Global Chinese Literature: Critical Essays

By Iovene, Paola | The China Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Global Chinese Literature: Critical Essays


Iovene, Paola, The China Journal


Global Chinese Literature: Critical Essays, edited by Jing Tsu and David Der-wei Wang. Leiden: Brill, 2010. ? + 231 pp. euro97.00/US$ 137.00 (hard- cover).

Since the publication of Shu-mei Shih's Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Artic- ulations across the Pacific (2007), the term Sinophone has been employed to con- test nation-centered approaches to Chinese cultural studies and to call attention to Sinitic-language expressions from diverse parts of the world. Bringing together scholars of Chinese and comparative literature and Asian American studies, this book offers a rich and thought-provoking engagement with this concept, raising the fundamental question of what "global Chinese literature" means and what is at stake in naming it Sinophone. While disagreeing on whether the Sinophone should encompass mainland Chinese literature, the authors share the aim of countering understandings of Chinese diasporas that assume an enduring attachment to the nation. They call attention to the minor sounds and marginal voices that have been suppressed by the dominance of Mandarin, and emphasize locally specific and time-sensitive interactions at places of transit or arrival. In their introduction, Jing Tsu and David Wang write that the Sinophone "seek[s] to dismantle the hegemonic focus of a 'national' Chinese literature and perhaps of a national literature at all" (p. 6). Two main meanings of the term emerge from the essays: the first refers to minority articulations outside or on the margins of China, while the second designates a mode of reading focused on the material aspects of language- scripts and sounds- and on the uneven processes of translation between the global and local in any Chinese cultural expression. Even though these meanings come together in some of the contributions, the editors do not strive for one single definition, but rather value the dialogue that emerges from their dissonance.

The first four essays discuss what the Sinophone is, while the following six showcase what it can do. A "Commentary" by Eric Hayot concludes the book. For Kim Chew Ng, the Sinophone indicates Chinese-language literatures in contexts in which Chinese is a minority language, such as in Southeast Asia. Excluded from national literature and characterized by a strong sense of place, the Sinophone bears affinities with Deleuze and Guattari s notion of a "minor literature". Shu-mei Shih's programmatic intervention encompasses not only Sinitic-language communities outside China but also those on its margins. From an Asian Americanist perspective, Sau-Ling Wong's sweeping contribution critiques China's desire to be acknowledged as a centripetal force and proposes "locatedness" as a way to call attention to migrants' imbrications in their place of arrival. These and other understandings of the Sinophone are then discussed in Tee Kim Tongs essay, which offers a helpful genealogy of the term.

The remaining contributions focus on specific processes of textual, aural and visual mediation. Jing Tsu's essay does not aim to rescale the literary beyond the nation, but rather seeks to disaggregate the national language by reconsidering its script, which she sees as an unstable "medium of change, strife, and assimilation" (p. 97). Retracing attempts to capture regional accents at the turn of the 20th century, she recovers a late Qing phonetization movement that was then overwritten by the dichotomy of classical Chinese and vernacular. …

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