Papers on Modern Literature I

Contemporary I
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room E

  • Chaired by Federica Gamberini
  • Keru Cai, “Poverty and Squalor in Modern Chinese Realism”
  • Pei-yin Lin, Kaibin Ouyang, “Mu Xin as Icarus-Artist and His Romantic Bildung and Its Implications”
  • Sasha Hsiang-Yin Chen, “Honour and Power in Poetic Language and Ideology. Translation Studies and Transcultural Analyses of Russian-Soviet, Taiwanese, and Chinese Rock Music”
  • Daria Berg, Giorgio Strafella, “China’s New Media Superstars”

Keru Cai, “Poverty and Squalor in Modern Chinese Realism”

How do early 20th-century Chinese intellectuals sift through centuries of Western and Chinese literary history and compact them into new genres during a few decades of heady experimentation? I argue that modern Chinese realist writers frequently turned to the topic of material poverty—starving peasants, urban labourers, homeless orphans—to convey their sense of textual poverty and national backwardness. At odds with a literary and linguistic tradition that for thousands of years had been largely the purview of the scholar-official class, the radically new topic of poverty in fact enriched the nascent forms of Chinese fiction: by depicting poverty, writers innovated strategies of representing the nation, the social other, and time and space, while problematizing the ethical implications of deploying this weighty topic for aesthetic purposes. Though it was contact with Western cultures that produced their sense of backwardness, Chinese writers discovered within those foreign literary traditions—particularly Russian realism—the narrative tools to remedy China’s purported textual deficiency by writing about poverty. I examine why Russian literature, itself long preoccupied with a problem of belatedness vis à vis Western Europe, occupied a privileged place for Chinese intellectuals of this era. Comparing fiction about poverty by Lu Xun, Xiao Hong, Yu Dafu, Jiang Guangci, and lesser-known writers, to their Russian intertexts by Gogol, Andreev, Turgenev, and others, I show how Chinese writers drew and innovated upon themes (such as madness or human animality) and formal elements (such as metonymy or free indirect discourse) to invent a new, syncretic realism.

Pei-yin Lin, Kaibin Ouyang, “Mu Xin as Icarus-Artist and His Romantic Bildung and Its Implications”

Mu Xin (1927–2011) is an important yet understudied Chinese writer, poet and artist who grew up with the May Fourth inspirations, survived the Cultural Revolution, and rose to fame in 1980s Taiwan during his sojourn in New York. His work sparked what was called “Mu Xin fever” in 1980s Taiwan and Chinese mainland in this century. Appraisals of his writing to date, however, tend to lack historical analysis and cultural perspective. This paper argues that Mu Xin is highly relevant to modern Chinese culture and history, and to modernity at large, and this can be best illuminated through the angle of cross-cultural romantic subjectivity. Based on Literary Memoirs, Mu Xin’s lectures on world literature, this paper traces Mu Xin’s self-identity as “Icarus artist,” an archetype linking the 19th century European and modern Chinese Romanticism. It points out that the essence of Mu Xin’s romantic self-fashioning—the ideal of self-education, realisation and perfection through art—bears great affinity with the German tradition of Bildung, especially that in early German romanticism. It then discusses that Mu Xin’s early Bildung benefitted immensely from Republican China’s “aesthetic education,” and how he relied on his Bildung to survive the Cultural Revolution. It concludes that Mu Xin provides a fascinating case to revisit modern Chinese romanticism from a cross-cultural and post-revolutionary perspective. His Bildung under Mao’s totalitarianism not only miraculously extends modern Chinese romantic individualism, but also manifests his own unique Icarian image—a Nietzschean superman with Laozi’s wisdom and Wei-Jin aesthetics (魏晉風度).

Sasha Hsiang-Yin Chen, “Honour and Power in Poetic Language and Ideology. Translation Studies and Transcultural Analyses of Russian-Soviet, Taiwanese, and Chinese Rock Music”

This proposal studies the poetic language and ideology of rock music, showing the literary, musical and socio-political connections between rock musicians and their works in the Soviet Union, Taiwan and mainland China after the open policies in the 1980s. In conference presentation, I would target the three significant figures in the above-mentioned three areas, with specific reference to the songs of Boris Grebenshchikov, Xue Yue and Cui Jian, to show their ideological similarities and cultural differences under communism, socialism or collectivism and to demonstrate transcultural movements in the face of rising capitalism and commercialism. Providing such comparative and transcultural analysis of the contemporary texts of their songs in the 1980s enables a re-reading and scrutiny of the place of rock music in Russian-Soviet, Taiwanese and Chinese cultures and their relationship between musicians and their fans under the social transitions.

Daria Berg, Giorgio Strafella, “China’s New Media Superstars”

The paper aims to analyse the rise of authors, artists and cultural entrepreneurs (wenhua qiyejia) as China’s new media superstars. This study analyses changes in popular culture, gender roles and social dynamics in a globalising post-socialist China (1997–present). It examines how cultural entrepreneurs—including Anni Baobei, Xu Jinglei, Han Han, Guo Jingming, and Cao Fei—invent themselves as ‘consumption celebrities’ (Guy Debord, 1992) whose multi-media personae epitomise the many facets of China’s new culture of consumption. China’s Internet population reached 854 million in 2019 with a 61% penetration rate (CNNIC 2019). The digital media offer platforms for a new vernacular culture and competing discourses. This study analyses first, how China’s new stars fashion themselves as a new type of celebrity; and second, how their works create a media spectacle. This media spectacle exists on three levels: first, as the public spectacle of male and female self-fashioning, casting the new media celebrity; second, as literary or artistic reflections on China’s globalisation and rise to superpower status; and third, as the epitome of the rise of women as China’s new cultural entrepreneurs. This paper aims to contribute to our understanding of celebrity culture, the tensions between official and unofficial discourses, China’s vernacular and officially ordained cultures, and also the rise of women as cultural entrepreneurs in China’s mediasphere. This research will shed new light on China’s new media superstars and changing cultural dynamics in the era of globalisation. This paper is jointly authored by Daria Berg and Giorgio Strafella.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room E
Contemporary I