Academic journal article China Perspectives

Blanks to Be Filled

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Blanks to Be Filled

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In July 2009 a novel that had been banned for 15½ years quietly went on sale again. That novel was Jia Pingwa's Fei du (...), or Decadent Capital. Set in the 1980s in the fictional provincial capital of Xijing (...), the story follows the celebrated writer Zhuang Zhidie through various extramarital affairs as he battles a lawsuit and tries to finish a novel. The 2009 edition was not the same as the original, however: the 1993 edition possessed a key feature that the new one did not. It was not the sex; that was left untouched. But the blank squares - ... - followed by "(the author has deleted ncharacters)" (zuozhe shan qun zi...), strewn throughout the 1993 text in place of sexual descriptions edited out by Jia, were replaced in 2009 by ellipses - ...... - and "(here the author has made deletions)" (ci chu zuozhe you shan jie ...).

The change may seem minor, but this second censorship reveals what is at stake in post-Tiananmen cultural governance: the closure of alternative publics.(1)Decadent Capital, constituted as it was through censorship, nevertheless defies it, as my reading will argue. In this article I first situate the novel in the post-socialist literary landscape from which it emerged in 1993 and analyse its depiction of that very landscape. I then examine the critical discourse surrounding the infamous blank squares, both their appearance in the first edition and their disappearance from the reissue. Finally, by way of a brief consideration of their place in modern Chinese literary history, I contend that the blank squares not only make public censorship itself but also constitute the space of alternative publics, whether harking back to an elided past or projecting into a future yet to be written.

The literary marketplace

First published amidst a veritable uproar in the summer of 1993, Decadent Capital signalled perhaps more than any other work of the reform period the transformation of the publishing industry that started with marketisation - reduction of state subsidies and purchases, decentralisation, the lifting of controls on prices and resource allocation - in the 1980s and accelerated after Deng Xiaoping's celebrated "southern tour" in 1992.(2)There were rumours (promotional ploy or not) of bidding wars and a million-yuan advance, and more than a dozen publishers vied for the novel before it was even completed. After Beijing Publishing House won the book contract, demand was so high that it sold its printing rights to six other presses.(3) Then in January 1994, the ban was announced. Printing and distribution were stopped, copies were recalled, and not only were the publisher's profits confiscated, it was assessed twice the amount in fines. (4)

Speculated on for months - perhaps another ruse to drive up sales - the ban, when it did come, came as no surprise, for the text, marked as it is by manifest instances of self-censorship, still contains a healthy dose of explicit sex, as seen in this scene featuring the protagonist Zhuang Zhidie and one of his mistresses, Tang Wan'er (...):

Tang Wan'er was going to take off her shoes and stockings completely, but Zhuang Zhidie said he preferred her with heels, lifted her legs and, standing by the bed, started to do it. ... (the author has deleted three hundred seventy-nine characters) She was screaming, attached yet in motion. Zhuang Zhidie had never experienced this, and immediately his male desire to conquer bounded. He counted to a hundred and didn't come early, surprising even himself. Tang Wan'er's face had long been flushed, her hair wild, yet she sat up and said: "Let me change positions for you!" She got off the bed and bent over the side. Zhuang Zhidie still didn't come, his eyes fixing on a blue birthmark on her left butt, not saying a word, only hyperventilating. She paused to take off her shoes and stockings, ^^^^^^ (the author has deleted two hundred thirteen characters) Zhuang Zhidie drunkenly watched her contort like a worm, her lips quivering, eyes rolling, then she emitted a sudden yell, (the author has deleted fifty characters). …

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