I want to explore various aesthetic means by which the political image of the individual has been envisioned and forged in twentiethcentury China. What, for example, has it meant to be an individual, to possess a personal and collective identity, in the turbulent history of twentieth-century China? What do the shapes of self look like within various ideological discourses and aesthetic forms such as literature and film? What are the symbolic and mental resources that have fueled individual and collective aspirations and been used to heal the wounds and despairs of modern Chinese history? What is an individual supposed to be, in addition to his or her creaturely inclinations for food and sex? With what figure should one identify in order to be larger, stronger, and loftier than one's mundane self, to pull oneself out of the mire of the everyday and the instinctual, and to generate meaning out of the bewildering nonsense of history? Modern Chinese literature and culture have busily put one figure after another on the pedestal for us to admire and emulate. From May Fourth to June Fourth, Chinese.Culture has never ceased to search for a sublime, lofty Hero. If the grand narrative of modern Chinese history is a tragic drama, the spectator has been induced to endow the dominant actor with sublime qualities.
This study is not meant to be an essay on the sublime. It is not a study of the sublime as a mere aesthetic category within the academic "discipline of aesthetics" aimed at describing a concept with hairsplitting finesse. Rather, I want to examine a mythically conceived