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Mending the web : a thematic study of Xu Dishan’s fiction Bailey, Catherine Diana Alison


This thesis is a thematic study of the work of the early Twentieth Century Chinese writer Xu Dishan (Luo Huasheng) (1894-1941). The title, "Mending the Web," is at once a reference to a specific story by Xu and an indication of the importance he placed on spiritual values in a changing world. His work represents a modest search for a solution to the dislocation of his society - his own attempt to mend the broken web of modern China. In his work Xu promoted personal solutions and individual salvation rather than the whole scale transformation of society. He stressed the importance of working for change within a given framework - he was a reformer, not a revolutionary, a moderator searching for a synthesis based on universal values rooted in both the Chinese and Western traditions. The values upheld in his fiction are uncompromising - one must follow one' s conscience, accept duty and responsibility calmly, show charity and forgiveness and, above all be true to oneself. Xu1s stress on personal and spiritual solutions marks him out from the majority of his iconoclastic contemporaries who advocated wholesale social change. In Chapter One, I try to provide an historical and ideological context for Xu, a comparative background from which to examine him in relation to his contemporary writers and the times in which he lived. The value Xu placed on a unifying framework, or a sense of order to replace chaos, is made apparent in Chapter Two, where I discuss his quest for values and the romance and mythopoeic modes which inform much of his work. In particular I look at the quest themes which influence the structure and message of his stories, concentrating primarily on an analysis of "Yuguan" and "A Daughter's Heart" based on an extrapolation of the "monomyths" of Joseph Campbell and Northrop Frye. I examine the influence of Christianity on Xu's work, his emphasis on a strongly moral vision and his search for an affirmation of life and the individual's potentiality for goodness. In Chapter Three I analyse Xu's attitude to life and fate in relation to his use of the coincidence motif which acts in his stories as a catalyst and test for action. The coincidence makes the world small, and thus provides a testing ground for characters' actions. A vital element in this is the concept of baoying or requital, whereby an individual is responsible for his or her actions and is judged accordingly. Xu believed an individual has a responsibility to make the best of an unknown fate, but still to work within given limits to have an influence for the good. A strong moral grammar informs Xu's work, providing a framework for judging the acts of his characters. In Chapter Four I look at Xu's use of female protagonists to embody his philosophy of life. Women like Yuguan and Chuntao represent Xu's ideals in their most specific form, embodying that sense of affirmation and hope so central to Xu' s work and offering models of human potentiality, an optomistic vision of life as it could be. In the conclusion I touch on the role of morality in Xu's fiction. His work is deeply moral in orientation and offers an interesting contrast to that of his contemporaries equally engaged in writing fiction for a purpose. Xu's concern for spiritual values was almost unique among writers of that period. His fiction is primarily a fiction of ideas and his themes and messages dominate. He was searching for a solution to the dislocation of his society, as were his contemporaries, but he did not suggest a radical social transformation but rather to work within the existing framework. He looked for personal solutions, believing in the innate capacity of the human being to change for the better. He advocated change, but stressed that it must first come individually, through the development of self-knowledge, on a modest scale, before the world can be transformed. His solution was modest yet profound, and filled with hope.

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