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GANG ZHOU Louisiana State University A Chinese Woman Writer’s American South IN OUR SOUTH: GEOGRAPHIC FANTASY AND THE RISE OF NATIONAL Literature, Jennifer Rae Greeson demonstrates how the concept of the South was essential to the making of national identity in the United States of America. As an internal other for the nation, an intrinsic part of the national body that is nonetheless differentiated and held apart from the whole, the South became a term of imagination, a site of national fantasy. Quoting the first line of Whitman’s 1860 poem “O Magnet-South”—“O magnet-South! O glistening perfumed South! My South!” (7)—Greeson highlights this “metropolitan authorial stature” that Whitman and other US authors assumed. “As a U.S. author writes the South,” Greeson explains, “he or she assumes a position of cultural command over passive peripheral territory, the position so prized in Western imperial culture. Her perceptions are authorized; his conclusions carry the weight of Truth” (9). For these writers, “our South is very good,” argues Greeson, because as an indispensable concept, “the South” enables them to fashion America’s national self-definition as well as its global ascendance (2). The story I tell in this essay is different, but in some ways surprisingly similar to what Greeson observes. To be more specific, this essay tells a tale of cross-cultural writing and translation. It centers on how “the American South” was observed, translated, and rendered in the Chinese language by Yang Gang (1905-1957), a talented Chinese woman writer and journalist, who traveled to the American South in the 1940s. The first part of the essay elaborates on two trips to Austin, Texas. The first, made by Yang Gang in May 1945, is described in detail in her essay “The American South”; I made the second, following in Yang Gang’s footsteps in August 2010. In carefully investigating what Yang Gang chose to include and exclude from her representation of the American South, I bring to attention the intriguing negotiation that Yang Gang engaged in at the borderline of two cultures. The second part of this essay situates Yang Gang’s writing in a larger body of travel writings about America, especially the American South, penned by Chinese men of letters, starting in the 1840s, when China was forced into contact with an 60 Gang Zhou unfamiliar and threatening outside world that included the United States. I. Two Trips to Austin, Texas Born in 1905, Yang Gang was the daughter of a wealthy landlord. She was tutored at home in the classical curriculum until age seventeen and then went to a missionary middle school. From 1928 to 1933, Yang studied English literature at Yenching University, where she formed a very close bond with Grace Boynton, a faculty member and American missionary. Yang joined the underground Chinese Communist Party (CCP) while at Yenching, and was briefly arrested for participating in revolutionary activities. Shortly after graduation, Yang became one of the founding members of the Beijing Branch of the League of Left-Wing Writers. She befriended the American journalist and activist Agnes Smedley, and assisted Edgar Snow on the translations for his collection of Chinese fiction, Living China (1936). After moving to Shanghai in 1937, Yang Gang quickly rose to prominence as a journalist for the prestigious newspaper L’Impartial and later became the editor of its famed literary supplement. In 1943, Yang Gang moved to Chongqing, and became an assistant to the CCP leader Zhou En-lai in the foreign ministry. That year, she also met John King Fairbank, who arranged for her to apply for a Radcliffe fellowship (Fairbank 276). In 1944, Yang Gang was awarded the fellowship and came to America to study literature. Her real mission, however, was to “see” America, to write articles for L’Impartial, and to talk to American intellectuals. According to Fairbank, “Yang [G]ang was fluent in English, highly intelligent, and thoroughly devoted to her literary work. . . . She was a leftist but not openly Communist, in fact an ‘outside cadre’ urged by the CCP to pursue her career in the outer world, keeping clear of CCP connections” (275). It was during her stay in the United States from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 59-81
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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