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Subject in Crisis in Contemporary Chinese Literature.

by Rong Cai

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Annotation   (2020-07-19)


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by shuangl

The books focuses on two major discourses in the post-Mao era: One is modernization,

and the other is subjectivity. Making social progress and spiritual enlightenment an underlying theme of the post-Mao reconstruction. As for modernization, the state has its own approach and so are the intellectuals. The state rally around the development of economy, a pragmatic program, while the intellectuals believe that modernity or modernization is a discursive revolution, and they ask for the modernization of thinking. “Subjectivity couched in the epistemological framework of the Enlightenment, appeared to have struck the fancy primarily of the cultural intellectual” (1). (80年代的理想主义和对自我意识的强调) The intellectuals after the 1980s hold a similar idealism — the preeminent emphasis put on the value of ideas — continued to be a hallmark of the ideological and methodological makeup of contemporary intellectuals. Post-Mao intellectuals maintained faith in the self and in the power of ideas to effect social change.

   Discursive revolution is carried out not only on the level of theory and polemics, but also through creative activities, for instance, literary practices. A close examination of the practice of literature and the fictional world as part or the social discourse of subjectivity and modernization would carry us beyond theoretical abstractions of the ideas of self, at which level much of the intellectual thinking in the 1980s was formulated. The intellectuals’ optimism about the prospect of a humanistic future for China and their central role in its reification. It is my contention that despite the blare surrounding subjectivity and enlightenment, the post-Mao subject was in trouble long before its final dissolution in the 1990s.

   Why Subjectivity and Why Literature?

   In the late 1980s, a lot of descriptive phrases indicating a sense of loss, an indication of depletion (7). The most important feature of the post-Mao literature is its focus on the representation of the self and subjectivity, revisited with a sense of urgency and vengeance after the Cultural Revolution. The orchestration and exploration of the self indicated a search for a new subjectivity.

Why subjectivity? The post-Mao period was perceived as an era of extensive demolition and rebuilding in order to remedy an acute identity crisis that society experienced at the start of the radical reformation following the Cultural Revolution.三信危机: crisis of belief in Marxism, crisis of faith in socialism, and crisis of trust in the Communist Party (8). 邓时代official deprioritization of the class struggle. 但是这又引起了socialist alienation的问题,没有阶级我们怎么分彼此,所以in the early 1980s proves that despite its defiant tone, the post-Mao self found it necessary first and foremost to define itself vis-à-vis the political system. During the Mao era, the political convictions on which Marxism, socialism and the Party (three beliefs) rested provided the ideological mooring for individuals to regard themselves as meaningful entities in relation to the established social order (8). With the ideological ground shifting under their feet after the Cultural Revolution, many felt a strong sense of disorientation (9). 9页都很重要,说的是reconstruction of the human subject(ivity) becomes an urgent task for Chinese intellectual-writers, who continued to see themselves as social reformers and spokes-people for the national conscience. (P.12) the recovery of human subjectivity paramount to all its other objectives.

Post-Mao writers made literature a site of contestation, resistance, and experimentation. It was where the new human subject(ivity), often in open opposition to the former Communist ideology, was imagined and represented. Various ideas of the self and subject-positions were explored and conceptualized, their consonance and contradictions affirmed or negated in the created world. 那么writer’s agency是怎么样的? An appropriate activity, representation registers, among its other aims, the representer’s visions, aspirations, expectations, and anxieties. Liu Zaifu’s theory of subjectivity in literature stems specifically from his challenge to Mao’s denial of the writer’s subjective agency. The writer’s self-consciousness in the project is clearly manifested in the direction of the search (the recall of humanism as an emancipatory discourse to counter the “socialist alienation”), its priorities (the focus on independence and autonomy), and its double objective: restoring subjectivity to literary characters and, in the process, to the writers themselves as creative agents. Cai’s designation is optimistic: the writers are confident in the power of literature over the human minds, and believe in literature’s role in nation=building, and the intellectuals’ social commitment (11).

HOWEVER, he does not want to trumpet the success of the search, yet he focuses on “bizarre characters.” Two types of characters (physically deformed beings; physically unimpaired but suffer from functional inadequacies) form a stubborn underscore, a discordant note in the symphony of enlightenment and subjectivity (12). What are they? They point to the tensions very much covered up by the post-Mao urge to surge ahead. In particular, it signifies certain tensions between the writers’ creative intentions — their ambition to erect a new subject in literature — and the created realities (12).

What Subject?

Locate the post-Mao subject on two spectrums: a theoretical spectrum and a historical spectrum.

A theoretical spectrum: the formation of subject(ivity) in philosophy. Theoretical basis: the deconstruction of the Cartesian (笛卡尔) Enlightenment subject of rationality, self-knowledge, and universality; the development of psychoanalysis; linguistic theory; Jacque Lacan, Claude Levi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, and the feminists destroy the wholeness and autonomy of the subject by locating its subjectivity in the realms of language and institutionalized discursive practices. The autonomous individual yielded its throne to the subject, whose subjectedness, according to post-structuralist theories, reduces it to being a product of language and discourse.

A historical spectrum: a brief review of the genesis of the modern self, the prototype of the post-Mao subject, in pre-Communist China.

     May Fourth period:

l   criticize the Confucian self in personal relations. Confucianism: grounding the self firmly in its relatedness to other human beings. Yet May Fourth intellectuals feel that this self is a totally suppressed beings in submission to the authority of the father and other formalized obligation.

l   They promote “individualism,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” 个人individual and 个人主义individualism. Ideal individual are beings who have a moral right to develop their personalities to the fullest and pursue personal happiness in such basic matters such as the choice of education, career, and marriage patterns.

l   The antitraditional self is a synthesis of the Enlightenment humanist ideals of rationality, truth and compassion.

l   The self is not an isolated entity so that the state > the individual; nationalism > personal development. Two contrasting projects are Chinese Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The latter designed by Chinese Marxists was ultimately revolution-oriented with an emphasis on patriotism and national salvation. (16)

l   The self is still in the commitment to the nation. Substitute the Confucian state with the modern society. The May Fourth intellectuals relocated their loyalties and obligations and adhered to the Confucian ideal of social service.

The Communist Period

l   The communist ideology grated itself supreme power to regulate the thinking and behavior of all its subjects; integration of the traditional faith in the perfectibility of human nature and the Marxist-Leninist belief in transforming individual consciousness (a theoretical basis/institutional approach) P.17

l   The post-Mao era: Mao’s disregard of personal freedom and the socialist principle of ideological uniformity engender problems. Neither PRC history nor the Communist ideology could be the source of rectification. It is but a logical step for the intellectuals have to return to the modern tradition. Cai becomes very self-critical at this point: how to explain the post-Mao humanist notion of subject(ivity), a too simplistic, naïve, and old-fashioned against the modernist “dehumanization” and intricate post-structuralist speculations. But it has its historical specificities. It, after all, was used as a liberating discourse to challenge Mao’s dictatorship and free the individual from the grip of his ultraleftism. The post-Mao subject is a self-governing entity, cannot be purely ontological or metaphysical speculations but a politicize humanist being (19). 好像有点self-serving explanation. Human subject is intricately tied with discourse, language’s central role in the formation and legitimation of social knowledge.


What Crisis?   

     The subject is problematic not because of its lack of post-structuralist sophistication

and subtlety but because of a much more fundamental deficiency — its incapacity to claim agency, a constituent of any notion of active subjectivity, humanist or not. The crisis of the subject lies in the search’s failure to offer a viable counter-model to the Maoist revolutionary archetype.

     This examination of the intellectual as a subject in history centers on unpacking

post-Mao intellectuals’ ambivalence, doubts, and anxieties over their own creative power in China’s reconstruction.

     Chapter 7 the indication of the loss of the power relation that writer/intellectual appear to have briefly in the 1980s and which they assumed to be their birth-right place. The crisis lies in the rise of the powerful pull of the consumer culture and its ideology and the lack of a clear understanding on the part of the writer/intellectuals, many of whom have themselves actively participated in pressure for reform. The author attributes the rise of this particular sense of crisis to a disconnection between the “traditional” self-importance of intellectuals, and the “reality” of contemporary Chinese society that no longer treated its intellectuals seriously. While it is unclear as what the future status of the intellectual subject’s sense of crisis may be, this sense of crisis continues to be the norm of that “self.” (Review by: Xueping Zhong. Journal of Oriental Studies Vol. 41, No. 1 (June 2006), pp. 171-173)

Chapter 7 “Appropriation and Representation: The Intellectual Self in the Early 1990s.” With previous chapters discuss the fictional characters’ lack of subject power, this chapter focuses on a common impulse felt by all post-Mao writers — the impulse to appropriate, which, according to Robert Weimann — is “making things (relations, books, texts, writings) one’s own.” WHAT did they appropriate? Two things: left over from the formulaic Communist past; individuality through literary appropriation. However, this is merely a futile effort when the economic reforms taking place concurrently throughout the country. Literary appropriation needs to give place to material appropriation.

ARGUMENT: the massive shift of public interest from politics to personal enrichment in the 1990s threatened the centrality Chinese intellectuals had aspired to and to a certain extent secured for themselves in the 1980s, inducing a new crisis for them as subjects in real history in the post-1989 era. The FOCUS of the chapter is to examine the intellectual’s changing image in the reforms and the role different appropriating activities played in the process. * “Intellectuals” refers specifically to cultural intellectuals, renwen gongzuozhe (humanist workers). A number of significant events, many interrelated development on socio-economical level, in the early 1990s drastically affected the cultural intellectuals’ social position and the way their profession was viewed and practiced, producing in them a great deal of anxiety and anguish (181).

The theory on appropriation: Weimann’s theory is a response to classical theories of mimesis (referential theory which grants the subject total reflecting powers over the historical real) and structuralist and poststructuralist dogma of the autonomy of the signifier. Weimann insists on the discursive nature of language so that he prescribes the subject as an active agent in the production of meaning. Yet Weimann does not consider the subject as a free consciousness outside history and language. He addresses textual and extratextual dimensions in representation, linking appropriation in literary representation with that in the realm of the sociohistorical. Weimann’s theory offers two useful perspectives: to recognize representation as a radically historical activity that simultaneously participates in and is affected by other sociohistorical activities; to emphasize not only the performative nature of literary representation, treating it as the subject’s self-projection, but also the correlation between the changes in representational strategy and the socioeconomic conditions that give rise and account for such changes.

MOVING TOWARD THE CENTER is post-Mao intellectuals’ efforts to return to the discursive center through ideological appropriation in the first stage. After Mao’s death, the first wave of nationally significant appropriating activities, which seemed promising at first but still testified to the Party’s continued mistrust of the intellectuals later. Two stages that intellectuals’ with the Party went through (184). Intellectual appropriation, for example, the post-Mao debates, was the means the intellectuals adopted to assert their influence in the post-Mao era. One function of this appropriation is to condemn Mao’s destruction of genuine appropriation in the realm of intellectual thought; and the other is to help them move toward the center that has lost to the Maoist brand of Communist discourse. Chinese intellectuals’ aggressiveness in repossessing the center came from their confidence in their ability to represent the people. The ruthless repression they received at the hands of Mao’s regime gave the intellectuals the credibility to speak on behalf of people who suffered the same fate, and the prestige they traditionally enjoyed in Chinese society added further weight to their opinion (186). In this information age when “knowledge is power,” the intellectuals, it seemed, should be the leaders.

CRISIS IN THE MAKING is to discuss their marginalization in society due to the rise of intense material appropriations. While intellectual pursuits reclaimed authority and representational power for the intellectuals in the post-revolutionary era, the reform age the ideological debates helped usher in would eventually frustrate the intellectuals, introducing unexpected changes in their relationship to the society. A series of material appropriation (经济改革、全民皆商、贫富差距、下岗问题) affect intellectuals. The sales of their works have to reach a certain amount in order for them to make a fortune. Since life became difficult for some writers and scholars in the early 1990s, the intellectuals had to join in the fade of material appropriation. 知识分子和文艺界人士纷纷下海 (190). This is a crisis because to engage in business and making money was traditionally held beneath the dignity and integrity of the literati (知识分子认为赚钱是失去知识分子的尊严). Zhang Xianliang said that he decided to start a company because among the government department at the provincial level, the Ninghai Federation of Literature and Arts was a qingshui yanmen (nonprofitable office). His purpose was to earn money to create more favorable working conditions for the writers affiliated with the Ninghai Federation.

LOSING THE CENTER. From antiquity to the modern period, Chinese intellectuals had always been at the center of society. They were revered by the ruling and the ruled alike. Traditional intelligentsia had prestige, the new May Fourth intellectuals also retained their authority as the guiding force of social progress and the sole competent designers of a program of national rejuvenation. (1) But during the Mao era, the intellectuals gradually lost their discursive power when the Communist ideology in Mao’s interpretation became the only legitimate social discourse. Even though the negation of the authority of the Communist Party took the discourse power out of the hands of the intellectuals. They were most subversive force in the eyes of the Party and consequently the most censured social group in Mao’s China. But they had to act as “thought workers” for the Party. (2) The secularization of Chinese culture and the stepped-up commercialization after the late 1980s threatened to de-center the intellectuals. The intellectuals found themselves pushed to the periphery. Besides the financial difficulties many of them had, various factors contributed to their marginalization (political and economic reform brought out an array of divergent “small narratives”; literature serves as a vehicle for public complaint and protest because of the public’s disinterest in politics and the diminishing of the excessive enthusiasm in politics cultivated by Mao’s ideology; serious literature lost its readership in its competition with other forms of entertainment). The psychological effect of dissolution of their alliance with the people should not be underestimated, for it historically provided the moral basis for the intellectuals to legitimize and fight for their prestige and privileged status in society (194). Bourdieu的理论来分析. Chinese writers have always held an elitist attitude toward the people, they paradoxically also sought their acceptance and approval. Even if the representation of the people and their voice was often manipulated by the CCP in its scheme to achieve social, political power, the intellectual-writers had long ago internalized service to the people as a crucial standard in assessing their social position and self-worth. The intellectual, wherever possible, legitimized their dissent and demand for freedom and autonomy in the name of the people. Post-Mao intellectuals brought loyalty to the nation and the people into the new three-party structure of Party-country-intellectuals in their relationship to the state. The new platform allowed the intellectuals to disagree and to advise as representatives of the people, providing them with a brand-new in the post-Mao era. 1989以后,知识分子被要求放弃humanistic concernssocial morals. Chinese intellectuals had always placed value on their cultural knowledge, which gave them the ability to provide spiritual guidance to society.          




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