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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, Mo 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 PARTIAL F U L F I L L M E N T OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE 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 THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A January 2001 © Vivian P. Y . Lee, 2001 In p resen t ing this thesis in partial fu l f i lment of the r e q u i r e m e n t s fo r an a d v a n c e d d e g r e e at the Univers i ty of British C o l u m b i a , I agree that t h e Library shall m a k e it f reely available fo r re fe rence and study. I further agree that p e r m i s s i o n f o r ex tens ive c o p y i n g of this thes is fo r scholar ly p u r p o s e s may b e g ran ted by the h e a d o f m y d e p a r t m e n t o r by his o r her representat ives . It is u n d e r s t o o d that c o p y i n g o r p u b l i c a t i o n o f this thesis for f inancial ga in shall no t b e a l l o w e d w i t h o u t m y w r i t t e n p e r m i s s i o n . D e p a r t m e n t of T h e Un ivers i ty of Brit ish C o l u m b i a V a n c o u v e r , C a n a d a DE-6 (2/88) Abstract The main focus of this study is the changing patterns of historical representation in modern and contemporary Chinese fiction. Beginning with a critical evaluation of Western critical theories such as Hayden White's concept of metahistory and Paul Ricoeur's philosophical reflections on narrative and metaphor, it probes the "interweaving reference" of history and fiction in contemporary Chinese fiction. Selected works of three major mainland writers - Han Shaogong, M o Yan 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 of modernity. In literature, this utopianism is exemplified in the so-called "revolutionary historical novel" that thrived under the patronage of the Communist Party after 1949. M y reading of the three authors shows how this Utopian (revolutionary) rhetoric has given way to an essentially pessimistic view of history that subverts and overturns the oppressive "optimism" sanctioned by the Party State. This "critical pessimism" is characterized by a parade of 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. Table 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: Mo Yan 195 Chapters Su Tong's Topos of Desire 264 Conclusion 350 Bibliography 364 i l l 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 of my study at U B C ; to Professor Andrew Busza for rekindling my self-confidence, and for his always being a source of inspiration, and to Professor Jerry Schmidt, for guiding me through the vast terrain of 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 of gratitude to Miss M i n a Wong, Graduate Secrety o f the Asian Studies Department, for her always wil l ing to go the extra mile for graduate students; to Miss El len 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 Engl ish Translations The following English translations are used for some of 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 "Yingsu zhijia") Red Sorghum Family, by Howard Goldblatt. (Mo Yan: Honggauliangjiazu) Rice, by Howard Goldblatt. (Su Tong: Mi) The Republic of Wine, by Howard Goldblatt. (Mo Yan: Jiuguo ) Page references to Chinese and English texts are given at the end of 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 of means and ends. While history describes "the things that have happened," says Aristotle, poetry or literature in general describes "a kind of thing that might happen." Poetry, therefore, deals with "universals" and history with "singulars" (Aristotle 9:1469-364). Poetry, being the art of 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 of reality, attributes to mimetic art a rhetorical function the purpose o f which is the discovery of universal truths or meanings by means of 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 of 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 of the social order, nonetheless, 1 Introduction 2 is still "mirrored" by the fragmentation of fictional narratives, whose internal dynamics usually exacerbate the sense of formlessness rather than "form," disorder rather than order, in the conventional sense o f these terms. The turning inward to the erratic currents of 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 of existing categories o f values by transgressing social, political, sexual and cultural boundaries. The idea of "text" and the textual construction of reality directly contribute to the "textualization" of human experience. "There is nothing outside the text": Derrida's provocative assertion comes to serve as the "dictum" of postmodernist critical thought. Against this background, the conventional boundary between history and fiction is bound to be redrawn. The question of how, and to what extent and purpose, this is or In t roduct ion 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 of 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 of major historians and philosophers of history of his chosen period. White's analysis of the various historical and philosophical writings, texts in themselves, concludes that the historical imagination is governed by the tropes of literature, so that historical truths (the meaning of past events) are in effect products of the literary imagination. As some critics have argued, White's theory of tropes, insightful as it is, is limited to one kind of "metahistory" (literary imagination), but since there are different kinds o f metahistories, the theory of tropes alone cannot adequately determine the truth claims o f history. 1 The on-going debate over the "facticity" and "Activity" of 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 1 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). Introduction 4 separation to near-complete identity. The prerequisites of objectivity and truth that used to apply to both kinds of narratives, moreover, have given way to the problematization, i f not renunciation, of these values. Obviously my description above is limited to the two extremes that mark the extent of change in recent years, but an overview of the polarization of opinions and attitudes is useful to the setting up of 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 of past events and models of the art of 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 of 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. 2 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 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 evi l" gives rise to the unique form of the classical historical novel (Zhu 109-114). This concurs with the Confucian notion of wen (writing, literary cultivation), the primary task of which is to convey the truth, or the True Way. Hence literature is considered to be primarily an embodiment of the True Way and a means of moral teaching, although artistry is also an important aspect o f accomplishment in wen (Liu "Introduction"). In China, the historical vicissitudes of the twentieth century have been reflected in the development of a modern Chinese literature whose first ambition was to replace the classical tradition with a new mode of representation inspired by the realist novel of the West. As L i n Yusheng (1979) has convincingly argued, this wholesale condemnation of tradition is uniquely Chinese and extremely traditional in its holistic and "organismic" outlook necessitated by its ultimate concern for the spiritual/moral well being of the Chinese race as a whole. 4 In fact, the very choice of the Western "model" reflects uniquely Chinese social values and cultural preferences. Literature was still largely texts." James Liu (37-38). 3 See James Liu, Chapter 10; also discussed in Dong Naibin WJbWt, (86). 4 L in 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 in 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 in (18-19, 29-30). Introduction 6 conceived as a means for social transformation, an ideal not very far from the Confucian conception of 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 of the Second World War, is a defining characteristic of Chinese literary modernity, whereas the modern intellectual sees him/herself as "the bearer of light" and the agent of History (as a linear process of overcoming). The growing influence of Marxism among Chinese intellectuals in the late 1920s and 1930s marked a turning point in the development of 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 of the twentieth century, Marxist dialectics superceded it with the advent of 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 of history characteristic of the evolutionary model is replaced by a Utopian, and no less linear, process of 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" of its creators is left out of the picture. As Leo Ou-fan Lee has pointed out, Chinese modernity posits a new mode of historical consciousness that casts the creative self at the forefront of History ("Modernity" 158-177). To a certain extent, this Promethean predisposition explains why many writers were later attracted to the Utopian rhetoric of revolution. Without losing sight of the discontinuities in aesthetics and politics, there exist certain temperamental continuities between the early generation of M a y Fourth writers and their successors in later decades.5 Beginning as a sub-genre of 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 of 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 in Yusheng, this included the young Mao Zetong himself. (5, n. 1) Introduction 8 After an initial outburst of grievance and yearning for justice in the so-called scar literature (shanghen wenxue) that emerged shortly after the death of M a o Zedong and the fall o f the Gang of 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" of 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 of modern Chinese fiction. The main focus of this study is what Paul Ricoeur calls the "interweaving reference" of 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 of 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 of the past is characterized by a self-reflexive foregrounding/fictionalizing of the endless exchange between the phenomenal world and the human efforts to Introduction 9 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 of understanding and examining the nature of the past are born. In the Chinese context, and specifically that of modern Chinese history, the "demystification" o f the official version of history is a form of political dissent and aesthetic autonomy often involves social protest, directly or indirectly. For this reason any theoretical explication of fictional histories must take into account the actual socio-political realities of 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 of 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 of 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 of writers from the mid-1980s onwards. They are more 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 of a massive, though erratic, social and economic reform program driven exclusively by utilitarian motives. Several factors have influenced my choice of authors and texts for this project. First, Su Tong, M o Yan and Han Shaogong are among the most prominent writers manifestly associated with a regionalism that is inseparable from the kind of historical imagination projected through their works. Second, their fictional narratives of the past demonstrate a consistent effort not only to create meaning out of a chaotic field of past events (political movements, natural disasters, personal conflicts), but also to inquire into the nature (generation or degeneration) of the Chinese cultural psyche from its "roots" to its present manifestations. Third, the regional outlook of 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. On many occasions, such an undertaking may have a "decentering" effect on official (Maoist-Communist) versions of "what really happened" in the past. Introduction M y discussion explores different forms of the historical imagination by examining the nature o f the transformation in the works of these writers. 11 Finally, since the main concern here is the figuration of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of memory and historical knowledge. Knowing that literature is distinguished by its generality and specificity, I hope the limits imposed on my subject (a kind of subjectivity) w i l l also accommodate a Introduction generality for further exchange and dialogue with other texts and contexts in a wider framework. 12 Chapter 1 "Contemporary Poetics: the Return to/of History" is a critical review of modern Western critical thought on the nature of and relationship between historiography and fiction. Narrative as a mode of 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 of 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 of metahistory and Ricoeur's theoretical studies on metaphor and narrative. As I have argued already, White's theory of tropes, insightful as it is, runs the risk of 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 of "metaphorical reference" ("seeing.. as...") in articulating "metaphorical truth" that is beyond the reach of ordinary, literal language. In Time and Narrative, Ricoeur develops his argument by asserting the "interweaving reference" of history and fiction, so that fiction, being "quasi-historical," is able to "free, retrospectively, certain possibilities that were not actualized in the historical past." This kind of "quasi-past" therefore "includes both the potentialities of the 'real ' past and the 'unreal' possibilities of 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 of "seeing .. .as..." that creates its own "metaphorical truth." Chapter 2 "Changing Metaphors" examines the relationship between fictional representation and the changing conception of history in the development of modern Chinese literature since the M a y Fourth Movement (1919) to the present. M y main concerns here are: the adoption of a linear, evolutionary view of 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 of how fictional representation participates in the ideological discourse of modernity since the M a y Fourth, and how writers and intellectuals nowadays strive to demystify the Utopian myth of Maoism and thereby critically reassess their cultural heritage. In Chapter 3 "History as Allegory: Han Shaogong" I offer my reading of Han Shaogong's fictional works as collective allegories of Chinese culture and history. The first part of this chapter considers Han's ground-breaking stories - "Guiqulai" <§§:£3(£> ("Homecoming?") "Ba , Ba , B a " > (Father, Father, Father) and " N u N u N u " Introduction 14 <tCtC'tC> (Three Women) - since they embody the kind of collective allegory that characterizes his style. 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 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 of 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 of nuances in Han's other stories, which finally lead to his recent full-length experimental work, Maqiao Cidian ( J | ^gn [ iS i )) (A Dictionary of 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 "Lan G a i z i " (WM.-F) (The Blue Bottle Cap), "Beimenkou yuyan" (itHUMm) (A Prophecy of the North Gate), 'TJixue" ( M l ) (Bleeding Nose), "Shanshang de shengyin" < LLLhfftiF a" > (Sounds from the Hilltop) and "Zuotian Zaihui" (B^^^Ht) (Yesterday Farewell) the past is revisited as a kind of traumatic encounter that raises questions about memory, history and human perception o f reality. Mainly set in the Cultural Revolution years, these stories probe the psychological Introduction 15 repercussions of this historical nightmare by mapping personal tragedies onto the broader socio-political realities of the recent past, which are very often rendered as a grotesque presence that resembles what Alejo Carpentier calls the "marvelous real" (Carpentier 75-88). Han's penchant for symbolic intensity and dialectical thinking in the treatment of 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 of the past always brings about disturbing knowledge of the present, resulting in a more gloomy and despairing vision of 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 of the "native soil" of Chinese culture in the form of a cultural lexicology, i.e. a fictional history of words. A s a modern work of fiction cast in a controversial, pseudo-traditional mode, it is a hybrid form that combines the anecdotal, episodic and prose narrative within the framework of an anthropological glossary. A s in his short stories, Han's fictional anthropology consists of characters that are mainly cultural metaphors, a result of 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 of words, as a source of historical and cultural knowledge is overtly thematized The Introduction 16 peculiar form in which these stories are told facilitates the incorporation of a wide spectrum of apparently disconnected episodes within a "master narrative" that is essentially metafictional. In this connection, Han's exploration into the linguistic roots of 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 of 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 Yan'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 of the Chinese race in time, as is well known, are pivotal in M o Yan's endeavor to mediate between past and present, transience and permanence through a narrative return to his ancestral roots. M y reading of M o Yan'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 of "human devolution," I proceed to trace the development of this theme xnJiuguo ( M B ) (Republic of Wine), a highly provocative novel about Chinese culture in the vein of L u Xun ' s "Kuangren r i j i " ($EA 012) (Diary o f a Madman), and his two-volume novel Fengru feituan (it^LIBW) (Full Bosoms, Fat Buttocks). Introduction 17 In Red Sorghum and The Grass Eaters, the most dramatic episodes of the exceptionally tumultuous periods in modern Chinese history are seized upon and transformed into a unique understanding of the past. Red Sorghum presents an interesting case as a self-professed family history and a fantastic tale of heroes and bastards, romance and lust, and most of all the "devolution" of 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 of cognition and signification Like Han Shaogong, M o Yan favors the first person narrator as the active interpreter of 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. As a descendant of a family of heroes, the unfilial son passionately yearns for a spiritual reunion with his ancestors through an imaginative reinvention of the past, supplementing his limited knowledge with & fictive omniscience. The juxtaposition of past and present underscores the vision of devolution as a nostalgic yearning for lost innocence. Devolution, thus, is coterminous with a longing for self-redemption and spiritual purification. In The Grass Eaters M o Yan's vision of devolution takes a negative turn. Instead of reinventing the heroic past as a cultural ideal that has been eroded in time, the moral failings of the forefathers become a permanent birthmark of posterity. The stunning Introduction 18 discovery of the half-human, half-bestial descent of the family obliterates the redeeming vision of purity and innocence in Red Sorghum after a painful recognition of certain "genetic flaws" in human nature. Be that as it may, the imaginative content of the text can still be grounded in more concrete historical contexts. In a series of mythical and dream-like narratives organized around periodic (cyclical) locust attacks, the history of the grass-eating family alludes to a number of bloody episodes in Chinese history from the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing to the Cultural Revolution. This allegorical element thus resituates the notion of "devolution" within the moral and socio-cultural realms of human experience. In this light, "devolution" can be seen as a metaphor, or a kind of literary hermeneutics that exploits the tension between nature and culture, primitive and civilized modes of thought, as well as the paradoxical impulse to return to a "purer" state of being as a buffer against the encroachment of modernity. "Devolution" is taken up and further developed in The Republic of Wine, a collective allegory that consists of probably the most negative and horrifying images of Chinese culture since L u Xun 's "cannibalism" critique almost a century ago. This is M o Yan's as yet most radical historical metafiction both in form and content. Primarily focused on the present, the author makes use of 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 of total moral and spiritual bankruptcy conjures up a bleak and •frightening picture of "human devolution" and historical decline, culminating in the final destruction of the hero (and the dramatized author). This novel, seen as an extension of M o Yan's historical metaphor, also reveals the inner struggles of an artist trying to defend his moral vision in an uphill battle against the corrupting currents of an increasingly utilitarian society - one that has apparently lost its sense of direction in a ruthless race of "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 Yan seems eager to come to terms with his obsession with purity and hybridity, as seen from his treatment of the bastard hero, his central character and first-person narrator. The bastard, Golden Boy, is a "weak" character who never grows out of 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 of the Mother figure, culminating in Golden Boy ' s final vision of a heaven of breasts metamorphosed into "the highest mountain between Heaven and Earth." As a symbol of femininity, it goes beyond the conventional views of chastity and female sexuality and redefines morality in terms of the sanctity of life. The tragic events that shape the course of life of individuals, after all, are subsumed under this transcending vision of breasts. While this grand finale may not be construed as Introduction 20 "optimistic," it does give a broader view of M o Yan's vision of art and reality, and most interestingly art (fiction) as a kind of spiritual redemption against the destructive forces of history. Chapter 4 "Su Tong's Topos of Desire" begins with Su Tong's stories of the South. Compared to M o Yan'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 Yan's red sorghum country. As the primary setting of his fictional narratives of the past, the decadent South defines the overall contour of Su Tong's fictional topos. His major works, e.g. Mi (Rice), Chengbei didai < tiMf > (The Northern District of the City), Yingshu zhijia < WM^M» (Opium Family) and Nanfang de duoluo ( WiJlffiMM)) (The Decline of the South), can be seen as metonymic signs of the South - a lyrical and haunting presence, an imaginary world in which history is an endless cycle of 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" of the South has become an important part of Chinese Introduction 21 culture as a whole, whereas the north/south bifurcation can be seen as an expression of 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 of "home" as a locus of desire, a metaphorical space where history unfolds in the most bizarre tales of human perversion. From nostalgia to nightmare, the South is a haunting presence that pervades Su Tong's fictional imagination. A central motif in much of Su Tong's work is the construction of family history. L ike M o Yan's Gaomi, Su Tong invokes the South - its past and present - as the imaginary homeland for his idiosyncratic "historical" research, unlike M o Yan, in Su Tong's narratives of the South his spiritual home is devoid of heroic grandeur. Instead of 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 of meaning. This aspect of 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 ( #1111) (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/self-destruction. Another favorite motif o f Su Tong is fate, or fatalism as a mythical force of history. Although this suggestion is repeated in most of 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 ike the unconventional image of home, fate is a self-conscious fictional device that implies a critique of its own way of "seeing... as..." More important, the creative use of fate in these "southern" narratives as an alternative way of "seeing.. as..." is a deviant gesture vis-a-vis the official "scientific" approach to history and the "truth" it represents. The final part of this chapter looks at Su Tong's venture into China's dynastic history in Wu Zetian ( W^SfK ) (Empress Wu) 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 of Chinese history. However, they adopt two very different schematic designs: Empress Wu portrays the life of 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 of the South is invoked and recast in a tale of dynastic decline, whereas the confessional first-person narrative of a deposed emperor shifts the ground of a contemplation on collective destiny to a sentimental, subjective reflection on personal misfortunes. As 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 of 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 of "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 of historical accuracy may interfere with the literary imagination, since the parameters of fictional representation are mostly determined by the overwhelming presence of traditional historical discourse. Introduction 24 In the works of Han Shaogong, M o Yan and Su Tong the past always invites paradoxical responses, i.e. estrangement and intimacy, sympathy and disgust, and most of all, a consciousness of time as a destructive force and a desire to resist it through narrative. If, as Hayden White says, the "ironic mode" of 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 of "modernity" in China trampled over the old tradition without constructive clues for a genuine renewal. If the beginning of modern Chinese literature represents an initiation into the linear progress of modernity, the changing perception of history in the works of the three authors presents a more sober, and understandably more negative, vision of 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 mimesis1 by foregrounding/fictionalizihg 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 C o n t e m p o r a r y P o e t i c s 2 6 "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 of Metaphor (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 of fictional and 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, especially figurative language, 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 Narrative2 I will use this concept to try to disentangle the intricate network of associations between history and fiction, 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 of reality. 3 Granted, narrative is also a fundamental mode of historical discourse without which historical explanations would be impossible. 4 A s a kind of narrative art, historiography, according to Hayden White, is not an exact science but is a close relative of fiction in terms of 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 of a radical indeterminacy o f meaning that discredits as much as legitimizes any form of historical interpretation and misinterpretation.5 However, White's theory of tropes does illuminate the relationship between historical truths and the historical imagination of individuals (in his case the most influential historians and philosophers of history in nineteenth-century Europe) that helps discover these truths; and that between human perception of history and the kinds of tropes available for the construction of explanatory models to interpret and represent the past in a particular cultural context. White's analysis of the modes of historical imagination in 19 t h century Europe also suggests that these modes are literary (fictional) 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 29 in nature.6 They are also indispensable to human perception of reality, precisely because they are virtually inevitable in any attempt to communicate experience through narration. Does it follow that every act of narration necessarily creates fictions? If the answer is "no," what, then, wi l l be the difference between fiction and history, and what kind of interconnectedness can be established between fictional and historical representation of 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 of 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 of 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 nineteenth-century 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 wil l 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 of its truth value, while its quest for "objectivity" necessarily acknowledges the problems of objectivity in a self-reflective process of inquiry. 7 This understanding of fiction, historiography and history is the basis of our understanding of the interrelationship between historical and fictional representation of history; hence the different configurations of history in different kinds of 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 of its formal coherence (including deliberate incoherence or "formlessness"). Insofar as history is the subject of a narrative (fictional or historical), hence an "object" of representation, what is involved is a sense of reality as it is "emplotted," in Ricoeur's sense of the term,8 whose purpose after all is to create/discover a form out of formlessness, i.e. to make sense of the world, 9 whatever that "form" may be. Narrativizing the past, no doubt, involves literary imagination indispensable to both fiction and historiography; yet, the "literariness" of historiography belongs to strategy 7 " . . precisely because history has objectivity as a project, it can pose l imits of objectivity as a specific problem.. . to place it within the scope o f a critique o f ideology. Th is . . . might be cal led the crit ical reflection of historical inquiry." Ricoeur (Time and Narrative 1:176-177). 8 Different f rom 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 and refigures human experiences against die endless (and potentially meaningless) flux of events i n time. (Time and Narrative 2: Chapter 1) 9 White 's idea of "emplotment" is more formal, i n the sense that the plot of history is predetermined by the Contemporary Poetics and style, while that of fiction is "generic" and intrinsic. 31 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, fiction seeks 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,10 though their order in each case may vary. As a synthetic and syncretic 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 White (Metahistory 7-11). 1 0 In this respect, White's idea of "emplotment" as a narrative device to famil iarize the unfamiliar (Tropics 87) is i n accord wi th Ricoeur 's "emplotment" as an essential means by wh ich narrative refigures human temporal experience; i.e. to create a sense of order against what Rusen calls the "structurally threatening temporal change" (12). Contemporary Poetics 32 predicted future, achieved on behalf of us, who remain 'in the middest.7 " n . By 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 reading12. In what follows, I will discuss the issue of historical representation 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 1 1 Accord ing to Kermode, literary ends in the Western tradition internalize the apocalypse and turn it into an "immanent" e n d Modern literature, then, is a k ind of "broken myth," the myth of ending and redemption that is perpetually postponed (6-8). 1 2 Accordingly, it is the "wor ld of the work" through which "ways o f inhabiting the wor ld . . . l ie wait ing to be taken up by reading." The "confrontation between the wor ld of the text and the wor ld of the reader" begins the process o f the third stage o f mimesis or "mimesis 3" (refiguration). Ricoeur (Time and Narrativff.2: 5). Contemporary Poetics 33 artistically faithful image of a concrete historical epoch" (19). This groundbreaking study by one of the most important Marxist literary critics of 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 of equally excellent works by modern (especially modernist) writers, not to say more contemporary ones whose treatment of 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 of history in fiction that have withstood the test of time. For example, Lukacs argues that good writers of the historical novel must have "a clear sense of history as a process, of history as the concrete precondition of the present" (21); that "mere representations of historical movements" are less desirable than individualized heroes: brought into a very complex, very live relationship with the age in which they l ive" (47); and that we can consider the "extensions of the historical novel into an historical picture of 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 of modern(ist) literature, Lukacs' study of the "great" historical novelists of 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 of things, as in the case o f Pushkin, Gogol and even the "progressive" Goethe. In this respect, Lukacs' notion of an "artistically faithful image" o f Jjistory is also informed Contemporary Poetics 34 b y a uniquely " m o d e r n " imagination that is not too alien to what one finds i n Baudelaire, 13 V i r g i n i a W o o l f , James Joyce and T h o m a s M a n n . In his attempt to set out the essential criteria for the historical novel i n the social (not socialist) realist mode, L u k a c s did indeed pave the w a y for a modernist engagement with history that refuses to take "concreteness" for granted; instead, meaning is created by an active refiguration o f h u m a n experience o f the past through fictional narrative. H i s t o r y , then, becomes a "metaphorical reference" to il luminate those aspects o f reality that are not (yet) available to literal interpretation. 1 4 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 broad spectrum o f texts to come under a c o m m o n interpretative framework without neutralizing their diversity and idiosyncratic potentials to "redescribe" h u m a n experience i n different historical and cultural contexts. Historical understanding and fictional truth It is banal but worth reiterating that fiction does make truth claims about the w o r l d , 1 3 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). 1 4 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 construct15 subject to ideological and power manipulations 1 6 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 1 5 See, for example, Cowart (1989), especially Chapter 1, in which he says historical knowledge "wi th the greatest validity" concerns less "the rational judgment of the historian" than "the moral and imaginative discrimination of the artist," so that "the historically informed artist" is "the most reliable explorer of the past." 1 6 Historians and critics of White have attended to this latest tendency i n whi te 's thought toward a more post-structuralist approach, although they are also aware that White is struggling endlessly w i th his own contradictions i n theory and practice especially wi th regard to historical writings about the Holocaust. LaCapra , 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 1 7 "... a consciousness of the past as such performs a crit ical function. To 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 romwich (203-233). Contemporary Poetics 37 necessarily reproduce but redescribes the real world by projecting ways of "being-in-the-world" 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 of a purely theoretical formulation of this essentially "abstract" human phenomenon (albeit formulated in his own extensive and sophisticated argument), stresses that the "interweaving reference" of fiction and history {Time and Narrative 2: 82) is less a matter of theoretical debate than discernment by common sense and confidence on the part of both the author and reader of historical (and fictional) texts. "Witnesses in spite of themselves," says Ricoeur, best describes the kinds of truths made available through historical inquiry (Time and Narrative 3: 117-119). So far I have examined the recent theoretical debate over the facticity and truth value of historical narrative in relation to fictional narrative, not so much for the sake of proving the "authenticity" of historical narrative as of 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 of imagining and apprehending the meaning o f the past through a "metaphorical" reprocessing o f human experiences of and sensibilities toward the past, which in turn helps situate and define the present. It therefore differs from history in terms of "intention" and "reference:" intention because it posits itself between poesis (self-contained artifact) and mimesis (what Luckacs calls a "faithful image" of reality), reference because it does not refer to real objects as such but creates its own reference in Contemporary Poetics 38 the order of "seeing... as..." The tension between what " is" and what "is not," moreover, is part of the semantic function of metaphor. 1 8 Insofar as all historical and fictional representations of 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 of 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 of history-as-metaphor once our understanding of a "faithful image" of historical reality is flexible enough to embrace those images that deviate from the real in 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. As such, a kind of 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 C o n t e m p o r a r y P o e t i c s 3 9 Metahistory, Metafiction and Metaphor Hayden White's Metahistory: the Historical Imagination in 19th Century Europe is 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 anthropology19. To the extent that White's 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. My 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 1 9 C f . Richard T. Vann 's essay on the reception of White. 2 0 1 owe this idea to Paul Ricoeur 's The Rule of Metaphor (1977), in which he tackles the problematic of language, representation and referentiality i n a way that breaks away from a deconstructive "textualism." 2 1 Historians and philosophers of history al ike are aware of this di lemma between the historical and the unhistorical, and have always been looking for way to resolve this tension i n their own works; c f . Schwartz and Rusen. Robert Holton 's review (1994) on the development of Ang lo -Amer ican historiography since the 19 t h century, alongside White 's on European historical thinking, explores this perpetual tension that 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 of historians and philosophers of history in what he calls the "golden age" of historical studies. 2 2 B y implication, historical consciousness does not determine but is predetermined by the kinds of tropes and plot-types available within a cultural tradition. 2 3 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 of discourse and their "constitutive tropological strategies," in turn, "account for the generation of 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 of the past, and that the writing and reading of 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 of the world. A s many critics have pointed out, partially defines the historian's task 2 2 Although the master historical thinkers in the 19 t h century managed to produced only "a host of 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 432-434) 2 3 See White's "Introduction" to Metahistory. Contemporary Poetics 42 White's idea of historical truth as a matter o f moral and aesthetic choice is susceptible to a radical historical relativism that promotes absolute indeterminacy of meaning rather than skeptical neutrality. 2 4 White's attempt to formulate "the different possible theories by which historical thinking was justified by the philosophers of history" in nineteenth-century Europe (Metahistory 2), while accounting for the differences between the historians and philosophers of history in terms of 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 of historical representation or conceptualization does not depend upon the nature of 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 of 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 of a finite number of explanatory models, i.e. combinations o f tropes, plot-types, ideologies and formal arguments. 2 5 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 o f White's theory that gives the greatest force to his work. B y locating the metahistorical dimensions of historical understanding within a new-critical framework of 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, 2 6 and the choice of a particular mode is a matter of "point of view," which is "essentially a literary ... operation" {Content 85). If the analysis of 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 of 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 of our attention that fiction and history may sometimes converge tangentially in purpose and 2 5 According to White, "four principal types [of explanatory strategies] ... correspond to the four principal tropes of poetic language" (31). 2 6 The dilemma of this pre-disposition forces White to appeal to an "openness" that wil l 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 of metahistories at work at the same time in the composition of a historical narrative, 2 8 and these metahistories might well become "historicized" as part of a developing pattern of human experience. Questions such as agency and autonomy remain at the back door of a linguistic determinism: White's "poetic" analysis of the history of historical consciousness in nineteenth-century Europe does invite a poetic reading of 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 claims. 2 9 Be 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). 2 8 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). 2 9 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)3 1 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 3 0 B o t h history and f ict ion about history perform this double movement. See, for example, Lukacs and Rosen. 3 1 This cultural function of f ict ion is not far away f rom the notion of history as collective memory, c f . Schwarz and 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 3 2 M imesis , as Ricoeur observes, always involves a tension between "the submission to reality and the creative action" (Metaphor 39). B o t h historical and f ictional mimesis, by extension, are subject to this tension i n various degrees. 3 3 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 word is described as a sort of displacement, ... a process that concerns the semantic k e r n e l . . . of a l l meaningful l inguistic 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 of metaphor as it is related to the problematic of 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) of metaphor which allows us to "speak of metaphorical truth" in the " 'tensive' sense of the word 'truth.'" At 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 of metaphor as it develops in the Western philosophical and literary traditions, his notion of "metaphorical truth" and the limits o f each claim to truth does illuminate the relationship between history and fiction, and the concept of "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 of 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 metaphor34 throws light on the "defamiliarizing" 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 self-ironic 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" 3 5 o f metaphorical reference in fiction, moreover, is not limited to metafiction. The complex network of meanings and illusions created by fiction always exists within this double tension that characterizes all mimetic art forms. The concept of metaphor, it seems, can mediate between fiction and metafiction without erasing their initial differences. Every work of fiction can be placed on a scale with fiction (mimesis as imitation of real action) and metafiction (shall we say "poesis"?) at its two ends, but the power of metaphorical reference is not dependent on the relative position of a text on this scale. When Linda Hutcheon discusses the "subversiveness" of 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 of this kind o f fiction that "problematizes the possibility o f historical knowledge" with "no reconciliation, no dialectic" but just "unresolved contradiction." 3 6 Her "subversive" theory of postmodernism runs the risk of 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." 3 7 However, when history enters the world of Or Jakobson's notion of "split reference." Ricoeur (Metaphor 7); cf. n.24. 3 6 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. 3 7 This concept of "haunting' is used to overcome the charges against the "radical break" theory and the Contemporary Poetics s i (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). Contemporary Poetics novel perhaps is style, and style is as historical as it is metahistorical. 52 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.40 On the other hand, 4 0 In a later work, the modern history of La t in Amer ica is embedded i n the twilight years o f General S imon Bol ivar . Marquez 's combination of journalistic prose-style and magical real ism i n this overtly "poht ica l" novel aptly illustrate the range and possibilities of this k ind of "historical f ict ion" as exemplif ied 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. My 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. Contemporary Poetics to reinstate a sense of meaning that is integral to all fictional and historical narratives. 54 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 metahistory41 in relation to a more general 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 Me tahistory 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 4 1 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 3 152-54). See also White's essay on Ricoeur in Content Ch. 7. Contemporary Poetics 55 of 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. At least the fictional work is seen constantly grappling with meaning - its own meaning (or potential meaninglessness) as an artifact, and the meaning of the things it refers to as real. In fiction, history is metaphorized, in the form of narrative, and its meaning communicated through the act of reading or refiguration. Since metaphor is primarily a means to "redescribe" reality through a tensional "seeing... as...," history-as-metaphor figures through the literary text as a "reinscription," i.e. displacement, movement and change of 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 of history as collective and personal memory (which harks back to the general concept of metahistory that is present in both the prefigurative and configurative stages), and ultimately a refamiliarization of the unfamiliar, as in the case of 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 of being/wsf a finite assemblage of 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 of 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-as-metaphor remains an important means for "reinventing China" today.42 This phrase is from Michael Duke ("Reinventing China"). 2 Changing Metaphors: Fictional Histories in Twentieth Century China This chapter mainly concerns the changing perceptions of history in twentieth-century 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 o f 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 of old, in particular the Confucian system o f values identified by the forerunners o f the M a y Fourth Movement as the ultimate reason for China's weaknesses.1 M a y Fourth literature thus arose out of 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 of "seeing ... as..." as a means to make sense of an increasingly alienating reality, as seen in the proliferation of literary societies, literary magazines and translations o f foreign authors 1 This "totalistic" nature of May Fourth antitraditionalism is wellrexplored by L in Yijsheng in The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Anti-traditionalism in the May Fourth Era. SI Changing Metaphors 58 showing a wide range of interests in European, Russian and Japanese literature.2 As Leo 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 For a detailed account of the literary activities f rom 1919 to the forties, see L e o Lee '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 wi l l be. The sense of an ending, as Kermode phrases it, is indispensable to the tradition of mimesis in the West; 3 in fact, in modernist (and post-modernist) literature the intensified sense of 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 novel" 4 in mainland China an interesting 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 conference5 provoked reform-minded intellectuals to 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.6 Much work has been 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 Zai fu , among others, is a diligent student of the M a y Fourth. He argues that the most serious problem facing Chinese intellectuals today is the decay o f the "enlightenment spirit" as exemplif ied by their M a y Changing Metaphors 61 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 Y a n F u W$sL, as Benjamin Schwartz suggests, is the most representative figure i n promoting the idea of "evolution" and "progress" as the only means to national salvation. 8 For instance, " B e there no more bvuning torches thereafter, I am the only l ight" (Lu Xun ) ; "We have to be the sun, ourselves the source of light." (Guo Moruo) . Qtd. i n L i u (254). Changing Metaphors 62 impulses: "internationalism" and "nationalism". 9 That is to say, the universality of the modern has to be reconciled with the awareness o f China's "belatedness"in the world historical process and the crisis of cultural identity that results. In the words of L u Xun , this sense of "belatedness experienced by the young people of an ancient country" is the cause of an unspeakable "frustration" (kumen, in which the character kit suggests a sense of bitterness): The intellectual currents of 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 of the world ... but we are latecomers. Because we have no part in the affairs of the past, sometimes we have to take whatever is offered [to us] and end up in other respectable shackles. (Complete Works III: 549) 1 0 L u Xun 's diagnosis of the cultural frustration experienced by young intellectuals of his time reveals the paradoxical nature of a total rejection of the Chinese tradition (treated by 9 Huang, Chen and Qian (6). 1 0 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 This inexplicable identification between the self and the nation constitutes a "tragic consciousness" (beijuyishi) that is uniquely Chinese (14-18). 6 4 A s L i n Yusheng (1973) points out, the "totalistic iconoclasm" of M a y Fourth intellectuals stems from their "organismic" view of culture and a belief in the power of ideas to transform social reality. Since this conception o f culture comes from the Chinese tradition itself, the anti-traditional rhetoric o f M a y Fourth immediately loses its ground when the use of modern values to attack tradition is in fact a manifestation of a deep-rooted (and therefore unacknowledged) traditional way o f thinking. Alongside what L i n calls a "formalistic" contradiction is the notion of 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 of the traditional "organismic" view of culture. To the M a y Fourth thinkers, the "survival of the (Chinese) species" depends on a totalistic negation of Chinese civilization, while the possibility of a creative transformation, an alternative favored by many Chinese intellectuals today, 1 1 was left out of the debate. A n extreme example o f this totalistic negation is L u Xun ' s Madman. A s is well known, the Madman's predicament comes from his "discovery" that the subtext of the 1 1 "Creative transformation" is the present preoccupation of notable Chinese scholars such as L in 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 in Yusheng, "Zhongguo renwen zhi chongjian" (On the Revival of Chinese Qilture) in Sixiangyu renwu and Y u Yingshi, Zhongguo wenhuayu Changing Metaphors 65 Chinese tradition is "cannibalism" (chi ren de lijiao P^Afi^ilIifc) m "The Diary of 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 of traditional culture in modern Chinese literature, in which the entire society, seen through the eyes of the Madman, has since antiquity been practicing "cannibalism." A s a metaphor, this story of the Madman is situated within the narrative frame o f the anonymous "Editor," a representative of the cannibalistic tradition. Read allegorically, L u Xun's story effects a double denial by first announcing his indictment of Chinese culture through the mouth of 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 of Chinese culture has procured not only the spite and contempt of 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 of knowing what he believes to be the "truth," but this truth might just as well be his hallucination. In the narrative, the opposing voices of 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 of 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 1 3 For a general overview, see "Introduction: Perpectives on Modern China's History" in CHOC Vol. 13. Changing Metaphors 68 for the Dead," and Wei Lianshu in "The Loner"). A s an archetype of L u Xun ' 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 of 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 of 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... mm^mt±^n^im.mMm > tt#&w m m m m . . . m m m ^ m m t ^ w w f mmwm • ^mmifmm? . . . . f M a - f i « « S B - mmMm^ • -mm Like his fictional characters, L u Xun ' 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 Xun ' s sense of guilt is that he deeply regrets the "multiple pains" he has caused his young readers. In another essay collected in Er 'yiji (ffflEJII) , L u 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 Realism and the Negation of the Past 70 It is a well-known fact that realism, especially critical realism, was sanctioned by the leaders of the New Literature Movement as the most suitable form o f a new national literature. 1 4 In the writings o f Liang Qichao WzfpfcM, H u Shi f^M, Mao Dun ^jjf, and Qu Qiubai H#cS, for example, the ideological (construed as the "social" and "political") function of realism is always at the center of their aesthetics.1 5 That is to say, at the turn of the twentieth century, the adoption of realism as the ideal form o f a new national literature was bound up with the crisis of national survival, a unique characteristic o f Chinese modernity that harks back to Yan Fu's promotion of Western learning in the late Qing as a prerequisite for China's attaining "wealth and power" in the world. This "dual tendency" of cultural enlightenment and national salvation is noted by L i Zehou as the defining character of the M a y Fourth Movement 1 6 A s Tu Wei-ming remarks on the influence o f 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 1 4 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 yundong). Cf . n. 15 below. 1 5 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 in (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). 1 7 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 patterns18 was effectively replaced by a linear view 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.20 Although (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 co-existed 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 73 later scholars such as C. T. Hsia have disputed Prusek's view,2 1 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 worked up into a higher artistic unity. It lacked, for the most part, epic character ... wh ich l inks up ... interesting facts to a higher organic who le . . . " (91, ellipses added). 2 1 "S ince he [Prusek] agrees wi th the 'Marxist theoreticians' that modem Chinese history is nothing but a record of the Chinese people's self-conscious struggle, under the leadership of the Communist Party, against 'the survivials of feudal ism' and 'foreign imperial ism' toward their fu l l l iberation ... Hence he speaks repeatedly o f the 'mission of literature' [and] is apparently unaware of the danger of using the literary record merely as a record of history, as a testament to the spirit of the age." Hs ia , " 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,22 has a metahistorical quality that is Marxist in 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 of 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, Mao Dun's historical fiction is therefore different from the "proletarian literature" of revolutionary writers, for his "dark portraiture" of petty-bourgeois life still contains a vision of reality informed by critical intelligence and aesthetic self-consciousness. 2 3 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 twentieth-century, therefore, are culminative points of a century-long process of social and cultural change. Throughout the late Qing, intellectuals were divided on the issue of reform and revolution. A s I have mentioned above, the more skeptical minds like L u X u n abhorred the idea of a national revolution, while others were increasingly drawn toward the 2 3 "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 wil l 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 of the M a y Fourth Movement, the repercussions of this political debate were far-reaching. In fact, "revolution" (geming, meaning "changing the mandate of Heaven") in the three-fold sense of social, cultural and political action is a central preoccupation of modern Chinese fiction in the first half o f 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 of values and beliefs through thousands o f years, realism in the West has a series of 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. Many 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. 2 4 In fact, the debate over the "meaning" o f art (and literature) has always led to the conclusion that art is for the betterment of l i fe . 2 5 Despite this "unity in disunity" in attitudes toward art and life among Chinese intellectuals, crucial differences exist in the concept of "l ife," hence the role of art in life. It may seem repetitive to mention this cliche in literary criticism nowadays. However, the notion of "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 533-554). This 2 4 See, for example, C. T. Hsia's introduction to A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (2nd edition) and also Leo L i 's Romantic Generation. Changing Metaphors 78 nationalistic subtext of the new literature facilitated the taking over of the entire literary scene by a coercive, self-effacing revolutionary rhetoric in the late thirties when Japan began its invasion of 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 of a collective self-identity. 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 of his motherland. Y u ' s use of two narrating voices (first and third person) serves as an implicit self-criticism, thus creating a tension between the two subject positions: the point of view of the indulgent I-narrator and that of the implied narrator who does not share his romantic patriotism. The lack of substance of 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. How, 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? As Leo Lee observes, "the clash between ... idealized images [of the self] and the increasingly somber realities incurred not a re-evaluation 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. Changing Metaphors 79 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 self-evident 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.26 The polarization of old and new, past and present, China and the West that 2 6 The "religious rhetoric" in revolutionary historical f ict ion is discussed in Wang Zip ing , Geming, lishi, xiaoshuo (Revolution, History, Fiction): "The 'theological metaphor' involved i n the word 'revolution' is that there must be some transcendent cause, w i l l or force behind these immense, earth-shaking social changes. In Marxist diction, it is 'historical determinism.' 'Histor ical 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.27 This religious rhetoric is, therefore, geared toward a teleological view of history 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.2 8 In what follows, I will examine the representation of selfhood and nationhood in 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). 2 7 Class struggle was also an implicit factor of the Revolution of 1911 (CHOC 13:10), but the emphasis shifted dramatically during the Communist Revolut ion and continued to be the central theme of the Cultural Revolution. 2 8 D i n g L i n g was off icial ly reinstated in 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 wor ld o f radical pol it ical 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 re-evaluation 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 re-examination 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 impotence, a radicalism whose intensity is inversely proportionate to its practical possibilities, (qtd. in Tang 164) 82 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 non-Chinese. 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 of the century always displays a sense of 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 of 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 of 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. 2 9 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 of 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 2 9 Recent scholarship has put much emphasis on the legacy of May Fourth, especially that of Lu Xun and Shen Congwen. Shen's "pastoral" recreation of West Hunan pioneered the so-called native soil and "search for roots" fiction in China today. Lu 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"30 nature of May Fourth iconoclasm. As Xiaobing Tang suggests, "The 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. 3 0 The "monologic" character of M a y Fourth anti-traditionalism, as L i n Yusheng has argued, has its or igin i n the Chinese tradition, wh ich L i n characterizes as "holistic-intellectuahstic." See L i n , Crisis. Changing Metaphors Revolutionary Time: Ding Ling 85 The adoption of critical realism bespeaks an overwhelming concern with "art for life's sake," in which "l i fe" is meant to be an individual volition, a struggle for freedom from the bondage of the past. The collective meaning of 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 of modernity. Just because the individual self is inconceivable without the larger, collective self, its "obsession with China" blurs the boundary between the private and the public, the personal and the national, so that selfhood is contained within and derives its sense of being from "nationhood." If M a y Fourth iconoclasm is a response to the demand for "heroic sacrifice" in the face of national crises (Tu 115), in revolutionary literature the sweeping currents of revolution ceaselessly call for a selfless devotion of the individual as a self-conscious historical subject. In the case of Ding L ing , this self-transformation signals a passage from passivity to activity, or a leap from the margins to the "center stage" of history: I have been a keen observer of human behavior ever since childhood, simply because I never enjoyed the privilege of speaking in a feudalistic society, but only that of 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 of the disintegrating Old World ... 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. My 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) Ding Ling ' s preoccupation with "art for life's sake" has several implications. First, Ding Ling ' s conception of the modern age, representative of the left-wing view of history, is a far cry from that of her M a y Fourth predecessors, who in general were more inclined toward an evolutionary view of culture and civilization despite the conviction that China was lagging behind in the world evolutionary process. Ding Ling ' s identification with the "age of revolution," however, grows out of a conception of modernity as a global historical process that wi l l eventually bring about the downfall o f the "Old Wor ld . " Ding Ling ' s literary initiation, as seen from the first quotation above, is a reflection of 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, Ding Ling ' s literary becoming also signals her rebirth into modern history (the "age of grandeur"). As a marginal figure, Ding L i n g gradually found her way to the center of the social-political order as a creative writer. Instead of maintaining the stance Changing Metaphors 88 of the alienated intellectual, this new historical subject has to identify with the "people,"31 learn from them, 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 come from the 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.34 This implies that 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 3 1 "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 step from social 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. Changing Metaphors 90 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. He joined the militia of which he later became an officer, and that summer when the peasants' association was set up he was elected chairman. 3 5 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 Ling 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 of 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 Engl ish and Chinese quotations respectively. C h a n g i n g M e t a p h o r s transformation). Zhang Yumin, another model hero, recalls his experience of a revolutionary transformation when he pours out his grievances to his commrades: 91 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 first time how 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 away from its isolation and becomes frilly human 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. (318-319) 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' ALWW MM 0 (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 self-perpetuating 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 Changing Metaphors 95 revolution, together with the label "counter-revolutionary," depends entirely on an ever-36 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 Post-Mao 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, Li shi, 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). 3 7 Liu Zaifu, for example, uses Bakhtin's concept of "heteroglossia" to describe the current developments C h a n g i n g M e t a p h o r s 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. L i 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 L i 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 3 8 The representation of violence i n revolutionary literature not only "normalizes" violence as a token of good faith but also prescribes a l imited set of emotional responses to violence. For further discussion on this aspect of Communist culture, see L i u (142-190). Huang Z ip ing , i n particular, l inks this phenomenon to the "apotheosis" of revolution (Geming 88). Changing Metaphors 98 China, an experimental spirit in aesthetic and critical discourse has grown out of this new self-consciousness, as seen in the renewed interest in Western theory and, more important, "culture" as an independent subject of critical reflection. Here, one glimpses at once the similarity and difference between Chinese intellectuals today and their M a y Fourth counterparts. On the one hand, the renewed interest in Western thought and culture is a corollary of 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. 3 9 On the other hand, the project of wenhua fansi today is geared toward a pluralistic engagement with history in the post-revolutionary age, which includes a rethinking of the Chinese tradition in terms of its contemporary significance. 4 0 The project of spiritual emancipation, however, is always complicated by a possibly unacknowledged self-negation, precisely because the universal nature of Maospeak has become an integral part of social life. To resist Maospeak, therefore, is to resist an already internalized system o f values. A s such, the negation of the revolutionary tradition necessitates a critical rethinking, instead of a total rejection, of the past in order to grasp the full meaning of "what happened," a knowledge that has been denied most 3 9 L iu 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. 4 0 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 U t o p i a n , didactic voice of old, but an open-ended, uncertain, and pluralistic dialogue between conflicting voices, at least in the cultural sphere. If we accept Leo 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 o f the "unfinished project" of modernity. Lionel Tri l l ing 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 o f 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 of 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 of 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, Yu 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 4 1 An excellent study of Shen Congwen is Jeffrey Kinkley's The Odyssey of Shen Congw< Changing Metaphors as a mechanical reaction to the external environment, becomes an institutionalized practice that may pass without anyone's notice in everyday life. 101 A l l these developments signal the emergence of new perceptions of the relationship between art and life in response to a changing reality. They are, in brief, products of what Hilary Putnam calls the "sensitive appreciation in the imagination of 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 of 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 of 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 of artistic design and function. That is, as an object of 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 of understanding and comfort, or it may disturb our sense of well being and control over life, or it may do both. This perspective is relevant to our consideration Of the works of many M a y Fourth writers who, despite their didacticism, still strive toward an individual vision in fiction (including M a o Dun at his best). On 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 of its scope (in terms o f aesthetic imagination), which is usually inversely proportional to its scale (in terms of the quantity of material covered), this kind of fiction usually identifies theory with reality so that the use o f history mirrors not the reality as such but the theory itself, as we have seen in Ding Ling ' s novel. Thus, it is also a kind of defamiliarization in disguise, only that it demands conformity rather than questions it. In the following chapters, fictional representation of history wi l l be treated primarily from the first perspective, i.e. as self-validating works of art that question established worldviews by redefining the relationship between the imagination and (historical) reality. 3 History as Allegory: Han Shaogong A s one of the major writers to emerge in the post-Mao period, Han 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. 1 In fact, it was Han himself who popularized 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 wi l l not flourish. Thus "searching for roots" is a common issue among writers from Hunan today. (Selected Writings 354) 1 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 0 3 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 soi l" fiction recreates an ideal realm of the pastoral world of 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 Wi l l i am Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Han nonetheless reiterates his position as a "root seeker," not to glorify unquestioningly the superiority o f the past but to transcend the limits o f these "roots": "More importantly, the traditional culture embedded in our native soil mostly belongs to the non-paradigmatic: colloquialisms, unofficial histories, legends, jokes, folk songs, supernatural tales ... when the time comes, the paradigmatic is reinvigorated by the non-paradigmatic ... by means of 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). 3 This also suggests that for Han, literature is a kind of 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 of cultural reinvention through fiction is fraught with despair and ambivalence; yet it is through this painful process of reckoning with one's cultural past (including its glory and its evils) that the 2 See Duke (41 n. 11, 43 n. 16) for Han 's discussion of his literary influences. 3 This common expression in 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 la i " < > ("Homecoming?"), " B a B a B a " (ggg) (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 of fiction writing exemplified by Latin American writers) bespeaks his thematic concern. As 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 of South America (75-88). Obviously Carpentier made this statement some fifty years ago to differentiate the kind of magical realism which characterizes Latin American fiction from its European counterpart on the basis of cultural and historical specificities. In the Chinese context, too, Han's magical realist narratives of culture and history can be more fruitfully explored in terms of the "marvelous real" in 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 of this epoch of extremity" (Forster 277), and it is as an extension of 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 of "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 " in essence... the eloquent gestures and images with which a character or lyric persona registers the direct pressure of events" (273) is equally valid to our reading of Han Shaogong and many other Chinese authors writing at the historical juncture o f the post-Cultural Revolution era and a new phase of China's modernization. For their works too "dramatize the psychic costs of social change" and "the crude impact of historical forces [that] overwhelm the personality"(275). This kind of magical realist fiction commonly associated with Third World 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 self-conscious engagement with history, not as a faithful imitation but as a metaphorical reflection of 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. Han 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 Han 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 This allegorical representation 5 Lau (29). A similar reading is offered by Martha Cheung. 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 of "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 of literature as a direct reflection of social life as defined by the party. 6 A s I wi 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 of historical knowledge in general, and the collective identity of "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 root-searching 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 o f 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 in his narrative reinvention of China's past, a problematic that preoccupied L u X u n half a century before.7 The rest of this chapter is devoted to a reading of Han Shaogong's fictions as 6 The quotation is from Barme (60). The doctrine of the "typical" in socialist realism is discussed in Jie (395-397). 7 L u Xun, despite his "totalistic antitraditionalism," is well-known for his interest in the "non-paradigmatic" within the Chinese literary traditions. See Lee, Voices. H a n S h a o g o n g 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.9 In these works, the relationship between literature and reality is no longer 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 unfamiliar frames of 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 H a n S h a o g o n g 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. My 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 most frequently in 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). Ma 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). H a n S h a o g o n g 112 called relatives i n the vil lage and enjoys some petty advantages (food and shelter) posing as Glasses M a . H e comes to realize that this Glasses M a is a controversial hero in the village. Y e a r s ago, Glasses M a ki l led a notorious bully and then disappeared. H u a n g ' s "return" to the village, moreover, is not just a " h o m e c o m i n g " but also a reminder o f an u n k n o w n horror among the villagers. C h i l d r e n see " d e v i l s " in his eyes while the w o m e n are terrified without any apparent reason. It seems another history, another past, has come out from nowhere to haunt him. A t the same time, his experiences i n the mountain b e c o m e a nightmarish reality. N o t only is he haunted b y the horrific shadow o f Glasses M a but he also feels that he is Glasses M a h i m s e l f and is therefore guilty o f murder. Overtaken b y terror he runs away from the vil lage probably to escape a murder charge. Whether he is H u a n g Z h i x i a n or Glasses M a w e cannot say for certain because he never has the courage or the certainty to stand up for who he really is in front o f the people. T h e story ends with H u a n g talking to a friend o n the phone. H e is stunned u p o n hearing his name " 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 called me " H u a n g Z h i x i a n " . " W h a t ? " " W h a t do y o u mean what?" " W h a t did y o u call m e ? " " A r e n ' t y o u H u a n g Z h i x i a n ? " " D i d y o u call me 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 "immmm^m?" 113 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 ' -m{fmm?mm.... ^ M f « 0 f M ' C f f i ] ^ S « % ^ m T ' $ » T 3 r 5 (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. At the beginning, he already associates the landscape with a decaying body: the land was "like a body stripped of skin and flesh," the calves "had inherited old age at birth," and the dark walls "were the coagulation of many dark nights." His 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 of details and the profusion of 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 of 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! Mama!" (18) Huang Zhixian's predicament, as many critics have pointed out, can be read as a reflection of the traumatic experience o f the Cultural Revolution. Unlike much of scar literature, Han's story shifts its focus from the opposition o f good/evil to the more complex issue of guilt. A well-intentioned murder is, after all, a murder. More 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 of the villagers reminds us of L u Xun ' s condemnation of the onlookers in his short stories. Pursuing this line of thought draws us closer to the Huang's (or Ma '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 of the setting, Han situates this story in a timeless present that somehow prevents a straightforward allegorical reading. The enhanced sense of uncertainty, progressing through the ambivalence o f time, space and finally the central character's self-identity due to conflicting interpretations of 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 of the self, but also an investigation into the "dark and evil sides of human beings" (Shi 128, qtd. in Lau 29). Nonetheless, the nightmare of 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 1 1 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 (1). Han Shaogong 118 and eccentric behavior are the norm. The combination of folklore, oral history and legends couched in an archaic dialect in this fictional history reminds the reader of 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, half-imaginative 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 of the barbaric, superstitious and to a certain extent cannibalistic ancient society that nonetheless survives the threat of extinction. A s Wang Zengqi, a pioneer of search-for-roots fiction in the 1980s and a former student of Shen Congwen, remarks, this kind of "shamanistic culture," he believes, "is a reality" in itself, and it is "a birthmark of [the Chinese] nation" ("Preface" 2). Whether or not " B a B a B a " is a realistic representation of the exotic rites and customs still practiced in certain parts of China is not a relevant issue here. Instead, Wang's comments draw attention to the diversified nature of 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. Be that as it may, these kinds of literary reinvention of the Chinese cultural past do share something in common: a concern with time and history, especially when these Han Shaogong 119 two concepts interact with certain cultural perceptions of reality. 1 2 In presenting " B a B a B a " as a narrative of grotesque descent, I wi 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? On a meta-fictional dimension, I also want to show how Han's narrativizing of the past encodes in itself a strategy of 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 of " N i i N i i N i i " and other stories later on. The story of the demise of 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 Xun ' s portrayal in "The True Story of 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 1 2 This concern with time and history explains why the treatment of time in some search-for-roots fictions very often defy the realist convention. As 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). 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 Mountain13, which they believe is responsible 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 1 3 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 of backwardness" (cf. Lau 36) seems to be a self-perpetuating virus that wi l l never go away. The allegorical content of the tale probably lies in its depiction of the self-destructive backwardness of 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 of the armoured birds on the trees. Black as coal and the size of 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 i l l equipped both technically and mentally for it. This image of a backward, stagnant culture, reminiscent of L u Xun 's portrayal of the Chinese society in "The True Story of A h Q " and " A Madman's Diary," is personified in Bingzai, whose retarded growth is probably one of the most terrifying "chicken" is used to convey the sense of humor in Han's text. Han Shaogong 122 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: 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 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) Han Shaogong 123 "l iving dead, etc.) that it transforms the once glorified Socialist Heaven into a "grotesque haven" of the psychologically or physically deformed (Heteroglossia 209). Given that the official doctrine of socialist realism sanctions only a naive theory o f literary representation (as a disguise for political propaganda), the insurgence of the grotesque in recent years constitutes a "return o f the repressed." This spectacle o f deformity curtly reminds the reader of the "grotesque" nature of the official, sanitized version of reality. This aspect of Han's tale of mythical origin and decline adds another dimension to the collective allegory of " B a B a Ba" : in addition to a scathing criticism o f Chinese culture, the grotesque deformity o f Bingzai is a mockery o f the "Tal l , 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 of Socialist China" is effectively demystified. Instead of 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 of darkness," Han's fictional reinvention o f the Chinese past (distant and recent) presents a very complex vision of his "native soi l" full o f despair and indignation. " B a B a B a " combines a linear time scheme with a larger, cyclical one. the story of 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 of Chicken Head Village. We 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. Who 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 of 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 of the historical, "real" present. Land reform programs, opium trade and other signs of 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 of 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 of the history of 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 of prophecy that foretells the fate of 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. H a n S h a o g o n g 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 of taking up the responsibility of deciphering, admits his own limitations. He can only approximate "meaning" through conjectures and speculations based on unreliable sources. Yet, his survey of the strange customs of Chicken Head Village is deliberately couched in an intimate tone, addressing the reader as "you" 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 of 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 of the story, the third person narrator here presents him/herself as a guide, a story-teller who wi l l lead you through the labyrinth of a mysterious forest. A s it turns out, this affected familiarity o f the "insider" dissolves into the incredulity o f the "outsider": "Who 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 of generations of wi ld boars. / It enveloped the villages too, and blackened them. (43) Han Shaogong 127 « t f f l i i ' ffij&mm&r ° (163) Despite this affected "objectivity" in description (which is not without a sense of premonition), the third person point of view is used in a very limited sense. The narrator does not presume any omniscient knowledge of 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 of an "unknowing" interpreter of "what really happened" and the parallel temporalities in " B a B a B a " constitute the meta-fictional dimension of the story. Instead of a linear unfolding o f historical processes, there are temporal fragments that make up the fictional "present" of the narrative itself. The narrator, as s/he goes through the rugged topos o f the past, makes use of this incoherence to create a cyclical vision of history accompanied by the consciousness of time as a process o f endless descent, an eternal and meaningless flux. This duality of time consciousness, I believe, is the result of an unresolved tension between a mythical (cyclical) worldview and a "modern" (linear) one. A s a mode of 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 co-existence o f contradictory times, the time o f a "timeless" repetition of human existence and that of 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. H a n S h a o g o n g 128 "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 of "Homecoming?" and " B a B a B a " one step further by situating the inexplicable in the familiar reality of the present: the two realms of 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 of "transcendence" reminiscent of Zen teaching: "When you've eaten, you do the dishes./ That's a l l " (Selected Writings 249). 1 4 The significance of 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 of the present a cosmic vision of human existence that is uniquely Chinese. In this light I begin my critical reading of " 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 Mao Ta) and three women: Aunt Yao, Aunt Zhen (Aunt Yao 's sworn sister), and Lao Hei (Aunt Yao 's goddaughter). Aunt Yao spends most of her life as an exemplary Chinese woman: frugal, hard-working and most of 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 Yao contributed 1 4 "... 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 ike her father and grandfather, she is half-deaf but refuses to use a hearing aid simply because it requires batteries. One day, Aunt Yao 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 of her. There Aunt Yao ' 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 of 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, Lao Hei , 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 of the narrator and Lao 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 Yao '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 wi l l and virtues, Aunt Yao 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 of 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 of 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 of her husband's disappearance, not death). Paranoia, as it were, is contagious. Years after the tragedy, the narrator is still affected by a fear of 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 of the room... This gave me nightmares" (210-11). This paranoid obsession with whispers explains the seemingly unreasonable fear of death expressed by the narrator at the beginning of the story, when he suspects the noise from the kitchen is Aunt Yao cutting off her own finger: " . . . there was no severed finger on the floor. But just then I really believed I 'd heard the sound of 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 of a finger being chopped into pieces, of cartilage snapping, skin and flesh being torn off, and the knife catching in the joints.... Bits of 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 of self-mutilation, though a psychological projection, is a close relative of Y u Hua's "Yij iubaliu nian" < — A A / N ^ > ("1986") and "Xianshi yizhong" ( ~ l f i ) ( "A K i n d o f Reality"), where scenes of ki l l ing and mutilation abound. 1 5 Apart from the fact that it partakes of the "grotesque haven" mentioned above, it is thematically relevant to the overall effect of 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 of his education and profession (he moves in a circle of intellectuals and there are hints he is a government official), the shadow of violence looms large whenever he is not certain of what he sees. The perturbation provoked by a sense of "not seeing" recurs many times in the text during the narrator's journeys to his home village in the remote countryside. L ike "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 of the memories of 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 1 5 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. H a n S h a o g o n g 133 disrupted by the intrusion o f the past, a time whose reality one can only approximate in the manner of high-school history books: A n ancient river ran through a stretch of 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 Wal l in the north. (96) 1 6 i r e ° mmmiMmm^mmm^.... ^m-fmmm.... ^j-mmmmm^m... zptmimmm • MIA ^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 of the past, be it a road, a wall or traces of 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 of 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 of shrivelled cassava with a knife." 1 6 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). 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 of alien land" (96). Landscape in " N i i N i i N i i " is a receptacle o f the secrets of 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 of 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 135 Father had always refused to let me visit my ancestral home because he was afraid I 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: Han Shaogong 136 The Book of Heaven had unfolded, the bows were drawn taut. Severed buffalo heads, dripping blood, hung beneath battle standards of warring tribes. Where would you go? ... . A momentous ejaculation in ancient times, and a shrill scream during labour, had torn the boundaries of earth and heaven, forcing the blood of mythical emperors Yan 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 of condemned rebels in prison cells, where would you go? Oh! Oh! 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 of 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) Han Shaogong 137 A s the consummating metaphor of the story, the "earthquake" alludes to the massive earthquake that struck North China (Tangshan) in July, 1976, followed by Mao ' s death two months later, marking the end of "the M a y Fourth generation of Communist revolutionaries." 1 7 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 o f human experience: from myths of creation to the rise and fall o f empires and civilizations, from the sanctity of life to unredeemed condemnation, from the good harvests of 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 of 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: Lao Hei . She, too, is part o f the narrator's universe, and it is his final parting with this self-indulgent goddaughter of Aunt Yao that brings the narrative to an end: When you've eaten, you do the dishes. That's all. 1 7 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). 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 1 8 In the text, the word xu is used in the names of most women in the narrator's home village; for example, Zhen Xu, Yao Xu, is used by the country folk for Aunt Zhen and Aunt Yao. Han Shaogong 139 relationship between memory, history, and human perception of reality, as in "Langaizi" < H H T > (" The Blue Bottle Cap"), "Mousha" < > ( A Case of Murder), "Zuotian zaihui" < B ^ A r ? # > (Farewell Yesterday), and " Y u j i n " (Ash). Second, grotesque encounters and the representation of 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 of the North Gate) and "Shanshangde shengyin" < |J4±rfrl?W ) (Sounds from the Hilltop). In fact, this division of 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 of Han's fictional world. Memory as History/Memory against History A recurring question in Han's works is the nature of memory and the way it makes the world real to us. His 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 of external (usually political) pressures; sometimes, they grow put of the need to justify the present, or to get away from the grips of the past. In both cases, memory is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is constitutive of self-identity; hence the meaning of 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. I f this is so, other questions seem inevitable: how does memory Han Shaogong 140 shape our perception o f reality? Does memory affect our understanding of history? What kind of "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 of view. Instead, I want to show how these questions are addressed in the literary text, and how fictional memory makes use of "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 Cap" is a good case in point. Set in the Cultural Revolution years, it tells the story of 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 of the guy who used to sleep next to him, Chen begins to develop signs of insanity. He 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 Cap" echoes "Homecoming?" in many ways. A s an examination of the traumatic effects of the Cultural Revolution, it raises Han Shaogong 141 questions about guilt and individual responsibility. Chen, the victim o f a contagious sense of guilt, goes insane because he feels responsible for his friend's death. This episode tellingly reveals the psychological distortion resulting from a profound sense of guilt, one that is not connected to the committing of 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. Why 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 of smoke rising from the kitchens. Below the roofs lived the people and their families, hundreds and thousands of 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 « # £ § & J l M J f ? - a f i F M S f S f f l 0 Sift ' —MT -f l ^ W T l i T ° (Selected Writings 28) Again, the questions of "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 of 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 of plots and counter-plots that finally culminate in the murder of 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 of illusion and "facts" intensifies her feeling of 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. H a n S h a o g o n g 143 The problematic nature of memory is inseparable from the phenomenon of 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. His forgetfulness, as he admits, begins in 1973 (probably when he was transferred back to work in the city), and his memory o f his post-1973 years has virtually rewritten his memory before that watershed year. We 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 of normal human desires both material and sexual. The psychological impact of 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 of the narrator who feels "estranged" from both his past and present self. Leafing through his dusty diary he is Han Shaogong forced to acknowledge the reality of 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 of adventure, trying to find lapses and inconsistencies that might alleviate the pain. Yet, he is also reminded o f the inconsistencies of his very act o f re-organizing his memory of the past: "I think memory is a killer. Most o f us - the revolutionary youth born after 1949 - are victims o f our memory" (264). "I take a dose of civilization everyday; that's why [my] memory is always a remake." (276). Personal memory, against this historical context, is the effect of a collective spell - "the beauty of 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 of 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 of the past takes a grotesque turn in " A Bleeding Nose," " A Prophecy o f the North Gate," and "Sounds from the Hil l top." 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 of a beautiful lady and H a n S h a o g o n g 145 becomes obsessed with the history o f her family, whose village mansion has been turned into the headquarters of the commune. The hero, Hong Zhiren (nickname "Zhizhi"), is overwhelmed by an irresistible aroma the first time he enters the house. As 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 of a M r . Yang, the owner of 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 of 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, Ms . Yang visited Zhizhi 's "pig-blood tofu" stall in the market. N o w a complaisant and "politically correct" comrade of 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 of is perhaps he should get married. This little "ghost story" echoes both "Blue Bottle Cap" and " A Case of Murder" in terms of mood and theme, and it contains many recurrent details Han Shaogong 146 found in Han's other stories. Though it is just ah imagined encounter with a "ghost" of 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 of "thought reform" (sixiang gaizao), and the melodramatic ending is a mockery of its solemn and lofty mask. The dilapidated country mansion is a favored symbol of the past that has been unscrupulously "erased" from history (as in "Homecoming?" and " B a B a Ba"). The contemplation of 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 of these historic sites, like "Sweep Away the 'Four Olds ' " (hengshu sijiu) in this story, are contrasted with the surrounding environment as an unnatural presence, a monument not of liberation but massive destruction: "During that time, the commune did not need to buy firewood. 'Sweep Away the 'Tour Olds '" had destroyed many wooden Buddha statues and uncovered loads of newspapers and books ... a huge pile thrown carelessly in front of 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 H a n S h a o g o n g place o f k i l l ing" (56). Han's description of a beheading is reminiscent of both Shen Congwen's "The New and the O l d " (ff f ^ f > ( "Xin yu jiu") and L u Xun ' 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 of 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 of wars and revolutions, but also the futility of "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 of the street. From then on, reports of mysterious footsteps keep circulating, and the people begin to talk about Wang's innocence. As the narrator ponders the meaning of this legend, Wang's "ghost" reappears in the form of 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 of 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 of an old man ten years ago: "ten years later gold wi l l grow from the earth in this place, blood wi 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" wi l l be the pollutants emitted by the new chemical plant. There is, indeed, a note of absurdity in this final prophecy. The meaning of the underground tomb, like the pollution caused by industrialization, is calculated in terms of 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. Hal 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 of this red," he can only submit himself to "the demands of 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" of 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 of the city and thereby reinforces the sense of absurdity that pervades all human actions in the present. From beginning to end, the lonely figure of the narrator evokes the image of 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 of the "enlightened" self. Hovering between past and present the knowledge gained of the past brings little comfort to the troubled soul, but only creates an alienating double vision of reality as a result of his grotesque (narrative) encounter with "what happened." Han Shaogong 150 So far we have looked at Han's short stories in terms of 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 of view. L ike 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 of strange occurrences, evoking a past that he does not know but is emotionally attached to. Interpretation of these strange events goes through layers of storytelling within a narrative frame provided by the inquiring voice of 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 of Han's treatment of time and history in fiction using two stories, namely "Sounds from the Hi l l top" and "Youhuo" (MM > ("Lure"), as examples. The first one is a fictional investigation into the nature of 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 of the past as the narrator tries to make sense of 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. H a n S h a o g o n g The narrator's encounter with the ghost of E r Laoguan (literally "second brother") one evening on a bridge triggers off a series of questions about the dubious "truths" that remain outside of historical records. The mystery (i.e. the silence) surrounding the death of 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 of 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 of the villagers about this mysterious figure arouses his curiosity. His attempt to break this silence results in a series of anecdotes about local history and customs: the people are the descendents of a major clan in ancient times. Apart from the unrecorded events of local uprising, the narrator is told that in the past the local people used to k i l l 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 of 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 of 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 ike the cigarette, the ghost (and whatever it represents) remains forever on the hilltop. H a n S h a o g o n g What I have not mentioned so far is a scene in the middle of the story that recalls the ritual o f execution (kai kuari). The violence and collective mania invested into the kil l ing, ironically, reminds us of an equally horrifying scene in Ding Ling ' 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 of 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!" ... I f they failed to do this, or showed any sign of sadness or hesitation, they would be slighted by the whole clan. (139-140) Han Shaogong 153 Before this happens, there is a brief mention of the narrator preoccupying himself with "revolutionary novels" (138), and a local history expert who denies any truth in the villagers' account of kai kuan (139). These two details constitute a negation of the "unknown," or fantastic interpretation of the past by asserting an "objective" and "scientific" explanation of "what happened": "Since I was reading revolutionary novels at that time, I simply ignored the superstition of 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 know.. . ," the further away he is from the world of 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 of the worldview behind the "revolutionary novels"? Is not the account of an unverifiable episode - one that lives in the memory of the local people and to a certain extent still influences their lives - in itself an acknowledgement of the cultural forces that partially shape our reality? Juxtaposing Ding Ling ' s description of class struggle and land reform with Han's description of exotic rites and customs, the "strangeness" of Han's magical realism seems to be a reinterpretation of the "verisimilitude" of Ding Ling ' s revolutionary realism. In the revolutionary novel, violence is 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 of the fictions o f the past (and the "truth" it represents) by refraining them within the defamiliarized context of a ghost story. "Lure" is a philosophical engagement with time and history. It tells the story of an excursion to a legendary waterfall (the "lure") made by a group of zhiqing during the Cultural Revolution. The protagonist, again, is the I-narrator who initiates this journey. A s typical of 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 of 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 of self-transcendence, a purgation of the spirit and a renewed relation between man and Nature. It begins with a poetic description of the natural landscape that is almost impressionistic in style. Compared to the frustration and boredom of his daily existence, the narrator develops an emotional attachment to the natural Han Shaogong landscape, animating it with his vivid imagination. Thus he begins his excursion as a journey into a transcendental realm: 155 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 156 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 roam free in 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" from the outside but badly rotted from the 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) Han Shaogong 157 When they reach their destination, that is, the waterfall, the narrator is struck by a vision of the eternal human struggle for victory. The waterfall is a display of sheer force, and it is likened to "rows of 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 Qin Kelian, saying that the greatest waterfall lies five steps further up the river. Taken by surprise, the narrator experiences a kind of "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 of the story, we can infer that this yearning has its roots in the "unfreedom" of life, giving rise to a desire to break free from the prison house of existence and be at one with Nature. Yet, the narrator's "natural world" is humanized by the traces of 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 of 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 H a n S h a o g o n g 158 suggests a spiritual reunion with the cultural past (the emphasis here is on the symbolic association of 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 of 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" of the Maqiao dialect (3). Included also by the author is an index of the numerous words and expressions according to the number of strokes. Yet, the structure of 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 of 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 of 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 of the recent past by linking it to various word origins from antiquity to the present. Han Shaogong 159 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 of 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 of his stories, an autobiographical account of his "sent down" years in M i l u o County, Hunan. 2 0 There is an historical account of 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 Mi luo . Although most of 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 of 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 160 sentences and classical Chinese expressions. 2 1 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 of plausibility. These anecdotes are extraordinary (qi) in their own ways, for they reveal the confusion and chaos as a result of poor and ineffectual implementation of 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 of characters and their transformation in time is already apparent in Han's earlier works. Here I wi 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 "XM " in the names of most women in my home village, or why the people there addressed their wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and sisters-in-law 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 of communal marriage in primitive times had left its mark in the language and that this was one of the surviving linguistic traces of such a practice. (128) 2 1 Among these are the words "zhi" "yu" ^ f-, "gu" $j and "ran" and archaic expressions such as "wen qi yan" ^M^g, "le shen" H H , "xuru" ^ f l and "yun yun" TZJZ, etc. Han Shaogong ©Tr^lSM5 0 (Selected Writings 226) They still used a lot of archaic words - they said "watch' instead of "see" or "look", "speak" instead o f "say", "lean" instead of "stand", "lie down" instead of "sleep". And they used the word "qu" as a pronoun to refer to someone nearby. They also had an unusual way o f addressing their relatives. The emphasis seemed to be on ... the unity o f a large family, for ... they addressed their father as "uncle", their uncle as "father", their elder sister as "elder brother," their sister-in-law as "elder sister", and so on. (43) (mm) JB 'w mm, umr • mmm^m > n "tmr mj% "w - IE " s i i r mj$ 'w - mm<mmm ' w tm "m" - i t w i r w m ° xmm^^mwm $mm "mm" • msmmn " w • mmmwmm " mmr > i m ° ( i 6 3 ) 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 Shaogong 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. 162 Han's interest in the history of the Chinese language is closely related to his awareness of cultural crisis. In an article titled "The World ," Han laments the deplorable fate of 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 of 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 of 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 of cultural change, carrying with them the collective memory o f those who live in that H a n S h a o g o n g 163 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" in the Chinese character that contribute to the misery and misfortunes of the nation in modern times. It also probes the Chinese cultural psyche by revealing the unspoken language of its thoughts, emotions, as well as moral and social values. In this section I wi l l first look at the "earth" on which Han's fictional anthropology operates. Then I wi l l examine the "blood stains" Han's narrative recovers from oblivion, mainly through the protagonists who inherit and inhabit this piece of 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 Luo River (Luo "gang" in the Maqiao dialect). Symbolically, the river is conventionally linked with the "river of history" (lishi de changhe), which also implies the origin o f civilization, just as the Yel low River is traditionally associated with Chinese civilization. The first three entries of Han's fictional dictionary are an account of the historical origins of the Luo 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 of the key historical texts from this period), says the narrator, H a n S h a o g o n g Luoguo was destroyed by Chu, a much more powerful state in the southwestern part of China at that time. The people of Luo were then dispersed into the nearby areas of Xiangbei. "Rivers are named after people; thus the Luo River received its title" (Maqiao Cidian 17). The Luo River, therefore, carries with it the history of a long forgotten people, whose name is preserved only as a geographical reference. The Luo State, in ancient times, was also known as "Luojia man", literally "the barbaric (man) Luo family." In fact, "man" is a derogatory nickname of 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 of man ren). This unusual expression, says the narrator, imposes upon the individual the "mark of three families," which means "the concept of ' individual ' is far from complete" (16). It is from these conjectures that the narrator begins his search for the legendary Luo City, a kind of diasporic settlement after the Chu invasion. However, the few pieces of 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 165 m&.. • i mn±mmmmBm7m^7.... (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 of 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, of course, not without self-irony, for his personal museum, too, is bound to disappear through the many "crackings and breakings" over time. The history of Maqiao, likewise, has left traces in the local language. We are told that the numerous armed conflicts between the Qing government and the so-called Lotus Thugs (Han fei) resulted in the massacre of seven hundred people during an uprising led by the bandit leader M a Sanbao. Curiously enough, as he goes through the historical records of 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 "New County History" sanctioned by the present government, in which M a is a "leader of the peasants' uprising." (21) This casual reference to the discrepancies in historical representations is strategic, for this incident seems to prefigure a Han Shaogong 166 more recent one, and is thus fraught with ideological underpinnings: "In the entire history of the so-called 'Lotus State', ... seven hundred people in Maqiao and nearby areas were ki l led." 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 of Maqiao (22). These ironic twists and turns of historical events are repeated in what immediately follows. We are told that in the M i n g dynasty the imperial army in Hunan suppressed another peasant uprising in Shaanxi. The leader of the uprising took his revenge by launching several attacks in Hunan, randomly ki l l ing thousands of 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 of Maqiao as a collective metaphor. In Maqiao Cidian, the histories of individuals and cultures are embedded in the history of a local dialect. Word origins are then treated as a repertoire of collective memories Han Shaogong and a basic unit for the study of 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. Among these there is no lack of apparently innocent expressions that are laden with political meanings. For example, the expression gongjia (public property) retains much of its "feudalistic" association, for in Maqiao plots o f farmland are still identified in terms of 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 of 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" (155-156). This ironic "reading" o f a common expression emphasizes the role o f subjective or localized production of 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 of the Cultural Revolution, the narrator is also skeptical of his "education" in a backward rural district (part o f the "rustification program" o f the State). This skepticism results in a self-distancing from the reality narrated despite his participation in it. As an outsider, the narrator is seen actively learning from 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 of 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 of different dialects, a unified system o f writing and pronunciation, especially a simplified one, makes education easier among the masses. 2 2 But this pragmatic concern is to be differentiated from the rhetoric of 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." 2 3 It is, in effect, the "emotional roots of political power" (Apter & Saich 5) whose final step is the evolution of "Mao Zedong Thought", i.e. the consecration o f Mao ' 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 Mao "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 of 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 o f word-meaning 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. 2 3 A n excellent analysis of Mao's use of "symbolic capital" is given in Apter & Saich. 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 of 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 of revolutionary history as they are unearthed in Han's fictional narrative. Personde I wi l l call the first set of fictional personae to be considered here "the visionaries and the martyrs," for they represent two extreme responses to the "unbearable lightness of being" that characterizes individual historical experience. These two personae in the novel are also set against the looming shadow of another historical figure, Qu Yuan, who took his life by jumping into the M i l u o River (the present day Luo River) centuries ago. A famous poet and statesman of ancient Chu in the Spring and Autumn period, Qu Yuan has become a mystical figure embodying the ideals and aspirations o f generations of intellectuals. The development of the "Qu Yuan myth" thus offers Han Shaogong interesting insights into the historical vicissitudes o f the relation between Chinese intellectuals and the political regime they serve. 2 4 The juxtaposition of the tragic hero, Qu 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 co-option 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. Qu Yuan, in this context, is a mediating figure, a distant echo from a distant time, a painful reminder o f the continuous struggle of men against the inhuman forces of their times. A l l these figures, despite their differences, are rebels in their own ways. Qu 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, Qu 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 of redemptive passion as Qu Yuan's death positively asserts. Ironically, their historical identity lies precisely in their rejection of this identity. 172 M a Ming ' s background is probably as follows: he is a descendent of a local gentry family. After his family's decline, he resides in the ancestral home which comes to be known as "Hal l o f the Immortals," where he lives with three other eccentric figures. They are known as the 'Tour Guardians o f the Buddhist Temple" (Sida jingang). He 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 Hal l as he tries to paint political slogans on the walls there. Upon arrival, he notices that the Hal l is left to ruins, but signs of its inhabitants show their "wit" 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 of simplified characters, calling it "an act of treason" (48). Despite his eccentricities, M a M i n g insists on his unique sense o f morality. He never accepts any gifts or offers of help simply because he does not contribute in return. M a Ming ' s hermitic reclusion, in the end, reduces him to a "nobody" who has severed any possible link with the world. Yet, M a Ming ' s Han Shaogong "disappearance" from the world is also a conscious rejection of the vulgarities of 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 of entertainment he enjoys watching from a distance" (52). B y withdrawing himself completely from the world, he becomes the "highest authority" of his life: He did not intend to be human; therefore he was more powerful than any power that exists. With a casual sleight of 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 of such personalities as M a M i n g in Maqiao and the nearby villages. Most of these eccentrics are from well-off families. They are intelligent, well versed in 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 wi l l . Obviously Han 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 of the totalitarian government. A s a fictional "ideal," he survives as an "immortal" outside o f this world, outside of History. M a Ming ' s eccentric behavior, his rejection of society by turning into a "nobody", is contrasted with the reluctant hero M a Wenjie. To the people of Maqiao, he is a controversial hero. He 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 Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek (the then President of Republican China) called off their "divide and rule" negotiations. After a series of misfortunes, M a eventually became a commander under a losing branch of the Republican army. Han Shaogong 175 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 of 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 of contingencies beyond his ability to control or even understand. He reacts impulsively to external threats, relying purely on his good nature and sense o f justice. It was based on this sense of justice, therefore, that he took his life, just as he once ordered the death of 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. To them, Year 1948 is not the same as History would have it remembered, for they have their own vocabularies for important times. To the people of Maqiao, Year 1948 can be one o f the following: (1) the year o f the Han Shaogong 176 Sino-Japanese Confrontation in Changsha (while the actual battle ended six years before); (2) the year Grandee Mao became the Chairman of the Local 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. To the people of Maqiao, "1948" is an alien word, for their memory of events does not follow calendar years (130-31). Likewise, the civi l war and the major historical events that followed do not concur with their memory o f "the year...". To the narrator, M a Wenjie's Year 1948 "is but an empty space to me before 1982" (128). To the Liberation Army, on the other hand, their memory of Year 1948 remains "an absolute victory.. .", which seems like a "short-circuit of time" (134). A s the narrator remarks, time is "a prey to our sensibility" (149). Compared to M a Ming ' s complete withdrawal, M a Wenjie's suicide is typical of the traditional hero who takes ultimate blame for the defeat of his army and the death of 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 of intrigues, misjudgments and betrayals. One wonders what makes the difference between the visionary and the martyr when they are faced with the H a n S h a o g o n g 177 larger-than-life choice between life and death? Despite their differences, both show an inclination toward a Daoist way of life, in their own ways. They, too, choose to "transcend" the vulgarities of life by self-denial. The visionary denies the world by a radical "dehumanization" so that he becomes immune to the injuries of 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 of his social existence and remains aloof to human sufferings. Unlike L u Xun 's Madman, whose madness is required as a pretense for his condemnation of traditional culture, M a Ming ' s rejection of society does not even need a pretense at all due to the total bankruptcy of cultural values. Brought up in traditional culture, its bankruptcy means the bankruptcy of the self-in-culture, which in turns explains his conscious choice of being "nothing" as a radical form of resistance. The stories of the two " M a ' s " are interwoven with that of Qu Yuan, whose suicidal jump into the Luo River makes him one of the most memorable legends of all times in China. In the narrator's words, Qu 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" Han Shaogong or stupid (yuchuri). In his reflection on Qu Yuan, too, the narrator uses the word "awakened" and ponders its double meaning: 178 In about 278 B C , the awakened Qu Yuan - at least this was what he believed - grew weary o f the apathy of 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 Chu, for it was where thousands of Luo 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 of your rights and wrongs? Where else could he experience a more glaring vision of "xing" [awakening]? (58) Han Shaogong To Qu Yuan, the River Luo is a "mirror" reflecting the absurdity o f power, the rise and fall o f empires in the eternal flux of time. 179 Is this jump a sign of 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 of passive protest" in the game of politics. As a central theme in the Qu Yuan lore, madness can be understood in terms of a "mad ardor" that invoked associations with the abandonment of 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 of the Qu Yuan lore is that the multi-faceted image of Qu Yuan as it developed through centuries serves as a "mediation" of conflicting sets of values, i.e. the aristocracy and the people, sober diplomat-lawmaker and mad-genius poet, romanticism and realism (211). History has given its evaluation of Qu Yuan's heroic act, but it cannot tell us what he actually thinks at the time of 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 of that larger life beyond life; of that larger history beyond history. He had no choice but jump into emptiness (59). Thus Qu Yuan's madness is in fact a manifestation of his "awakening" to the painful and threatening truth of his life, or human destiny Han Shaogong 180 as a whole. B y jumping, Qu Yuan finally "unites the two opposite meanings of the word 'awakened'" (60). Qu Yuan, too, is a mediating figure in this novel, for he embodies the ideals o f the recluse and the tragic hero. B y invoking the classic legend o f Qu Yuan as a prototype o f his characters, the narrator (also named Han Shaogong) not only places his narrative within the tradition of the lore, but also expresses his empathy for the "counterculture madmen" in their "pursuit o f the True Way" from antiquity to the present.2 5 The second set of personae is more down to earth in outlook. The three characters to be considered here are what I would call "victims o f 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 N e w China, a promising young man who is, nonetheless, condemned by the society he dutifully serves. A s a typical product of 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 2 5 The most notable "follower" of Qu Yuan in modern times is perhaps Wang Guowei (1877-1927), whose Han Shaogong 181 doing all sorts of 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 of Wanyu are his singsong voice and genuine sympathy for the other sex, for whom he has suffered countless insults and beatings. He 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 of 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 of instinctive disgust of the so-called "aesthetics of 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 of Maqiao, Wanyu is associated with everything " low" (xia), as opposed to "high" (shang). In Maqiao, " low" is a verb and an adjective referring to the sexual act. Whatever is " low" belongs to body drowning suicide "was taken as the symptom of the Chinese intelligentsia's fundamental problem," i.e. the Han Shaogong 182 instincts, unconstrained desire, the less-than-human. In the novel, Wanyu (a public symbol o f "lowness") is diametrically opposed to the "high culture" of 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 of "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 His 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 of the meaning o f long in the Maqiao dialect brings the "highest" and "lowest" of 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 of the people. Wanyu, the artist, is not only castrated physically. His art, i.e. his songs of love and desire, is also "castrated" from the cultural body of the new regime. lack of public recognition of their value and self-alienation from the masses. Schneider (94). Han Shaogong 183 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. He 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. As a result of forced labor, Yanzao becomes immune to toxic pesticide. Symbolically, his mother's "sorcery" and Yanzao's reputation as " l iving poison" (171) are suggestive of the political slogans "cow devils and snake spirits" and "poisonous weed" used Han Shaogong 184 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 of 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 ike Wanyu, his silence is both a sign of resistance and withdrawal. He, 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 of the social system. He is a bright young man whose high-school education has won 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 of the People's Commune, he dares to challenge his elders for any discrepancies and misconduct. L ike M a Wenjie, everything goes well until he violates a local taboo - using a most dangerous curse upon a village elder. "Zuisha" (literally "ki l l ing 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 Han Shaogong dies of rabies soon afterwards. Fucha, probably due to the pressure o f public contempt, gradually loses his spirit, his career and his life ruined. 185 This episode can of course be considered an example of the violence inherent in the cultural tradition itself. Yet, it also betrays the power of language, construed as an expression of a collective w i l l that destroys the individual. For the violence of the collective wi 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 of human beings" and yet "animals w i l l never suffer the sad fate of Fucha for a random howling" (306). Indeed, certain traditional beliefs have transformed what we think of as "absurd" into the "sacred" (such as "zuisha"), yet, to "eliminate superstition" in the name of "science" (a kind of 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 k i l l at random... every living creature that can be eaten; i f we watched without a pang of conscience a kid perform this bloody act of ecstasy, there wi 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 H a n S h a o g o n g 186 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 of the N e w China, Fucha's reaction to local taboos seems unreasonable. Yet, his action can also be interpreted as the failure of his "modern" education to provide him with the necessary moral values and open-mindedness 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" of a culture's linguistic consciousness. I f "Taiwan" and "sorceress" betray the violence of undiscriminating ignorance, "dragon" and "ligelang" are a mockery H a n S h a o g o n g 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 wi 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 of reason. The dialectics of "return " I would like to use the ending of Maqiao Cidian to conclude my discussion of Han Shaogong. Strictly speaking, the end of this fictional dictionary consists of the last three entries, namely " G u i yuan" < Mlt > (returning to end/begin), "Ba i hua" < S I S ) (plain language), and "Guan dao" ( M ) (official passage). To 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 c ivi l servants and information. From "returning" to "plain language" to "official passage", I believe, Han 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 wi 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 of history. In Mandarin, the word yuan jt means "returning to a pre-existing or original state." It does not carry the meaning of "coming to the final stage", which is rendered in a different character pronounced as wan However, the pronunciation yuan in 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 of 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 of 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. To them everything is meaningless and futile. Han Shaogong 189 - ^ 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 190 Ricoeur's formulation of the two temporalities of 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 of the time that is not of 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 of the meaning of human existence. This dual temporality is also implicit in the preoccupation with word origins. The dictionary meaning of words provides a macro (long-time) perspective that is to be modified by the "brief event" of 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 of the past. In "Plain Language", the second to last entry in his dictionary, the narrator spells out his theory of fiction - as both "plain" language and "strange" language, as differentiated from the lofty, the serious, and the "absolute" (429-430). Because of this " low" 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 of fiction, or is it a "resistance to writing" as L i Tuo puts Han Shaogong 191 it? B y diminishing the contribution of fiction in augmenting reality (Ricoeur's view of metaphor), Han seems to espouse a contradictory attitude toward the role of the writer in the Chinese society not unlike what Wendy Larson has discovered in her study o f literary authority in modern Chinese autobiographies: 2 6 [To the people of Maqiao,] true knowledge has to be conveyed in a higher, mysterious form of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 " ) . His I-narrators, on the other hand, are similarly lost in the labyrinth o f time and memory (as in "The Blue 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 of returning is precisely what he calls "gui Han's interview with the press as quoted in Shu (69-75). Han Shaogong 193 yuan", as a cyclical overlapping of beginning and ending. Returning as ending, ending as beginning: this is the essence of gui yuan, a return to an original state of being that is strategically placed at the ending of 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 of a dejd vu. These are not destinations, however, but points of departure that open up the ending o f many such fictional journeys. To return to begin, to begin to end, to end, finally, to get going again: this pattern of 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 of 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 Yao, 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 of 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 of 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 Han Shaogong 194 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 of known reality. The past, therefore, is first defamiliarized (as unreal, strange, and threatening) in order to project a sense o f reality in the form of metaphor. 4 Heroes, Bastards and Fictional Homeland: Mo Yan In the prologue to his first major novel Honggaoliang jiazu (Red Sorghum Family) ( % L W ^ M M . ) M o Yan unreservedly pays tribute to his ancestors: "With this book I respectfully invoke the heroic, aggrieved souls wandering in the boundless bright-red sorghum fields of 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 of sorghum. Partake of it in good health!" (4) This deep reverence to his ancestors thus sets the tone of M o Yan's nostalgic recreation of the past in Red Sorghum, an imaginative history of Northeastern China in the thirties that some critics see as being a modern "epic". 1 M o Yan's romantic idealization of the heroic past, however, is balanced with a realistic vision of 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 of Red Sorghum. Born into an agricultural family in northeastern China in 1955, M o Yan'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 M o Y a n 1 9 6 program. Economic hardships and political bias ensured a deprived and lonely childhood. 2 He was forced to give up his studies at the age of twelve and worked as a 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 Army at age twenty. He 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 Army Academy o f Arts to study literature and later the L u X u n Academy of Literature in Beijing and obtained a master's degree in literature. His truly creative phase began in 1985, with the publication o f some of his finest short stories "The Crystal Carrot" (WMffiKWM} > ("Touming de hongluobo"), "Dry River" < feM > ( "Ku he") and "White Dog and the Swing" < SfafX^M > ("Baigou qiuqian jia"). As Michael Duke points out, M o Yan 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 Yan'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. 2 Biographical details are based on Mo Yan's "Preface" to Shen liao (Tales of the Supernatural) (f$f P> ; Zhong Yiwen, Chapter 3; Michael Duke, "Past, Present and Future in Mo Yan's fiction of the 1980s" (47-Mo Yan 197 In this chapter I wi l l examine M o Yan'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 I^JBW > 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 Yan's historical vision: a romantic, idealized image of the past is juxtaposed with the mediocre, mundane and lack-luster present of the unfilial descendant who is also the I-narrator. M o Yan'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 of 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 of a most unnerving criminal case - baby eating - the novel uses the culinary culture of China as a frame o f reference to locate evil in human beings, unleashed by the unequal distribution of freedom and wealth in a utilitarian, pseudo-modern society and multiplied by a sudden release of long suppressed appetites for money, sex and material possessions. The contemplation on devolution in this work takes L u Xun 's metaphor of cannibalism to a new extreme. Finally, Full Bosoms signifies M o Yan'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 of "full bosoms, fat buttocks." In this two-volume novel, M o Yan pays tribute once again to his heroic ancestors very much in the manner of Red Sorghum, only that this time history is symbolized by M o Yan's idiosyncratic mother prototype. The tumultuous history of China's nation-building is sidetracked into extraordinary stories of powerful women, whose breasts are the source of passion and love. While The Republic of Wine shows a growing interest in the strange and obscene as part of M o Yan 's vision o f the real, Full Bosoms is a further refinement of his vision o f art and reality, especially art (fiction) as a kind of spiritual redemption against cultural dispossession. A s we shall see, M o Yan's fictional histories, taken as a whole, exhibit a yearning for innocence as a life-giving force against the dark currents of the present. His 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 of the Supernatural), M o Yan 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, Mo Yan 199 I realize that my own history is part of the history of the universe and is also overwhelmed by it. As 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 of their predecessors may have a more lively specimen. The piece of earth where his creative works are rooted is the "black soi l" of his home country, the "arid land" which provides "fertile soil" for "the seeds of emotions." His devotion to his homeland is almost religious, for he believes " in the black soil are buried countless bodies and thoughts; of 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" of 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 wi l l examine the historical dimension of these two novels through the "bodies and thoughts" inhabiting these fictional worlds. In so doing, I hope to delineate the itinerary of M o Yan 's continual dialogue with the past, and with himself, regarding his perception of history as a process of inevitable descent ("devolution"). Mo Yan 200 Whether his literary reinvention of the past intensifies or to some extent resists this deterministic impulse wi 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 Yan's first attempt to present a panoramic view of his fictional (spiritual) homeland. It tells the story of the struggle of men and women for freedom in the midst of national wars, foreign invasion and social conflicts. Unlike the pastoral beauty of 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 of existence and know their positions well vis-a-vis one another. They are, in a way, natural units of a unique universe unfettered by the more "civi l ized" values of 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 hardest-loving place in the world. . . They killed, they looted, and they defended Mo Yan 201 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 of 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 Dai Fenglian ("my grandmother"), are outstanding examples of 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 of states of 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 of 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. On the other hand, this feeling of unworthiness drives him further into the past to recapture his ancestors' legendary lives. Mo Yan 202 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 of another platoon, all except Commander Y u and his son (the narrator's father who was fourteen at that time), were killed. Dai Fenglian ("my grandmother") was also killed. What follows are constant flashbacks of 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 Dai 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 of her husband for the first three days of her marriage, Dai and Y u made love in the wi ld sorghum fields. A few days later, Dai 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 of ruthless killings in the region. Villagers are taken as forced laborers to construct new roads to facilitate the transportation of Japanese troops and army supplies into the interior. When an old servant in the family, Great Uncle Luohan, violates the orders of 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. Dai and Y u ' s vow of revenge is the primary motive of 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 of the narrator's grandfather in around 1976 (which also marks the end of the Cultural Revolution.) A s historical fiction, Red Sorghum is based primarily on the first person point of view of the I-narrator who was allegedly born in 1956. This implies that he does not really "know" 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 of 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. He 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 • mm&w a s a Tm^mmnmimm^'m • (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 of the "inner events" 3 that make up the "felt history" o f the past (Forster 277). A s 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 of 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. At 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 of 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) Mo Yan 205 the traditional character of 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 of junzi (a man of virtue). In Red Sorghum, this applies also to the convicted B i g Tooth, who faces his death with exceptional courage and dignity characteristic of the Gaomi species (70-72). In this light, the contradictory "virtues" mentioned earlier can be seen as manifestations of Gaomi's unique, idealized moral universe where the highest law is spontaneous goodness. This may not be the ideal mode of social existence in a practical sense, nor is it a realistic picture of 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 "wi ld" , "mad" and emotionally sensitive to the human world. It thrives in the most severe weather conditions and is the source of the celebrated tradition of winemaking in Gaomi. The aroma of wine fills the entire area with a euphoric glamour, and the annual ritual in honor of the wine god brings together the spiritual, sensual and aesthetic aspects of traditional winemaking. It is also believed that the most exquisite type o f wine, the so-called Eighteen Mi les Red, was created by accident when Commander Y u , then a poor village rogue, urinated into a wine pot out of spite. The use of 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 Yan 2 0 6 heroes and those in the classical Chinese novel, especially The Water Margin (Zhou 501). The reader is repeatedly reminded of 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 of affection I had learned from high society, with a body immersed so long in the filth o f urban life that a foul stench oozed from my pores. (356) 4 mm ° (450) On a formal level, M o Yan's seemingly casual use of traditional prose and singsong lyrics within an essentially modern narrative framework reinforces this sense of "no longer." M o Yan's nostalgic imagination of a legendary past does not aim at a pastoral ideal or "golden age." Rather, he frequently draws attention to the character flaws of his protagonists as an integral part of their heroic stature. As such, the stereotyped hero in revolutionary historical fiction is turned upside down. Idealistic though they may seem, M o Yan's heroes are humanized by their weaknesses. Their Ten years" according to Goldblatt's translation, but it is "twenty years" in the Chinese original. Mo Yan 207 patriotism, likewise, is closely connected to their spontaneous goodness. Sworn to avenge the death of Great Uncle Luohan, Commander Y u and Dai Fenglian organize a local guerilla force with tragic results. L ike many heroes in the Water Margins, the rashness with which Commander Y u and others act upon contingencies in life is characteristic of their instinctive heroism. This is the kind of "innocence" at the heart of M o Yan's hero: A t that moment, Granddad looked benumbed, his thoughts were riveted on a single point.... He was blind to all other sights, deaf to all other sounds. This problem - or characteristic - of his would grow more pronounced over the coming decade. He returned from the mountains of Hokkaido with an unfathomable depth in his eyes, gazing at things as though he could wi 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 of 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. He was forever trying to Mo Yan squeeze the light of his nature through the chinks in his body armor. (177) 208 imM^yt^mmtimmmw^m^mm&m • (227) This difference between father and son is a subtle sign o f "regression" that wi 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 of reason is largely the result of his dwelling on "the surface of things" (227). A s Zhou Yingxiong observes, the history o f three generations o f the red sorghum family is a process of gradual "devolution" (519), at least in the sense of the "heroic temperament" that the narrator identifies as the spirit o f his family tradition. A s the central image of the novel, red sorghum personifies the Gaomi people and participates in human history. On 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) Mo Yan 209 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 of red sorghum is also constitutive of the feminine in the novel, hence uniting the "men and women" of Gaomi within the same natural universe. A s Dai Fenglian breathes her last, red sorghum appears to her as a messenger from Heaven. A s i f having an epiphany, Da i makes her final peace with Heaven now that she has transcended her worldly self (91-2). The complex image of red sorghum consists of both feminine and masculine traits as M o Yan's ideal heroic character exemplifies: it stands for the procreative energies of Da i Fenglian (closely connected to "mother earth") and the uncouth, hot-headed passion of 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 of 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 My translation: this sentence is not included in Goldblatt.'s translation. Mo Yan 210 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 Mo 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 Mo 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 Mo Yan 211 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. Mo Yah 212 the expense of formal unity and coherence. For example, the bloody warfare of "the ninth day o f the eighth month of the lunar calendar in 1939" that makes up the powerful beginning in Chapter 1 is repeated in Chapters 2 and 3, and fragments of similar incidents appear frequently throughout the text. "Dog Ways" (Chapter 3) both elaborates and parodies the anti-Japanese campaign and the bloody massacre that follows, but the main plot scarcely moves beyond the massacre one week after the crucial date in 1939. Chapter 4, "Sorghum Funeral" takes up from the funeral o f Dai Fenglian in Apr i l 1941, which coincided with the Japanese invasion of Gaomi that calls an end to the bandit career of Y u (then the leader of a powerful local triad society). The final chapter returns to the mid-thirties, when Commander Y u was at the height of his powers. It introduces another persona, Passion (Lian'er), Commander Y u ' s concubine. She dies soon after being raped by Japanese soldiers and the chapter is devoted to the mysterious and supernatural occurrences surrounding her death. Interestingly enough, Passion, characterized as a meek opposite o f grandmother Dai , is the honored ancestor whose soul is summoned in the end to give the final sermon to her grandson, the narrator, exhorting him to "return" to his ancestral roots. After all, she is commemorated as .. the woman whose short but magnificent life constitutes a page in the most heroic and most bastardly history o f my hometown. Her eerie, supernatural death had awakened in the soul of Northeast Gaomi Township a mysterious emotion that germinated, grew, and became strong ... that fortified us and made us capable of facing the world o f the future. (356-357) Mo Yan 213 ^ ^ - S f f i M ^ t l ^ ^ S ^ ^ 0 (493) This repetitive pattern reinforces the feeling that the narrator is reluctant to leave the scene; his nostalgia and curiosity prolongs the search for a spiritual home that drives him further into an imaginary past. As a result, the narrator can participate, as one voice among many, in his self-created fictional history so that he can claim his heritage in that imaginary, idealized world. On the other hand, the narrator's lingering to and fro in time creates a tension between the narrating voice and the temporal scheme o f the plot, which branches out into several independent stories within more or less the same time frame. If one is to locate a central thread that helps unify the five chapters, my suggestion is the narrator's fictional memory provoked by a pensive awareness of historical decline - or the "devolution" of the human species. In this light, narrative repetition taken as a whole reveals a "linear" movement that is regressive rather than progressive. A s such, the formal irony of Red Sorghum constitutes a nonlinear narrative tracing the inevitable, linear decline o f human civilization. While time is perceived as destructive and linear, fictional narrative (as in Red Sorghum) seeks to resist time by an imaginary revival o f the spirit a past era - a search for continuities within discontinuities. Nevertheless, M o Yan's concern with history as a destructive force poses the question of human responsibility against a possible cultural Mo Y a n 214 determinism. The contrast between city and country, present and past, is the inevitable development o f modernization. The replacement of pure sorghum by the much loathed hybrid sorghum is also a product of this process. The tension between material progress and human degeneration, by no means a new discovery, is crucial to the notion o f "human devolution" in M o Yan 's works. A s a "tamed rabbit" of modern life the narrator in Red Sorghum expresses a yearning for the purification o f the soul by baptizing himself in the river of time past. This desire for self-redemption, no matter how distant a goal, is inscribed in the narrative as a resistance to time and a reassertion of cultural heritage. In Red Sorghum, natural disasters are seen as part of the cycle of life, and are therefore less destructive (in the "devolutionary" sense) than human failures. Memories of the heroic past thus aptly f i l l the spiritual vacuum the narrator is experiencing in the present, for it is something that w i l l "fortifTy] us and [make] us capable o f facing the future" (493). This also suggests that the seed of historical decline is neither hereditary nor "natural", but is to be found in the cruel twists and turns in human history over which individuals have no control. I mentioned earlier the integration of local cultural traditions in invoking the past in M o Yan's historical novels. 7 A s one critic points out, "peasant consciousness" is an important aspect of M o Yan 's art. To M o Yan himself, certain virtues of peasant life have become "an important source of spiritual support." I believe this spiritual intimacy 7 The importance of popular culture to Mo Yan's aesthetics, especially the local folk art traditions of northeastern China, is discussed in Zhu Hengqing (40-42). Mo Yan 2 1 5 is what energizes the severe criticism o f the same "peasant consciousness" in his writings. 8 Typical o f most search-for-roots writers, M o Yan's interest in popular cultural traditions contributes to the strong presence of local folk art and story-telling traditions in his fictional works (Zhu Hengqing 41). This "traditional" element in his style bespeaks M o Yan's ambition for an integrative art form in which past and present, glory and shame, the highest and the lowest, the most beautiful and the most ugly, the sacred and the profane conjure up a "totality" of fictional reality. Gaomi, therefore, is the fictitious realm o f heroic bastards where the writer experiments with his paradoxical notion o f "devolution" as both a historical determinant and a collective moral predicament. Ancestors with Webs on Their Hands and Feet If the elegiac mood of Red Sorghum is partially relieved by the hope o f renewal symbolized by the pure sorghum, the six stories in The Grass Eaters constitute a regressive look at the "biological" origins of one's ancestry that goes back and forth from time immemorial to the present. Beginning with "Red Locusts" the I-narrator traces the history of the Grass Eaters through a series o f dreamlike narratives (in six parts playfully titled "Dream One", "Dream T w o " and so forth) in which he encounters his web-footed ancestors and virtually participates in the mysterious events of the past. "Red Locusts," the most "realistic" in tone and setting, recounts two incidents of locust attack in the narrator's native country, Gaomi. It is followed by another five dreams, namely "Rose, 8 See Mo Yan's article "Wode nongmin yishi guan" ("My Understanding of Peasant Consciousness"). Mo Yan 2 1 6 Rose, Fragrant Rose", "Revenge", "Second Aunt is Coming Soon" and " A Horse Crossing the Marshland" that are only tangentially related in content, and largely independent in terms of plot, setting and temporal frame. Be that as it may, from Dreams Two to Five the narrator encounters various characters with web on their hands and feet who claim to be his "web-footed ancestors". This leads to the final vision in Dream Six, where the narrator tells the story o f the mythical descent of his family and reveals the secret behind the grass-eating tradition that has been taken for granted for centuries. Written between 1987-1989, The Grass Eaters represents M o Yan's "wish to purify the soul through grass-eating," his "reverence and worship o f Nature," his 'Year of webs", his "attitudes toward sex and violence", his "understanding of legends and myths," as well as "the beautiful and ugly, manifest and hidden, bright and dark sides" of his soul. 9 Going through the six "dreams" in the novel, it is not difficult to identify the above motifs that give these loosely connected narratives a sense of coherence. In "Red Locusts" the narrator, a researcher in the "Locust Research Laboratory" in the city (probably Beijing) goes back to his native town Gaomi on hearing news of a major locust attack, the first o f its kind in fifty years. Typically M o Yan, the journey home draws attention to the opposition between city and country: [My old home] is a special place. It is a land o f vivid colors where flourishes and multiplies a family whose feces does not stink (?). 9 Author's preface to The Grass Eaters, Mo Yan wenji, (Collected Works of Mo Yan) (Hs^Clfl) Vol. 4. M o Yan 217 The human race (?) high quality (?) low quality (?) L iv ing in a city where stench has tainted the sky , I am tortured by shit as hard and sharp as a knife cutting bamboo... I long for my lovely old home just as I long for... the odorless shit. (tm ] mmmmm-mmmmij»-mmmmmmi± * - m.m±m±mmm-mmmmMXimmm c ? ) > mm ( ? ) ' ( ? ) > & ^ F & c ? ) • ^EMMM^im± tm&.-.MMXig-m&itM^mmfoB • (25) Once again we witness M o Yan's unique sense o f the "beautiful" and his integrative vision o f Nature and human life. Nonetheless, his ideal vision of life in Nature is tempered with an apprehension o f its potential danger and corruption within the human realm. In a dreamlike manner, the narrator juxtaposes the present with scenes from the past that reveal the numerous sex scandals and moral failings o f his grand uncles who are no less corrupt than the "silver-headed professor" who seduces young female students in the city. It is due to his awareness of the complex unity o f the best and the worst "virtues" in his family that he proceeds to discover the "monstrous scandals, heart-rending performances, important landmarks" and "insipid regression" deeply buried in the "red mud" o f his native country (38). Compared to the lack-luster life of the present, the past is a "colorful age" "when locust attacks went hand in hand with mutinies and battles," each having an aura o f its own (40). Mo Yan 2 1 8 The natural history o f locust attacks shows a cyclical pattern that somehow reverberates in human history: in Gaomi, we are told, locust attacks occur every fifty years. Going through his family history, the narrator visualizes the important personae in his family who played a key role in fighting locusts during the two major attacks in this century. In fact, the timing of natural destruction coincides with that in human history. I f we assume that the narrating present is sometime around 1987-89, the previous locust attack occurred at around 1937, the year of Japan's invasion of China. Yet, the narrator sidetracks these political events and directs our attention to the complex character of his Fourth Granduncle who falls in love with a beautiful widow, kills his wife's lover, divorces her and as a result is tortured by a deep sense o f remorse. In a mood reminiscent of Red Sorghum, the narrator defends the "moral integrity" o f his granduncle and vows to build a 10-meter high memorial in his honor: Fourth Granduncle, don't be afraid, don't regret.... It was a time of wars and chaos when you did this. In a lawless age those who abide by the laws are no good... Y o u killed people to clear the way for love. B y comparison you are a respectable character... Y o u have been saving lives and healing wounds all your life, practicing revolutionary humanism, doing good more than evil. Y o u shouldn't feel guilty about anything... Mo Yan 219 In a half-serious, half-joking way the narrator indulges in his "memory" o f Fourth Granduncle's heroic fight against locusts some fifty years ago. The overlapping of two locust attacks reinforces the sense o f degeneration in both the human and the natural realm. Fifty years ago, the "red locusts" were of a "spiritual" kind associated with the "red mud" o f the earth. (The locust attack a hundred years ago is even grander in scale and is associated with the sky or Heaven. 1 0) Obviously, this interpretation of natural phenomena arises from the primitive spirituality o f the villagers whose religious nature turned a major disaster into a ritual. In this way, misery and loss becomes bearable. The narrator's "memory" of the past, while expressing incredulity, retains a sense of pride so that the red locusts become another myth, a liberating force that is lost to the present generation. Against this background, the present fight against pestilence is reduced to a mere fact, in news reports, scientific research and experiment. Yet both the army relief force and the scientists cannot alter the course o f events: "I feel sorry for their shallowness. Only the locust attack fifty years ago can be regarded as a locust attack! A s the human species degenerates, locusts degenerate, too." ("fSc^ffefP^fi^J^^^^UjB'Bi ' 1 0 This dating of events probably alludes to the Taip ing Tianguo Rebel l ion ^ P ^ I H (1850s - 60s) and the Boxer Upr is ing ftfQli (1899). The founder of the Taip ing Tianguo (Heaven of Peace), Hong Xiuquan, declared himself the brother of Jesus, whi le the Boxers belong to a popular cult whose members claimed to have magic powers that made them invulnerable to al l kinds of arms. Mo Yan 220 ^^m^wmMtn^±Mmm \ xmMit»mm-^Mit ° -) TO Nevertheless, the history of the Grass Eaters is full o f tragedies and madness, like "the knight-errant" guided by his own "lunatic absurdity" (108). In the name o f this "lunatic absurdity", the narrator continues his dream narratives o f the past. Thus in the first "dream" M o Y a n has already laid out the basic motifs in the novel: man and Nature, sex and violence, legends and myths, as well as the bright and dark sides o f the self are incorporated in the stream-of-consciousness dream narrative o f this chapter. More important, all these are part o f the I-narrator's reflection on his family history, culminating in a pensive apprehension of "devolution". In what follows I w i l l examine