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Public and Private Spaces in Contemporary Chinese Literature

Sat, March 28, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Floor: Level 2, Ontario

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


Studies of the contemporary period (post-1949) in Chinese literature often postulate a radical shift, taking place in the 1980s, from a state-imposed collectivist literary movement to a more inward-looking, individualist type of writing. This panel hopes to contribute to a more complex view of the interaction between collectivism and individualism, and public and private spaces, as expressed in fiction and drama.

We take as our point of departure the work of Kirk Denton, the panel discussant, who argues in his The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature (1998) that these seemingly opposed discourses shaping Chinese modernity were in fact never so much at odds with each other as they were in a dynamic and dialectical tension in the realm of literature and culture. The four papers expand on this idea by tracing the intersection of public and private concerns and sentiments in writings from different decades after 1949.

Nicholas Kaldis, in his paper, discusses the treatment of individual psychology and private emotion in fiction from the 1950s-1970s. Paul Foster analyses the space known as jianghu 江湖 in the martial arts fiction of Jin Yong as representing both personal and collective ambition. Michel Hockx deals with the themes of masculinity and domesticity in the novel Fresh Flowers And by Chen Cun, which features the interior monologue of a stay-at-home father in 1990s Shanghai. Xiaomei Chen’s paper demonstrates the complex public and private messages in Meng Bing’s socialist propaganda plays, and their unexpected commercial success in twenty-first century China.

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