The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

Synopsis

In ancient China a monster called Taowu was known for both its vicious nature and its power to see the past and the future. Over the centuries Taowu underwent many incarnations until it became identifiable with history itself. Since the seventeenth century, fictive accounts of history have accommodated themselves to the monstrous nature of Taowu. Moving effortlessly across the entire twentieth-century literary landscape, David Der-wei Wang delineates the many meanings of Chinese violence and its literary manifestations. Taking into account the campaigns of violence and brutality that have rocked generations of Chinese--often in the name of enlightenment, rationality, and utopian plenitude--this book places its arguments along two related axes: history and representation, modernity and monstrosity. Wang considers modern Chinese history as a complex of geopolitical, ethnic, gendered, and personal articulations of bygone and ongoing events. His discussion ranges from the politics of decapitation to the poetics of suicide, and from the typology of hunger and starvation to the technology of crime and punishment.

Excerpt

This book represents an effort to integrate my engagement over the past decade with literature and history. In studying fiction, poetry, and drama drawn from various periods, this book delineates the multivalence of Chinese violence across the past century and inquires into its ethical and technological consequences. It extends its arguments between two related axes: history and representation, modernity and monstrosity.

I understand that I have undertaken a difficult task. Most of the subjects that occupy the following pages, from decapitation to suicide, from hunger to scarring, are not pleasant. But I feel compelled to write about them because they constitute a major portion of twentieth-century Chinese history, a history whose poignant beginnings and atrocious outcomes cannot be overstressed. And, given my background, I must admit to personal motivations. The literature to be discussed, particularly that which describes the 1949 Communist takeover, the diaspora of Chinese mainlanders to Taiwan and overseas, and the breakdown of family ties, with a concomitant dissipation of cultural legacies, inhabits a dark niche in the architecture of familial and communal memory. Fiction may be able to speak where history has fallen silent.

Along the pathway of my research, I became increasingly alert to the pitfalls of such a project, both personal and impersonal. I hasten to emphasize that I am writing neither a testimonial to Chinese suffering nor an exposé of Chinese cruelty. More than enough fictional and nonfictional writing has been published about the pains and sorrows of modern China, and one can even postulate the existence today of cultural industries nurtured upon Chinese atrocity, Maoist oppression, or simply the adolescent vandalism of the Cultural Revolution. These writings, while bearing witness to the horror of recent Chinese history, have led the rest of us to a dilemma:

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