ZHANG HENSHUI AND POPULAR CHINESE FICTION, 1919-1949

Author: McClellan, Thomas Michael
Year:2005
Pages:420
ISBN:0-7734-6087-X
978-0-7734-6087-4
Price:259.95
This book is a “life and works” study of the most successful Chinese novelist of the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1920s-1940s, the popularity of Zhang’s work among readers was immense, but it was denigrated as commercial, ideologically backward writing during an age when literature in China was dominated by the leftist politics and Europeanising aesthetics of the May Fourth Movement. The author demonstrates, by detailed philological analysis, how Zhang Henshui chose to retain the form and language of the old-style Chinese novel, but to assimilate techniques and content from May Fourth writing as a means of “improving” traditional fiction while “catching up with the times.”

In this by far most comprehensive survey of Zhang’s fictional work in any Western language, the author identifies, with impressive literary sensitivity, a number of phases of development and retrogression, as Zhang Henshui moved away gradually from writing fiction for entertainment and comfort to writing more disturbing and engaging work.

Rare among studies of modern Chinese literature, the book’s generous excerpts and appendices from the most outstanding novels in exquisite English translation offer a lively impression of the experience of reading Zhang Henshui novels. The bibliography includes a most valuable detailed chronological list of Zhang’s works.

This book will also be of interest to scholars of Republican-era Chinese culture and history in general, as well as to scholars of comparative literature and general literary theory.

Reviews

“It is rare indeed to find an academic work which is as much a pleasure as it is a profit to read: Dr. McClellan’s book on Zhang Henshui’s fiction falls in to this exceptional category. Zhang Henshui’s name is not now known to an audience outside literary scholars in Chinese studies, and few even of them are familiar with his stories. In his own time, however, Zhang’s novels were enormously successful, and Dr. McClellan gives us the opportunity to understand the source of their attraction. The skilfully translated passages excerpted for this book are a large part of its delight.

As a literary scholar, Dr. McClellan brings much more to his research than an exhaustive knowledge of Zhang Henshui’s life and writing: he also moves with ease between traditional classical and vernacular Chinese literature; between traditional and modern Chinese fiction; between elite and popular literature; and between Chinese and Western audience expectations. In particular, the parallels he draws between traditional Chinese fiction and poetry on the one hand and Zhang Henshui’s literary techniques on the other show conclusively that the borders between classical and popular literature in China are infinitely flexible. For this reason alone, this book is a significant contribution to research on popular Chinese fiction.

Dr. McClellan’s study of Zhang Henshui’s place in the literary world of the 1920s and 1930s also provides a reassessment of modern Chinese literature and the tyranny of the leftist literary canon that for long dominated the discursive field in China, even to the extent of determining publication. Although such reassessment is becoming acceptable among Chinese and Western scholars, there is still a lack of full-length studies of individual authors whose work was excluded from the canon. It is too soon to tell what literary historians of the 21st century will make of 20th century Chinese literature, but McClellan’s meticulous scholarship will guarantee attention to this work in the continuing debates.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Bonnie S. McDougall, Professor of Chinese, The University of Edinburgh

“… Dr. Tommy McClellan’s book clearly overshadows any previous Western work on this author as it presents a very thorough survey study of Zhang Henshui’s extensive oeuvre. … McClellan’s book script includes generous excerpts from the most outstanding novels in exquisite English translation, which offer a lively impression of the experience of reading Zhang Henshui novels. The bibliography includes a most valuable chronological list of this author’s major works (as well as ascribed works), indicating the years of their first serial publication and first book edition. This appendix once again demonstrates the rigid scholarship on which McClellan’s study is based. I strongly recommend Dr. McClellan’s book for publication by The Edwin Mellen Press.” – Dr. Roland Altenburger, University of Zurich, Institute of East Asian Studies

“Zhang Henshui was undoubtedly the most successful Chinese novelist of the first half of the twentieth century. …T. M. McClellan’s study breaks new ground and has laid the foundation for further work on this unique author. … Throughout his study, McClellan combines insightful close-reading with meticulous documentation of the publishing history of the works. His critical judgments are outspoken but fair and maintain a healthy distance from his subject. His attention to linguistic detail in these difficult texts is superb, based on a uniquely confident command of the various registers of the classical and modern Chinese language. Being the first English-language study of this major modern Chinese author to be published in almost two decades, Zhang Henshui and Popular Chinese Fiction, 1919-1949 will find an enthusiastic audience among scholars of modern Chinese literature and will become a standard entry on course reading lists. It will also be of interest to scholars of Republican-era Chinese culture and history in general, as well as to scholars of comparative literature and general literary theory.” – Michel Hockx, Professor of Chinese, University of London

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Preface by Bonnie S. McDougall
Acknowledgements
Introduction
1. Butterflies and Dreams
2. Dreams, Gold and Tears
3. “Catching up with the times”
4. Modernising talents and beauties
5. Eighty-one Dreams
6. Chungking nightmares
Back to one
Appendix A
Appendix B
Bibliography
Index