Post-Revolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neo-Liberal Age


This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with Mo Yan’s Nobel prize in literature. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s post-revolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in post-revolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development. What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter Mo Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; Yu Hua’s long-suffering peasant; Su Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; Han Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and Bai Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about Mo Yan’s 2011 Nobel prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) for this course.