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Zhang Xianliang: Recensions of the Self

  • Chloë Starr

Abstract

The writings of Zhang Xianliang (b.1936) present an important case study for tracing the interplay of memory, voice and self-reflection in the first decades of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As Zhang moves between diary, short story and novel, at times rewriting earlier episodes from his own life in expanded form, at times re/presenting an episode in different form and blurring the boundaries between biography and fiction, he deliberately explores the bounds of self in self-expression. Some aspects of the process of Zhang’s self-inscription are universal; others are much more darkly representative of a particular social experience. This chapter considers how these two facets — the writtenness of the self and the interposition of the state in its formation — combine as Zhang writes and rewrites his life. Zhang’s work has been the subject of various studies, including social, psychological and political readings, but none has focused on the fine interplay between diary and novel forms in his life writing. The methodology is drawn from the texts: the chapter follows Zhang’s hermeneutical lead in making no attempt to separate out fictional and real versions of the narrated selves. It weaves between the diaries and novels under discussion and glides over the question of whether a given character is to be read as the author or a fictional being. If biography is the history of an individual’s life, then to understand the concept of self in authorial fiction, Zhang’s work suggests, we need to read across and between the entire oeuvre.

Keywords

Short Story Chinese Writer Labour Reform Collective Acceptance Private Thought 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    On the evolution of the camps and the reality of camp life, as well as on Zhang’s writings, its themes and structural forms, see Philip F. Williams and Yenna Wu, The Great Wall of Confinement: The Chinese Prison Camp through Contemporary Fiction and Reportage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  2. Yomi Braester, Witness Against History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 146–157Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For a digest of some scientific literature on memory as it relates to literature, see Suzanne Nalbantian, Memory in Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Zhang writes in the preface that the collection, one short piece, one medium4ength piece and one long novel, ‘records the fissures left on a poet’s heart by the period when the world was shattered’. Zhang Xianliang, Ganqing de jilu (The record of emotion) (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1985)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Zhang Xianliang, Xiguan siwang (Getting used to dying) (Hong Kong: Jiaodian wenku, 1989), 102.Google Scholar
  6. 30.
    Janet Ng, The Experience of Modernity (Ann Arbor: University Michigan Press, 2003), ixGoogle Scholar
  7. 42.
    Peny Link, ‘A Brief Introduction to Chang Hsien-liang’s Concentration Camp Novels’, Asia Major IV.2 (1991): 79–82.Google Scholar
  8. 46.
    Vera Schwarcz, Bridge across Broken Time: Chinese and Jewish Cultural Memory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 3.Google Scholar
  9. 47.
    Karl Marx, tr. N. I. Stone, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1904), 11–12.Google Scholar

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© Chloë Starr 2013

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  • Chloë Starr

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