Thumbnail Image

The tension of national allegory: the search for Chinese identity and modernity – an analysis of Chinese literature in the post-Mao era in the context of globalization

This dissertation focuses on an analysis of Chinese literature in the post-Mao era in the context of globalization. It utilizes Fredric Jameson's third-world cultural theory, particularly his ideas relating to national allegory, and applies theoretical constructs, such as postmodernism (e.g the theories of Jean-Francois Lyotard), postcolonial theory (e.g Edward Said’s Orientalism), Julia Kristeva’s intertextuality, the carnival theory and the idea of polyphony put forward by M. M. Bakhin, the theories of Michel Foucault, Wilhelm Reich’s character analysis, and Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. The dissertation provides a focused textual analysis of a number of literary trends that emerged in contemporary China, namely, Scar literature, Misty poetry, Root-Seeking literature, Avant-garde literature and New Realism literature. It decodes a selection of representative works from each of these literary schools, and interprets the characteristics of the key literary groups of each period. By doing so, it attempts to enrich and develop the established western theories referred to above by means of an analytical rereading of the selected texts. The first aim of my analysis is to attain a measure of “historical depth”. For this purpose, as one example, Scar by Lu Xinhua (published in 1978) is reread intertextually with Benediction by Lu Xun (published in 1928), and with The Song of Youth by Yang Mo (published in 1958). The critical perspective adopted develops further both Julia Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality and M.M. Bakhin’s carnival configuration, as well as providing new insights into the “national allegory” theory of Fredric Jameson. Second, my analysis aims to achieve a “synchronal broadness”, as can be evidenced in the examination of Root-Seeking literature where an analogy is drawn between Bababa and Nununu by Han Shaogong. The analysis not only employs Fredric Jameson’s theories as reference, it also applies Kristeva’s feminism, theories from Michel Foucault and Wilhelm Reich, as well as relevant theories from post-modernism and post-colonialism. By means of a thorough decoding of these two texts with a similar motif, but different story lines, written by the same author, we find that they display the textual elements of a strong rational design, reflecting an imagined utopian order that is characteristic of all Root-seeking literature. Furthermore, the methodology intends to create a “three-dimensional solidness,” as is shown in the supra-spatiotemporal and multi-dimensional psychoanalysis of the poetry by Yi Lei of the Misty Poetry school. It is sometimes believed that modern “Han poetry” separated itself from ancient classical literature, deviating from Chinese cultural tradition. This rebellion against tradition and the succumbing to Western literature, it is posited, have deprived modern Chinese poetry of its Chineseness and generated a double crisis - a “temporal crisis,” which means lagging behind the West, and a “normative crisis,” which means always being inferior to the Western original. This has resulted in calls for the development of a style of poetry that can be regarded as truly original. The analysis in this dissertation of the Misty poetry school provides an answer to the intrinsic relationship between '”Chineseness” and “global universality”, the individual “small I” and the national “big I”. As another example, the works of the two writers Ma Yuan and Yu Hua, whose aesthetic tendencies are diametrically opposite, are examined, followed by a review of the avant-garde work The Little House on the Hill by Can Xue. In addition, a number of interpretations of The Landscape by Fang Fang are analyzed from different perspectives. In conclusion, the Chinese literature of the post-Mao era has its own unique literary features and textual messages. Influences, both traditional and contemporary, local and international, have imbued it with elements that belong, variously, to the categories of “pre-modern”, “modern” and “postmodern”. It reveals that in contemporary China “an intrinsic mode” or “cultural order” exists of subversion and rehabilitation, disintegration and reconstruction, deviation and normalization, edge and center, ruler and ruled, underground and open, undercurrent and mainstream, the elite and the populace, official and non-governmental, commerce and politics, mass media and power. This is the complexity of the culture that explains how the ever-developing Chinese literature of the post-Mao era has at once its own intrinsic “boundaries” as well as “limitless” space for creative invention. Thus, the most important feature or contribution of this dissertation is that through a critical dissection of a selection of key, representative works, new insights can be gleaned into the layers of rich textual meaning underlying each narrative, thereby enabling a deeper and a more comprehensive appreciation of the significance of contemporary Chinese literature within a global context.
Type of thesis
Nie, M. (2003). The tension of national allegory: the search for Chinese identity and modernity – an analysis of Chinese literature in the post-Mao era in the context of globalization (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13806
The University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.