Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Modernity with a Cold War Face

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Modernity with a Cold War Face

Article excerpt

Xiaojue Wang. Modernity with a Cold War Face. Nonfiction. Cambridge, MA, and London. Harvard University Asia Center. 2013. 376 pages. $39.95. ISBN 9780674726727

The year 1949 has rarely been challenged as the ideological and literary watershed-the dividing moment-in Chinese history until the publication of Xiaojue Wang's Modernity with a Cold War Face. In this book, Wang makes an ambitious attempt to bridge the Great 1949 Divide by considering the Chinese culture around this period "as something arising out of the global geopolitical and cultural conflict known as the Cold War." The author reads Chinese literary production in the 1940s and 1950s as a continuum of Chinese modernity "in terms of the relationship between poetics and politics, nation and narration." Wang similarly views the Cold War as a global-scale condition that animates various modes of national and cultural imaginations, producing "modernities with a Cold War face." Through this new historical and transnational perspective, Wang aims to undo a series of generic, gender, moral, disciplinary, linguistic, and ideological dichotomies in existing Cold War rhetoric.

The Cold War rhetoric, as Wang reveals in her book, has consigned literary studies to be the maidservant of politics and ideology. Wang thus focuses on excavating the repressed Chinese modernities in the literary production of greater China, including mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, in the 1940s and '50s. Chapter one provides a brief genealogy of modern Chinese literature. Wang points out that modern Chinese literature was not institutionalized as a discipline until the early years of the Cold War in the PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan through tripartite negotiations between contesting political and cultural discourses in these three regions.

The next five chapters in Wang's book provide five testimonies from modern Chinese writers in response to the Great 1949 Divide-not through political coercion as the Cold War rhetoric would have it, but through contestations and negotiations of multiple forces. The first two chapters focus on Shen Congwen and Ding Ling, two prominent modern Chinese writers who stayed in mainland China after 1949. Denounced and obliterated by the new Communist regime, Shen Congwen dedicated himself to researching Chinese art and art history in his last forty years of life. Wang emphasizes the necessity to valorize the aesthetic and historical visions that Shen constructed in his art scholarship, because his "aesthetic of the fragment and fragmentation" suggests a way to breach the totality of Cold War ideology. Ding Ling also experienced fallout in post 1949 China, but she resolutely embraced the Maoist revolutionary discourse at the cost of her literary creativity. However, after death, Ding was recognized by the CCP as a writer and not a revolutionary. …

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