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The representation of history in contemporary Chinese fiction : Han Shaogong, Mo Yan, Su Tong Lee, Vivian P. Y.

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 Mao 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. My 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 of 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.

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