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

By Shu-Mei Shih | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Performing Semicolonial Subjectivity
The Work of Mu Shiying

This chapter delineates the particular nexus of Shanghai cultural cosmopolitanism, nationalism, and semicolonialism in the work of another leading new sensationist writer, Mu Shiying (1912–1940). As a modernist in the early and mid-1930s, Mu Shiying upheld the standards of cultural cosmopolitanism, which meant freely incorporating Western and Japanese literary practices into his work and staunchly resisting nationalism as it was discursively and politically constructed by the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Party. Mu considered such nationalism highly problematic, whether as a discourse of resistance against Western and Japanese imperialisms or as a discourse of legitimation for an oppressive regime, due to both organizations' chauvinistic and demagogic propensities. The incoherence of the Nationalist government's cultural policy enabled the League of LeftWing Writers to dominate and move opinions, often forcefully constructing oppositions between friend and foe, and deploying hired hands to criticize those who opposed or were ambivalent about the League's dicta on literary production. Mu was a victim of ruthless criticism by the League, so what little allegiance he had left over from his earlier Marxist inclinations was gradually overwhelmed by anger and resentment. Mu emphasized instead an unapologetic belief in literary autonomy, exercised through various strategies that displaced nationalism and consequently the semicolonialism of which nationalism would have been the most direct form of critique.

I explore Mu Shiying's systematic displacement of colonial reality through multiple registers—gender representation, an ambiguous nationalism, a critique of capitalism (but not the semicolonial condition per se), and the practice of pure textuality—by reading his works written after his turn to new sensationist fiction around 1932. Through these readings, I demonstrate that Mu's displacement of colonial reality indicates not a failure to achieve na-

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