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Centering and decentering Methodologies: Wang Anyi's migratory Mythology and descriptive historiography.


If center and periphery refer to geographical locations or places, they must be formations of dislocation or displacement in the first place; if they are political positions of power, they are subject to reposition. The two notions cannot be related, unless they are relativized, for one can never speak about a center without connecting it with its periphery, and vice versa. All center-periphery binary oppositions, such as city/country, majority/minority, male/female, fact/fiction, are constructed in order to be de/reconstructed. Hence, any centering methodology would invite a decentering methodology. Although these methodologies do not transcend the structure, they allow the periphery to be centered and the center to be peripheralized, making the inside-out-outside-in dichotomy more fluid.

This essay analyzes the centering and decentering methodologies in Wang Anyi's 1990s works of family sagas and urban legend, respectively. Born to Communist Party cadres in Nanjing, Wang expresses an estrangement in her fiction owing to her family's move back to Shanghai in her infancy. Because her father is a returned overseas Chinese, who does not speak Shanghainese, and her Shanghai mother chooses to use Mandarin, the official language, instead of her native dialect, Wang has never felt at home in the metropolis. This drives her away from her second home to search for her outlying origins, resulting in her intra-Asian journeys south to the Malay Peninsula and north to the Gobi Desert in her Fuxi he muxi de shenhua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Patrilineal and Matrilineal Myths, 1994). In this two-part fictional memoir, Wang extends her father's biography to a migratory fiction of a Fukienese family in Singapore and traces her mother's ancestry to a minority tribe beyond the Great Wall, the national symbol of a unified and centralized China. Then, when she returns to search for Shanghai, it is precisely her alienated familiarity with the city that affords her the distance of aesthetic perception necessary to describe its landscapes in detail in her nostalgic novel, Chang hen ge [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, 1995).

Migratory Mythology: From Pacific Ocean to Gobi Desert

The notions of Zhongguo, the Middle Kingdom or China, the Chinese, and Chineseness are incomprehensive, if not incomprehensible, without taking into consideration non-Han sectors of the Chinese nation-state and overseas Chinese. However, Chinese exodus and ethnic minorities have never been in high favor with the Han Chinese writers on the mainland. Writing about migrants or minorities demands different methodological tactics. Traditions of both emigrants and immigrants invite discourses of displacement that deal with the stories of migration in a mythic spirit. Migratory mythology as one kind of diasporic discourse is not only about exile, but is itself an exile of the dominant discourse, namely, the official history that marginalizes the emigres. The exile mentality transgresses the limits of the mainland mentality and the mainstream historiography, crossing over the boundaries between national history and family fiction.

Unlike most male writers of her generation, whose family romances are commonly set within the boundaries of China, Wang Anyi has pushed her genealogical fiction beyond the national borders with a feminine sensibility. In her Patrilineal and Matrilineal Myths, she continues her search for the foreignness of her parents' family backgrounds based on her earlier efforts in the autobiographical sketch "Wo de laili" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("My Origins," 1985). The first myth, "Shangxin Taipingyang" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Sadness for the Pacific"), is a novella written in 1992 about her father's family in Southeast Asia; the second, Jishi he xugou--Chuangzao shijie fangfa zhi yizhong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Records and Fiction: One Method of Creating the World), first published as a novel in 1993, traces her mother's ethnic origin to beyond the Great Wall. With this transnational approach, Wang transgresses the center and the periphery in diasporic mode. She travels in and out of China across historical periods, back and forth between facts and fantasy, subverting the geographical hierarchy in reality.

Emotional Oceanography: Between the Mainland and the Island

Wang's patrilineal myth is about the migration of one Hakka--literally "guest people," the Chinese Gypsy--family from Fukien to Singapore and the return of a son, the author-narrator's father (evidently the modern playwright Wang Xiaoping [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1919-2003) when we compare Wang Anyi's story with Wang Xiaoping's biography), (1) to mainland China in pursuit of the centripetal forces in national salvation and communist revolution. The family's diaspora across the South Pacific begins with Great-grandmother, then a young widow who departed the mainland with her son and built a big house single-handedly on Singapore island. Although the novella is called a myth of patriarchy, nothing is known about the great-grandfather and his kindred. The new home was established by the great-grandmother and supported by the grandmother, the aunt, and then the nine-year old cousin--all female members of the family's four generations. While the kinswomen shouldered the heavy burden of building up and maintaining the family, the kinsmen were either loafers or revolutionaries. These male members represent a migratory mentality or, in Wang Anyi's own words, "a homeless disposition, [...] a typical immigrant disposition"--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in "a rootless place, [...] a rootless period" --[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (2) The whole span of this migratory history--including the two world wars and the Great Depression in-between--is, as the narrator describes it, "a hopeless period"--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and "a dirty age"--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (3) And the soil on which their home was rebuilt is but a floating, orphan-like island. Yet even the mainland is decentered as a mere bigger island surrounded by vast waters. So the author sighs at the end of her exilic discourse: "At last let me repeat my words, 'on a world map, even continents look like floating islands.' All lands on earth are ocean reefs for humanity to rest on. Humanity is in fact a drifting colony, and floating is its eternal fate. [...] Oceans may well be the final settling place for humanity, the end of its drifting. Herein lies all the sadness for the Pacific."[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (4)

The instability of human life is enhanced in "Sadness for the Pacific" by an array of national and international historic events from Wang Xiaoping's birth year on: the May Fourth Movement (1919), Dr. Sun Yat-sen's death (1925), Mussolini's ascent to power (1928), Roosevelt's New Deal reform program (1933-39), the Red Army's Long March (1934-35), the German occupation of Austria (1938), the Germany-Italy-Japan military pact (1940), and finally the Pacific War (1941-45). (5) The two main storylines involving Father's return to China in 1940 and Younger Uncle's resistance in Singapore two years later are linked up by Japan's military advances on the Pacific Rim: the takeover of Manchuria (1931), the capture of Shanghai and the Nanking Massacre (1937), the assault at Changkufeng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Hill on the Soviet-Manchurian border (1938), the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor (1941), and lastly the occupation of the Malay Peninsula (1942). Detailed accounts are given of the maneuver at the Japanese barracks in the Jiangwan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] area of Shanghai in March 1941, the replacement of Konoe Fumimaro [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] by Tojo Hideki [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as Japan's prime minister in October, the British and Japanese military deployments in Southeast Asia in December, as well as the February 1942 mass screening and massacre in Singapore, thence renamed Shonan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or Light of the South, by the Japanese for three and a half years.

As indicated in the novella, the resources from which Wang Anyi gathers data on Singapore's colonial history include the 1952 Nanyang Yearbook [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the 1942 Daily Yomiuri [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The yearbook records presentations by the Malay Chinese Itinerant Opera Troupe, of which the 19-year-old Father was a member, and the defense at the Kranji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] River by the Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army, of which Younger Uncle was a follower. The author has also consulted the yearbook on her narrations of how Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), a British East Indian administrator, landed at the Lion City in January 1819 and brought it under the complete control of the British by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of March 1824, and how the Japanese purged the Chinese populace of anti-Japanese elements on the island in late February 1942.6 Wang's citations from Daily Yomiuri, in contrast, are rather lyrical in nature. The night of the February 8th Japanese landing is depicted as a tranquil seascape: "The westward tide in the vast Johore Strait ripples quietly on the smooth, mirror-like water." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (7) And the morning following the February 15th British surrender is peacefully filled with the tweeting of birds. Yet six days later the sweet bird songs are replaced by a thunderous discharge of guns, and shrieking vultures are hovering over the sea covered with dead bodies: "Singapore is like a giant corpse, a dead whale floating on the sea." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (8)

While the entries in the semi-official yearbook constitute a centering discourse of patriarchy, the selected quotations from Daily Yomiuri stress the personal impressions of history. The narrator calls her family's past a "shangxin shi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("sad history"), attributing it to the "tragic temperament" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of the kinsmen. (9) The tragic has, de facto, become the dynamics between the macro-histories of the world, the nation-state and the micro-histories of the family, the individual. Embedded in Father's mind is the magnificent myth of the mainland, a legendary land infused with "sacrificial hue" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and "tragic aestheticism" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (10) His imagined sympathy for his miserable "compatriots" on the mainland is projected onto the lowly Malays and Indians on the island. In so doing, the fates of mainland Chinese, overseas Chinese, and even non-Chinese are bound together to show the universality of tragicalness. But then, during his one-year pilgrimage to the communist base in Subei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (northern Jiangsu), his homesick, revolutionary fancy for China is shattered by the everyday problem of taking showers, the language barrier, as well as the area's desolate saline-alkali land--in short, the heaviness of reality on the central continent contrary to the lightness of his fantasy from the Pacific periphery.

Wang Anyi's historical conjecture on her father's histrionical caprice of the mainland as a wonderland is a double imagination. If imagination of the past has to be based upon a certain historical reality, then imagining a personage's imagination is to abstract a mood from such reality. The mood in the novella, as Tang Xiaobing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] explicates it, is "a global expression to melancholy subjectivity." (11) It translates history into passion, rendering the account of past events into subjective and yet universal emotions. Such "sadness for the Pacific" implies a general concern for the fate of humanity across the geopolitical center and periphery. Hence we find Wang's Pan-Pacific melancholy in a synchronic parallel between her father and second uncle, both of whom participate in the forces of resistance against Japanese aggression on the two sides of the South China Sea. At the same moment that Father is summoned back to the base in Subei from Shanghai, Younger Uncle is mobilized to defend Singapore. The latter is arrested and beaten to death by the Japanese military police in 1943. In the light of archetype, Younger Uncle can be seen as Father's double or alter ego, mirroring his older brother's image and imagination. It is the death in his prime that realizes Father's long-cherished desire to become a tragic hero. The mourning of the eighteen-year-old uncle also fulfills the niece-narrator's pursuit of a melancholic monument on her tour of the island city in 1991:
      I walked under the large Anti-Japanese War monument erected in
   1967. I seemed to have seen an incomparably handsome young man
   approach it with his back toward me and disappear into the misty
   sunlight of Singapore. Younger Uncle's obscure name is engraved on
   the monument. In the ever-changing Singapore, this monument saves
   the past years, transforming all bitter memories of the past into a
   concrete substance. This monument is the most affective building of
   this international state. It casts on us a shadow of solace and
   sorrow. It is a consolation I can find on this island [...].


Apparently, the narrator is so attracted by this fine-looking and yet faceless figure that she turns him into the central character of her melancholic myth. Thus, at the center of Wang's emotional oceanography is not the mainland to which the father figure has returned, but the marginal land where the little uncle is buried. Indeed, it is out of its marginal status that Singapore has emerged into a global economy as an "international state" and gives a global expression to a migratory melancholy.

Modern Mythology: Beyond Reality and History

The melancholic monument found on the Pacific island, however, fails to gratify the writer's thirst for a glorious ancestry. After all, Singapore, like Shanghai, changes so rapidly that she is unable to locate her ancestral home there. What Wang needs, as a critic has pointed out, is a "utopian scenery of 'history'" that functions as an "idealistic escape from the modern city." (13) The author's nostalgia of the exile has produced yet another, more exotic myth about her matrilineal ancestry, Records and Fiction. This autobiographical novel consists of ten chapters: the odd chapters deal with the narrator's life in Shanghai from childhood to marriage, while the even chapters follow her genealogical search from northern to southern China. They form a combination and contrast of center and periphery or, in Zhang Xinying's literary terms, of coming-of-age and root-seeking. (14) Two antithetical imaginaries in two narrative modes take shape accordingly: the floating, desolate urban life described in a prosaic style versus the magnificent, poetic vista of the lost homeland in an epic scope.

The author-narrator had an awful experience of moving into the urban center of Shanghai when she was barely one: she was sitting on a cuspidor in a train--a disgusting container on a classic means of modern migration--because she had diarrhea, and the first place she visited upon arrival was an emergency room. Soon she finds herself a stranger to the neighborhood as her father speaks no Shanghainese, whereas her mother, an orphan, refuses either to speak the local language or to reunite with her cognations. In fact, ever since the death of her maternal great-grandmother, her matrilineal clan has dispersed and nobody is able to relate her family legend. Mother's escape from an orphanage and flight from Shanghai for a communist base are seen by the author-narrator as the revolutionary generation's acts to sever their connections with history. (15) Unlike other mothers, who know the stories about their family traditions, she only tells modern fairy tales to her daughter. The family of "comrades" keeps moving, drifting from house to house in the prosperous city: "The history of our social relations is constantly suspended and restarted due to changes of residence, which divide our history into chunks and fragments. [...] House moving cuts apart my space, dividing the space of my life into pieces." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (16) And the inception of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution means seclusion for her, because being a primary school student she can only stay at home when classes are canceled; she is too little to join the Red Guards and participate in the da chuanlian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "linking up" anschluss. (17) Loneliness is her historical and social conditions: "In terms of time, she has no past, only the present; in terms of space, she has only herself, no others. [...] For this child living in this world, what is her place in time? And what is her place in space?" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (18) Marginalization stimulates her imagination, making her believe that she must have been displaced into the modern city from a wild borderland. Resisting being an orphan of history, she embarks on a journey in quest of her matrilineal myth.

The journey to the margins is twofold, textual and physical. Wang begins with the only clue left by her mother, writer Ru Zhijuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1925-98), and that is the rare surname Ru. She discovers in the comprehensive history Tong zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (General Treatises) that the clan name belongs to a northern nomadic tribe known as Ruru [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Ruirui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or Rouran [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (19) The nomads established a fifty-year regime in the early fifth century. By following this nominal trace, the author tracks down the early accounts of them during the two hundred years of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589) in Nan shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the South], Nan Qi shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Southern Qi], and Wei shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Wei]. (20) According to these records, the Rouran originated from north of the Great Wall. They were renamed Ruru or "worms" by the stronger Tabgatch people of the Northern Wei (386-534) because of their ignorance and illiteracy, but their leader became the first ruling khan in 402 and their expansive khanate threatened the Tabgatch for several decades until they were destroyed by their Turkic slave blacksmiths in 555. (21) Meanwhile, a branch of the Ruru migrated to the south in the late 480s and became Sinicized. Yet, as the author is shown later in History of the Southern Qi and History of the South, there had already been two Ru officials serving the southern dynasties in the fifth century, but both were labeled sycophantic courtiers in the histories. (22)

In order to glorify her ancestry, Wang arbitrarily drops the early migratory and southern lineages and links the northern offspring of the survivors of the genocide to the powerful Mongol empire. She rehashes the first three chapters of the Mongolian epic, Menggu mishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The Secret History of the Mongols), into her novel, giving a detailed account of Genghis Khan's (1167-1227) heroic life as the backdrop of her ancestors' reappearance among the Khan's troops. (23) At some points in the narrative it appears as if the "supreme conqueror" were her own ancestor. By interjecting a holy alliance between the Mongol patriarchy and the Rouran minority, Wang actively places her matrilineal ancestry at the center of historical stage, though her textual logic is no more than an array of assumptions: "I have looked through many books, first to prove the possibility of the Rouran's being incorporated into the Turk, then to prove the possibility of the Turk's being incorporated into the Mongol, and then to prove the possibility of some Mongol aristocrats' being relegated to south of the Yangtze River." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (24) The (re)search continues with her ancestors willfully put among the banished remnants of a Mongol prince's aborted coup d'etat in 1287. (25)

From the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) the narrator jumps to the Qing or Manchu regime (1644-1911), the last imperial period when China was once more under non-Han control. Again, she spends considerable energy on digging up the names of a dignitary, Ru Fen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1755- 1821), and his father, Ru Dunhe [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1720-1791), in Qing shigao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Draft History of the Qing) and Qingdai beizhuan quanji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Complete Works of Qing Stele Biographies) (26) She is excited to learn that Ru Fen, possibly her forefather, held such important government posts as Vice Minister of Personnel, Minister of Works, and finally Minister of War. Moreover, she verifies in the county annals Nanxun zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Nanxun Gazetteer, 1922) that her maternal grandmother's family was a tycoon of the late Qing when the Ru's had revitalized their clan from their barrel business to become a silk cocoon merchant. The author also utilizes the family name Ru as a geographical index to grope for her ascendant's southward footsteps. She locates in the voluminous Jiaqing chongxiu da Qing yitong zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gazetteers of the Unified Great Qing: Jiaqing Revised Edition) a Ruyue Mountain and a Ru Lake within the Northern Wei's territory under the Tabgatch's control. (27) The question is: What happens after Wang has finished her preparatory exercise of evoking all these historical references to gazetteers, chronicles, and documents and starts on her field trip?

Assuming the exilian identity of her ancestors as a result of the 1287 coup d'etat, Wang travels to Shaoxing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Zhejiang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to look for their last settlement in a village called Rujialou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or Ru's End. It is there that the maze of history disorients her: not one, but seven to eight Rujialou villages exist in Shaoxing, suggestive of a plurally unstable origin. Though she manages to search out a Rujialou, one that also bears a utopian name, Taoyuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or Arcadia, the historical relics in this village have already been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, the villagers' oral accounts of the Ru's are so contradictory to each other that none of them are reliable. More ironically, on Wang's second trip to search for Rujialou, the local Ru families and a genealogist inform her that the southern Ru's are aborigines and have nothing to do with the northerners bearing the same patronymic. All allusions to her remote relation to Genghis Khan are suddenly invalidated by the words of the locals and the genealogist. Despite this fatal mistake in her well-informed narrative, she maintains both images of the Rouran's martialism and Ru Fen's civility in her matrilineal myth. As she admits, her historical construction presumes a central heroic figure: "I must have a hero to be my ancestor; I don't believe that in my thousands of years of history not a single hero has emerged. Should there be no hero, I'll create one [...]." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (28)

This calls our attention to the novel's revealing title, Records and Fiction: One Method of Creating the World. (29) The writer's method is to work on the margins of official records and expands them into a fictional focus. For instance, the whole process of the Rouran founderkhan's escape from his cousins' assassination attempt is recorded in standard histories very tersely with only one word, fajue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] meaning "discovered," (30) but is developed into a long, breathtaking paragraph in the fiction. The author describes her method of creation as fabrication through archaeology. Archaeology as a systematic gathering and scanning of scattered data requires conjecture to formulate a centering methodology, which reconstructs an imaginative totality according to a central theme. So, in his review of the novel, literary critic Wu Yiqin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] interprets fiction as the operation of recording: "'Records,' as such, are to be brought about in the mode of 'fiction'[...]." "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [......]. (31) The historical novelist is indeed a traveler who transports the past to the present, a translator who renders records into fiction. Wang Anyi makes use of historical facts and figures to create a factitious world of her own until the borderline between records and fiction is muddled: "In this moment, my pupils and my maternal great-grandma's finally align [...]."[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--[......], (32) Her record-fiction translation has reached a point at which historical view and personal vision are fused into one.

As the first-person narrator claims, she has created two worlds of a subjectivity in alternate chapters, namely, the vertical dimension of her family migrations and the horizontal space of her social surroundings, where, at the end of family myth and the center of social networks, "I have become the last spectacle." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (33) With the solitary self as both the subject and object, or creator and creature of her creation, Wang Anyi declares in her later lectures at Fudan University that fiction is a personal xinling shijie [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("spiritual world") or a renlei de shenjie [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("human mythdom") that bears no clear relation to the real world. (34) This is evocative of Levi-Strauss' characterization of mythology in that, when compared with history, mythology is a closed system, whose means of arranging materials is limited by a static structure of its own. (35) Yet Wang's autonomous claim of fiction is basically an echo of Li Jiefei's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] article used in lieu of a preface to Patrilineal and Matrilineal Myths, in which Li argues that Wang's myths attempt to free narrative discourse from all historic and realistic frames of reference, to reject the logic of the outside world, so as to resume its primitive function of anticipation rather than verification. (36) Thus, in the interior monologues of her migratory myths, Wang imagines the margins to be the hub of the universe.

The double act of constructing a frame of reference and then undoing it, as in the case of Wang's two trips to Rujialou, is reminiscent of Roland Barthes' theory of myth today. In his Mythologies (1957) Barthes clarifies the relations of the real world, history, and myth: "What the world supplies to myth is an historical reality, [...] and what myth gives in return is a natural image of this reality. [...] [M]yth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things: in it, things lose the memory that they once were made." (37) The function of myth is to empty itself of history. Unlike the complex, contingent, and profound historical reality, the mythical world appears to be pure, eternal, and superficial. In Wang's matrilineal and patrilineal myths, when all historical details are exhausted and revoked, what is left and centered in her diasporic discourse are such natural images as the ocean of melancholy and the desert of solitude.

If Wang's narratives of origin, as critics suggest, are motivated by "an anxiety of rootlessness," (38) then this modern anxiety is translated into historical researches and transcended by transnational root searches--searches for one's origins elsewhere, where one's foreignness is not on the fringe but brought into focus. Crossing the borders of mainland China, her Malay-Mongol myths make use of the transnational relocation of her ancestral tribes as a trope for the translational relation between the genres of history and fiction. This translatability does not lie in the information of past events, but in the narration of such information. Since every narration is navigation, the translation is also a transposition from the real world to the historical world, and from the historical world to the fictional world, or, in Wang's own words, the "spiritual world," where peripheries are centered. Such centering methodology is Wang Anyi's migratory mythology.

Descriptive Historiography: Metropolitan Margins of Shanghai longtang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Cityscape

Among all the major cities in China, Shanghai has become the most popular in recent academic research and creative writings. This is partly a consequence of its resuscitation under Deng Xiaoping's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] intensified economic reforms in the 1990s, and partly due to its unique experience during one hundred years (1843-1943) of colonization and the concomitant modernization that laid the foundation for the new Shanghai today. Dai Jinhua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] has pointed out the city's representation of the Chinese nation-state in its entirety: "As a specific historical and existing real space, Shanghai reflects the historical period that includes the beginning of China's belonging to the world." (39) Many (hi)stories of the "paradise for adventurers" focus on its prosperous prehistory from the late Qing to the end of World War II, in which the French Concession, the British-American International Settlement, and later the Japanese occupation dominated the treaty port. For instance, Leo Ou-fan Lee's Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945 (1999), and Sherman Cochran's Inventing Nanjing Road: Commercial Culture in Shanghai, 1900-1945 (1999) both conclude in 1945. In this light, it is interesting to see that Wang Anyi begins her Shanghai tale, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, not in the flourishing 1930s, but in late 1945, when Japan surrendered and the "Paris of the East" danced its last tango before the liberation. The postwar period is indeed a transitional point of Shanghai's shifting image from a capitalist haven to a communist hotbed in the middle of the twentieth century.

Writing Shanghai (through) Women

The protagonist of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is not a male mastermind of the metropolitan network, such as the capitalist hero in Mao Dun's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] masterpiece Ziye [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Midnight, 1933), but a fringe female figure called Wang Qiyao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Writing Shanghai women and writing Shanghai through women have a long tradition in modern Chinese fiction. David Der-wei Wang traces this tradition back to Han Bangqing's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1856-94) Haishang hua liezhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Flowers of Shanghai, 1894), xin ganjue pai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (the "neo-sensationalist" school), the Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies school, as well as Eileen Chang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1920-95) and Su Qing (1914-82) of the 1940s. (40) Furthermore, Cao Juren's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1903-72) literary comment in his 1935 essay "Jingpai yu Haipai" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("The Peking School and the Shanghai School") has characterized the urban styles in terms of the female sex: "[...] the Peking school (Jingpai) is like a boudoir-bound lady, whereas the Shanghai school (Haipai) is like a modern girl." (41) In her essay "Shanghai de mixing" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Shanghai Women"), Wang Anyi elaborates the relation between Shanghai and women, identifying the city as the theater for the female: "The best way to write about Shanghai is through women. No matter how aggrieved they feel, Shanghai provides them with a good stage, allowing them to display their abilities. [...] If there is a hero in the story of Shanghai, it is they." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (42) This idea is embodied in The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, which Yue Gang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] refers to as an "urban folklore" that at once deconstructs the male fantasy and "reconstructs] a gender-specific, alternative social history." (43) It is exactly the feminine sensibility that conceives an alternative historiography of the metropolitan margins.

The novel is tripartite, spanning forty odd years from 1945 to 1986. Book I is set in the glittery city of Shanghai during the latter half of the 1940s. Wang Qiyao, a glamorous girl from a lowly family who dreamed of becoming a movie star in her school days, takes third place in the first Miss Shanghai beauty contest after the war. She is then kept as a mistress by a Kuomintang politician, who is killed in a plane crash in 1948. In Book II she retreats to the countryside and soon returns as a neighborhood nurse to the fallen city in the 1950s. Associating with three men--a profligate son of the rich, a half-Russian loafer, and a photographer, she gives birth to a girl out of wedlock in 1961. Book III covers the decade after the Cultural Revolution. The middle-aged beauty spends a simple life with her daughter and young admirers in the reviving city until her daughter gets married and leaves for the United States. Allusive to Lady Yang Yuhuan's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (719-755) demise romanticized in Bo Juyi's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (772-846) oft-quoted narrative poem "The Song of Everlasting Sorrow," (44) the story ends with Wang Qiyao's violent death while protecting a box of gold bars left to her by the politician. The last thing she sees on her deathbed is mystically the mise en scene of a bedroom murder that she watched in a film studio forty years ago. Miss Shanghai Wang Qiyao's declining life from youth to old age can be understood synecdochically as Shanghai's vicissitudes from the postwar to the post-revolutionary periods, (45) but then she is left behind when the city is back to its sprint at breakneck speed.

Uncomplicated as the storyline appears, the novel is nearly four hundred pages long, because the author devotes her energy to details of the city's corners and nuances of the protagonist's psychology instead of an intricate plot. For modificatory purpose, the sentence pattern "[...] shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [...] de [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is extensively employed in the narrative. The prolonged descriptions in The Song of Everlasting Sorrow are reminiscent of the nineteenth-century romanticist Victor Hugo and naturalist Emile Zola, and the efforts of meticulous writing point ironically to the futility of life resonant with Cao Xueqin's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1715-63) classic Honglou meng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Dream of the Red Chamber), in which the once prosperous Daguanyuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Prospect Garden) falls into a lost paradise. The close attention to every bit of life as well as subtle emotional changes are enhanced by feminine sensibility. Like Cao Xueqin and Eileen Chang, Wang Anyi is good at in-depth depiction of the female psychology. The lyrical writing of the romantic and the nostalgic has distinguished the Shanghai style from the didactic Peking style "equipped with modern western notions of historical progress." (46) Identifying Wang Anyi as a foremost exponent of the Shanghai school, David Wang points out that she has walked out of Eileen Chang's shadow in two steps: first, Wang Anyi tells the story of what happens to those pining young lovers in Chang's romances during the last half of their lifetime, offering a continuance of the Haipai fiction with a group of old-fashioned acquaintances as a living memory; second, she has replaced the aristocratism in Chang's writings with philistinism, remolding the Shanghai style of literature. (47) Therefore, Wang Anyi presses the past of Shanghai as a canvas on which she paints a beautiful lady past her prime walking in the city's residential lanes beyond the neon lights at the end of nightly carnivals. In order to capture this lane-scape, Wang adopts a descriptive historiography in her narrative.

Descriptive Historiography

What is descriptive historiography? Or, more fundamentally, what is the importance of historical description in historical narrative? In his article "Narrative versus Description in Historiography," Laurent Stern concludes: "Human actions are narrated, their circumstances and settings are described. Narratives that are not supported by descriptions are vacuous; descriptions that do not lead to narratives are pointless." (48) Accordingly, a description is irrelevant unless it introduces, informs, or contributes to a narrative; it is relevant only when the environment described has a function in human action. Although Stern ends by claiming that "[b]oth narratives and descriptions are constituent parts of historical writings," description is meant to support and be secondary to narrative. Responding to Stern's argument, Haskell Fain argues that historical description should also have aesthetic uses in the art of historical writing: "One may wish to reexperience, to savor certain events. [...] Wandering down memory lane can be an activity that brings pleasure to the wanderer. And if the time traveler is a novelist or an epic poet, he or she will be able to make the private pleasure accessible as a work of art, a recherche du temps perdu [remembrance of things past]." (49) If Fain's horizon of appreciation can be widened from events to objects, beings, and situations, then a historical novelist's descriptions need not be narrative-relevant. Such descriptions can be either "objective" representation of a milieu of the past or subjective re-creation of a site of memory. Furthermore, contrary to narration, description is spatial rather than temporal, topological rather than chronological; it presents time in slices and space in memory. Whereas narrative historiography is employed to pursue the centrality of a theme or venue, descriptive historiography is used to draw the details of its peripheries.

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow starts with a five-page section describing old Shanghai's "memory lane," that is, the longtang alleys. This beginning of the novel is so prosaic that part of it actually appears as a separate short essay under the title "Wuyan dubai" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "Speechless Soliloquy" in Wang's Xunzhao Shanghai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (In Search of Shanghai, 2001). From a bird's eye view of the city, postwar Shanghai is read as a negative print: while the lights form punctuation and lines, the massive alleyways are the darkness behind them. It is not at night, but at daybreak when the narrator enters into the particulars of various classes of the longtang, making a tour from the shikumen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (stone-gate houses) topenghu HP (shanty towns). Roofing tiles and roofing felt, roof ridge and laohuchuang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (roof dormer), window frame and windowsill, wooden staircase and wooden partition, street lamp and street door, rear window and back door, iron gate and cement floor, wing-room and tingzijian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (pavilion room), courtyard and parlor, kitchen and boudoir, terrace and balcony, gable and sewer--the domestic architecture is presented with the utmost exactitude as in a traditional Chinese realistic painting. Then there are other topo-sections on boudoir, film studio, and apartment house for mistress keeping in Book I, followed by Book II's first two chapters, subtitled "Wuqiao" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Wu Bridge") and "Ping'anli" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Peace Lane") respectively. Peace Lane is an extremely common name for more than a hundred alleys in the municipal maze. The graffiti on the walls of these filthy lanes are inscriptions of fragmentary life scattered in the fissures of the city.

Shanghai is no longer the same city when its street names are decolonized and revolutionized. 50 Thirty years after the liberation, the trams whose clanging bells sounded like the city's heartbeat have disappeared, both the Huangpu River [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Suzhou River [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are badly polluted, and the alleys are beaten-up. (51) In the first chapter of Book III we revisit the longtang and the houses connected by them--again under the author's descriptive guidance. While the apartment complexes' carved Romanesque designs have gathered dust and cobwebs, the Western-style houses' semicircular balconies are divided into two kitchens by the families residing in them. Gone are the splendor of all architectural adornments and the exquisiteness of the metropolis. Echoing her city-text simile at the outset of the novel, the author laments that the cityscape has become chaotic and unreadable, even though the old street names are now restored. We view food, clothing, shelter and transport--every basic aspect of life in the late 1970s Shanghai detail by detail. In his criticism of the classical historical novel, Georg Lukacs uses Sir Walter Scott as a telling instance to propose that detail "is only a means for achieving the historical faithfulness." (52) Such observation is hardly sufficient in the case of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, since Wang Anyi's concern is less an authentic reproduction of a world in the past than the passage of time per se. The accumulation of time lost is palpable in the dust and dirt repeatedly mentioned in the specifics about the Romanesque designs, windows, banisters, and oleander leaves.

Wang Ban approaches this stratum of time spent by ordinary people in their everyday life as the alternative version of temporality explored by Wang Anyi "that cuts through both the ever-changing time of revolution and the frantic, teleological time of triumphant capitalism," and this lived temporality originates "in the cramped space of the longtang." (53) It is precisely because of Wang Anyi's focus on the longtang, instead of the bustling Bund, as a sublime spectacle that Zhang Xudong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] renders her writing of the city into a "natural history" (Naturgeschichte) in the aesthetic sense of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. (54) Asserting that "the longtang is the embodiment of middle-class Shanghai," Zhang analyzes the novel in the context of postsocialist China and argues that Wang Anyi directs nostalgia "toward a past associated with the unfulfilled dreams of bourgeois modernity." (55) A mainland critic also cites The Song of Everlasting Sorrow as the first example of an emerging middle-class literature in post-Mao China. (56) Indeed, the official history of the radical proletarian revolution in contemporary Chinese literature is undercut by everyday concerns of the urban petty bourgeois in Wang's descriptive historiography. The rustle of Shanghai's past is heard in the diurnal rituals of the wilderness of longtang.

Gossip and Fashion

The changing Shanghai lane-scape has accumulated a history, but the marginal culture of the longtang precludes a grande histoire. The trivial everyday banality "has nothing to do with things like 'history', not even 'unofficial history': we can only call it gossip. Gossip is part of the landscape in the Shanghai longtang--you can almost see it as it sneaks out through the rear windows and the back doors." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (6-7/7) (57) Gossip is error-ridden, hence unsound, and yet unlike history in musty old books, it concerns intimate feelings. So the author dedicates the second section of her novel to a five-page description of liuyan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or gossip, reminiscent of Eileen Chang's favorite mode of linguistic expression and, of course, the title of a collection of Chang's essays. Disseminated and distending among innumerable backstreets, gossip is regarded as the city's spirit, dream, mind and heart. The congeniality of the city and fiction lies precisely in, as Wang Anyi expresses it elsewhere, "the psychology of pry" (kuimixin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). (58) As Shanghai is effeminated in terms of perfumes, fashions and flowers, gossip is also defined in the feminine: "It is [...] the scent of a woman. It combines the smell of the bedroom and the kitchen, the smell of cosmetics and cooking oil." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [......], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (8/8) On the one hand, it is considered woman's myopia, "verbal garbage" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (9/9); on the other, insight and truth can sometimes be found in it. Filled with hearsay and heresies, gossip nonetheless has the capacity to mislead the public and undermine history: "it winds up trying to rewrite history. Like woodworms, it slowly chews up the books and records." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [......], (10/10) Yet gossip is neither public opinion nor political views; it is merely rumors, despised by both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces. The nature of rumor reveals Shanghai people's apolitical and ahistorical attitude toward life: "The moment that gossip is born is actually the moment that people are trying their hardest to conduct themselves properly. The people in Shanghai's longtang neighborhoods conduct themselves with the utmost attention and care; all their energy is directed to the way they carry themselves. Their eyes are focused exclusively on themselves, and they are never distracted by their surroundings. They don't want to create a place for themselves in history: they want to create themselves." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (12/13)

This philosophy of life prevails against the agenda of communist revolution. As Zhang Qinghua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] remarks, the novel evinces a contest between the "urban petty bourgeois Shanghai" and the "revolutionary and political Shanghai" represented respectively by Wang Qiyao and her girlfriend, Jiang Lili [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (59) Born of a capitalist family, Jiang converts herself to communism, but after the victory in 1949, life resumes its routine and she has to spend it with her peasant-turned-cadre husband's and their three sons' garlic odor and athlete's feet until she dies of liver cancer in 1965. The result of the contest is: "'revolutionary Shanghai' seems never to be able to beat the 'urban petty bourgeois Shanghai'--revolution and politics stand above the roofs of Shanghai, but the daily life of the urban petty bourgeois is deep-seated in every alley and corner." (60) It is in the private corners rather than the political center that everyday life is practiced.

In the highly politicized 1960s, Wang Qiyao and her fellow townspeople have no concern beyond their humdrum existence and self-images. After all, the state machine is too big and faraway for them to follow with interest: "The residents of Shanghai hewed to the little things of life, which left them stranded on the margins when it came to politics. If you told them that the Communist government belongs to the people, they would still keep their distance, due to modesty as well an overweening pride--deep down they still believed that they were the true masters of the city." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (224-25/242) This statement of quotidian depoliticization can be read as a manifesto of Shanghai citizens, who strategically take an excentric position to stay away from the Communist commotion. All of a sudden it appears that Shanghai has forgotten her birth of the party in 1921 and her aborted First Chinese Communist Revolution of 1927. That the novel does not cover the 1920s should not be used as an excuse for the city's amnesia. The amnestic city chooses rumor over history in the face of political disturbance. Even so, when rumors are utilized as propaganda in the written forms of "big-character posters" and leaflets during the Cultural Revolution, the city is turned upside-down. The aforementioned photographer-lover of Wang Qiyao is among the people who commit suicide under the pressure of rumors. Rumor has it that he is a spy responsible for training his women clients as sex-traps.

Embellished by Shanghai opera, brand-name cigarettes, toilet water, advertisements, and calendar posters from half a century ago, the image of Wang Qiyao is neither one of an all-conquering hero of the times (like Genghis Khan in Records and Fiction) nor a tragic hero against his fate (Younger Uncle in "Sadness for the Pacific") but, if I can call it oxymoronically, a hero of everyday life. The quotidian "hero," a major character(istic) of post-Mao literature in the 1980s and 1990s, knows best how to lead the urban life under all circumstances. Such heroism lies in the self's immersion in the struggle for a livable life and material amenities. Li Jing criticizes Wang Anyi's "material morphology" (wuzhi xingtai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) for reducing history to a social biology with no concern of spirituality. (61) As I am arguing here, the materiality of the mundane world that Wang demonstrates is the city dwellers' device to distance themselves from the state ideology. Of the basic necessities of life, clothing--read "fashion"--is what Wang Qiyao hankers after. Pages of graphic details are given over to discussions and descriptions of her dress styles for the Miss Shanghai pageant. Concerning people's bodily relation to their garments, Eileen Chang has pointed out the politics in her essay "Chinese Life and Fashions": "In an age of political disorder, people were powerless to modify existing conditions closer to their ideal. All they could do was to create their own atmosphere, with clothes, which constitute for most men and all women their immediate environments. We live in our clothes." (62) The clothing space as the closest space next to the skin is the ultimate space that one could defend.

The politics of apparel becomes more conspicuous in the second and third parts of the novel. Following the change of regime in 1949, the 1950s lost city of Shanghai witnesses the replacement of Western-style men's suits by modified Zhongshan zhuang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Sun Yat-sen suits) and the gradual disappearance of the once fashionable qipao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Manchu banner gowns), whose modern version, cheongsam [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], has become more fitted and waisted to reveal the contours of the female body since the 1920s and 1930s. (63) The Cultural Revolution is marked by an anti-fashion trend of "frugality as fashion" under the dominance of uniform blue cotton clothes "cut full [to] conceal the contours of the figure." (64) The politics of abstinence is characterized by Wang Anyi in her "Ji yici fuzhuang biaoyan" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Notes on a Fashion Show") as a generation of women's neglect of their own gender--in what I would call a "state style" of no sexual difference. (65) On the contrary, the historic significance of 1976, the ending year of the revolution, "lay all within the realm of the aesthetics of living" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and in 1977 "the clothing industry began to prosper and numerous new designs began to crop up on the streets" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (268-69/294-95). When Wang Qiyao found an old qipao in her suitcase, "to her they were not mere clothes, but skin she had sloughed off over time, one layer after another, like the shells of a cicada" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (218/234)--good old clothes are reminiscences of good old days. While her daughter and other young fashionists embrace the brave new world of street fashion, Wang Qiyao, in her late forties, welcomes it as a renewal of her sweet experience of bygone days because she sees the origin of new fashions in the old styles. As Walter Benjamin remarks, "fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger's leap into the past." (66) Fashion is all about the past in the guise of the future.

David Wang has indicated that through Wang Qiyao's attention to chic, Wang Anyi deems "the ups and downs in politics as no more than the ins and outs of fashions." (67) Yet I want to stress that the detailed descriptions of dress should not be reduced to a mere metaphor of politics, which is especially tempting in the case of the anti-fashion Cultural Revolution, when people were deprived of their choice of clothes. (68) The politics of apparel lies in the wearer's retreat into the textile space, where the immediacy of attire allows the most direct expression of personal taste in times of liberty and minimal comfort of the corporeal self in periods of turmoil.

In his trichotomy of the garment system, Roland Barthes defines written descriptions of clothes as a collective language (langue) rather than an individual speech (parole), photographs of clothes worn by models as a semi-formalized state, and real clothes as a dialectic between general rules of fashion and individual ways of wearing. (69) Of course, unlike those published in fashion magazines, verbal descriptions of clothes in literary works lack the visual images necessitated in Barthes' garment system. However, if we apply Saussure's distinction between language and speech to Wang Anyi's vestmental descriptions, the heroic triumph of a woman's individual freedom in clothing (speech) over costume (the language) is evident. Wang Qiyao reckons the public taste in the era of economic reforms as vulgar, representing a fashion statement of many Shanghainese who believe that fine clothes make the person. This reminds us of an episode in Records and Fiction: Wang Anyi is disappointed on the one hand by her parents' wedding picture, in which they put on rumpled military uniforms instead of Western wedding garments, and is satisfied on the other by her maternal grandmother's photo, in which a bordered satin dress with stand-up collars and pearls suggest a distinguished family background. (70) The word xurongxin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or "vanity," is used in both novels when it comes to the Shanghai tribe's consciousness of dress, because vainglory is considered the very thingness of life.

The tedious descriptions of day-to-day experiences and heart-to-heart intimacy in Wang Anyi's Shanghai fiction are commeasurable to the trivial round of daily life and the complex sensibilities of the common people in the real world. The everydayness in descriptive historiography has decentered, if not yet dissolved, the grandiloquence of revolutionary history. Michael Berry has also observed that the absence of historical landmarks in The Song of Everlasting Sorrow "points to a new conception of history that is formulated by subtle changes in fashion and popular culture rather than politics and historical movements," a historiography in which "history never takes center stage: instead it quietly plays out in the shadows on the periphery of the everyday." (71) With Wang's decentering methodology, history is not to be redeemed from major political events, but from minor personal matters, which the author often likens to leftover bits and pieces of fabric. In fact, this understanding of history undermines the treatments of history and humankind by Marx and Engels: 'But life involves, before everything else, eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is a historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life." (72) Whereas Marxist materialism is foremost interested in life as a collective historical trend in which the individual is considered a mere means of production, Wang is more concerned about life as a private practice against the massive political forces of history. She sees history in private life, in its smallest trifles. Trifles are worth ruminating upon because they are the bits of the past that one was able to control (e.g. choice of one's clothing--at least its size and degree of cleanliness), is able to re-create (according to one's nostalgic needs), and will be able to engage (in the day's routine). And this minimal freedom of the individual can be materialized only in the metropolitan margins.

By relating Wang Anyi's migratory mythology of origin to her descriptive historiography of Shanghai, I have demonstrated both centering and decentering methodologies of a contemporary woman writer's tactics of remapping the past. On the one hand, her diasporic discourses of overseas Chinese and ethnic minorities form a counter-narrative to sinocentrism with a melancholy position and an untraceable origin, respectively; on the other, her historical descriptions draw to the last detail the metropolitan margins of the longtang. Whereas the migratory mythology is an ongoing imaginary journey searching for fantasmatic foreign roots, the descriptive historiography goes beyond the mode of simply explaining or illustrating a central narrative such as Shanghai's revolutionary history. Consequently, in peripheries there are centers of dispersal, e.g. Singapore, and in urban centers like Shanghai there are margins of the everyday. Between Singapore as a peripheral center in the ocean and Shanghai as a coastal city on the mainland, between the twin postcolonial cities, lies the dynamics of displacement. Centered or decentered, it is no more than a matter of mapping. And in Wang's cartography, while the peripheries edge into the center, the center is deconstructed as a mere patch of peripheries.

Interestingly, it is out of the centered peripheries and the peripheralized center that Wang has finally emerged as a major literary figure, who strives to anyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], to "settle memories," among the migrants in the south, the minorities in the north, and the margins in the metropolis. The fact that these margins, minorities, and migrants have converged into a mainstream in her canonical writings, thus centralizing her stature in China, not only problematizes her methodologies but also complicates the scene of world literature today.


Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, Wittenberg University

* This article was previously published in Chapters 2 and 3 of the author's Remapping the Past: Fictions of History in Deng's China, 1979-1997 (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 67-79, 169-84, and has been revised and updated for the JMLC.

(1) My assumption that the author-narrator's father is Wang Xiaoping is predicated on Wang Xiaoping's biography in Beijing yuyan xueyuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], comps., Zhongguo wenxuejia cidian: Xiandai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Dictionary of Chinese Writers: Modern Period], vol. 2 (Beijing: Beijing yuyan xueyuan, 1979), s.v. "Wang Xiaoping." For recent researches of Hakkaology, see Nicole Constable, ed., Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005); Sow-Theng Leong, Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History: Hakkas, Pengmin, and Their Neighbors, ed. Tim Wright (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).

(2) Wang Anyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Fuxi he muxi de shenhua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Patrilineal and Matrilineal Myths] (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1994), 8.

(3) Ibid., 13, 25.

(4) Ibid., 84-85.

(5) Here we encounter an example of Wang Anyi's (Ibid., 25) inaccuracy in her use of historical records. The narrative suggests that Germany, Italy, and Japan signed a military pact in 1938, but actually Japan did not ally with the Axis powers of Germany and Italy until 1940 when World War II had already erupted in Europe.

(6) These historic events are also covered in an earlier version of Yu Shukun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ed., Nanyang nianjian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Nanyang Yearbook] (Singapore: Nanyang baoshe, 1951), B4-5, 7.

(7) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 66, 67; all translations are mine.

(8) Ibid., 74.

(9) Ibid., 32.

(10) Ibid., 18, 19.

(11) Tang Xiaobing, Chinese Modern: The Heroic and the Quotidian (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 328.

(12) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 29.

(13) Li Jing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Bu maoxian de lucheng--Lun Wang Anyi de xiezuo kunjing" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["Unadventurous Journey: On the Writing Predicament of Wang Anyi"], Dangdai zuojia pinglun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Contemporary Writers Review], 2003, no. 1: 30.

(14) Zhang Xinying [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Jianying de he'an liudong de shui--Jishi he xugou yu Wang Anyi xiezuo de lixiang" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["Solid River Bank and Flowing Water: Records and Fiction and Wang Anyi's Ideal of Writing"], in Zhang, Qiju yu youmu zhi di [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [The Land of Dwelling and Nomady] (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1994), 136, 139-40.

(15) This is in turn interpreted by Wang Ban as the narrator's "wrestles with the distress of memory that severs the links between now and then, a temporal blank left by China's modernization and change." See Wang Ban, Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 132.

(16) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 180.

(17) In 1966, the first year of the Cultural Revolution, all schools were closed. Classes were not resumed till the following year when the government instructed that primary school students should return to school and might become Little Red Soldiers. See Ma Qibin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Zhong guo gongchandang zhizheng sishi nian: 1949-1989 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: 1949-1989 [Forty Years of Chinese Communist Party Rule: 1949-1989] (Beijing: Zhonggong dangshi ziliao chubanshe, 1989), 291, 302.

(18) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 93.

(19) See Zheng Qiao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1104-62), comp., Tong zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [General Treatises], 200 vols. ([Hanzhou]: Zhejiang shuju, 1896), 28.21a, 200.19a. As a matter of fact, Ruru [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is already transcribed as Ruru [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Wei Zheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (580-643), Sui shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Sui], 6 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1973), 83.1846, 84.1863-64.

(20) Li Yanshou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (7th cent.), Nan shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the South], 6 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975), 79.1986-87; Xiao Zixian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 489-537), Nan Qi shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Southern Qi], 3 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1972), 59.1023-25; Wei Shou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (505-572), Wei shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the Wei], 554, 8 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), 103.2289-2303. The original passage on Ruru in the Wei shu has long been lost, and the present version is an excerpt from Li Yanshou, Bei shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [History of the North], 10 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), 98.3249-67.

(21) Li, Bei shi, 98.3266-67, 99.3285-87.

(22) These two officials are Ru Faliang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 435-ca. 498) and Ru Fazhen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (fl. 499-500). For the former's biographies, see Xiao, Nan Qi shu, 56.976-977, and Li, Nan shi, 77.1928-32; for the latter, see Li, Nan shi, 77.1933-35.

(23) There are ten Chinese renditions and four English translations of the Menggu mishi, also known as Yuanchao mishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [The Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty]. The version that Wang Anyi cites is Ts. Damdinsurun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ed., Menggu mishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [The Secret History of the Mongols], trans. Xie Zaishan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Hr (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1956).

(24) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 186.

(25) Wang quotes a very brief note of this historical events from Tao Zongyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1316-1403), Chuogeng lu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Records Compiled after Retiring from the Farm], 1366 (Taipei: Shijie shuju, 1963), 2.48, but Tao did not specify who the remnants were.

(26) Zhao Erxun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1844-1927), comp., Qing shigao IuIt [Draft History of the Qing], 1927, 48 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1977), 14.528, 17.619, 477.13030-31; Shen Yuantai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Ru Fen zhuan" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["A biography of Ru Fen"] and "Ru Dunhe zhuan" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["A biography of Ru Dunhe"], in ed. Min Erchang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (b. 1886), Beizhuanji bu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Supplement to the Collected Stele Biographies], 1923, in Qingdai beizhuan quanji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Complete Works of Qing Stele Biographies], 2 vols. (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987), 2: 1278c-1279a and 1392a, respectively. Wang Anyi in Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, p.300, mistakenly lists Qingdai beizhuan quanji, p.1278, and Beizhuanji bu, vols. 3, as two different references for Ru Fen. Ru Dunhe's biography can also be found in Jiaqing chongxiu da Qing yitong zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Gazetteers of the Unified Great Qing: Jiaqing Revised Edition], 35 vols. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986),36.1476.

(27) See Jiaqing chongxiu da Qing yitong zhi, 146.6755 and 151.7065 for Ruyueshan, and 151.7069 for Ruhu.

(28) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 185; my emphasis.

(29) In the postscript to her Records and Fiction, Wang states that other titles have come to her mind before the current one, including Shanghai gushi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [A Tale of Shanghai], Rujialou (Ru's End), Xungen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Root-seeking], Hewei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Embracing], Chuangshiji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Genesis], etc.

(30) Li, Bei shi, 98.3251; Wei, Wei shu, 103.2291.

(31) Wu Yiqin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Fankang gudu: You changkai dao chongjian--Wang Anyi Jishi he xugou jiedu" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["Resist Solitude: From Opening to Reconstruction--On Reading Wang Anyi's Records and Fiction"], Zhongguo xiandai, dangdai wenxue yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Studies in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature], 1994, no. 11: 125.

(32) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 308.

(33) Ibid., 383.

(34) Wang Anyi, Xinling shijie--Wang Anyi xiaoshuo jianggao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Spiritual World: Wang Anyi's Lecture Notes on Fiction] (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 1997), 13, 21.

(35) Claude Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture (New York: Schocken Books, 1979), 40-41.

(36) Li Jiefei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Wang Anyi de xin shenhua--Yige lilun tantao" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["Wang Anyi's New Mythology: A Theoretical Investigation"], Dangdai zuojia pinglun, 1993, no. 5: 5-6; rpt. as preface to Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, iii-v.

(37) Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Noonday Press, 1993), 142.

(38) Zhang, "Jianying de he'an liudong de shui," 136; Wang Zheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Xiao Hua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Lun Wang Anyi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["On Wang Anyi"], Zhong shan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Mount Zhong], 2000, no. 4: 197.

(39) Dai Jinhua, "Imagined Nostalgia," trans. Judy T. H. Chen, Boundary 2 24.3 (Fall 1997): 158.

(40) David Der-wei Wang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Haipai zuojia you jian chuanren" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["A New Successor to the Shanghai School"], Dushu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Reading], 1996, no. 6: 41.

(41) Cao Juren, Cao Juren wenxuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Selected Works of Cao Juren], vol. 1, ed. Shao Heng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhongguo guangbo dianshi chubanshe, 1995), 150.

(42) Wang Anyi, Xunzhao Shanghai (PI4_h$5 [In Search of Shanghai] (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 2001), 86.

(43) Yue Gang, The Mouth That Begs: Hunger, Cannibalism, and the Politics of Eating in Modern China (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 307.

(44) For an annotated translation of Bo Juyi's poem with a historical introduction by Paul W. Kroll, see Victor H. Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 478-85.

(45) This parallelism between the character and the city has been pointed out by critics. Wang and Xiao, "Lun Wang Anyi," 194, for example, suggest that the female fate and the city's changes are mirror images of each other.

(46) Wang, Illuminations from the Past, 220. Li Tiangang's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "'Haipai'--Jindai shimin wenhua zhi lanshang" "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ["Shanghai School: The Beginning of a Modern Urbanite Culture"], in his Wenhua Shanghai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Cultural Shanghai] (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1998), 3-34, gives a detailed account of the term "Shanghai school" from its origins in painting and opera during the late Qing to the literary debate (with the Peking school) and practice (of popular literature) in the 1930s.

(47) Wang, "Haipai zuojia you jian chuanren," 38, 41, 43.

(48) Laurent Stern, "Narrative versus Description in Historiography," New Literary History 21.3 (Spring 1990): 567.

(49) Haskell Fain, "Some Comments on Stern's 'Narrative versus Description in Historiography'," New Literary History 21.3 (Spring 1990): 569-70.

(50) Wang Anyi is sensitive to the changes of street names. Another example can be found in the opening paragraph of "Banjia" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Moving"), in Wang, Xunzhao Shanghai, 87, where she traces the nomenclatures of Huaihai Road [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] back to the colonial age of the French Concession.

(51) The mechanical dingdong sound made by tolling of a bell on trams is frequently mentioned to invoke a nostalgic mood in the novel. It is also associated with the city's desire in Wang Anyi's essay "Xunzhao Shanghai" ["In Search of Shanghai"], Xunzhao Shanghai, 20. The sentimental image and sound of trams have found favor with modern Shanghai writers, such as Eileen Chang in her 1943 short story "Fengsuo" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["Sealed off"], whose English translation by Karen Kingsbury is in Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 188-97.

(52) Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 59.

(53) Wang, Illuminations from the Past, 228, 231.

(54) Zhang Xudong, "Shanghai Nostalgia: Postrevolutionary Allegories in Wang Anyi's Literary Production in the 1990s," positions: east asia cultures critique 8.2 (Fall 2000): 366-75.

(55) Ibid., 373, 383.

(56) Cheng Guangwei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Zhongchan jieji shidai de wenxue" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["A Literature of the Middle-class Age"], Huacheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Flower City], 2002, no. 6: 199-200.

(57) All quotations from the novel with page references in parentheses are from Wang Anyi, Chang hen ge [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1996) and its English rendition, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, trans. Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

(58) Wang, Xunzhao Shanghai, 131.

(59) Zhang Qinghua, "Cong Qingchun zhi ge dao Chang hen ge--Zhongguo dangdai xiaoshuo de xushi aomi ji qi meixue bianqian de yige shijiao" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["From The Song of Youth to The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: The Narrative Secrets of Contemporary Chinese Novels and a View on the Flux of Aesthetics"], Dangdai zuojia pinglun, 2003, no. 2: 86.

(60) Ibid., 88.

(61) Li, "Bu maoxian de lucheng," 33.

(62) Eileen Chang, "Chinese Life and Fashions," The XXth Century 4.1 (Jan. 1943): 60.

(63) Hazel Clark, "The Cheung Sam: Issues of Fashion and Cultural Identity," in ed. Valerie Steele and John S. Major, China Chic: East Meets West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 157-58.

(64) Verity Wilson, "Dress and the Cultural Revolution," ibid., 170.

(65) See Wang, Xunzhao Shanghai, 79.

(66) Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in his Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 261.

(67) Wang, "Haipai zuojia you jian chuanren," 43.

(68) Claire Roberts has summarized the sartorial practice of the Cultural Revolution as follows: "During the Cultural Revolution, it was wise to dress in sympathy with the proletariat. Concern with personal appearance was regarded as an expression of bourgeois tendencies. Traditional dress was categorized as one of the Four Olds (old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits), while Western suits, ties and dresses were confiscated and denounced as evidence of their wearers' bourgeois past." See Claire Roberts, ed., Evolution & Revolution: Chinese Dress 1700s-1990s (Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 1997), 23.

(69) Barthes, Elements of Semiology, 26-27.

(70) Wang, Fuxi he muxi de shenhua, 98-99.

(71) Berry, translator's afterword to The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, 438.

(72) Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95), The German Ideology, 1846, in ed. Lewis S. Feuer, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1959), 249.
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Title Annotation:I. Special Issue
Author:Choy, Howard Y.F.
Publication:Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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