China’s Lost Modernist
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU
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I would like to begin by thanking David Der-wei Wang for introducing me to the enigmatic figure of Mu Shiying. During a graduate seminar on modern Chinese literature, held at Columbia University in 1994, Professor Wang exposed us to the stories of...
Mu Shiying: An Appreciation of His Life, Times and Works
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During the 1930s, Shanghai was infamous for its outrageous blend of Chinese and Western modernities. Tall buildings such as the famed Park Hotel stuck out against a low-lying backdrop of lilong neighbourhoods composed of neat rows of identical...
1. The Man Who Was Treated as a Plaything
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Written while Mu was attending the prestigious Aurora College, this story appears to be a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s first foray into the treacherous world of modern romantic love. The story follows the troublesome courtship of a female college classmate named Rongzi...
2. Five in a Nightclub
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‘Five in a Nightclub’ takes place on one specific day and night: Saturday, 6 April 1932. This story, which complements Mu’s more famous ‘Shanghai Fox-trot’, is both a paean to the glamorous and energetic environment of the modern metropolis and a trenchant critique of modern urban life. Mu begins the story with five brief vignettes of seemingly...
3. Craven ‘A’
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‘Craven “A”’ is the name of a popular cigarette brand from the 1930s. It is also the nickname that the narrator of this story gives to a dance hall girl, whose name is Yu Huixian. The story focuses on the brief romantic affair between the male narrator—a lawyer and an upstanding member of the...
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‘Night’, the briefest in this selection of Mu’s short stories, begins with the universal figure of a sailor arriving in Shanghai on the Huangpu River, majestically painted in brief strokes by the synaesthetic vision of Mu. The sights, sounds and smells of a hazy evening on the river swirl around us...
5. Shanghai Fox-trot
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‘Shanghai Fox-trot’ is Mu’s best-known story and, in some ways, his most accomplished one. This story brings together many of the writer’s stylistic qualities to produce a panoramic moving picture of Shanghai during its heyday as the Paris of the Orient. The story moves along at a frantic clip...
6. Black Peony
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‘Black Peony’ is another of Mu’s many studies of the figure of a dance hostess in Shanghai’s cabaret scene, but with a twist. In this story, the narrator, a man who is ‘pressed down by life’ in the modern city, meets a female dancer in a cabaret who shares his fatigue. In one memorable line, she claims, ‘I’m living in the lap of luxury, if you take away jazz, fox-trot, mixed drinks, the fashionable colours of autumn...
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Page Count: 204
Illustrations: 16 b/w illus
Publication Year: 2014