2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 133

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Transforming the Canon: The Reconstruction of Modern Chinese Literature

Organizer and Chair: David Hull, University of Puget Sound, USA

The unsettled nature of Chinese literature in the twentieth century strained interpretations of its texts. In many cases, the creators, either on their own initiative or prodded by political considerations, returned to their works to make alterations which created new works, often at odds with the original. This panel will deal with the process and implications of the alteration of an original, already established work. The issues in this panel cross multiple media: stage productions, fiction, music and film. Christopher Rea examines the stage productions of Chen Baichen and other comic writers; Zhansui Yu explores the politics and commercialization of the film adaptations of Su Tong and Yu Hua; Xiang He addresses Liu Qing’s paradoxical editing of The Builders; Lily Wong traces the checkered life of Rose, Rose, I Love You, the song born of the novel of the same name; and David Hull analyzes the post-revolution alterations in Mao Dun’s Eclipse trilogy. The panel will forgo a single discussant in favor of a collaborative discussion.

Writing literary history through ‘piecemeal cuts and minor enhancements’: Chinese authorial self-revision across the 1949 divide
Christopher G. Rea, University of British Columbia, Canada

The cultural politics of the Mao era (1949-1976) obliged a generation of Chinese writers and editors to purge politically incorrect elements in old literary works—both their own and others’. The self-re-fashioning imperative was particularly acute for writers who had made their names during the Republican era (1911-1949) and later joined the leadership of the PRC cultural bureaucracy, as their visibility drew attention to their old works. Consequently, the 1950s and 1960s saw extensive efforts on the parts of Mao Dun, Lao She, Xia Yan, Chen Baichen, and other literary luminaries to account for and/or revise their earlier works. This paper will show that while many such revisions were done “silently,” leaving readers of new editions none the wiser as to the content of the original works, occasionally editors were quite forthright about what had been changed and why: we shouldn’t be making fun of the noble peasant anymore, so the butt of the joke’s been changed to a landlord’s son. Yet not all literary (self-)revisions were strictly political. After Mao’s death, the cultural climate relaxed, and some writers took the opportunity of republication to make ‘piecemeal cuts and minor enhancements,’ as the arch satirist Qian Zhongshu put it, to the works of their youth. Focusing on comedic literature, and particularly the stage comedies of Chen Baichen, this paper will analyze several instances of PRC (self-)bowdlerization of literary works first published during the Republican era and will consider how this history of textual revision relates to broader changes in Chinese artistic sensibilities after 1949.

Mechanisms of Control and Strategies of Compliance: Negotiation between Politics, Entertainment, and Subjectivity in the Chinese Film Production
Zhansui Yu, Nazareth College, USA

This essay explores the similar and differentiated guiding principles that the Party adopts to control literature and mass media by comparing two classic fictional works in contemporary China—Su Tong’s novella “Proliferation of Wives and Concubines” and Yu Hua’s novel To Live—with their respective film adaptations “Raise the Red Lantern” and “To Live.” Based on the comparisons, it attempts to shed light on three issues: (1) the mechanisms of censorship over literature and mass media on the part of the Chinese Party-state in the context of globalization and commercialization; (2) the strategies adopted by Chinese writers and media professionals to cater to both the government’s favor and popular tastes; and (3) the changing relationship between intellectuals and the Party-state and the changing subjectivity on the part of Chinese intellectuals in the post-Mao era. The essay starts with a brief review of the changing social and intellectual milieu in post-Mao China. It then moves to the two case studies to demonstrate the workings of “market principle” and “political principle” in the Chinese film production. It continues to discuss the changing subjectivity of Chinese media professionals and their changed attitude toward the Party-state from defiance in the 1980s to compliance in the new century by comparing Zhang Yimou’s two aforementioned movies with his “Hero.” The final part makes tentative conclusions based on the preceding analyses.

Voyage to Utopia: Liu Qing’s rewriting and defense of writing of The Builders
Xiang He, University of New Mexico, USA

In the literary history, the first decade of the People’s Republic of China undoubtedly belongs to the “Red Canons”. It is well-known that most of these multi-volume productions underwent revisions either by author or through collective working, a mode of writing that is usually on purpose of serving political ideology and thus regarded non-creative and non-authentic. However, Liu Qing’s epic novel The Builders provides a more complicated case in terms of revision. The first volume of this novel was originally published in 1959 and revised several times thereafter. By a comparative reading of the original and revised texts, this paper presents how Liu Qing’s revision influenced the structure of novel and limited the development of characters, as well as how his refusal of change and defense of characters were misunderstood for a long time. This seemingly paradoxical juxtaposition of revision and refusal to rewrite, I would argue, designates to a co-existence of ideology and utopia in Liu Qing’s work. Therefore, this realistic epic novel is not only a representation of the “essence of history”, but also about a “life story” of Chinese peasants. Being captured within the undercurrents of their lives, the images of the Socialist New Man show a possibility beyond political ideology in the realm of art and shed light on an aesthetic form of Utopia.

Moving Serenades: Aesthetic Transformations of Rose, Rose, I Love You From Song to Novel
Lily Wong, American University, USA

Despite being once called “trash” by the author’s own wife, “dirty” by his own daughter, and an “offense to the ear” by the later cultural minister of Taipei Long Ying-Tai, Wang Zhenghe’s Rose, Rose, I Love You remains one of the first of Cold-War era Taiwanese novels to have gained an international readership. As Jing Tsu notes, “how the ear could be the assaulted organ in an act of reading refocuses attention on the literary language as an uneasy union between aurality and script.” My analysis of Wang’s novel, thus, traces the politics behind the transpacific (China-US-Hong Kong- Taiwan circulated), trans-lingual, and trans-medial mutations of the song, Rose, Rose, I Love You, which not only bears the name of, but literally closes, Wang’s novel. In particular, I discuss the way the song “moves” both spatially and affectually. That is, in addition to tracking the geopolitics of Rose, Rose, I Love You’s audiospatiality, I listen closely to the structure of feelings that shift and transform through the song’s travels through time and place. I argue that it is precisely through these “movements” that the tune is able to create spaces in which discourses of national and cultural nativity in Wang’s tale get both contested and consolidated, both sounded and silenced—double acts of delinquency that complicate both the novel’s geopolitical rendering of Taiwan’s Cold War-era identity, and the disciplinary boundaries that govern past studies of the text in the academy. Thus, by lending an ear to its “dirty” resonances and sullied accents, I track how Rose, Rose, I Love You’s movements across continents, languages, and time, simultaneously summon, contest, and morph Wang’s, now canonical, tale of Taiwan nation-building.

Transformation and Loss: The Editing of Mao Dun’s Eclipse
David Hull, University of Puget Sound, USA

Mao Dun’s devastation at the 1927 failed communist uprising led him turn from literary criticism to author. His first work of fiction and distillation of that personal devastation was the trilogy Eclipse. It was originally serialized in Xiaoshuo yuebao in 1927-28, then collected in 1930 by Kaiming shudian and published bound in one book. This version of the trilogy would make Mao Dun’s name as one of the foremost realist authors in China, and place him in the same pantheon as Lu Xun and Lao She. After the revolution, Mao Dun struggled with the text and in 1954 he made significant edits to the edition that would appear in his Complete Works and survive as the only published and canonical edition. This paper will present a detailed typology of the edits that Mao Dun made in the 1954 version of Eclipse. An analysis of the edits shows that Mao Dun was very defensive, eliminating most of the potentially dangerous aspects of the trilogy, including passages that might be misinterpreted to his political disadvantage, but these edits come at the expense of what Mao Dun is often praised for. Characters that were originally multifaceted and conflicted became simplified and ideologically bland - this is particularly true of his female characters. The narrative voice is streamlined and wrestled into a more consistent form of realism. The sense of devastation, confusion and internal conflict that was the impetus for the novels is lost. These changes argue not for the ultimate value of the original, but for a reexamination of similar texts within the canon.