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  • Konversion zum Christentum in der modernen chinesischen Literatur by Barbara Hoster
  • Andrea Riemenschnitter
Barbara Hoster, Konversion zum Christentum in der modernen chinesischen Literatur. Su Xuelins Roman Jixin (Dornenherz, 1929). Gossenberg: Ostasien Verlag, 2017. vi, 322 pp. €35.80 (pb). ISBN: 978-3-946114-30-7

Barbara Hoster’s Ph.D. dissertation focuses on the conversion to Catholicism in Su Xuelin’s 蘇雪林 (1897–1999) novel Jixin 棘心. After an introduction to the applied methods and theories and a review of the research her study is built on, a chapter on the author and her social environment offers insights into the specific historical moment that marks the birth of the modern woman writer as a social type. Hoster explains that Su was born into an illustrious family of literati officials who originally came from Anhui Province. Her grandfather Su Jinxia 蘇錦霞 was the last one in her paternal family to act as imperial magistrate. By that time, the family already lived in Rui’an County 瑞安, Zhejiang Province 浙江. The lineage stems directly from Song dynasty genius poet Su Dongpo’s 蘇東坡 younger brother Su Che 蘇辙 (1039–1112), a prolific poet and essayist in his own right. Su Xuelin’s mother Du Duoni 杜躲妮 also had an elite family background and actively supported her daughter’s wish to receive higher education. Her quest for knowledge brought the adolescent girl to various private, public, and missionary institutions, before she continued her studies at Anhui First Women’s Pedagogical University. Convinced that educated women had to play a crucial role in the modernization of China, Su allied with [End Page 95] other progressive women who later became successful academics and writers like herself. Although she rejected some of its representatives’ leftist thought, especially communism, the ideas of the May Fourth reform movement left a deep imprint on her personality.

Su Xuelin served as an elementary school teacher before she secretly left the country heading for the Institut Franco-chinois in France. Reaching Lyon in 1921, she began the study of fine arts, but within the three and a half years of her stay in Europe she could not obtain a degree. During this period of time, her mother got seriously ill, which tormented the young woman with feelings of guilt and remorse. Moreover, she was upset by her family’s expectations that she return to China and accede to an arranged marriage. Due to health problems arguably caused by the emotional turmoil, Su spent several months in a Swiss sanatorium at Lake Leman. Because the region’s beautiful, soothing landscape looms large in both her diaries and her novel Jixin, several contemporary critics believed that the core concern of her writings was the aesthetic appreciation of nature.

However, Hoster clarifies in the three chapters following the biographical introduction that in her view the novel’s conversion narrative constitutes the red thread, which is employed as a formula for the narrator’s troubled coming of age. The adolescent girl’s trials and tribulations were not only caused by her conservative family’s expectations, which in many ways ran counter to her own efforts to become a new woman. In a section on national salvation (pp. 82–84) in the third chapter, Hoster explains that Su was moreover deeply affected by the lack of solutions for China’s crisis and actively searched for new ideas that could spur the reform of the traditional Chinese value system, as can be observed from the in-depth discussions of a broad range of philosophical treatises and religious traditions in the novel.

The first edition of Jixin was published in 1929, only a few years after her return from Europe to China. At that time, Su and her arranged fiancé had gotten married despite her initial misgivings. However, by the time when the second revised version appeared in 1957, the author, while never separating on paper from her husband, had established her own independent household, earned her living as an academic teacher and prolific writer and, upon the founding of the People’s Republic of China, left for Taiwan. While she was productive in both her academic publishing and belletristic writing throughout her life, Jixin remained the only long fictional text she...