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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Three faces of a space : the Shanghai pavilion room (tingzijian) in literature, 1920-1940 Jingyi, Zhang


From the 1920s to the 1940s, the pavilion room, or Tingzijian—the small room above the kitchen in an alleyway house—accommodated many Shanghai sojourners. Tingzijian functioned as lodging and as a social space for young writers and artists. For many lodger-writers, the Tingzijian was a temporary residence before they left around 1941. In the interim, Tingzijian life became a burgeoning literary subject, even a recognized literary category. This study explores what meanings people ascribed to Tingzijian, and the historical and the artistic function of the space in Chinese literature of the 1920s and 1930s. Scholars have traditionally viewed “Tingzijian literature” as the province of leftist “Tingzijian literati” (wenren) who later transformed into revolutionaries; this study reveals the involvement a much greater variety of writers. We find a cross section of the literary field, from famous writers like Ba Jin 巴金 and Ding Ling丁玲, for whom living in a Tingzijian was an important stage in their transition from the margins to the center of the literary field, to a constellation of obscure tabloid writers concerned less with revolution than with common urbanites’ daily lives. This study illustrates the heterogeneity of “Tingzijian literature” by identifying three trends in use of Tingzijian as a trope: 1) Shelter: exhibiting quotidian life in Tingzijian, thereby generating an iconic imaginary of “petty urbanites” 小市民 as a distinct socio-economic class; 2) Tomb: narrating the sense of confinement engendered by these cramped spaces, and connecting such physical, mental, and emotional entrapment to intellectuals’ social and psychological oppression; 3) Stage: mocking the “Tingzijian literati” via diagnoses of their pathological shortcomings, especially bogus expressions of revolutionary ardor or patriotic commitment—a backlash against the Tingzijian writer, who had become a recognizable, if contested, cultural figure. I base my conclusions on close textual and contextual readings of primary materials, including periodicals such as Shen Bao 申报, Modern Times 现世报, and Shanghai Guide 上海生活, diaries, memoirs, literary works, movies, and stage plays. Secondary sources include studies of Shanghai culture, architectural history and Chinese literary history.

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