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Dynasties of demons : cannibalism from Lu Xun to Yu Hua Keefer, James Robinson


Dynasties of Demons: Cannibalism from Lu Xun to Yu Hua focuses on the issue of representations of the body in modern Chinese fiction. My interest concerns the relationship, or correspondence between "textual" bodies and the physical "realities" they are meant to represent, particularly where those representations involve the body as a discursive site for the intersection of state ideology and the individual. The relationship between the body and the state has been a question of profound significance for modern Chinese literati dating back to the late Qing, but it was Lu Xun who, with the publication of his short story "Kuangren riji" (Diary of a Madman), in 1918, initiated the literaty discourse on China's "apparent penchant for cannibalizing its own people. In the first chapter of my dissertation I discuss L u Xun's fiction by exploring two distinct, though not mutually exclusive issues: (1) his diagnosis of China's debilitating "spiritual illness," which he characterized as being cannibalistic; (2) his highly inventive, counter-intuitive narrative strategy for critiquing traditional Chinese culture without contributing to or stimulating his reader's prurient interests in violent spectacle. To my knowledge I am the first critic of modern Chinese literature to write about Lu Xun's erasure of the spectacle body. In Chapters II, III and IV, I discuss the writers Han Shaogong, Mo Yan, and Yu Hua, respectively, to illustrate that sixty years after Lu Xun's madman first "wrote" the prophetic words, chi ren A (eat people), a number of post-Mao writers took up their pens to announce that the human feast did not end with Confucianism; on the contrary, with the advent of Maoism the feasting began in earnest. Each of these post-Mao writers approaches the issue of China's "spiritual dysfunction" from quite different perspectives, which I have characterized in the following way: Han Shaogong (Atavism); Mo Yan (Ambivalent-Nostalgia); and Yu Hua (Deconstruction). As becomes evident through my analysis of selected texts, despite their very significant differences (personal, geographic, stylistic) all three writers come to oddly similar conclusions that are, in and of themselves, not dissimilar to the conclusion arrived at by Lu Xun's madman.

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