- Global Chinese Literature: Critical Essays ed. by Jing Tsu, David Der-wei Wang
In an age of transnational capitalism, which has propelled China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and in which “globalization” has become the buzzword of the era, it ought to come as no surprise that the concept of global Chinese literature has also garnered critical attention from scholars working in and around the field of twentieth-century Chinese literary studies. From this perspective, a timely and significant contribution to the ongoing critical project of situating Chinese literature within a global context is the publication of Global Chinese Literature. This anthology contains ten critical essays addressing the subject matter from different theoretical orientations and methodological angles—as well as new research topics ranging from the music of diasporic composer Jiang Wenye (David Wang); to the re-examination of late Qing phoneticization movements of standard [End Page 486] Chinese (Jing Tsu); the internal diasporic writings of Tibetan writer Alai (Carlos Rojas); sinophone conceptualizations from Malaysia (Kim Chew Ng), including the sinographic translations of Zhang Guixing (Andera Bachner); and alimentary poetics from Hong Kong (Rey Chow). In concrete terms, this globalization effort has led to a challenge of the hegemonic, nationalist discourse on modern Chinese literature, and indeed, as the editors unambiguously state in the introduction, “for those accustomed to a nation-based historiography of modern Chinese literature, our challenge here is to present the disarticulation of its lineage and methodology” (p. 1).
If this statement is read as the editors’ intended objective, there can be little doubt that Global Chinese Literature has successfully accomplished what it set out to do. The volume follows an organic, thematic progression, starting the first section with four essays addressing critical issues and outlining distinct historical perspectives on sinophone literature (huayu yuxi wenxue 华语语系文学), then continuing the second section with six essays presenting specific case studies and close text analysis of original and not widely known primary sources in Chinese that either support or subvert assumptions articulated in the previous section, and ending with an outsider’s response. For readers interested in a succinct summary of each of the eleven contributions, the editors’ excellent introduction, as well as the concluding outsider’s response by Eric Hayot, who offers informed and concise summaries of the main argument of each essay, will more than satisfy their curiosity. Therefore, this review will dispense with the conventional format of a book review, where summaries of chapters are considered de rigueur, and instead offer some observations on the concept of “global Chinese literature” or, as paraphrased astutely by the back cover to the volume, “the global politics of Sinophone literature.”
By the editors’ own admission in the very first sentence of the introduction, the concept of “global Chinese literature” is fraught with tensions because each of the three terms is open to challenge and criticism from within and outside the field of modern Chinese literary studies. Not surprisingly, the editors’ selection of title was made deliberately and in “full awareness of its various settings, temporalities, omissions, and contradictions” (p. 1). However, while they quite correctly draw careful attention to the conceptual and ideological limitations of overseas Chinese or Chinese diaspora—two notions that have been circulating for some time in critical and scholarly discourses and that the editors aim to problematize in light of Shih Shu-mei’s singular coinage of “sinophone literature” huayü yüxi wenxue 华语语系文学—it is both noteworthy and somewhat puzzling that the editors seem to use “global Chinese literature” interchangeably with, on the one hand, “modern Chinese literature” and, on the other, with “sinophone writings.” Furthermore, the editors neither explain why this conceptual amalgamation is desirable or necessary, nor do they provide a theoretical definition of the term itself. Last but not least, the editors do not render the term into Chinese, thus tacitly suggesting [End Page 487] that global Chinese literature is first and foremost a discursive project situated in the United States and intended to rename a...