Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Brushing History against the Grain: Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Synopsis

This book explores some essential features of the Chinese new historical fiction (NHF) and its socio-cultural implications. It argues that the NHF constitutes an oppositional discourse that rejects, both the grand narrative of linear (revolutionary) history, which dominates Chinese official historiography, and naïve confidence in 'Chinese modernity.'

Excerpt

To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure,
power, joy, growdi, transformation of ourselves and the world — and, at the
same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know,
everything we are. Modern environments and experiences cut across all
boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion
and ideology; in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind. But
it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity; it pours us all into a maelstrom of
perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of
ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as
Marx said, ‘all that is solid melts into air.’

Marshall Berrnan (1983: 15)

Spatio-temporal perception plays an essential role in determining the type of historical texts a historian or a historical fiction writer produces. While traditional history retraces the past as continuous development, the Foucauldian “effective history” resolutely denies such continuity and attempts to capture “the randomness of events” and to “seize the various perspectives, to disclose dispersions and differences, to leave things undisturbed in their own dimension and intensity” (Foucault 1991b: 88–9). The emergence of the NHF as a sub-genre of the historical fiction rests upon, I propose, a breakthrough in the conceptualization of historical space and time as shown in modern historical fiction. However, a delineation of such a spatio-temporal breakthrough, a task I shall undertake in Chapter 3, would be unthinkable without first of all spelling out an earlier spatio-temporal form from which the NHF has deviated.

Some critics have mapped, in slightly different ways and to different extents, such a spado-temporal prototype, which distinguishes itself from both traditional narrative form, such as the historical yanyi, and the NHF. Nevertheless, they have either only implied the existence of such a spatiotemporal prototype (Liu Zaifu and Lin Gang 1993; Li Chenghua 1996), or . . .

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