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Brushing History Against the Grain

Reading the Chinese New Historical Fiction (1986-1999)

Qingxin Lin

Publication Year: 2005

This book explores some essential features of the Chinese new historical fiction (NHF) and its socio-cultural implications. It argues that the NHF constitutes an oppositional discourse that rejects, both the grand narrative of linear (revolutionary) history, which dominates Chinese official historiography, and naïve confidence in ‘Chinese modernity.’

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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pp. v-vi


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p. vii

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pp. 1-25

This book concentrates on the new historical fiction (新歷史小説) (hereinafter abbreviated as NHF), a term used loosely to label a corpus of narrative works emerging in mainland China since the mid-1980s,1 which recite histories in various new ways, marking epistemological and ontological differences from previous models of the historical fiction in China. Being a constituent part of Chinese avant-gardism, the NHF, like other Chinese avant-garde fictions of the same period of time, had manifested both influences from foreign literature and the anxieties over Chinese reality. ...

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1 - Towards a Delineation

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pp. 27-56

The "new historical fiction" is a rather loose term referring to a large corpus of narratives which, in their recitations of the historical past (most of which are fictive), have shown some marked epistemological and ontological differences from previous modes of the historical fiction. In this chapter, instead of attempting a sound definition for this sub-genre in China, I shall give a tentative delineation of its unique formal and thematic features in the light of its contribution to the generic repertoires of Chinese historical fiction. ...

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2 - The Tyranny of Time

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pp. 57-81

Spatio-temporal perception plays an essential role in determining the type of historical texts a historian or a historical fiction writer produces. While traditional history retraces the past as continuous development, the Foucauldian "effective history" resolutely denies such continuity and attempts to capture "the randomness of events" and to "seize the various perspectives, to disclose dispersions and differences, to leave things undisturbed in their own dimension and intensity" (Foucault 1991b: 88-9).1 ...

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3 - The Proliferation of Heterotopias

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pp. 83-113

If the spatio-temporal conceptualization in modern Chinese historical narratives, as has been discussed in the previous chapter, represents a collective craving for a Utopian future or for "socialist modernization," it is then necessarily involved in the construction of "a myth of time"1 that sees the wheels of history as rolling towards a predestined terminus. This perception of irreversible time forever moving forward towards a definite goal is embedded in the collective imagination of historical time. ...

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4 - Writing Decadence as Allegory

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pp. 115-132

Decadence comes in many forms and meanings. Zhuangzi's (莊子) equation of binary oppositions, such as life and death, things and their shadows, dreams and alertness, justice and evil, has led to a relativistic philosophy of "effortlessness" which is viewed in China by many as a form of decadence (e.g. Wu Ren 1996: 1). This sense of decadence is associated with both egotism and an anti-social, anti-moral tendency as represented in its escapist strategy. ...

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5 - Constructing a "Clean Spirit"

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pp. 133-150

Zhang Chengzhi's (張承志, 1949-) novel A History of the Soul (1991) narrates the 172 years (1748-1920) of the history of Jahrinya (哲合忍耶), a Sufi order of Islam in Northwest China continually involved in suicidal wars with the overpowering Qing troops. Zhang's book represents the first outspoken extolment of religion in contemporary Chinese literature and is concomitant with an age marked by "the crisis of humanistic spirit" in the early 1990s. ...

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6 - Writing the Peripheral into Dictionary

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pp. 151-174

...The novel captures the essence of both the linguistic and conceptual idiosyncrasies in which the cultural/historical spirit of Maqiao is inscribed. Doubtless to say, the author's six years of rustication as an "educated youth" in a West Hunan village helps him gain an "emic,"3 or insider's, view of the people and the vernacular of Maqiao and enables him to create an ethnography-like book depicting its life way and its vicissitudes in the context of contemporary Chinese history. ...

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7 - History, Fiction, and Metafiction

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pp. 175-206

Notwithstanding his self-claimed art-for-art's-sake aesthetics,1 Wang Xiaobo's works are preoccupied with some essential aspects of life, i.e. wisdom, erotic love and the interesting, which are often denied his heroes and heroines. His critique of the hostile cultural environment for these three essentials is ubiquitous throughout his works. In Wang's historical imagination, the course of Chinese history has demonstrated the defeat of these three essentials. ...

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Conclusion: Straddling Traditionality and Postmodernity

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pp. 207-211

Although Ts'ui Pen in the story may well be a fictitious character, Jorge Luis Borges's attribution of this peculiar perception of time to a Chinese is not without justification. Real Sinologists' studies of traditional Chinese historical narrative, such as Gardner's discovery of a lack of "concatenation of cause and effect" in Chinese traditional historiography (Gardner 1961: 69), Prusek's observation that historical events were treated by Chinese historians as "only isolated short episodes" (1970: 24), and above all, Andrew Plaks's perception ...


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pp. 213-233

Works Cited

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pp. 235-249


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pp. 251-255

E-ISBN-13: 9789882200456
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622096974

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 649833059
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Brushing History Against the Grain

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Subject Headings

  • Historical fiction, Chinese -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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