Undergraduate students in the Chinese program presented their research projects in “Rewriting Modern Chinese Literature: An Undergraduate Conference” on April 18, 20 & 25, 2017. During the conference, students discussed how modern and contemporary Chinese literature is written and rewritten vis-à-vis the larger sociopolitical, cultural, and theoretical context. Topics presented in the conference included trauma and narrative, identity crisis and history’s intervention, selfhood in nation-building, fatalistic and futuristic writings, the insane and the invisible, écriture féminine and Chinese feminism, women and technology, as well as the tropes from new woman to leftover woman. They discussed tanci play, poetry, short stories, science fiction and popular song lyrics from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan since the late 19th century to the 21st century. Writers examined in the research presentations included Qiu Jin, Liang Qichao, Lu Xun, Yu Dafu, Lao She, Mao Dun, Wen Yidou, Ding Ling, Xiao Hong, Eileen Chang, Mo Yan, Can Xue, Liu Heng, Wong Bik-wan, Xi Xi, Dung Kai-chung, Wu Zuoliu, Pai Hsien-Yung, Chu T’ien-wen, Li Ang, Hsia Yu/Li Gedi, Hao Jingfang, etc.
Among the research presentations, Honor Leahy, a Chinese Studies senior, discussed the effects of technology and modernization in the female poet Hsia Yu and in her popular song writer persona Li Gedi’s creations. Honor argued that the author both condemns and submits to modernization. However, Honor also explored whether technology could destroy creativity while at the same time generating a new approach to artistic creation, and whether the author’s gender affects her attitudes towards modernization and technology. When discussing the Chinese avant-garde writer Can Xue’s surrealistic short story “Hut on the Mountain,” Chinese senior Mauricio Armaza drew on Freudian psychoanalysis and suggested that we could read the uncanny relationship between the I-narrator and the mother as an Electra complex. The rich symbolism in the fictional narrative could be read as the manifest content of Freudian dream while the chaotic history of Maoist China could be interpreted as the latent content. Chinese Studies junior Zach Rubin discussed the transition from tradition to modernity in the turn of twentieth century when the modern nation-state Republic of China replaced the Manchu Qing dynasty in Lao She’s “An Old and Established Name.” Zach suggested that Lao She, a Manchu writer who supported modernization, casts a nostalgic gaze on the good old days but is fully aware of the irresistible and inevitable trend of modernization. Ellie Currie, a Chinese Studies sophomore, suggested that the trope of “leftover woman,” despite being a contemporary coinage, could become the inspiration for new woman; the female protagonists’ isolation is indeed a form of empowerment in Eileen Chang’s “Sealed Off” in 1940s Shanghai and Xi Xi’s “A Woman Like Me” in 1990s Hong Kong.
By engaging with critical theories such as feminist theory, gender studies, postcolonial studies, Holocaust studies and psychoanalysis, the conference indicates an interdisciplinary understanding of modern and contemporary Chinese literature across national borders.
The undergraduate conference was organized by Chun-yu Lu, Visiting Assistant Professor in Chinese Studies.