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288 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994 Ningkun Wu. A Single Tear. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993. 367 pp. $21.00. For the last ten years or so, Western readers untutored in the Chinese language have been given a new channel of information about China. Gone are the days when they had to rely solely on translations of Chinese materials, in-depth but at times esoteric scholarly works by historians, reports by Western journalists, and anecdotal impressions ofWestern sojourners in China. Instead, a growing number of memoirs written in English by Chinese émigrés living in the West have now emerged to give readers what are often considered to be firsAiand exposés oflife in contemporary China. As Merle Goldman wrote on the occasion of the publication of Nien Cheng's Life and Death in Shanghai and Gao Yuan's Born Red, the emergence of these personal accounts makes it possible to arrive at a "conscious, collective memory" of recent Chinese history.1 Other titles come easily to mind: To the Storm by Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman, Son ofthe Revolution by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro, Wild Swans by Chang Jung, and many others written by Chinese dissidents now living in the West. Although China has yet to become a topic ofwidespread interest in America, these books have attracted a surprisingly large audience, and have to a considerable extent shaped the current popular view of China in this country. Their status as memoirs—presumably giving unembellished factual accounts of life as it is in China—has enhanced their credibility beyond that commanded by other kinds of books about China written in English. At fhe same time, however, present circumstances in China make it close to impossible to verify the truthfulness of the information they contain.2 Even leaving aside the falsification—unwitting or not—of an individual's past that can occur in any autobiographical endeavor,3 the fact that these books are written and read in a cross-cultural context gives rise to questions about the accuracy of their contents. A translation process, one that can broadly be called "cultural translation," is necessarily involved, and, as with any translation, something is both gained and lost in the process. As products of cultural translation, these memoirs thus bear traces of compromises characteristic of any effort at representation and perception across cultures. The first thing to note about die result of such compromises is a certain uniformity one finds in the portrayal of China in these memoirs. Though each work has its distinctive moments, the overall picture of life in contemporary China— one of nearly unrelieved suffering under a totalitarian regime—is curiously cony mve si y s[sient, so much so that it is justifiable to speak ofa "master narrative" in these works whose target readers are the English-speaking public. Occupying the center of the master narrative is the author, whose tragic life not only reflects die even ofHawai'i Press Reviews 289 more tragic times China is undergoing, but epitomizes the nobility of the human spirit under duress. Likewise, the autobiographical subject tends to be cast in the same mode: victimized yet heroic. The parallel between the fate of the autobiographical subject and the country goes further: as the author emerges older and wiser from his suffering at the end of his account (usually at a point that coincides with Deng Xiaoping's rise to power in the late 1970s), China, too, seems to be recovering slowly but irrevocably from its political afflictions.4 No doubt, this is a reassuring vision of history for the Chinese, and in the light of the relaxation of hostilities between East and West, for Western readers as well. Consequently, inspiring as these stories are, they are inspiring in very much the same way. There is altogether too much sound and fury, and not enough of the other emotions that make up the full range of human responses. 5 One of the latest examples of an émigré memoir, Wu Ningkun's A Single Tear, reenacts to a large degree fhe master narrative described above. Yet, with its selfeffacing tone and wry humor, A Single Tear also represents...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 288-294
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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