, you would lose not only your purse but also your boat" (40, 42). Unlike the rest o f the story, the third person narrator here presents him/herself as a guide, a story-teller who w i l l lead you through the labyrinth o f a mysterious forest. A s it turns out, this affected familiarity o f the "insider" dissolves into the incredulity o f the "outsider": " W h o could know what had happened there?" From then on, we are confronted with a timeless domain o f human existence, one that is unaware o f its rapid decay:  The branches fell and rotted on the ground, the layers thickening year by year. When trod upon, they oozed black slime and a few air bubbles, exuding a pungent smell o f damp and rot that hung so heavy in the air it enveloped the wailings o f generations o f w i l d boars. / It enveloped the villages too, and blackened them. (43)  Han Shaogong  « t f f l i i '  127  ffij&mm&r ° (163)  Despite this affected "objectivity" in description (which is not without a sense o f premonition), the third person point o f view is used in a very limited sense. The narrator does not presume any omniscient knowledge o f his characters, nor does he interpret their inner feelings and emotional life. A s the most active consciousness at work, the narrator very often leaves his interpretation unfinished, leading to more questions than answers. This foregrounding o f an "unknowing" interpreter o f "what really happened" and the parallel temporalities in " B a B a B a " constitute the meta-fictional dimension o f the story. Instead o f a linear unfolding o f historical processes, there are temporal fragments that make up the fictional "present" o f the narrative itself. The narrator, as s/he goes through the rugged topos o f the past, makes use o f this incoherence to create a cyclical vision o f history accompanied by the consciousness o f time as a process o f endless descent, an eternal and meaningless flux. This duality o f time consciousness, I believe, is the result o f an unresolved tension between a mythical (cyclical) worldview and a "modern" (linear) one. A s a mode o f historical perception, it is very much in line with his M a y Fourth predecessors: the inevitability o f historical change and the inability o f the Chinese nation to live up to that inevitability. This dilemma is further translated into the coexistence o f contradictory times, the time o f a "timeless" repetition o f human existence and that o f a linear "devolution." Read as a historical metaphor, " B a B a B a " also reveals the intellectual and moral dilemmas o f Han's cultural/self reinvention.  Han  128  Shaogong  "Nii Nii Nii": the apocalypse  and the fin-de-siecle  Written in 1986, " N i i N i i N i i " takes the unanswered questions about time, history and self-identity o f "Homecoming?" and " B a B a B a " one step further by situating the inexplicable in the familiar reality o f the present: the two realms o f experience are put in a dialectical relation so that they function in the text as a mutual displacement, culminating in the narrator's apocalyptic vision that finally gives way to an ambiguous note o f "transcendence" reminiscent o f Zen teaching: "When you've eaten, you do the dishes./ That's a l l " (Selected  Writings  249).  14  The significance o f this story lies in its  integrative capacity, for it brings together the temporal and spatial transition we have seen in the previous stories and projects through the lens o f the present a cosmic vision o f human existence that is uniquely Chinese. In this light I begin my critical reading o f " N i i N i i N i i " before drawing some preliminary conclusions on the three allegorical tales.  A s its title suggests, the story is about the I-narrator (also known by his nickname M a o Ta) and three women: Aunt Y a o , Aunt Zhen (Aunt Y a o ' s sworn sister), and Lao H e i (Aunt Y a o ' s goddaughter). Aunt Y a o spends most o f her life as an exemplary Chinese woman: frugal, hard-working and most o f all, self-sacrificing to a fault. She saves every bit o f left-over food, waste paper and garbage as i f they were treasures. During the Cultural Revolution, the I-narrator's father committed suicide and Aunt Y a o contributed  14  "... a monk asks a Chan [Zen] patriarch what is the true self of a Buddhist follower, the patriarch, instead  Han Shaogong  129  significantly to the raising o f the children. L i k e her father and grandfather, she is halfdeaf but refuses to use a hearing aid simply because it requires batteries. One day, Aunt Y a o has a stroke in her bath and from then on she is transformed into a completely different person. She becomes a nasty, greedy and hot-tempered woman and her behavior becomes totally unbearable to her nephew. Desparate, the narrator sends her back to the country where her sworn sister, Aunt Zhen, promises to take care o f her. There Aunt Y a o ' s transformation takes on material form: her body shrinks, her skin roughens, and her body mutates, first into a monkey and then a fish. Not long afterwards, she dies but no one knows for certain why. There is a hint that Aunt Zhen might have killed her out o f both pity and frustration. Alongside this magical story is the world o f mundane affairs. The narrator is having a difficult time with the authorities probably due to his views on the city's economic development. Meanwhile, L a o H e i , the epitome o f the carefree, conceited, arrogant and yet vulnerable "modern" woman, seems to be overwhelmed by her fading beauty and dwindling popularity in the circle o f urban celebrities. The story ends with the parting o f the narrator and L a o Hei, each heading toward their own uncertain future.  Judging from the narrator's portrayal o f city life we can assume that the story is set in the 1980s. Against this background, Aunt Y a o ' s character in the first part o f the story seems to be constantly at odds with modern life. Her deafness and self-seclusion leave her in virtual isolation from the world. Her eccentricities, moreover, have much to  of replying, asks the monk, "Have you eaten?", when the monk has said yes, the patriarch says, "Then go  Han Shaogong  130  do with her past experiences. A s a country girl she was dishonored by her inability to bear children, her deafness left her practically no company in the factory where she used to work, and it was suggested that she was once estranged from her brother (the narrator's father) due to her husband's political background. Despite her good w i l l and virtues, Aunt Y a o is ostracized in a society that is itself befuddled by traditional and modern (political) "superstitions" resulting in grave psychological distortions. The narrator interprets her extreme frugality and seclusion as a desire for security:  She preferred to stay in the house with the door closed so she could keep a watchful eye on the shabby furniture and the few pickle jars in the house, and to keep up the vigilance she had dutifully lived with all her life. A s soon as the door was closed, her towel was safe.... Safe, too, was her teacup.... Likewise, her umbrella was safe. (111-112)  .... mmffifcm&-T.... tm^mm ^ 7  (213-214)  This obsession with security is suggestively linked to a nightmarish experience during the Cultural Revolution, when the narrator's father took his life under the pressure o f political prosecution. Twenty years later, the narrator still refers to the incident in these  and wash the bowl." Cheung (xv).  Han Shaogong  131  terms: "he went away in the end - for a haircut" (108). The sudden disappearance o f a family member was not uncommon in those days, and a similar episode is also recorded in Han's semi-autobiographical work " X i e p i "  (  >  (Shoes) in which his father also  "went for a haircut," and his mother, traumatized, developed an obsession with shoes (which remind her o f her husband's disappearance, not death).  Paranoia, as it were, is contagious. Years after the tragedy, the narrator is still affected by a fear o f people talking in whispers: "Ever since then, I couldn't shake the feeling that whenever the grown-ups put their heads together and talked in whispers, something bad was bound to happen ... For everytime I woke up, I'd hear Father and Mother whispering in their bed on the other side o f the room... This gave me nightmares" (210-11). This paranoid obsession with whispers explains the seemingly unreasonable fear o f death expressed by the narrator at the beginning o f the story, when he suspects the noise from the kitchen is Aunt Y a o cutting off her own finger: " . . . there was no severed finger on the floor. But just then I really believed I'd heard the sound o f a finger being cut off." Yet, the narrator seems unable to believe what he actually sees, for the cutting sound from the kitchen continues to haunt him:  It had to be the sound o f a finger being chopped into pieces, o f cartilage snapping, skin and flesh being torn off, and the knife catching in the joints.... Bits o f bone must be flying, blood streaming; and the blood, hot, thick and steaming, must be trickling down the table legs onto the floor.... (93)  Han Shaogong  132  (199-200)  This graphic description o f self-mutilation, though a psychological projection, is a close relative o f Y u Hua's "Yijiubaliu nian" <  (~lfi)  — A A / N ^  > ("1986") and "Xianshi yizhong"  ( " A K i n d o f Reality"), where scenes o f killing and mutilation abound.  15  Apart from the fact that it partakes o f the "grotesque haven" mentioned above, it is thematically relevant to the overall effect o f the story. The narrator's hallucination not only betrays his undeclared feelings for his aunt (whose frugality has become pathological) but also his traumatized self. Wrapped in the safety o f his education and profession (he moves in a circle o f intellectuals and there are hints he is a government official), the shadow o f violence looms large whenever he is not certain o f what he sees.  The perturbation provoked by a sense o f "not seeing" recurs many times in the text during the narrator's journeys to his home village in the remote countryside. L i k e "Homecoming?", these journeys signify a confrontation with the past, but this time the past is not a mystery but a secret, something hidden in the depths o f the memories o f those who "have seen" what the narrator, as an estranged descendent, cannot see or share. In the text there are two major journeys through which the time-space o f the present is  Yu Hua's use of violence is tantamount to a display or exhibition of the mutilated body, drawing attention to itself as an anti-aesthetic image. 15  Han Shaogong  133  disrupted by the intrusion o f the past, a time whose reality one can only approximate in the manner o f high-school history books:  A n ancient river ran through a stretch o f fertile mountain land. Ancient pebbles o f every colour lay scattered in its bluish-green waters. It was said that in earlier times, the river was flanked by thick woodlands.... Later on - no one knows when.... a road began to steal its way into these parts,... Still later - again, no one knows when - the authorities sent people to build a wall [in order to ward off bandits], like the Great W a l l in the north. (96)  16  i r e ° mmmiMmm^mmm^.... ^m-fmmm.... ^j-mmmmm^m... zptmimmm • M I A ^mmmBT-mmmmm - mmmmmm • ( 2 0 1 - 2 0 2 ) These observations are immediately followed by an old lady's "stories which seemed to have something to do with Aunt Y a o . " The landscape seems to communicate another reality - its history - to the observer looking for signs o f the past, be it a road, a wall or traces o f those who had once passed by. The ancient landscape, likened to an old man's face ("What had they eaten to make their teeth fall out?"), softly melts into the face o f the old lady who is "half hawk and half human," "as thin as a blade o f grass," her eyes and mouth "[look] like careless slashes made in a piece o f shrivelled cassava with a knife."  The Chinese original does not have the phrase "like the Great Wall in the north." The analogy is made implicitly by the narrator who later refers to the boundary wall as "xiao changzheng" (little great wall). 16  Han Shaogong  134  Confronted with these unfamiliar signs, the narrator feels "strongly that [his] home village [is] real; fate, too, [is] real, and [he has] a mystical connection with this stretch o f alien land" (96).  Landscape in " N i i N i i N i i " is a receptacle o f the secrets o f the unknown past. During his second journey, the narrator is invited by a boatman to view the "boundary wall":  The boat rocked unsteadily as the passengers leaned over to get a better view o f the little great wall. Then they shouted excitedly - Yes, I see it.... but I didn't see i t . . . . / . . . . What did they see? Could it be that their eyes were different from mine? (132)  mmmmnm^-mm?  (228-229)  Almost immediately afterwards, he meets a shop owner who brings him to his ancestral home. This time, he has to "see" what is no longer there, for the "grand mansion" which was his ancestral home had been pulled down to build a school. What remains now is a footpath trodden smooth by the tenant farmers in the bygone days. "I could indeed see that smooth footpath... It looked strangely familiar." A s he contemplates what might have passed in those days, he suddenly comes to this conclusion: " A h ! So that was it.  Han Shaogong  Father had always refused to let me visit my ancestral home because he was afraid I  135  would see this footpath... it would rouse me to rebellious disobedience." (230, emphasis added) Throughout these passages, the act of seeing constitutes the main action that unfolds the many stories of the long lost past. More important, the "epiphany" after seeing the footpath powerfully suggests the subversive nature of memory recalled. Though he does not share the memory of the past, the sight of it, symbolized by the smooth footpath, can provoke a "rebellious disobedience." Earlier on, the narrator laments that "[e]verything the older generation in [his] family said was vague" for the sake of "the edification of the young and ... a clear demonstration of their sense of social responsibility." (201/95) To see what is not there, therefore, is one way to clear away this vagueness. But if vagueness is a kind of "edification," seeing "what is no longer there" means a confrontation with a threatening truth, this way of seeing is by nature metaphorical, a way of "seeing... as..."  What truth is it? What makes it so threatening? After Aunt Yao's death, the narrator makes a final journey to his hometown to attend her funeral. During the funeral, the narrator, overcome by anxiety, has another hallucination. In a dreamlike manner, he sees a tide of rats swamping all over the place, sweeping away everything on their way. "Earthquake!" this sense of crisis - an apocalyptic vision of collective annihilation intensifies with the quickening rhythm of drums and cymbals of the funeral proceeding. Gradually, the two scenes melt into one. the concatenation of music and the earth's uproar finally explodes in a poetic outburst that is apocalyptic in nature:  136  Han Shaogong  The B o o k o f Heaven had unfolded, the bows were drawn taut. Severed buffalo heads, dripping blood, hung beneath battle standards o f warring tribes. Where would you go? ... . A momentous ejaculation in ancient times, and a shrill scream during labour, had torn the boundaries o f earth and heaven, forcing the blood o f mythical emperors Y a n and Huangdi into the very foundations, into sunless coal seams, into hieroglyphics that arrived furtively, in conspiratory tangled whispers, and into the slashed throats and rattling shackles o f condemned rebels in prison cells, where would you go? Oh! O h ! The deluge, the deluge! One person has died, the earth is shaking, the walls are crumbling, no one could save her just as none could turn the boundless universe inside your heart and mine into mere inventory. In the end, the sun is still out o f reach; the meteor descends only in paint; an-eye-for-an-eye, murmurs, whispers - they are ephemeral. A n d yet, year after year, Time reveals eternity and the perfect harmony o f the taichi in the ears o f grain - to what end? (155)  T - mmrnm^ .-m^-^xmxmMm -^m^m mwWn&B m - i%&mz&mxmmmmmxBmm • mx mmmmm&itmmmmmmm^ • mxw^^mx mx - -mxRT > mm >  mwfmmmmtmmm  \m\ixm^mmfmm.m nm ? (245)  137  Han Shaogong  A s the consummating metaphor o f the story, the "earthquake" alludes to the massive earthquake that struck North China (Tangshan) in July, 1976, followed by M a o ' s death two months later, marking the end o f "the M a y Fourth generation o f Communist revolutionaries."  17  This long passage, wrought in powerful metaphors, throws into relief  the tension built up so far in text. Allusions to classical Chinese literature, legends and philosophical texts flow freely with uniquely modernistic sentiments and fin-de-siecle premonitions. In one paragraph the narrator captures the universe of human experience: from myths o f creation to the rise and fall o f empires and civilizations, from the sanctity of life to unredeemed condemnation, from the good harvests o f human virtues to the cultural wasteland wrecked by the elements, all this boils down to the questions o f  "Who  am I?", "Where am I?", "Where would you go?". The lyrical, subjective mood sustained throughout this poetic passage, moreover, strategically encapsulates the main actions o f the entire narrative and carries it far beyond its supposed boundaries. Soaring up and down to embrace both heaven and earth, present and past, it suddenly gazes back to the apparently trivial figure: L a o Hei.  She, too, is part of the narrator's universe, and it is his  final parting with this self-indulgent goddaughter o f Aunt Y a o that brings the narrative to an end:  When you've eaten, you do the dishes. That's all.  More than 200,000 people were killed and millions were injured and left homeless. As Maurice Meisner remarks, "The year 1976 marks not only the close of the Maoist era but also the departure of virtually all of the original generation of Chinese Marxist revolutionaries who had grown into intellectual and political maturity during the May Fourth Movement" Meisner (426-427). 17  Han Shaogong  138  Whether this ending is a compromise or transcendence is open to interpretation. Be it a "complete rejection of traditional Chinese culture," (Duke, "Reinventing" 52) or "an admission of intellectual impotence" (Lau 42) Han's apocalyptic vision expresses his ambivalence toward both tradition ("the walls are crumbling, no one could save her just as none could turn the boundless universe inside your heart and mine into mere inventory") and the Maoist version of modernity (the earthquake that brings down the "little Great Wall" in his home village), an as yet unresolved dilemma that informs most of Han's works.  Traumatic Encounters: history/memory/fiction  Like many Chinese writers, Han Shaogong's short stories constitute a major part of his creative works. A critical examination of these prototypes and themes, therefore, is indispensable if we are to gauge the meaning and significance of Han's fictional world from a "macrocosmic" point of view. In this section, I offer my interpretation of a number of Han's short stories. My reading is organized around two themes. First, the  In the text, the word xu is used in the names of most women in the narrator's home village; for example, Zhen X u , Yao X u , is used by the country folk for Aunt Zhen and Aunt Yao. 18  Han Shaogong  139  relationship between memory, history, and human perception o f reality, as in "Langaizi" < H H T > (" The Blue Bottle Cap"), "Mousha" < zaihui" < B ^ A r ? # > (Farewell Yesterday), and " Y u j i n "  > ( A Case o f Murder), "Zuotian (Ash). Second,  grotesque encounters and the representation o f the "marvelous real," as in " B i x i e "  (Jllfii) (Bleeding Nose), "Beimenkou yuyan"  ( 4 t P ^ P f S t l f > ( A Prophecy o f the  North Gate) and "Shanshangde shengyin" < |J4±rfrl?W ) (Sounds from the Hilltop). In fact, this division o f labor does not mean to distinguish these short stories by categories. Rather, these short stories serve as a map with which we can navigate through the interlocking voices and images o f Han's fictional world.  Memory as History/Memory against History  A recurring question in Han's works is the nature o f memory and the way it makes the world real to us. H i s protagonists are always confronted with false memories, i.e. an inability to remember, or to differentiate between "what really happened" and "what makes it look better." Sometimes, false or inaccurate memories are a result o f external (usually political) pressures; sometimes, they grow put o f the need to justify the present, or to get away from the grips o f the past. In both cases, memory is a doubleedged sword. O n the one hand, it is constitutive o f self-identity; hence the meaning o f one's existence; on the other, memory, especially when it is involuntarily or accidentally recalled, may bring along certain "evidence" that disturbs or challenges this identity and the reality it supports. If this is so, other questions seem inevitable: how does memory  Han Shaogong  140  shape our perception o f reality? Does memory affect our understanding o f history? What kind o f "history" arises from our memories, as distinguished from the textbooks and official historical records? H o w useful is this "historical memory" in arriving at some truths that have been hidden, for whatever reasons, from us? What I am interested in here is not to discover answers to all these questions from a clinical or psychoanalytical point o f view. Instead, I want to show how these questions are addressed in the literary text, and how fictional memory makes use o f "history" to create a multi-faceted reality o f its own.  A s in "Homecoming?", memory plays a significant role in Han's other short stories. "The Blue Bottle C a p " is a good case in point. Set in the Cultural Revolution years, it tells the story o f a Chen Mengtao, whose obsession with a blue bottle cap triggers the narrator's curiosity about Chen's background. From his friend (allegedly an expert in popular history and family names) he knows that Chen spent some years in a labor camp where he was responsible for moving and burying dead bodies. One day, after he has removed the dead body o f the guy who used to sleep next to him, Chen begins to develop signs o f insanity. H e becomes abnormally humble and polite, insisting to help in even the most trivial and personal matters to the extent that he becomes a nuisance to others. One evening, he is asked to open a bottle o f wine for others and the bottle cap for some reason disappears. Chen, from then on, has been looking for that lost bottle cap wherever he goes. "The Blue Bottle C a p " echoes "Homecoming?" in many ways. A s an examination o f the traumatic effects o f the Cultural Revolution, it raises  Han Shaogong  141  questions about guilt and individual responsibility. Chen, the victim o f a contagious sense o f guilt, goes insane because he feels responsible for his friend's death. This episode tellingly reveals the psychological distortion resulting from a profound sense o f guilt, one that is not connected to the committing o f a crime, but to the witnessing o f it. What makes the matter more complex is that Chen's life-story has become a taboo to those around him, i.e. the other witnesses themselves. W h y this silence? Is it because they also feel responsible for Chen's misfortune? The narrator, a stranger in the first place, seems to be affected by Chen's story himself. In the end, he is caught speechless by his friend's story. For no apparent reason he feels unable to think or speak. The story ends with a melancholy reflection on life:  I saw again the roofs floating on the clouds o f smoke rising from the kitchens. B e l o w the roofs lived the people and their families, hundreds and thousands o f them. Over the years, these roofs had sailed here from I know not where and dropped anchor, forming a market town. Maybe some day in future they would set sail again in different directions and put into port somewhere else to set up new worlds. Quietly they had come, quietly they would go.... Would they sail again in the next morning? - 1 studied them carefully. N o , not a single word.  A s i f the bottle-cap had gone missing. (34)  Han Shaogong  142  «#£§&JlMJf ? - afiFMSfSffl  0  Sift '  —MT fl^WTliT °  (Selected Writings 28)  Again, the questions o f "Where am I?" "Where would you go?" come to mind. The futile efforts to discern the future o f mankind implies also the futility o f human endeavors: not a single word. The comings and goings o f life w i l l , eventually, silence the disturbing noises o f the Chen Mengtaos in our memory.  A psychological projection o f this inexplicable guilt is given in another story " A Case o f Murder," where the female protagonist is caught in a Kafkaesque labyrinth o f plots and counter-plots that finally culminate in the murder o f an alleged intruder (101-117). The identity of the victim is never revealed, nor can anyone, including the heroine herself, be sure that she is the murderer. However, the overlapping o f illusion and "facts" intensifies her feeling o f horror and guilt. It is unclear whether she w i l l turn herself in to the police (probably not), but it is very likely that she w i l l remain a "murderer" for the rest o f her life.  Han Shaogong The problematic nature o f memory is inseparable from the phenomenon o f forgetting. Sometimes forgetting is an unconscious tactic to hold on to what we want to believe is real. In "Farewell Yesterday" (250-299), the narrator is confronted by a total stranger who happens to know him from his zhiqing years. After some soul-searching, he finally "discovers" his lost memories in his diaries, getting to "know" people he does not even recognize when seeing them on the street. H i s forgetfulness, as he admits, begins in 1973 (probably when he was transferred back to work in the city), and his memory o f his post1973 years has virtually rewritten his memory before that watershed year. W e can infer from the text that he has totally revoked his previous political belief ever since, so much so that he is a "total stranger" to his pre-1973 self.  The portrayal o f the life o f the educated youth being sent down to the countryside is realistic enough: the government's policy not only causes disruption to their education (a far-cry from the label "zhiqing") but practically encourages a self-repression o f normal human desires both material and sexual. The psychological impact o f this coercive policy is all too predictable. The mutual attraction between the narrator and Y i n g L i is thwarted not only by their ideological differences but more importantly by their class difference or "political elements" (zhengzhi chengfen). In the text there are hints o f trepidation and self-disgust on the part o f the narrator who feels "estranged" from both his past and present self. Leafing through his dusty diary he is  143  Han Shaogong  forced to acknowledge the reality o f a past he would otherwise have denied: he is who he was twenty years ago. This self-recognition is a traumatic encounter in itself. The narrator is seen actively reinterpreting his diary as i f it were a mystery book o f adventure, trying to find lapses and inconsistencies that might alleviate the pain. Yet, he is also reminded o f the inconsistencies o f his very act o f re-organizing his memory o f the past: "I think memory is a killer. M o s t o f us - the revolutionary youth born after 1949 - are victims o f our memory" (264). "I take a dose o f civilization everyday; that's why [my] memory is always a remake." (276). Personal memory, against this historical context, is the effect o f a collective spell - "the beauty o f revolution": "The revolutionary regime finally succeeded in confiscating all other memories, in creating a culture that produced many such diaries..." (265). The irony is that this collective or "national memory" (chuanwenxing de jiyi) is also capable o f producing contradictory "truths" in time, little cracks on the icy mirror o f a sanitized "reality."  The problematic relation between memory, history and a narrative understanding o f the past takes a grotesque turn in " A Bleeding Nose," " A Prophecy o f the North Gate," and "Sounds from the H i l l t o p . " In all these stories, the past "returns" to haunt the present and, miraculously, transforms it. " A Bleeding Nose" is a "ghost story": a young man helping out in the kitchen for a village commune is attracted by a photograph o f a beautiful lady and  Han Shaogong  becomes obsessed with the history o f her family, whose village mansion has been turned into the headquarters o f the commune. The hero, Hong Zhiren (nickname "Zhizhi"), is overwhelmed by an irresistible aroma the first time he enters the house. A s i f under a spell, he believes that he "sees" what has happened before through the dismal objects that remain there (a mud-covered hairpin, a pale light bulb, a dried up pond). The lady in the photograph is the second daughter o f a M r . Yang, the owner o f the "haunted" house. She used to be an opera singer before the revolution and no one knows i f she has survived the persecution. Zhizhi gradually develops a "friendship" with the photograph, and a romantic one, too. When his "crime" (i.e. hiding a photograph o f a counter-revolutionary) is criticized by the Commune Secretary at a mass gathering, blood gushes through his nose until the whole area is soaked up in blood. Several years later, M s . Yang visited Zhizhi's "pig-blood tofu" stall in the market. N o w a complaisant and "politically correct" comrade o f the Party, Mrs. Yang, in her middle age, has lost not only her beauty but also her personality as Zhizhi perceives it. The narrator does not mention whether or in what way she has been "reformed," only that Zhizhi, taken by surprise, feels a warm current stirring inside his nose again. A l l he can think o f is perhaps he should get married.  This little "ghost story" echoes both "Blue Bottle C a p " and " A Case o f Murder" in terms o f mood and theme, and it contains many recurrent details  145  Han Shaogong found in Han's other stories. Though it is just ah imagined encounter with a "ghost" o f the past, it eventually materializes in an actual public trial, a farcical display o f violence and bloodshed. The "ghost," finally, does not so much go away as reincarnates in the "reformed" (hence depersonalized) Mrs. Yang. Zhizhi's bleeding nose therefore signals the pathetic and pathological nature o f "thought reform" (sixiang gaizao), and the melodramatic ending is a mockery o f its solemn and lofty mask. The dilapidated country mansion is a favored symbol o f the past that has been unscrupulously "erased" from history (as in "Homecoming?" and " B a B a Ba"). The contemplation o f historical ruins evokes the "huai gu" sentiment in classical Chinese literature, commenting on the present through "what happened" in the past. Thus the nostalgic theme becomes apparent: political slogans painted on the walls o f these historic sites, like "Sweep Away the 'Four O l d s ' " (hengshu sijiu) in this story, are contrasted with the surrounding environment as an unnatural presence, a monument not o f liberation but massive destruction: "During that time, the commune did not need to buy firewood. 'Sweep A w a y the ' T o u r Olds'" had destroyed many wooden Buddha statues and uncovered loads o f newspapers and books ... a huge pile thrown carelessly in front o f the stove" (81).  " A Prophecy o f the North Gate" recounts a history o f violence that remains a "ghostly presence." Its time frame extends from the present to the pre-Revolution period, when the North Gate was already well known as "a  146  Han Shaogong  place o f k i l l i n g " (56). Han's description o f a beheading is reminiscent o f both Shen Congwen's "The N e w and the O l d " (ff f ^ f > ( " X i n yu jiu") and L u X u n ' s " A Public Execution"  (7\k$fc)  ("Shizhong") in the bemused tone with  which he portrays traditional executioners and the moral revulsion the narrator feels toward the callousness o f the participants and observers. Against this background, the narrator (a civil servant involved in the project o f building a chemical plant in the neighborhood) relates a "legend" he learns from hearsay about a good military officer, General Wang, in the Republican period who was put to death when he was defeated by a warlord. The public trail o f General Wang not only reveals the meaninglessness o f wars and revolutions, but also the futility o f "educating the masses," whose ignorance and apathy is a form o f violence that indirectly legitimizes any institutional crime. Wang's widow, having tried to stop the execution in vain, left her shoe in the middle o f the street. From then on, reports o f mysterious footsteps keep circulating, and the people begin to talk about Wang's innocence. A s the narrator ponders the meaning o f this legend, Wang's "ghost" reappears in the form o f a stone statue in an underground tomb recently excavated by a construction team. The narrative then changes its focus to the narrator's solitary walk along the riverbank. In a familiar nostalgic mood, he comes before the stone statues, staring hard into their inscrutable faces as i f looking for some clues:  Han Shaogong  148  The biggest stone being was looking into the far off land, lips tightened. I guessed he didn't want to speak about the past. I reached out to touch his legs and was scared by their icy coldness. I didn't know who made these ancient statues, I didn't know whose faces they were supposed to represent.  Suddenly, I could feel the icy coldness o f two thousand years ago.  N o matter how hard he looks into the past, he is met with dead silence: the past does not speak.  In the end, the narrator relates another story, a prophecy o f an old man ten years ago: "ten years later gold w i l l grow from the earth in this place, blood w i l l flow in the river." Past and present is curiously intertwined in this prophecy, for the "gold" refers to the underground tomb and the "blood" w i l l be the pollutants emitted by the new chemical plant. There is, indeed, a note o f absurdity in this final prophecy. The meaning o f the underground tomb, like the pollution caused by industrialization, is calculated in terms o f economic  Han Shaogong  value. The narrator's ambivalence toward modernization is also discernible in the way he visualizes its process: "The water discharged from the chemical plant was red as blood. H a l f the river was dyed in red. The wind was spreading red powder all over the place. Everything - walls, roads, chicken and ducks, clothes, white hair, even urine - turned red" (64). It is not clear whether this "red horror" has a political analogue. A s the narrator "walked out o f this red," he can only submit himself to "the demands o f the people" and carry on with his work. This ending echoes "Homecoming?" and " N u N u N u " in its ambivalent ending: "walking out" o f a threatening present, it seems, is the only imaginable way to "carry on." Nonetheless, the image o f a world painted in red resonates with the "bloody" stories that make up the history o f the city and thereby reinforces the sense o f absurdity that pervades all human actions in the present. From beginning to end, the lonely figure o f the narrator evokes the image o f the traditional poet whose nostalgic contemplation inevitably leads to a lament on human folly and his own frustration as an intellectual. With the narrator returning to his routine life, the ending suggests once again the irresolution o f the "enlightened" self. Hovering between past and present the knowledge gained o f the past brings little comfort to the troubled soul, but only creates an alienating double vision o f reality as a result o f his grotesque (narrative) encounter with "what happened."  Han Shaogong  So far we have looked at Han's short stories in terms o f grotesque encounters. With the exception o f "Murder" and "Bleeding Nose," the short stories examined here (and many others) are told from a first person point o f view. L i k e Han's other first person narratives, the narrator in these stories is always a passer-by (usually a zhiqing figure) who finds himself in a series o f strange occurrences, evoking a past that he does not know but is emotionally attached to. Interpretation o f these strange events goes through layers o f storytelling within a narrative frame provided by the inquiring voice o f the first person.  Before turning to Han's first (and most recent) full-length novel Maqiao cidian, I would like to summarize certain key aspects o f Han's treatment o f time and history in fiction using two stories, namely "Sounds from the H i l l t o p " and " Y o u h u o " (MM > ("Lure"), as examples. The first one is a fictional investigation into the nature o f memory, history and the cultural factors that contribute to a collective historical consciousness. It begins with, again, a ghostly encounter that unearths the long buried secrets o f the past as the narrator tries to make sense o f his supernatural experience. The second story deals with the present, but it is a present that yearns for its own transcendence in time and therefore is a philosophical reflection on human experience o f time and history.  150  Han Shaogong  The narrator's encounter with the ghost o f E r Laoguan (literally "second brother") one evening on a bridge triggers off a series o f questions about the dubious "truths" that remain outside o f historical records. The mystery (i.e. the silence) surrounding the death o f E r Laoguan has to do with the local customs that defy rational explanation. In fact, the narrator does not really see the ghost in all clarity. What he meets with is part o f a decaying body: a "shadow" stretching out a hand with no fingers except the thumb. (135) When he is told that the "person" he sees died ten years ago, he tries to dismiss it as a local superstition. But the silence o f the villagers about this mysterious figure arouses his curiosity. H i s attempt to break this silence results in a series o f anecdotes about local history and customs: the people are the descendents o f a major clan in ancient times. Apart from the unrecorded events o f local uprising, the narrator is told that in the past the local people used to kill all their first born. Then he learns that E r Laoguan was a local bully privately put on trial and executed by his fellow country folk despite government prohibition. A t some point he admits that one can never be sure o f what people say, as the elders like to use this kind o f fiction as a moral lesson to the young. (139) Yet, reality regresses into the grotesque once again when the narrator comes across a tomb where he discovers the corpse o f a leper (believed to be E r Laoguan). Surprisingly he discovers an unlit cigarette that looks exactly the same as the one he handed to the ghost on the bridge. L i k e the cigarette, the ghost (and whatever it represents) remains forever on the hilltop.  Han Shaogong  What I have not mentioned so far is a scene in the middle o f the story that recalls the ritual o f execution (kai kuari). The violence and collective mania invested into the killing, ironically, reminds us o f an equally horrifying scene in D i n g L i n g ' s Sanggan River, only that Han's treatment serves a very different purpose:  Kai kuan [i.e. the execution] always took place at night. [The local tradition had it that] all adult male members should participate... A huge fire burned feverishly when the oldest members o f the village chanted the kuan, i.e. their family teachings. Afterwards, the parents, together with their kinsmen, would burn the condemned alive with oil or shoot him. A s they put him to death, they had to shout, " Y o u deserve it! It's good for you!" ... If they failed to do this, or showed any sign o f sadness or hesitation, they would be slighted by the whole clan.  (139-140)  Han Shaogong  Before this happens, there is a brief mention o f the narrator preoccupying himself with "revolutionary novels" (138), and a local history expert who denies any truth in the villagers' account o f kai kuan (139). These two details constitute a negation o f the "unknown," or fantastic interpretation o f the past by asserting an "objective" and "scientific" explanation o f "what happened": "Since I was reading revolutionary novels at that time, I simply ignored the superstition o f the peasantry" (138).  Later on, we know that the narrator, despite his skepticism (or because of it), is drawn deeper and deeper into this opaque and mysterious world, the more he admits "I don't k n o w . . . , " the further away he is from the world o f irrefutable certainties represented by the revolutionary novels and the local history expert. Is not the ghost story, one that is retold with so much force and seriousness, a mockery o f the worldview behind the "revolutionary novels"? Is not the account o f an unverifiable episode - one that lives in the memory o f the local people and to a certain extent still influences their lives - in itself an acknowledgement o f the cultural forces that partially shape our reality?  Juxtaposing D i n g L i n g ' s description o f class struggle and land reform with Han's description o f exotic rites and customs, the "strangeness" o f Han's magical realism seems to be a reinterpretation o f the "verisimilitude" o f D i n g L i n g ' s revolutionary realism. In the revolutionary novel, violence is  153  Han Shaogong  legitimated by a totalistic claim to truth, and everything is "scientifically" explained. In contrast, in depicting the ancient ritual, Han's narrator has to temporarily suspend his "scientific" judgement in order to accommodate himself to uncanny events. B y situating his fictional history in the realm o f the fantastic and the grotesque, Han has created an alternative space for what is human. It is, in this connection, a critical re-reading o f the fictions o f the past (and the "truth" it represents) by refraining them within the defamiliarized context o f a ghost story.  "Lure" is a philosophical engagement with time and history. It tells the story o f an excursion to a legendary waterfall (the "lure") made by a group o f zhiqing during the Cultural Revolution. The protagonist, again, is the Inarrator who initiates this journey. A s typical o f Han, the journey is endowed with spiritual meanings. Not even an overt motive is given to the journey, only that the narrator seems to be upset by his friend's mention o f his sister (an absent character) during a conversation. It turns out that the "lure" is not so much the waterfall but what it signifies: a symbol o f self-transcendence, a purgation o f the spirit and a renewed relation between man and Nature. It begins with a poetic description o f the natural landscape that is almost impressionistic in style. Compared to the frustration and boredom o f his daily existence, the narrator develops an emotional attachment to the natural  155  Han Shaogong  landscape, animating it with his vivid imagination. Thus he begins his excursion as a journey into a transcendental realm:  I looked up and saw a thread of sky; a vulture flashed by... I felt that time was condensing and expanding. Everyday we look into all kinds of calendars, staring at the manmade markers on clocks and watches; we believe we have control over our time. How ridiculous! In the midst of this greenery can't you see one moment is eternity? Can't you see at the sound of a water drop your body has passed through ten thousand years and it will continue through thousands of years until it fills the universe?  The desire to transcend mortal time is the motivating force behind this adventure.  19  All the way the narrator is immersed in a private communion with  Nature. He tries to integrate his mind with the landscape but more often he is baffled by it. The landscape, after all, remains a mystery to him, but it is this  'This echoes the sic transit gloria mundi theme in the Chinese poetic tradition.  Han Shaogong  sense of the unfathomable that confers upon Nature a transcendental appeal. Nature, to him, is a "jade-colored fairy tale" (44). The journey to the waterfall, therefore, can be read as a journey into eternity, a timeless existence that envelops all times, all histories. The yearning for freedom is manifest in the wild horses that roamfreein the forests. Unknown to men, these horses (never seen but only heard of) are in contrast to the horses tamed and used by men for centuries, suggesting the un-freedom of life under the dictates of "culture" (as opposed to "nature"). This apparently simplistic juxtaposition is, however, complicated by the discovery of a historic ruin, probably the house of a renowned family in the past. Again, the narrator's meditation on its history evokes the mood of huai gu. "But who are these people? And where have they gone?" Looking at a tree in a barely recognizable courtyard of the mansion that looks "robust"fromthe outside but badly rottedfromthe inside, he thinks it "might have witnessed a great many things to have develop these fissures of darkness" (46). This is probably a cultural metaphor for present day China, but it also expresses an existential anxiety, an awareness of time as a destructive force. The discovery of human traces in nature leads to a further reflection on the essential "sameness" of all: "All things are but an undifferentiated whole. [In Nature] human beings get closer to other living creatures. If all depend on sunlight, air, earth and water, how can we say that these basic common needs are less important than the differences between us, between them?" (47)  156  Han Shaogong  157  When they reach their destination, that is, the waterfall, the narrator is struck by a vision o f the eternal human struggle for victory. The waterfall is a display o f sheer force, and it is likened to "rows o f horses, their masters nowhere to be found, galloping toward an unknown and unreachable destination." (48) Finally, the narrative redirects our attention to the human world. A s the zhiqing  are trying to write inscriptions on the cliffs to  commemorate their arrival at the supposedly "greatest" waterfall in the region, they discover another inscription made in traditional Chinese characters. Dated July 15, 1954, it was made by a geologist called Q i n Kelian, saying that the greatest waterfall lies five steps further up the river. Taken by surprise, the narrator experiences a kind o f "epiphany": he can almost feel the warmth o f Qin's presence, and yet he does not see him. Meanwhile, his friends look like strangers, "so distant, as i f we were centuries apart." (50) This sudden "enlightenment" suggests that the journey to the waterfall is also a spiritual quest. Given the immediate context o f the story, we can infer that this yearning has its roots in the "unfreedom" o f life, giving rise to a desire to break free from the prison house o f existence and be at one with Nature. Yet, the narrator's "natural w o r l d " is humanized by the traces o f men in the past, symbolized by the ruined old mansion and the inscription on the cliff. What is lacking in this natural world, at the present, seems to be a sense o f continuity, for these traces, he implies, belong to the bygone past (the inscription in traditional characters reinforces this sense o f discontinuity). Thus the ending  Han Shaogong  158  suggests a spiritual reunion with the cultural past (the emphasis here is on the symbolic association o f the traditional Chinese characters, rather than the year 1954), which in turn necessitates a self-distancing from the present.  Cultural Lexicology: a fictional history of words  Han's experimental novel Maqiao Cidian  (ll^gijiffi.} (A Dictionary  of the Maqiao Dialect) is a modern work o f fiction cast in a controversial, pseudo-traditional mode. It is controversial because, as stated in the "editor's preface," it is intended to be a "dictionary" o f the Maqiao dialect (3). Included also by the author is an index o f the numerous words and expressions according to the number o f strokes. Yet, the structure o f the text follows a narrative pattern that gives a more or less temporal and thematic coherence to this "dictionary." The novel, on the whole, is a hybrid form that combines the anecdotal, episodic and prose style narrative in the framework o f an anthropological glossary. Similar traits can be found in his earlier stories, such as "Shiyi sanlu" ( ^ M ^ M > ("Three Lost Records"), " A Prophecy of North Gate" and "Renji"  (J\$)§)  ("Human Traces"). In fact, one can easily trace  the genealogy o f this "novel" in Han's other stories that exhibit similar interests in linking word origins to distant historical events, and in constructing new historical anecdotes o f the recent past by linking it to various word origins from antiquity to the present.  159  Han Shaogong  History of/as Language  I w i l l first look at the various intertextual links as a background to Maqiao Cidian. First o f all, the collage o f styles in storytelling is characteristic of Han's allegorical style. "Three Lost Records" (Selected Writings 51-55) is a case in point. It is a semi-autobiographical piece that deals with three personalities, namely the "hunter" (liehu), "secretary" (mishu) and "chess master" (qiba). The narrator begins with a short introduction to the background o f his stories, an autobiographical account o f his "sent down" years in M i l u o County, H u n a n .  20  There is an historical account o f the region  back in the Spring and Autumn period (722 B C to 481 B C ) , plus citations from some fictive "historical records". (As we shall see, intertextual references to historical records is also frequently used in Maqiao)  What prompts the  narrator to write this story is the numerous "strange and marvelous" things in M i l u o . Although most o f these are recorded in local historical records, "there are still a few trivial matters that are not eligible for inclusion in history, but... it would be a pity to miss them." Apart from the anecdotal style, Han's language is typical o f traditional prose with the frequent use o f four-character  This is Han's favorite locale due to its long and complex history. Han gives a detailed account of its historical origins and transformation in Maqiao Cidian. Han's interest in this place has much to do with his interest in ancient Chu culture, which he considers a "non-Confucian" branch of traditional culture. See "Roots", op. cit.  Han Shaogong sentences and classical Chinese expressions.  160 21  Despite its archaic outlook, the  "trivial matters" related here are satirical in nature. The nonchalance and matter-of-factness with which the narrator approaches his subject endows the "extraordinary" (being ludicrous) with a sense o f plausibility. These anecdotes are extraordinary (qi) in their own ways, for they reveal the confusion and chaos as a result o f poor and ineffectual implementation o f government policies that fit but clumsily into the local ways o f life.  A s has been mentioned, the impulse to rediscover the past by tracing the semantic roots o f characters and their transformation in time is already apparent in Han's earlier works. Here I w i l l briefly refer back to two familiar examples as an illustration. In " B a B a B a " and " N i i N u N u " attention is drawn to different "linguistic identities" and their implications:  I'd no idea why ... there was the word " X M " in the names o f most women in my home village, or why the people there addressed their wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and sisters-inlaw alike as "xu" and didn't use the conventional terms o f address which indicate their positions in the family hierarachy. Some scholars said that the practice o f communal marriage in primitive times had left its mark in the language and that this was one o f the surviving linguistic traces o f such a practice. (128)  21  Among these are the words "zhi" "yu" ^f-, "gu" $j and "ran" and archaic expressions such as "le shen" H H , "xuru" ^ f l a n d "yun yun" TZJZ, etc.  "wen qi yan" ^M^g,  Han Shaogong  ©Tr^lSM  50  (Selected Writings 226)  They still used a lot o f archaic words - they said "watch' instead o f "see" or "look", "speak" instead o f "say", "lean" instead o f "stand", "lie down" instead o f "sleep". A n d they used the word "qu" as a pronoun to refer to someone nearby. They also had an unusual way o f addressing their relatives. The emphasis seemed to be on ... the unity o f a large family, for ... they addressed their father as "uncle", their uncle as "father", their elder sister as "elder brother," their sister-in-law as "elder sister", and so on. (43)  (mm) JB 'w mm, mr • mmm^m > n "tmr mj% "w - IE " s i i r mj$ 'w - mm<mmm ' w tm "m" - i t w i r w m ° xmm^^mwm u  $mm "mm" mmr  •  msmmn  "w  • mmmwmm  >im°(i63)  These linguistic habits reflect certain cultural values with regard to individual identity and the social structure that supports this identity. It is also a very Chinese way o f self-perception, for the individual is always seen through the  "  Han S h a o g o n g  immediate social context, identified by his or her group identity ("xu" or "qu", uncle or father, brother or sister), no matter how imprecise and confusing.  Han's interest in the history o f the Chinese language is closely related to his awareness o f cultural crisis. In an article titled "The W o r l d , " H a n laments the deplorable fate o f the Chinese language among Chinese people themselves. "I suppose a nation's demise begins first from its culture, from its language" (Selected Writings 455). A country's language, to him, bears the mark o f national history, like history inscribed in the great fictions about wars, resistance and slavery; thus "[m]any Chinese characters are stained with blood, but their color has faded" (456). Language, therefore, has a historical significance which can best be revived or discovered in literature, i.e., through an imaginary encounter with the faded "blood stains" which go unnoticed in our daily discourse.  Unearthing cultural history  In brief, Maqiao Cidian, a novel in the form o f a dictionary, presents a person's long-time research into the local dialect and the stories and legends from which different word-meanings are originated. Yet, it is not a person's story, for its numerous entries find their place in a long history o f cultural change, carrying with them the collective memory o f those who live in that  162  Han Shaogong language-world. The narrator (allegedly the editor of the dictionary) is responsible for making these word-stories alive by following, detecting and imagining their itineraries in time, so that these individual pieces finally yield a larger meaning as a whole. In this novel, Han maintains his critical stance toward traditional Chinese culture, identifying certain "roots" i n the Chinese character that contribute to the misery and misfortunes o f the nation in modern times. It also probes the Chinese cultural psyche by revealing the unspoken language o f its thoughts, emotions, as well as moral and social values. In this section I w i l l first look at the "earth" on which Han's fictional anthropology operates. Then I w i l l examine the "blood stains" Han's narrative recovers from oblivion, mainly through the protagonists who inherit and inhabit this piece o f earth, and in whom the memory o f the past is, sadly, bound to be lost.  The cultural history Han's narrative sets out to unearth begins with the L u o River (Luo "gang" in the Maqiao dialect). Symbolically, the river is conventionally linked with the "river o f history" (lishi de changhe), which also implies the origin o f civilization, just as the Y e l l o w River is traditionally associated with Chinese civilization. The first three entries o f Han's fictional dictionary are an account o f the historical origins o f the L u o River, which was named after the ancient state "Luoguo" ("guo" means "state") sometime during the Spring and Autumn period. According to the historical account given in Zuo zhuan (one o f the key historical texts from this period), says the narrator,  163  Han Shaogong  Luoguo was destroyed by Chu, a much more powerful state in the southwestern part o f China at that time. The people o f L u o were then dispersed into the nearby areas o f Xiangbei. "Rivers are named after people; thus the L u o River received its title" (Maqiao Cidian 17). The L u o River, therefore, carries with it the history o f a long forgotten people, whose name is preserved only as a geographical reference. The L u o State, in ancient times, was also known as "Luojia man", literally "the barbaric (man) L u o family." In fact, "man" is a derogatory nickname o f the people in the South. In Maqiao, we are told, male adults are habitually called "man ren (barbaric person)", or even "man ren sanjia" (three households o f man ren). This unusual expression, says the narrator, imposes upon the individual the "mark o f three families," which means "the concept o f ' i n d i v i d u a l ' is far from complete" (16). It is from these conjectures that the narrator begins his search for the legendary L u o City, a kind o f diasporic settlement after the Chu invasion. However, the few pieces o f historical evidence he manages to gather bear little resemblance to the present:  I couldn't help thinking that, after a merciless persecution, a savage and bloody massacre unknown and unimaginable to us, the name " L u o " had remained a taboo here... / Frankly, their country is unredeemably lost."  Han Shaogong  m&.. • i mn±mmmmBm7m^7....  165  (m  The narrator's search for history embedded in the indigenous "earth," though not very successful, explains why he slights the exhibitions in the museum: "Later on I came across some bronze antiques in a museum under high security... What's the value o f all this? I could step right into the Han dynasty everywhere I go, cracking and breaking beneath my feet godknowshowmany cultural treasures" (18). This is said, o f course, not without self-irony, for his personal museum, too, is bound to disappear through the many "crackings and breakings" over time.  The history o f Maqiao, likewise, has left traces in the local language. W e are told that the numerous armed conflicts between the Qing government and the so-called Lotus Thugs (Han fei) resulted in the massacre o f seven hundred people during an uprising led by the bandit leader M a Sanbao. Curiously enough, as he goes through the historical records o f the Qing dynasty, M a ' s image (a deluded coward who betrayed his family and followers) is in sharp contrast to that presented in the " N e w County History" sanctioned by the present government, in which M a is a "leader o f the peasants' uprising." (21) This casual reference to the discrepancies in historical representations is strategic, for this incident seems to prefigure a  Han Shaogong  more recent one, and is thus fraught with ideological underpinnings: "In the entire history o f the so-called 'Lotus State', ... seven hundred people in Maqiao and nearby areas were killed." Many returned from afar in order to "live and die [with their families] only to find that they had given their lives to a madman." The uprising, the narrator believes, "is a major reason for the decline o f Maqiao (22).  These ironic twists and turns o f historical events are repeated in what immediately follows. W e are told that in the M i n g dynasty the imperial army in Hunan suppressed another peasant uprising in Shaanxi. The leader o f the uprising took his revenge by launching several attacks in Hunan, randomly killing thousands o f innocent people. This bloody event has a curious reversal in the twentieth century. In the 1960s, poverty and starvation resulting from the B i g Leap Forward movement forced many young adults in Hunan to flee for their lives to Shaanxi. The "intimacy" between the people in these two regions, we are told, explains why the people in Hunan used to address their counterparts in Shaanxi as "/ao biao", meaning one's cousins (23-24). History, especially national history, it seems, is always reflected in the semantic changes and innovations in language. In fact this link is utilized by the narrator to reinvent the history o f Maqiao as a collective metaphor. In Maqiao Cidian, the histories o f individuals and cultures are embedded i n the history o f a local dialect. W o r d origins are then treated as a repertoire o f collective memories  166  Han Shaogong  and a basic unit for the study o f human experiences, beliefs, social customs and behavior. This unofficial history, as the novel demonstrates, finds its way into the literary text as a metaphorical reference to "what happened."  "I always wanted to go beyond the plot and its causality, so that I could set my eyes on the apparently meaningless things" (88). Indeed, Maqiao Cidian is full o f "apparently meaningless things" made significant by the stories behind their verbal expression. A m o n g these there is no lack o f apparently innocent expressions that are laden with political meanings. F o r example, the expression gongjia (public property) retains much o f its "feudalistic" association, for in Maqiao plots o f farmland are still identified in terms o f its previous owners, although collectivization has been implemented for years. The character gong, the narrator surmises, is closer in connotation to "the ruler" (juri), rather than its modern meaning "public"; hence the habitual use ofjia (lit. "family") as a suffix to both gongjia and sijia (private property). In Maqiao, the narrator concludes, "the collectivization o f land ownership up to the early 1970s was just an institutional formality, since it had not yet matured into a personal feeling, at least not the personal feeling o f all the people" (155156).  This ironic "reading" o f a common expression emphasizes the role o f subjective or localized production o f meaning in daily speech which, on a  Han Shaogong  168  subconscious level, deviates from the "official" language o f the State. A s a zhiqing growing up in the turbulent years o f the Cultural Revolution, the narrator is also skeptical o f his "education" in a backward rural district (part o f the "rustification program" o f the State). This skepticism results in a selfdistancing from the reality narrated despite his participation in it. A s an outsider, the narrator is seen actively learningfrom the unfamiliar colloquialisms as expressions o f a certain cultural psyche, making connections between word formations and possible historical antecedents, and turning them into a means to interpret his own experiences. Thus the "local" is not a political or cultural ideal (as the "rural" iri Maoist discourse) but is treated as a source o f new metaphors with which reality can be redescribed.  In China, the attempt to create a national language based on the vernacular began as early as in the M a y Fourth period. The goal was to devise a common language to educate the broad masses. Language reform has taken on an additional significance for the Communist Party because it serves both ideological and pragmatic purposes. Apart from spreading propaganda in regions o f different dialects, a unified system o f writing and pronunciation, especially a simplified one, makes education easier among the masses.  22  But  this pragmatic concern is to be differentiated from the rhetoric o f revolution that forms part o f the political content o f the language reform. Revolutionary  2 2  The historical and political background of the languange reform is well documented in Seybolt and  Han Shaogong  discourse, as a recent study reveals, is the "symbolic capital" with which M a o Zedong constructs his "utopian republic."  23  It is, in effect, the "emotional roots  of political power" (Apter & Saich 5) whose final step is the evolution o f "Mao Zedong Thought", i.e. the consecration o f M a o ' s texts and the canonization o f his beliefs (305-306). Powerful as it is, the lack o f structural mechanisms to convert timeless principles into reality inevitably resulted in the political disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, both being the means with which M a o "sought to hang on to the desired norms and behavior by preserving the power o f symbolic capital" (303).  To a significant extent, this historical and political background explains Han Shaogong's hypersensitivity toward language and the use o f language in specific social and cultural contexts. The relation between word and world, says the author, is very difficult to change. "The many taboos in everyday life are accepted as the most sacred and most unchangeable products of wordmeaning formation." A n y attempt to change it would provoke serious cultural and political conflicts. A s such, "vernacular language becomes politics, obscure poetry becomes politics, all new novelistic forms, too, becomes politics" ("Tools" 158-159). Han's concern over the politics o f language bespeaks his own dilemma in struggling against the tyranny o f a canonized set  Chiang. A n excellent analysis of Mao's use of "symbolic capital" is given in Apter & Saich.  23  Han Shaogong  of lexicons and syntax represented by "Maospeak." Maqiao Cidian therefore can be seen as a literary subversion of the "symbolic capital" of the Party State by evoking trivial anecdotes as part o f collective cultural memory. B y revealing the semantic disunity in language use that affects both official and unofficial languages, the trivial stories throw a critical light on the relationship between language and perception. The semantic disunity caused by the disjunction in old and new words and meanings is then rechannelled into personal reflections on history, memory and human destiny. In what follows, I w i l l examine these "meaningless things" that disturb the coherence o f revolutionary history as they are unearthed in Han's fictional narrative.  Personde  I w i l l call the first set o f fictional personae to be considered here "the visionaries and the martyrs," for they represent two extreme responses to the "unbearable lightness o f being" that characterizes individual historical experience. These two personae in the novel are also set against the looming shadow o f another historical figure, Q u Yuan, who took his life by jumping into the M i l u o River (the present day L u o River) centuries ago. A famous poet and statesman o f ancient Chu in the Spring and Autumn period, Q u Yuan has become a mystical figure embodying the ideals and aspirations o f generations of intellectuals. The development of the " Q u Yuan myth" thus offers  Han Shaogong  interesting insights into the historical vicissitudes of the relation between Chinese intellectuals and the political regime they serve.  24  The juxtaposition o f  the tragic hero, Q u Yuan, and these individuals not only reveals the dialectical relation between the "meaningful" and the "meaningless", but also throws light on the cultural value o f personal histories (as opposed to the "meta-narratives" of revolution).  The visionary and the martyr are, respectively, M a M i n g and M a Wenjie (or M a Bazi). The visionary stands for one who resists political cooption by a hermitic withdrawal from society. (Rejection, as we shall see, is not the same as opposition.) The martyr, in this context, does not mean a heroic sacrifice for the sake of truth or ideal, but one who resists the evil o f his times by taking his life as a self-redemption. Q u Yuan, i n this context, is a mediating figure, a distant echo from a distant time, a painful reminder of the continuous struggle o f men against the inhuman forces of their times. A l l these figures, despite their differences, are rebels in their own ways. Q u Yuan contended against viperous scandals and took his life when the Chu state was destroyed. A s a model o f loyalty and intellectual integrity, Q u Yuan also appeals to the popular imagination as a "good official" and becomes deified in popular mythology. The other two heroes considered here are lesser in grandeur, for they resist society by a total rejection, i.e. without a lingering  See Schneider's historical analysis of the evolution of the Qu Yuan myth.  Han Shaogong  sense o f redemptive passion as Q u Y u a n ' s death positively asserts. Ironically, their historical identity lies precisely in their rejection o f this identity.  M a M i n g ' s background is probably as follows: he is a descendent o f a local gentry family. After his family's decline, he resides in the ancestral home which comes to be known as " H a l l o f the Immortals," where he lives with three other eccentric figures. They are known as the ' T o u r Guardians o f the Buddhist Temple" (Sida jingang). H e does not work, for he believes work belongs to the "vulgar creatures" (suwu), he survives on eating butterflies and all kinds o f insects, for they "capture the essence of Heaven and Earth", he sleeps wherever he likes even in the most severe weather. In effect, the Four Guardians have virtually "elevated laziness to an absolute and pure state o f being" (49). The narrator first meets M a M i n g for the first time in the H a l l as he tries to paint political slogans on the walls there. Upon arrival, he notices that the H a l l is left to ruins, but signs o f its inhabitants show their " w i t " o f surviving deprivation (47). M a M i n g seems to be well-versed in the classics. He likes to speak in a bookish manner and is adamantly opposed to the implementation o f simplified characters, calling it "an act o f treason" (48). Despite his eccentricities, M a M i n g insists on his unique sense o f morality. H e never accepts any gifts or offers o f help simply because he does not contribute in return. M a M i n g ' s hermitic reclusion, in the end, reduces him to a "nobody" who has severed any possible link with the world. Yet, M a M i n g ' s  172  Han Shaogong  "disappearance" from the world is also a conscious rejection o f the vulgarities o f a worldly existence: he has nothing to do with the public, the law, morality, and all kinds o f political movements, for "these are no longer his history, but some kind o f entertainment he enjoys watching from a distance" (52). B y withdrawing himself completely from the world, he becomes the "highest authority" o f his life:  H e did not intend to be human; therefore he was more powerful than any power that exists. W i t h a casual sleight o f hand, he defeated the society's last attempt to interfere with his life. From then on, he turned himself into "nothing," a blank space, a wavering shadow in Maqiao.  H f c £ 6 ' - t t £ U I & & i f t ^ ° (52)  Interestingly, there is no lack o f such personalities as M a M i n g in Maqiao and the nearby villages. Most o f these eccentrics are from well-off families. They are intelligent, well versed i n classical literature, but are all arrogant non-conformists. It is suggested that M a M i n g turns himself into a statistical " n i l " after a persecution during the land reform. B y reducing himself to a simple " n i l , " M a M i n g has relinquished all possible identities available in  Han Shaogong  the vocabulary o f the State - the citizen, the landowner, the intellectual, and above all the "counter-revolutionary" - since he has virtually disappeared from the official records. To a certain extent he is an abomination to the existing social order, for the authorities find it hard to either incorporate or incriminate him: he is beyond classification, a non-class being, an embarrassment and a mockery to the collective will. Obviously H a n is trying to create a comic modern "legend" for satirical purposes, for one can hardly imagine such a "hermit" can escape the system o f surveillance and punishment o f the totalitarian government. A s a fictional "ideal," he survives as an "immortal" outside o f this world, outside o f History.  M a M i n g ' s eccentric behavior, his rejection o f society by turning into a "nobody", is contrasted with the reluctant hero M a Wenjie. To the people o f Maqiao, he is a controversial hero. H e was a platoon commander under the Republican Government back in 1948, the year that marks his greatest achievement and downfall. In fact, M a had no idea whatsoever o f contemporary politics, for he was still immersed in local anti-Japanese campaigns when M a o Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek (the then President o f Republican China) called off their "divide and rule" negotiations. After a series o f misfortunes, M a eventually became a commander under a losing branch o f the Republican army.  Han Shaogong  A s could be expected, M a Wenjie was betrayed when the Communist Party took over. To pacify him, the new government let him take charge o f the provisional security committee in Maqiao, so that the local guerillas would surrender. A l l his former colleagues were then killed as a result. M a committed suicide soon afterwards. A s a military leader, he was reputed for his high morals and good discipline o f his subordinates. M a was also known for his Daoist practice, which he incorporated into military training. It seems natural, therefore, that M a was regarded as a local hero in his times, combining patriotism with traditional values. Yet, he is also a reluctant hero, for his "achievements" are only the result o f a series o f contingencies beyond his ability to control or even understand. H e reacts impulsively to external threats, relying purely on his good nature and sense o f justice. It was based on this sense o f justice, therefore, that he took his life, just as he once ordered the death o f his subordinates for violating army discipline. After his death, M a was labeled an "anti-revolutionary bureaucrat", for which his whole family suffered until 1982, when he was officially "vindicated".  The year 1948, therefore, has a special meaning for the people o f Maqiao, something that outsiders cannot understand by consulting history books. T o them, Year 1948 is not the same as History would have it remembered, for they have their own vocabularies for important times. T o the people o f Maqiao, Year 1948 can be one o f the following: (1) the year o f the  175  Han Shaogong  Sino-Japanese Confrontation in Changsha (while the actual battle ended six years before); (2) the year Grandee M a o became the Chairman o f the L o c a l Security Committee (although the Japanese had already surrendered); (3) the year the bamboo in Zhangjia Street flowered (the edible seeds brought relief to a food shortage); (4) the year M a Guangfu, M a Wenjie's son, began his formal education (which Guangfu "postponed" to 1951 in the official records, thus confusing many who stick to this peculiar calendar); and (5) the year M a Wenjie joined forces with the Republican army. T o the people o f Maqiao, "1948" is an alien word, for their memory o f events does not follow calendar years (130-31). Likewise, the civil war and the major historical events that followed do not concur with their memory o f "the year...". T o the narrator, M a Wenjie's Year 1948 "is but an empty space to me before 1982" (128). T o the Liberation Army, on the other hand, their memory o f Year 1948 remains "an absolute victory...", which seems like a "short-circuit o f time" (134). A s the narrator remarks, time is "a prey to our sensibility" (149).  Compared to M a M i n g ' s complete withdrawal, M a Wenjie's suicide is typical o f the traditional hero who takes ultimate blame for the defeat o f his army and the death o f his men. A hero betrayed by his own times, M a Wenjie has seen and lived through the Revolution, its victory being nothing but a series o f intrigues, misjudgments and betrayals. One wonders what makes the difference between the visionary and the martyr when they are faced with the  176  Han Shaogong larger-than-life choice between life and death? Despite their differences, both show an inclination toward a Daoist way o f life, in their own ways. They, too, choose to "transcend" the vulgarities o f life by self-denial. The visionary denies the world by a radical "dehumanization" so that he becomes immune to the injuries o f outside forces. The martyr, on the other hand, denies the world by usurping its right o f verdict. If M a Wenjie is "realistic" enough as a fictional character, M a M i n g can be ranked among the traditional recluse, only that he takes it to a new extreme. M a M i n g simply walks out o f his social existence and remains aloof to human sufferings. Unlike L u X u n ' s Madman, whose madness is required as a pretense for his condemnation o f traditional culture, M a M i n g ' s rejection o f society does not even need a pretense at all due to the total bankruptcy o f cultural values. Brought up in traditional culture, its bankruptcy means the bankruptcy o f the self-in-culture, which in turns explains his conscious choice o f being "nothing" as a radical form o f resistance.  The stories o f the two " M a ' s " are interwoven with that o f Q u Yuan, whose suicidal jump into the L u o River makes him one o f the most memorable legends o f all times in China. In the narrator's words, Q u Yuan is also a character who rejects the world that rejects him in the first place: " I f he was not able to save this world, at least he could reject it" (59). In the Maqiao dialect, M a M i n g is a typically "awakened" (xing) person, which means "confounded"  177  Han Shaogong  178  or stupid (yuchuri). In his reflection on Q u Yuan, too, the narrator uses the word "awakened" and ponders its double meaning:  In about 278 B C , the awakened Q u Y u a n - at least this was what he believed - grew weary o f the apathy o f his countrymen. To resist the evil way, he jumped to his death in the M i l u o River... In fact, this was the least suitable destination for a demoted official from C h u , for it was where thousands o f L u o subjects took their refuge after a bloody massacre by the Chu army... History was repeating itself, only that the actors had changed their roles. Having wandered thus far from home, to what end do you speak o f your rights and wrongs?  Where else could he experience a more glaring vision o f "xing" [awakening]? (58)  Han Shaogong  To Q u Yuan, the River L u o is a "mirror" reflecting the absurdity o f power, the rise and fall o f empires in the eternal flux o f time.  Is this jump a sign o f awakening or madness? In the Chinese literary tradition, madness is feigned by sages and talented officials as a "delicate weapon," "a pose o f eccentricity and a convention o f passive protest" in the game o f politics. A s a central theme in the Q u Yuan lore, madness can be understood in terms o f a "mad ardor" that invoked associations with the abandonment o f public service as well as impotence and death. It is the latter that has the strongest appeal to the new intelligentsia in the twentieth century (Schneider 14-15). The significance o f the Q u Y u a n lore is that the multifaceted image o f Q u Yuan as it developed through centuries serves as a "mediation" o f conflicting sets o f values, i.e. the aristocracy and the people, sober diplomat-lawmaker and mad-genius poet, romanticism and realism (211).  History has given its evaluation o f Q u Y u a n ' s heroic act, but it cannot tell us what he actually thinks at the time o f his suicide. The narrative attempts this answer: "He must have suffered an unprecedented shock, so much so that he was suddenly overwhelmed by a great fear, a great fear o f that larger life beyond life; o f that larger history beyond history. H e had no choice but jump into emptiness (59). Thus Q u Yuan's madness is in fact a manifestation o f his "awakening" to the painful and threatening truth o f his life, or human destiny  179  Han Shaogong  180  as a whole. B y jumping, Q u Yuan finally "unites the two opposite meanings o f the word 'awakened'" (60). Q u Yuan, too, is a mediating figure in this novel, for he embodies the ideals of the recluse and the tragic hero. B y invoking the classic legend o f Qu Y u a n as a prototype o f his characters, the narrator (also named H a n Shaogong) not only places his narrative within the tradition o f the lore, but also expresses his empathy for the "counterculture madmen" in their "pursuit of the True W a y " from antiquity to the present.  25  The second set o f personae is more down to earth in outlook. The three characters to be considered here are what I would call "victims of the collective w i l l . " The first two are the "untouchables"; while the third one is a victim o f social taboo. The untouchables are ostracized from society for both cultural and political reasons; they are regarded as "incomplete" human beings and this incompleteness turns out to be both physical and psychological. The victim o f social taboo is, in brief, a diligent son of New China, a promising young man who is, nonetheless, condemned by the society he dutifully serves. A s a typical product o f an autocratic culture, his fatal "flaw" is not deviance of, but conformity to the collective w i l l .  Wanyu's appearance epitomizes the underdog figure in modern Chinese literature: physically weak and unimpressive, he earns his living as a handyman  25  The most notable "follower" of Qu Yuan in modern times is perhaps Wang Guowei (1877-1927), whose  Han Shaogong  181  doing all sorts o f odd jobs for his neighbors. I f not for his occasional good conduct, Wanyu would have been another A h Q. The few commendable virtues o f Wanyu are his singsong voice and genuine sympathy for the other sex, for whom he has suffered countless insults and beatings. H e is, however, most stubborn about his "art" (i.e. singing). Against all odds, Wanyu retains his sense o f humor through his erotic songs. To the narrator, Wanyu is the rare personality who dares to challenge the puritanical culture o f the N e w Society. Through his passionate love songs and his extraordinary attachment to women, we see the real meaning of"ligelang", a colloquialism referring to the ambiguous intimacy between the sexes. Wanyu, in a way, inhabits the "ambiguous zones" within the linguistic consciousness o f his fellow country folk (77-79). Out o f instinctive disgust o f the so-called "aesthetics o f the plough" (propagandist^ opera), Wanyu risks his livelihood and well-being by refusing to participate in a public performance designed to "revolutionize" the peasants. Wanyu seems to have given up singing as a resistance to the local commune's coercion, and there is a hint that his death is connected to this new "aesthetics."  In the language o f Maqiao, Wanyu is associated with everything " l o w " (xia), as opposed to "high" (shang). In Maqiao, " l o w " is a verb and an adjective referring to the sexual act. Whatever is " l o w " belongs to body  drowning suicide "was taken as the symptom of the Chinese intelligentsia's fundamental problem," i.e. the  Han Shaogong  instincts, unconstrained desire, the less-than-human. In the novel, W a n y u (a public symbol o f "lowness") is diametrically opposed to the "high culture" o f the State, exemplified by the propagandistic theater from which all "impurities" (e.g. private emotions, human desire, sympathy and love) have been purged. In a way, Wanyu's insistence on his "lowness" shows his integrity as an "artist." In the narrator's words, his refusal to sing has the air o f "a martyr to art", forever resisting the "so-called "art without women" (77).  What makes his case more revealing is the fact that Wanyu is a castrate H i s penis was cut off years ago when his affair with the wife o f a notorious bully was discovered. In the local dialect, he is one without a "dragon" (long). Given that the dragon is a traditional symbol associated with the nation in general and the emperor in particular, the ambivalence o f the meaning o f long in the Maqiao dialect brings the "highest" and "lowest" o f all values into an oxymoronic relation. Long thus covers another "ambiguous zone" o f linguistic consciousness, seizing upon the contradictory impulses underlying both the sexual and political life o f the people. Wanyu, the artist, is not only castrated physically. H i s art, i.e. his songs o f love and desire, is also "castrated" from the cultural body o f the new regime.  lack of public recognition of their value and self-alienation from the masses. Schneider (94).  182  Han Shaogong  Yanzao, another untouchable in Maqiao, is regarded as a social abomination due to his political background. In fact, he has nothing to do with politics personally. H i s only "fault" is that he is his father's son. Maogong, his father, owned a piece o f land before the Revolution. During the land reform, Maogong refused to surrender his land, which the local commune leader regards as "Taiwan" and seized by force not long afterwards. Yanzao, therefore, grows up as a "traitor" from "Taiwan", bearing the guilt o f his father without knowing the exact meaning o f these words. H e is extra-hardworking and over-exploited by others. For the same reason, he cannot afford to get married, for no one is interested in having a liaison with the politically suspicious. Sexual and social frustration lead to a breakdown one night. Desperate, his sister offers her body as compensation, but Yanzao runs away in deep agony. Interestingly enough, his mother is believed to be a sorceress who has killed a few people by casting spells on them (167).  In retelling the Yanzao's story, the narrator wonders whether political reform reinforces, rather than eliminates, superstition. It seems that the new political taboos invented by the government work extremely well with the old ones it condemns, resulting in more misery. A s a result o f forced labor, Yanzao becomes immune to toxic pesticide. Symbolically, his mother's "sorcery" and Yanzao's reputation as "living poison" (171) are suggestive o f the political slogans "cow devils and snake spirits" and "poisonous weed" used  183  Han Shaogong  to accuse all class enemies. This episode recalls Bingzai's immunity to poison in " B a B a B a . " However, while Bingzai's story is embedded in Han's critique o f Chinese culture as a whole, Yanzao's misfortunes are attributed to social ignorance and government policies, the combination o f which destroys the individual. What makes matters worse is that Yanzao internalizes this "guilt" as i f his social labels are a hereditary disease and turns dumb all o f a sudden. L i k e Wanyu, his silence is both a sign o f resistance and withdrawal. H e , too, is a "castrated" figure, an incomplete human being who is marginalized both socially and sexually.  Compared to Wanyu and Yanzao, Fucha represents not the marginalized but those at the center o f the social system. H e is a bright young man whose high-school education has w o n him much respect and trust in the local community. Well-groomed, well-behaved and closemouthed, he is both sought after and cursed by the village girls whose seductive overtures have all been met with Fucha's cold shoulders. A s the accountant o f the People's Commune, he dares to challenge his elders for any discrepancies and misconduct. L i k e M a Wenjie, everything goes well until he violates a local taboo - using a most dangerous curse upon a village elder. "Zuisha" (literally " k i l l i n g mouth") means the worst and the last thing a man ever says to his folk. Fucha, in a fit o f anger, commits a "zuisha". Curiously enough the old man  184  Han Shaogong  dies o f rabies soon afterwards. Fucha, probably due to the pressure o f public contempt, gradually loses his spirit, his career and his life ruined.  This episode can o f course be considered an example o f the violence inherent in the cultural tradition itself. Yet, it also betrays the power o f language, construed as an expression o f a collective w i l l that destroys the individual. F o r the violence of the collective w i l l is so subtle that even a person brought up by a supposedly modern education has to succumb to its authority. Language, as a vehicle o f emotions, serves contradictory ends. "Language signifies the supremacy o f human beings" and yet "animals w i l l never suffer the sad fate o f Fucha for a random howling" (306). Indeed, certain traditional beliefs have transformed what we think o f as "absurd" into the "sacred" (such as "zuisha"), yet, to "eliminate superstition" in the name o f "science" (a kind o f scientism), the new regime has invented another belief, another absurdity, that throttles human sympathy for things that used to be regarded as sacred, such as life:  ... i f we encouraged every person or child to kill at random... every living creature that can be eaten; i f we watched without a pang o f conscience a k i d perform this bloody act o f ecstasy, there w i l l no longer be any hypocrisy and absurdity. A n d yet, would life be lacking in something? / What else can we do? Should we tell children not to eat meat or even anything [that lives], or should we ridicule and therefore throttle their  185  Han Shaogong sympathy for the living beauty o f life - the kind o f sympathy preached by Confucius, the Buddhists, and other sages who came before us?  m&mmgmmim'j?7iTm ? /mm^mmm ? mm  Fucha's predicament, says the narrator, is both "absolutely unreasonable" and "absolutely reasonable" (307-308). Without further hint or elaboration, this ambivalent remark seems to suggest the narrator's own frustration and despair. A s a diligent son o f the N e w China, Fucha's reaction to local taboos seems unreasonable. Yet, his action can also be interpreted as the failure o f his "modern" education to provide him with the necessary moral values and openmindedness to contend against social ignorance.  In this fictional dictionary, the stories o f Wanyu, Yanzao and Fucha exemplify the peculiar way in which political jargon and traditional taboos together create a greater superstition that inhabits the "ambiguous zones" o f a culture's linguistic consciousness. I f "Taiwan" and "sorceress" betray the violence o f undiscriminating ignorance, "dragon" and "ligelang" are a mockery  186  Han Shaogong  of the ultra-conservatism that pervades both the old and the new social orders, for both are yet to acknowledge the ideological "blind spots" inherent in the linguistic tools with which cultural values are monitored. Fucha, condemned by the public, surrenders to the collective w i l l that he has hitherto served in good faith. A s an educated youth, he probably does not believe in the mysterious power of "zuisha". Yet, the collective w i l l , in the form of "zuisha", turns upon him when those he serves impose on him a belief that he does not share as a man o f reason.  The dialectics of "return "  I would like to use the ending of Maqiao Cidian to conclude my discussion o f Han Shaogong. Strictly speaking, the end o f this fictional dictionary consists of the last three entries, namely " G u i yuan" < Mlt  > (returning to end/begin), " B a i hua" < S I S ) (plain language), and  "Guan dao" (  M  ) (official passage). T o begin with, " G u i yuan" is not  strictly speaking the end, but it is the precursor to a literary return in the final entry "Guan dao". Indeed, the "official passage" mentioned here no longer exists. It is but an image that lingers on in time, a borrowed concept from China's imperial past when roads were built by the government to facilitate the transfer o f civil servants and information. From "returning" to "plain language" to "official passage", I believe, H a n gives a summary" o f the text in  Han Shaogong  light o f his numerous discoveries about the intricate relationship between time, history and language. Here I w i l l go through this "passage" to the end in order to return to Han's fictional world.  In " G u i yuan" the narrator seizes upon the Maqiao pronunciation of two Chinese characters to elaborate on his own views o f history. In Mandarin, the word yuan jt means "returning to a pre-existing or original state." It does not carry the meaning o f "coming to the final stage", which is rendered in a different character pronounced as wan  However, the pronunciation yuan i n  the Maqiao dialect corresponds to both yuan (meaning "beginning") and wan ("end") in writing, so in Maqiao there is an ambiguity in the spoken form o f gui yuan (427). Inspired by this phonetic affiliation, the narrator ponders on the double meaning of yuan as expressing a dual temporality constitutive o f both historical and fictional time:  The optimistic observers o f history believe in the absolute difference between yuan (as ending) and yuan (as beginning). They see history as a linear straight line along which victories and defeats, glories and humiliations, gains and losses w i l l receive their fair and final verdict... for the pessimists, they believe in the undifferentiated unity of yuan and yuan, so that history is an endless repetition, so that human beings go backwards as they move forward, gain as much as they lose. T o them everything is meaningless and futile.  189  Han Shaogong  - ^wmmm%£ •  • (427)  Han's formulation of the "optimistic" and the "pessimistic" views of history may be seen as an internal debate between his conflicting historical visions. Obviously, Han is not on the side of the optimists, if it also suggests the kind of Utopian optimism embedded in "Sweep Away the Four Olds." However, he is also hesitant to embrace the opposing view of cyclical descent (but which he has definitely drawn upon in the allegorical tales such as "Ba Ba Ba").  Han's formulation is better understood as his contemplation of the duality of time as it is registered in human consciousness, what Paul Ricoeur identifies as the "long-time span" and the "brief event" (Time and Narrative 1: 224). The long time-span belongs to the time of nature, the geohistory of Maqiao as an eternal presence of mountains, rivers, rocks and earth. Maqiao, therefore, has been "the same" for tens of millions of years. From the perspective of the "brief event," however, the reality of Maqiao is but a momentary impression, in the appearance of a wrinkle, in a withered hand turning cold, in the long line of faces that never come back "like a series of notes rising and falling on the strings of a violin" (428).  Han Shaogong  Ricoeur's formulation o f the two temporalities o f history aptly sums up the fictional time in Maqiao Cidian and Han's other stories discussed in this chapter: " I f the brief event can act as a screen hiding our consciousness o f the time that is not o f our making," says Ricoeur, "the long-time span can, likewise, act as a screen hiding the time that we are." Either way, the consequence is "disastrous" because it means an inability to comprehend the full range o f the meaning o f human existence.  This dual temporality is also implicit in the preoccupation with word origins. The dictionary meaning o f words provides a macro (long-time) perspective that is to be modified by the "brief event" o f contextual, idiosyncratic interpretations. It is the interlocking histories o f lexical roots presented in this novel that conjure up the many brief events (fictional histories) so that the narrator can arrive at a narrative understanding o f the past. In "Plain Language", the second to last entry in his dictionary, the narrator spells out his theory o f fiction - as both "plain" language and "strange" language, as differentiated from the lofty, the serious, and the "absolute" (429430). Because o f this " l o w " or humble origin, says the narrator, fiction can never be taken seriously, for the world simply carries on with its bloodshed and violence with or without reading Goethe, Dostoeyevsky and Cao Xueqin (431). Is it an elegy to the art o f fiction, or is it a "resistance to writing" as L i Tuo puts  190  Han Shaogong  191  it? B y diminishing the contribution o f fiction in augmenting reality (Ricoeur's view o f metaphor), Han seems to espouse a contradictory attitude toward the role o f the writer in the Chinese society not unlike what Wendy Larson has discovered in her study o f literary authority in modern Chinese autobiographies:  26  [To the people o f Maqiao,] true knowledge has to be conveyed in a higher, mysterious form o f language that is beyond their grasp... [in this way] they have forfeited the highest sovereignty over their own language to some strangers and quietly go on with their lives until the very e n d . . . / . . . A l l languages are ... but signs describing some kind o f reality, like clocks and watches telling time... but they are never Time itself... In the strictest sense, all languages are "plain speech" (bai hua), so its function should not be overstated.  ffi  r  SfrSj ' f ^ W i i T C  • (430-431)  See Wendy Larson, Literary Authority and the Modern Chinese Writer, in which she says "by the late 1920s... writers of the May Fourth generation were constituting textual work and specifically literary work negatively [but] writers and scholars continued their work and thus suffered under a contradiction between the socio-material authority which they ostensibly desired and the reality of their [academic and literary] careers" (4).  Han Shaogong  On another level, Han's "dictionary" can be viewed as a distraction from the rigid codification o f language during the Cultural Revolution and beyond.  On the whole, Han's writings bear the imprint of the writer's paradoxical reasoning and rationalistic approach to reality. The sense o f being trapped within an unresolved (and unresolvable) dilemma, as one critic points out, is both the driving force and limitation of Han's creative writings, for his indulgence in dialectical reasoning very often leads him into a state o f indetermination, which in turn provokes further debates within the self. " A s an attempt to understand his subject matter, a writer's creation is a success, but it is also a failure. Thus he realizes he has lost his way, and has led his reader astray. But this sense o f loss is the starting point and motivation for a new search..."  A s we have seen in Han's short stones, his main characters are  less individuals than metonyms of the Chinese cultural psyche (as in " B a B a B a " and " N i i N i i N i i " ) . H i s I-narrators, on the other hand, are similarly lost in the labyrinth of time and memory (as in "The B l u e Bottle Cap," "North Gate Prophecy" and "Yesterday Farewell") without a plausible way out.  The last entry in this fictional dictionary is "Guan dao", an imaginary passage which the narrator takes to return to time past: "Step by step, [I] went into the unfamiliar" (435). This act o f returning is precisely what he calls "gui  Han's interview with the press as quoted in Shu (69-75).  Han Shaogong  yuan", as a cyclical overlapping o f beginning and ending. Returning as ending, ending as beginning: this is the essence o f gui yuan, a return to an original state o f being that is strategically placed at the ending o f his fictional lexicology. Han's narrative return to the past, as seen in the novellas and short stories discussed above, always involves a magical encounter with mythical origins; very often the unfamiliar is perceived in terms o f a dejd vu. These are not destinations, however, but points o f departure that open up the ending o f many such fictional journeys. T o return to begin, to begin to end, to end, finally, to get going again: this pattern o f movement can roughly summarize the treatment o f time and history in Han's major works. If this can be construed as Han's treatment o f the "long-time span", the stories o f individual characters can be regarded as the numerous "brief events" that intercept the impersonal flux o f time. These characters are, moreover, cultural metaphors in Han's fictional anthropology. From Bingzai, Aunt Y a o , to Chen Mengtao and others one notices a sustained effort to delve deep into the Chinese cultural psyche for clues to its decline. The I-narrator, on the other hand, is always a zhiqing figure engrossed in his perturbed conscience as a result o f a fragmented memory o f "what happened" in the recent past (especially the Cultural Revolution). A l l these stories exhibit a self-conscious fictionality that forms part o f the narrative itself. This, coupled with the overt reference to autobiographical details (as in "Shoes" and Maqiao Cidian) helps thematize fiction as a medium o f knowledge, as a metaphorical "seeing... as" that is both  193  Han Shaogong its force and its self-imposed limitation. B y reiterating its own uncertainty about the "reality" it describes (e.g. the gaps in causality and the numerous "I don't know's"), Han's fictional world projects what is unknown onto the surface o f known reality. The past, therefore, is first defamiliarized (as unreal, strange, and threatening) in order to project a sense o f reality i n the form o f metaphor.  194  4  Heroes, Bastards and Fictional Homeland: Mo Yan  In the prologue to his first major novel Honggaoliang jiazu (Red Sorghum Family)  (%LW^MM.)  M o Y a n unreservedly pays tribute to his ancestors: " W i t h this  book I respectfully invoke the heroic, aggrieved souls wandering in the boundless brightred sorghum fields o f my hometown. A s your unfilial son, I am prepared to carve out my heart, marinate it in soy sauce, have it minced and placed in three bowls, and lay it out as an offering in a field o f sorghum. Partake o f it in good health!" (4) This deep reverence to his ancestors thus sets the tone o f M o Y a n ' s nostalgic recreation o f the past in Red Sorghum, an imaginative history o f Northeastern China in the thirties that some critics see as being a modern "epic". M o Y a n ' s romantic idealization o f the heroic past, 1  however, is balanced with a realistic vision o f human nature, so that the heroes, unlike the revolutionary stereotypes, are simultaneously heroes and bastards, knights and knaves, martyrs and bandits, as the narrator proudly announces in the opening pages o f Red  Sorghum.  Born into an agricultural family in northeastern China in 1955, M o Y a n ' s family was classified as "upper-middle class peasant" under the government's land reform  1  See, for example, Zhou Yingxiong (499-519).  1<?5  Mo Yan  196  program. Economic hardships and political bias ensured a deprived and lonely childhood. He was forced to give up his studies at the age of twelve and worked as a 2  farmhand and cotton factory worker. In order to break away from this miserable life and continue his education, M o Yan joined the People's Liberation A r m y at age twenty. H e began writing in 1978 and produced officially sanctioned works that he obviously does not think much of. In 1984 he entered the People's Liberation A r m y Academy o f Arts to study literature and later the L u X u n Academy o f Literature in Beijing and obtained a master's degree in literature.  His truly creative phase began in 1985, with the publication o f some o f his finest short stories "The Crystal Carrot" (WMffiKWM}  > ("Touming de hongluobo"), " D r y  River" < feM > ( " K u he") and "White D o g and the Swing" < SfafX^M  > ("Baigou  qiuqian jia"). A s Michael Duke points out, M o Y a n knows peasant life inside out and his portrayal o f village life during the Cultural Revolution directly confronts the Utopian image of the peasantry in revolutionary literature ("Past, Present and Future" 49). M o Y a n ' s emotional attachment to his hometown, Gaomi Township in Shandong Province, is translated into the colorful, multifaceted fictional homeland Gaomi Dongbeixiang (Northeast Gaomi Township) where men and women, heroes and bastards, animals and monsters, ghosts and demons act out the social, political, sexual and moral conflicts arising from the turmoil in modern Chinese history.  Biographical details are based on M o Yan's "Preface" to Shen liao (Tales of the Supernatural) (f$f P> ; Zhong Yiwen, Chapter 3; Michael Duke, "Past, Present and Future in M o Yan's fiction of the 1980s" (472  Mo Yan  197  In this chapter I w i l l examine M o Y a n ' s four major historical novels, namely Red Sorghum, Shicao jiazu (The Grass Eaters)  (^WW^W:) , Jiu guo (The Republic of  Wine) I MM ) and Fengru feitun (Full Bosoms, Fat Buttocks) ( W^IJBW > to trace the writer's developing style and, more important, his still on-going inquiry into the Chinese cultural character and its inevitable decline, or in his own words "devolution o f the human race" (zhong de tuihua). In Red Sorghum and The Grass Eaters this motif is presented in the two extremes of M o Y a n ' s historical vision: a romantic, idealized image o f the past is juxtaposed with the mediocre, mundane and lack-luster present o f the unfilial descendant who is also the I-narrator. M o Y a n ' s narrative alternates between the intensely nostalgic and the skeptically ironic; whereas the conscious play between fiction and history is both a rhetorical device and a complex mode o f cognition and signification. The Republic of Wine is an ambitious experimental work that is overtly metafictional in formal design combining social satire, autobiography, the detective story, and elements o f popular horror and fantasy fiction. Beginning with a police officer's investigation o f a most unnerving criminal case - baby eating - the novel uses the culinary culture o f China as a frame o f reference to locate evil in human beings, unleashed by the unequal distribution o f freedom and wealth in a utilitarian, pseudo-modern society and multiplied by a sudden release o f long suppressed appetites for money, sex and material possessions. The contemplation on devolution in this work takes L u X u n ' s metaphor o f cannibalism to a new extreme. Finally, Full Bosoms signifies M o Y a n ' s return to the human (and  48).  Mo Yan  198  humane) realm, reasserting his deepest reverence for the human spirit he hopes to revive through the provocative image o f "full bosoms, fat buttocks." In this two-volume novel, M o Y a n pays tribute once again to his heroic ancestors very much in the manner o f Red Sorghum, only that this time history is symbolized by M o Y a n ' s idiosyncratic mother prototype. The tumultuous history o f China's nation-building is sidetracked into extraordinary stories o f powerful women, whose breasts are the source o f passion and love. While The Republic of Wine shows a growing interest in the strange and obscene as part o f M o Y a n ' s vision o f the real, Full Bosoms is a further refinement o f his vision o f art and reality, especially art (fiction) as a kind o f spiritual redemption against cultural dispossession.  A s we shall see, M o Y a n ' s fictional histories, taken as a whole, exhibit a yearning for innocence as a life-giving force against the dark currents o f the present. H i s works, moreover, demonstrate a persistent search for new forms and new voices to accommodate his increasingly complex aesthetic and cultural ideals.  Family Saga: Imaginary Homeland and Inevitable Descent  In his "Preface" to Shen liao  «fiW> (Tales o f the Supernatural), M o Y a n  describes his creative career as "primarily a weaving o f dreams, first for oneself and then for others... like singing a sad song, going here and there searching for a lost home" (2). In searching, says the author,  199  Mo Y a n  I realize that my own history is part o f the history o f the universe and is also overwhelmed by it. A s a result, the history o f the self is so insignificant, and yet it is boundless... I want to locate this self in a small social circle, to magnify it [so that] those who are interested in the emotional life o f their predecessors may have a more lively specimen.  The piece o f earth where his creative works are rooted is the "black soil" o f his home country, the "arid land" which provides "fertile soil" for "the seeds o f emotions." H i s devotion to his homeland is almost religious, for he believes " i n the black soil are buried countless bodies and thoughts; o f course it begets more bodies and thoughts... / Buried in the black soil is my happiness, and hopefully my ultimate destiny" (2-3). In fact, from the "black soil" o f his imaginary homeland - Gaomi - arise the most powerful "bodies and thoughts" (and emotions and actions) that make up the fictional worlds of Red Sorghum and The Grass Eaters, among others.  In what follows, I w i l l examine the historical dimension o f these two novels through the "bodies and thoughts" inhabiting these fictional worlds. In so doing, I hope to delineate the itinerary o f M o Y a n ' s continual dialogue with the past, and with himself, regarding his perception o f history as a process o f inevitable descent ("devolution").  200  Mo Yan  Whether his literary reinvention o f the past intensifies or to some extent resists this deterministic impulse w i l l be my preoccupation throughout this chapter. Nonetheless, these two novels are good starting points in this connection.  The Ideal World of Herpes and Bastards  Red Sorghum, a long novel comprising five chapters revolving around certain key episodes in a not-so-distant past (the 1930s), is M o Y a n ' s first attempt to present a panoramic view o f his fictional (spiritual) homeland. It tells the story o f the struggle o f men and women for freedom in the midst o f national wars, foreign invasion and social conflicts. Unlike the pastoral beauty o f Shen Congwen's West Hunan, Gaomi is characteristically a land o f extremities: burning heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, regularly visited by great floods, snowstorms and hailstorms. In this unique universe, bandits, heroes and ordinary people (laobaixing) co-exist in an unusually "ordered" manner, for they sometimes straddle different realms o f existence and know their positions well vis-a-vis one another. They are, in a way, natural units o f a unique universe unfettered by the more "civilized" values o f the cities (represented by the narrator):  Northeast Gaomi Township is easily the most beautiful and most repulsive, most unusual and most common, most sacred and most corrupt, most heroic and most bastardly, hardest-drinking and hardestloving place in the world... They killed, they looted, and they defended  201  Mo Yan  their country in a valiant, stirring ballet that makes us unfilial descendants who now occupy the land pale by comparison. Surrounded by progress, I feel a nagging sense o f our species' regression. (4)  j r a s s j s e ^ t e ° (2)  Thus, M o Yan's idealized homeland is where contradictory "virtues" co-exist not only among but also within individuals. In Red Sorghum, the main protagonists, Y u Zhan'ao ("my grandfather") and D a i Fenglian ("my grandmother"), are outstanding examples o f the "Gaomi species". It is also noteworthy that in this short paragraph the narrator has already drawn a clear boundary between the past and the present, not just in terms o f temporal distance but also in terms o f states o f being: i f the narrator stands for the living present (the modern), he also represents the "unfilial descendants" who feel ashamed even in memory o f the extraordinary character o f the dead. It is in this sense that regression or "devolution" is understood: recalling the heroic past, the narrator feels alienated from his own family history which otherwise should be his heritage. O n the other hand, this feeling o f unworthiness drives him further into the past to recapture his ancestors' legendary lives.  202  Mo Yan  The story begins with an anti-Japanese counter-attack led by the narrator's grandfather, Commander Y u (a well-known and respected bandit leader) in 1938. Betrayed by the leader o f another platoon, all except Commander Y u and his son (the narrator's father who was fourteen at that time), were killed. D a i Fenglian ("my grandmother") was also killed. What follows are constant flashbacks o f the early life o f his grandparents juxtaposed with the struggle for survival o f father and son in the wilderness. We are told that D a i was a beautiful village girl who was forced to marry a rich winemaker's leper son in 1923 (when the Republican government began its negotiations with the Communist Party). She fell in love with Y u who saved her from a bandit on her wedding day. Having successfully rejected the sexual advances o f her husband for the first three days o f her marriage, D a i and Y u made love in the w i l d sorghum fields. A few days later, D a i returns home to discover both her husband and father-in-law killed, the murderer at large. Y u then became Dai's new husband. Meanwhile, the Japanese army has invaded northeastern China and began a series o f ruthless killings in the region. Villagers are taken as forced laborers to construct new roads to facilitate the transportation o f Japanese troops and army supplies into the interior. When an old servant in the family, Great Uncle Luohan, violates the orders o f the labor camp, the army officers put him to death by forcing a local butcher to peel off his skin and make a public spectacle o f the process. D a i and Y u ' s v o w o f revenge is the primary motive o f their involvement in guerilla warfare.  Mo Yan  203  Within this narrative frame, the narrator moves to and fro in time and space, filling in gaps and making conjectures about the emotional life o f his ancestors from different angles. The story reaches its climax during the anti-Japanese war in the late thirties and early forties, and ends with the death o f the narrator's grandfather in around 1976 (which also marks the end o f the Cultural Revolution.)  A s historical fiction, Red Sorghum is based primarily on the first person point o f view o f the I-narrator who was allegedly born in 1956. This implies that he does not really " k n o w " most o f the events in his narrative. Yet, as he says, he wants to write a family history as a tribute to their heroic deeds during the war. Interestingly, the tentative tone o f the first person narrator at the beginning o f the novel ("Some say the shepherd boy [who urinated on my father's tombstone] was me, but I don't know i f it was or wasn't me." [4]) is gradually transformed into a self-confident voice that amounts to third-person omniscience. H e even gets into people's consciousness to reveal their inner thoughts, just as he "listens" to his grandmother's plea to Heaven before she dies:  Heaven... [h]ave I sinned? ... What is chastity then? What is the correct path? What is goodness? What is evil? Y o u never told me, so I had to decide on my own. I loved happiness, I loved strength, I loved beauty, it was my body, and I used it as I thought fitting... I did what I had to do, I managed as I thought proper. I fear nothing. (172)  Mo Yan  204  A - mmnmmm  ?... .immMm ? tmmiEm ? ftJSM  ? ft mm $m ? f ^ - ^ w ^ i i a Tm^mmnmimm^'m  • mm&w a s a  • (9i)  This self-conscious fictionalization allows the narrator to travel freely between fact and fiction (he frequently quotes from local legends, folklore and local historical records), juxtaposing past and present, the imaginary world and the real world so that history (the external events) gives way to an aesthetic vision o f the "inner events" that make up the 3  "felt history" of the past (Forster 277).  As Dai's final plea to Heaven (quoted above) shows, what is most forcefully felt by the narrator as the guiding spirit o f his ancestors is a passion for individual freedom and the courage to live and die in the name o f freedom. Great Uncle Luohan, we are told, risks his life going back to the labor camp (after he has escaped) in order to free his two mules. When the mules treat him as a stranger and refuse to go, he is furious at their "cowardice" and kills the animals with a hammer. In another episode, Commander Y u executes his own uncle B i g Tooth for raping a village girl. A t the height o f his powers, Y u could easily sidestep military law and impose a less severe punishment, for his sense of justice, the narrator suggests, is rooted not in the modern sense o f law and order but in  3  As Korean author Richard K i m describes his blending of fact and fiction in Lost Names. (Masalski 23-27)  205  Mo Yan  the traditional character o f haohan (lit. an upright man). Apart from its association with the traditional hero in classical fiction (such as The Water Margin), haohan also finds its prototype in the Confucian concept o f junzi (a man o f virtue). In Red Sorghum, this applies also to the convicted B i g Tooth, who faces his death with exceptional courage and dignity characteristic o f the Gaomi species (70-72).  In this light, the contradictory "virtues" mentioned earlier can be seen as manifestations o f Gaomi's unique, idealized moral universe where the highest law is spontaneous goodness. This may not be the ideal mode o f social existence in a practical sense, nor is it a realistic picture o f the past. However, it is this heroic quality that marks the difference between the present and the bygone age as perceived by the narrator. In the novel, spontaneity is closely connected to nature. Red sorghum is repeatedly described as " w i l d " , "mad" and emotionally sensitive to the human world. It thrives in the most severe weather conditions and is the source o f the celebrated tradition o f winemaking in Gaomi. The aroma o f wine fills the entire area with a euphoric glamour, and the annual ritual in honor o f the wine god brings together the spiritual, sensual and aesthetic aspects o f traditional winemaking. It is also believed that the most exquisite type o f wine, the so-called Eighteen M i l e s Red, was created by accident when Commander Y u , then a poor village rogue, urinated into a wine pot out o f spite.  The use o f the traditional hero image in Red Sorghum has been noted by critics before. Zhou Yingxiong, for example, perceives a resemblance between M o Yan's  Mo Y a n  206  heroes and those in the classical Chinese novel, especially The Water Margin (Zhou 501). The reader is repeatedly reminded o f the sharp contrast between the narrator and his legendary ancestors. The temporal gap between past and present, therefore, is qualitatively defined: between ancestors and descendants, city and country, modernity and tradition:  For [twenty] years I had been away from my village.. .affecting the hypocritical display o f affection I had learned from high society, with a body immersed so long in the filth of urban life that a foul stench oozed from my pores. (356)  mm °  4  (450)  On a formal level, M o Y a n ' s seemingly casual use of traditional prose and singsong lyrics within an essentially modern narrative framework reinforces this sense o f "no longer." M o Y a n ' s nostalgic imagination o f a legendary past does not aim at a pastoral ideal or "golden age." Rather, he frequently draws attention to the character flaws o f his protagonists as an integral part of their heroic stature. A s such, the stereotyped hero in revolutionary historical fiction is turned upside down. Idealistic though they may seem, M o Y a n ' s heroes are humanized by their weaknesses. Their  Ten years" according to Goldblatt's translation, but it is "twenty years" in the Chinese original.  207  Mo Yan  patriotism, likewise, is closely connected to their spontaneous goodness. Sworn to avenge the death o f Great Uncle Luohan, Commander Y u and D a i Fenglian organize a local guerilla force with tragic results. L i k e many heroes in the Water Margins, the rashness with which Commander Y u and others act upon contingencies in life is characteristic o f their instinctive heroism. This is the kind o f "innocence" at the heart o f M o Yan's hero:  A t that moment, Granddad looked benumbed, his thoughts were riveted on a single point.... H e was blind to all other sights, deaf to all other sounds. This problem - or characteristic - o f his would grow more pronounced over the coming decade. H e returned from the mountains o f Hokkaido with an unfathomable depth in his eyes, gazing at things as though he could w i l l them to combust spontaneously. (177)  T W ° MMmm&mmm > n-f-m^mmwmmm. •  mmmmmi-fmrnmim ° (227) A s such Granddad is destined to be both a war hero and an outcast, while the narrator's father lacks "this degree o f philosophical depth":  He never did figure out the relationship between men and politics or society or war, even though he had been spun so violently on the wheel o f battle. H e was forever trying to  208  Mo Yan  squeeze the light o f his nature through the chinks in his body armor. (177)  imM^yt^mmtimmmw^m^mm&m • (227) This difference between father and son is a subtle sign o f "regression" that w i l l grow more pronounced in the grandson. Compared to his grandfather, the narrator's father is said to be more "rational" at critical moments, but his sense o f reason is largely the result o f his dwelling on "the surface o f things" (227). A s Zhou Yingxiong observes, the history o f three generations o f the red sorghum family is a process o f gradual "devolution" (519), at least in the sense o f the "heroic temperament" that the narrator identifies as the spirit o f his family tradition.  A s the central image o f the novel, red sorghum personifies the Gaomi people and participates in human history. O n the other hand, it also stands for a certain ahistorical force that shapes human destiny:  The sorghum stalks, which had undergone such suffering, [stood speechless]. Grain fell sporadically like glistening tears. (175)  m&m±± - mmm^mmm  • (224)  209  Mo Y a n  Years later... these sorghums continued to flourish in distinctive colors. Life pulsed through their waxy-green stems that look like the genitals o f male animals.  »  5  • (402)  The passionate, masculine nature o f red sorghum is also constitutive o f the feminine in the novel, hence uniting the "men and women" o f Gaomi within the same natural universe. A s D a i Fenglian breathes her last, red sorghum appears to her as a messenger from Heaven. A s i f having an epiphany, D a i makes her final peace with Heaven now that she has transcended her worldly self (91-2). The complex image o f red sorghum consists o f both feminine and masculine traits as M o Y a n ' s ideal heroic character exemplifies: it stands for the procreative energies o f D a i Fenglian (closely connected to "mother earth") and the uncouth, hot-headed passion o f Commander Y u .  Toward the end, the narrator once again stands before his ancestors' graves, reflecting on his family history. A s he laments the extinction o f the "pure sorghum" o f old and its replacement by a despicable crossbred grain, he sees the apparition o f his second grandmother. The "ghost" exhorts him to return to his birthplace as a self-  5  M y translation: this sentence is not included in Goldblatt.'s translation.  210  Mo Yan  redemption. She orders him to dive into the Black River to eliminate the smell of the "tamed rabbit" on his body. There is still one grain of pure sorghum remaining somewhere in the mountains, she says, and he is to inherit this pure grain, for it will guide him through the "weeds and thorns" of this world and protect him from the "tigers and wolves" everywhere on his way. This pure sorghum, after all, is "the totem of [his] family's glorious past and the symbol of the cultural tradition of Gaomi" (496). This amounts to a vow to revive the spirit of a heroic past, to raise up the only remaining pure grain sorghum as an armor to resist the "taming" temptations of the modern world. Red sorghum in this context has a religious connotation. The "baptism" in the river and the totemic symbol of pure sorghum confer upon this fictional history not only an elegiac quality but also the sense of a ritual of self-renewal. The narrator's (and I believe the implied author's) disgust with crossbreeding (hybrid sorghum in this case), associated with modernization and industrialization, as we shall see, is intensified in M o Yan's later novels. This, in turn, provides a clue to our understanding of Mo Yan's notion of heroes and bastards as both agents and victims of history.  Before turning to The Grass Eaters, in which M o Yan continues to grapple with his "devolution" complex, I would like to consider the narrative structure of Red Sorghum that adds a formal irony to this self-conscious fictional history. Throughout the novel, narrative tension is intensified by the circular movement of the I-narrator's memory. It seems that the narrator has to retell the stories of his parents and grandparents from different (imagined) angles, fill in the gaps between the layers of narratives in the  211  Mo Yan  form of oral tales, others' memories and the narrator's imagination ("My imagination closely follows [my father's] imagination, [my father's] imagination closely follows grandfather's thoughts." [233]) In a way similar to what Salman Rushdie has done in Midnight's  Children, albeit not as magical, the I-narrator conjures up a multi-angled  representation of the past by entering the consciousness of his characters (including plants and animals), making use of constant flashbacks and deliberately surreal imagery (like the "Dog Ways" chapter). This nonlinear, repetitive narrative attempts to recreate the past in all kinds of possibilities; i.e. to make the past speak through the long silence time imposes on the "bodies and thoughts" of those whose voices go unrecorded in historical documents.  The five chapters of Red Sorghum were first published as a series of short stories, a fact that partially explains its circular structure. As Mo Yan remarks in the epilogue to the novel, he was experimenting with a "formula" of writing long novels at the time of compiling the present volume. As a result, the five chapters that became the final work are a kind of harbinger for more to come. To him, the novel then has opened up "an opportunity to represent the [red sorghum] family in its totality" in the future.  6  Perhaps due to its "composite" nature (resulting in a sense of incompleteness), the narrator seems over-eager to assimilate other voices and other memories into his own at  6  See Mo Yan's "Epilogue" in Honggaoliangjiazu.  (497).  My translation.  212  Mo Yah  the expense o f formal unity and coherence. For example, the bloody warfare o f