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UBC Theses and Dissertations

History, identity, and the marginalized: an analysis of selected works by Han Shaogong and Su Tong Hinrichs, Noelle E.


Since Deng Xiaoping's liberalization of art and literature in 1977, literature in the People’s Republic of China has shown rapid development. While there are indisputably many sides to the "new" fiction of the Post-Mao era (1977 to present), the substance of the change can be summarized by saying that such works reflect an overall "return of the individual" to modern Chinese fiction, in terms of characterization, authorial style, and personal vision. This thesis examines the return of the individual from the specific angle of marginalized character and motif, since they are frequently used by contemporary writers to express an individual and often subversive perspective in fiction. The contemporary writers Han Shaogong and Su Tong both make use of marginalized character types and marginalized motifs in some of their key works. In the four texts presented here, "Ba, ba, ba" and "Three Women" by Han Shaogong, and "1934Escapes" and Rice by Su Tong, marginalized character and motif are used to explore and articulate authorial vision of history and identity in China. Each author defines their marginalized characters differently, yet there are basic similarities. Central characters in the four works are characterized by their social marginalization; all refer to aspects of human nature in general, and to the "Chinese nature" or cultural character in particular. Similarly, marginalized motif in each work underscores an alternative viewpoint. Regional discourse, myth, superstition, fallible narrators, and images of ostracism and alienation posit a challenge to the dominant ideologies and literary conventions of the last forty years of mainland Chinese literature. This analysis of the techniques of characterization, narration and imagery, illustrate show marginalized character and motif are defined in each work and how they are used to underscore theme and meaning. Despite the continued obsession with China, both authors manage to convey their emphasis on history and identity with a covert cultural exploration. Ultimately, their work is ordered around aspects of human response and the human condition. They are not seeking to provide answers to the question of whether China, but rather to explore the individual's place in history in human terms.

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