The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

Synopsis

"Quite apart from her contributions as a literary critic, Shu-mei Shih is able to historicize literary developments of the period most persuasively. Her analysis of Shanghai, the city, and the literary movement it spawned, is crafted with great sensitivity to both history and literature. In many ways, it is the most inclusive historical study of modern Chinese literature in its formative period."--Prasenjit Duara, author of "Rescuing History from the Nation"

"This is the most thoroughly researched study of Chinese modernism published to date. The author's theoretical interventions greatly enrich our understanding of colonial modernity and the stakes of comparison in cross-cultural studies. The book is a major contribution to modern Chinese literary studies and comparative literature."--Lydia Liu, editor of "Tokens of Exchange"

Excerpt

In the fall of 1990 I visited Shi Zhecun, the only surviving modernist from the 1930s, then eighty-five years old. His flat was in an old building from the Republican era standing in crowded proximity to many other similar buildings on a narrow tree-lined street in the heart of Shanghai. In the main room of the three-room flat, moldings along the edges of the ceiling, a fireplace, and a small veranda with iron railings were all remnants of bygone Shanghai, particularly conspicuous in a nation filled with functionalistic architecture born from a Marxist-nationalist, ascetic ideology in the preceding decades. Had the fireplace been operational or the veranda filled with potted plants, one might have thought the room had been frozen in the time of the late 1920s and early 1930s, when a European lifestyle was the trend among the Shanghai cosmopolitan cultural elites. The fireplace was empty though, and there were no tools. Since they were made of iron, the tools had been taken for smelting during the Great Leap Forward and had never been replaced. From the veranda, there was also no view to speak of. In the middle of this crowded but otherwise clean and pleasant room that served simultaneously as the writer's study, bedroom, dining room, and living room was Shi Zhecun, seated grandly at his desk, wearing a green terry cloth bathrobe over a white dress shirt and black-grey dress pants tightened around the waist with an old-fashioned leather belt, smoking a pipe. Wearing a hearing device in one ear, Shi had an oval face with gentle and delicate features befitting a Southern gentleman. For three full days, he graciously entertained my questions about his work and the time of his youth as a writer in old Shanghai. He talked passionately not only about French symbolists, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf, who had been some of his favorite writers back then, but also about various contemporary Western writers, including the latest developments in literary theory such as deconstruction.

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