Chinese Fiction Periodicals in Global Context


A review of “Give Me a Day, and I Will Give You the World”: Chinese Fiction Periodicals in Global Context, 1900-1910, by DUN WANG. 

Give Me a Day analyzes early 20th-century serialized Chinese “new fiction” that ran in periodicals and addresses their relationship to the social and intellectual currents of the period, especially in an international context. Wang’s introductory section muses on his perceptions of the dualities temporality and spatiality and the relationship between the dawn of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Overall, he presents a landscape of fiction transcending older literary scholarship centered on the May Fourth and New Culture movements, in a similar vein to works such as Lydia Liu’s Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity–China, 1900-1937 and Theodore Huters Bringing the World Home: Appropriating the West in Late Qing and Early Republican China. Instead of viewing 1919 as a total break with decadent tradition in favor of “real” literature, Wang avers that late Qing fiction should be included into a picture of continuousliterary change that, in contact with a wide range of influences both foreign and indigenous, fostered a great deal of ambiguity and contradictions within narrative imaginings of self and other.

The four chapters of the dissertation correspond to four perspectives Wang offers concerning the world of serialized fiction. First, he discusses translated fiction, particularly the genre of yishu, or “translated re-narration” (p. 25), the impact of which Wang describes as “heterogenous…generat[ing] both…micro Brownian Motions and…macro social course[s]”(p.38). Ambivalence about foreign places and ideas as well as Chinese institutions and practices were aired in such translations; ultimately, many translations served the direct personal interests of their various translator/”re-narrators” (p. 39). Wang cites several pertinent secondary works, for instance David Der-wei Wang’s Fin-de-siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction to corroborate this chapter’s assertions. He also incorporates historical studies of Chinese-Americans, particularly in San Francisco,  supporting Wang’s discussions of translation and bilingualism in diaspora communities (p. 39-47).

In the second chapter, Wang surveys a series of late-Qing sequels to classic late imperial Chinese novels, particularly the Hou Xiyouji (The New Journey to the West) and the Hou Hongloumeng (The New Story of the Stone). From his close readings, Wang concludes that they represent “‘tyings up’ and ‘untyings’ of social ‘threads’ between China’s traditional past and its modern age” (p.60). By placing familiar characters in the cosmopolitan, morally questionable bustle of contemporary Shanghai, Wang argues, the authors of these sequels were trying to critique their own zeitgeist. The journalistic, literate identities of some of the most prominent sequel-writers meant that their “reaccentuation” of “a whole populace of historical and celestial Chinese celebrities” was at once reflexive–sprung from the authors’ reflections on their own experiences and background–and unified– a piece of the larger expansion of mass print culture and genres (p. 79-80, 100-102).

Wang’s third chapter reads The New Story of the Stone as a utopian imagination of the future that was decisively different from “traditional Chinese literary narrative[s]” (p.130). Rather, Wang claims, late-Qing visions of utopian futures were more akin to those of Edward Bellamy and William Morris (p.131-135). The New Story of the Stoneviews science and technology strategically, as means toward  nationalistic, moralistic ends. In short, “Western science is bad but…science in Chinese hands should be and must be good” (p.150). As a comparison, Wang analyzes Liang Qichao’s idealization of Chinese “rejuvenation,” where the past helps to facilitate modernity, and the desired fulfillment of all patriotic, scientific wishes is projected into a vaguely defined future (p. 159-162, 170).

The final chapter offers a more structural perspective on the genre of late-Qing fiction periodicals, taking into account not only serialized fiction but the “assorted interlocutions, statistical charts…funny anecdotes” interspersed in the periodicals’ pages, revising the idea that these addenda were “literary parasites” inferior to real fiction (p.173, 193). Wang especially highlights the continuity between journalistic and fictional modes as a new development of the late Qing, utilizing Bakhtin’s theory of the modern novel and other secondary literature on the development of modern mass journalism (e.g. Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative). This chapter brings together the previous sections by making clear that translations of foreign novels, news-reporting, satirical columns, and classical sequels “all contributed to that expanding narrative network of a world image in which China was pictured as in danger” (p.200).

Wang’s dissertation thus offers historians insights into how new ethno-racial views of the nation-state, troubled domestic and foreign affairs, and increasingly diverse critiques of the past, present and future, united, uneasily but potently, in the form of fiction periodicals. “Give Me a Day” portends the continued movement of future scholarship in both literary studies and historiography away from reified “high culture” toward analyses of the broader spectrum of available cultural commodities in fin-de-siècle China. Finally, Wang’s deliberate reference to contemporary China’s relationship to time, space, and imagination falls in line with the recent drive to connect present-day China–a global presence unable to be ignored–with its past, a trend that is only likely to grow in the future.

Primary Sources

-Early twentieth-century fiction The New Story of the Stone, The New Journey to the West

-Early twentieth-century fiction periodicals: Xiuxiang xiaoshuo (Illustrated Fiction), Xin xiaoshuo (New Fiction), Yueyue xiaoshuo (The All-Story Monthly), etc.

-Early twentieth-century journals: Chung sai yat po [San Francisco], Jiaoyu zazhi (The Chinese Educational Review), etc.

Dissertation Information

University of California, Berkeley, 2008. 211 pp. Advisor: Andrew F. Jones.

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