AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 420

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Session 420: Xi, nu, ai, le: mapping the emotional lives of modern China

Organizer: Christopher G. Rea, University of British Columbia, Canada

Chair: Keith McMahon, University of Kansas, USA

Discussant: Keith McMahon, University of Kansas, USA

Xi-nu-ai-le (happiness, anger, sorrow, and joy) is a common Chinese idiom for the emotional spectrum of human existence. Classic texts from The Doctrine of the Mean to The Dream of the Red Chamber refer to the emotions as latent powers that, when stirred, may result in a state of harmonious equilibrium or, conversely, volatile passion (qing). The current panel takes this idiom as a dialectical framework for exploring the multiple roles of emotion in modern China as lived experience, theoretical/polemical discourse, and historical catalyst. Our premise is that the emotions have been and continue to be integral to China’s intellectual, political, commercial, cultural, and personal spheres. Revolutionaries and autocrats alike have sought to engineer and harness the passions of the masses for the ostensible betterment of the nation; poets and publishers, meanwhile, have invoked the emotions for affective and commercial ends. To note just a few examples: In the 1910s, Shanghai writer Zhou Shoujuan pedaled the pathos of exotic love. Ba Jin’s anarchist fiction of the 1930s put forward the trope of the angry youth—one which resonates with the recent fenqing phenomenon. During the War, writers escaping the Japanese advance delighted in mocking rogues they encountered on the road. Contemporary soap operas have also portrayed the joys and sorrows of migrating to the city. As these examples suggest, our four touchstones will serve merely as starting points for a broader theoretical mapping of modern China as a sphere of emotion. What has Chinese modernity felt like?

Happiness (xi): Maids, Tenants, and the Urban Merry-Go-Round in the Professor Tian Series
Haiyan Lee, Stanford University, USA

Modernity has commonly been associated with the rise of the city and the widening gulf between the urban and the rural economically, culturally, and psychologically. It can also be characterized by the subordination of kinship sociality to stranger sociality—the dominant register of the urban experience based on contractual and transitory relationships between strangers. The Chinese socialist state has sought to tame stranger sociality through the disciplinary/welfare institutions of hukou (household registration) and danwei (work unit) and through large scale, compulsory urban-to-rural migrations. Since the 1980s, however, even larger scale rural-to-urban migrations have not only put new strains on socialist governmentality, but also confronted urban residents with a renewed form of stranger sociality. In this presentation, I look at two television soap operas set in the Shanghai home of a fictional Professor Tian and his family: 28 Maids at Professor Tian’s (1998) and 28 Tenants at Professor Tian’s (2001). In both, maids and tenants are strangers that have been inducted into urban hearth and home. Their presence gives the urbanites their first genuine taste of the perils and pleasures of stranger sociality in the form of employer-employee and landlord-tenant relationships. The Tian household becomes a kind of reception center of urban society, negotiating its hopes and anxieties in the face of alterity, while also vetting and assimilating strangers to the urban regime of civility. The process is surprisingly full of mirth, signaling a new confidence in, and enjoyment of, “difference” as well as an emerging ethic of cosmopolitan hospitality.

Anger (nu/fen) and Terror: Anarchism and the Cult of Youth in Ba Jin’s Early Novels
Mingwei Song, Wellesley College, USA

“Angry youth,” as known today in urban China, is not a completely new phenomenon in Chinese literature. Ba Jin’s early novels, for instance, describe young people’s furious attacks on China’s traditional patriarchal system. In these novels, the author focuses on the revolutionary/terrorist activities of devoted anarchists who aim to eliminate all institutional constraints imposed to youths, including government, education, marriage, and family. This paper analyzes the affective capacities of “anger” and “terror” as heightened by Ba Jin through the melodramatic imagination of “revelational moments” in a cultural war between young vanguards and aged patriarchs. My aim is to reveal the ethical and emotional dimensions of the “cult of youth,” as defined by Ba Jin’s writings, which radicalizes China’s youth culture in an even stronger wave than the May Fourth, in the sense that it targets at the “soul” of youth by intending to purify it through anger, terror, and sacrifice. The texts I am going to analyze are Ba Jin’s three early novels: Miewang (Destruction, 1929), Xinsheng (New Life, 1933), Aiqing de sanbuqu (The Love Trilogy: Fog, Rain, Thunder, and Lightening, 1931-1933), mostly written at the same time when he composed his magnum opus Jia (Family, 1932). Literary analysis will be combined with historical investigation of the development of the politics and ethics of anarchism in China during the 1920s-30s. Ba Jin’s personal involvement in the anarchist movement (on provincial, national and international levels) will be discussed with the aid of some recently discovered materials.

Exotic Sorrow (ai) and Cultural Politics: Zhou Shoujuan’s Duzhuan Fiction in Early Republican Era, 1914-1917
Jianhua Chen, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong

In the mid-1910s Zhou Shoujuan wrote numerous sad love stories, for which he became popular, and many of them were what he claimed were duzhuan杜撰 stories usually regarded as worthless fake translation. Out of his exotic imagination they dealt with the theme of love and death in foreign countries tied to the French Revolution, European wars, and Russian nihilists. In his exotic fiction, in contrast to Chinese love stories which he complained were dry and gloomy, Zhou represented imagined foreignness, mainly based on his abundant reading of Western literature, in order to arouse sensations and at the same time to introduce new culture charged with his reformist agenda. Zhou’s stories of wartime are replete with French patriotic heroes and heroines, implying a paradigm shift from “death for love” to “death for the nation.” Ironically, however, in sympathetically depicting how aristocrats selflessly rescued each other from mob suppression during the French Revolution, Zhou eulogized love for its own sake. In his Russian stories, female assassins were praised for their courage and determination in revenge, resonant with the tide of woman emancipation in early Republican years. At the time, sorrow was the most important emotional mediation in cultural exchanges between China and the West, and between tradition and modernity, functioning in remolding national personality and shaping the imagined love community. Zhou’s exotic fiction urges us to reflect on the issues of cultural politics in popular literature in modern China.

The Joys (le) of Running Away: China’s Wartime Picaresque
Christopher G. Rea, University of British Columbia, Canada

Escape, as Poshek Fu (2003) has noted, was one of the leitmotifs of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). This period saw mass migration to southern and western China, pushed by the Japanese invasion and pulled by the Nationalists’ retreat to Chongqing and the broader territory known as “the Greater Rear Area.” Yet during the war, the act of running away and the existential state of exile/refugeedom were often represented in comedic terms. For many writers and artists on the run, the incongruities, culture clashes, and outrageous behaviors encountered during wartime travel were best expressed through humor, satire, farce, and burlesque. Using the notion of the “picaresque” (comedic travel), this paper maps out the comedic geography of China’s wartime interior by examining an array of fictional, dramatic, and pictorial texts, including Xiao Hong’s Ma Bole, Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Ye Qianyu’s “Escape from Hong Kong” and “Wartime Chongqing” cartoons, and stage plays by Ding Xilin, Chen Baichen, and Lao She. It argues that the picaresque became a favored imaginative mode for dealing with pressing wartime questions, not least: with everyone uprooted from their social networks and places of origin, how to tell who is who? Their comedic types—heroes, rogues, and opportunists among them—I show, sometimes put people in their places, but at others beg further questions about how knowable identity is in an allegedly “extraordinary time” (feichang shiqi).