China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper presents a combined reading of two contemporary Chinese novels—Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas (1997) and Wang Anyi’s Anonymity (2016)—among other stories, to explore an alternative realism in our new century, against the one hundred years’ mainstay of classical realism in Chinese literature. Modeled upon the nineteenth-century French literature, such canonized realism draws on the social and cosmic evolutionism to authorize a certain reality whose future is sanctioned via progressive linear time. In contrast, by presetting a doomed point of the character or his/her age in the middle of time, literature as represented by Atlas and Anonymity lift this evolutionist spell: against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s 1997 return Atlas presents a study of maps and places as an archeology of the future, while Anonymity traces an adventure of an ordinary Shanghai man after he is declared missing in a previous reality. Although remaining realistic in the sense of being supported by empirical evidence, both works conceive a new sense of time that can be folded and unfolded in narrative, and embrace a reality that favors confusion, distortion and illusion. In other words, this is a reality filled with what evolution and its classical realist narrative have discarded as garbage. This paper considers this alternative realism as a new science of writing, science that, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “reflects the prevalent psychology of an age.” This science in the form of hypothesis, therefore, returns to fictional narrative its position as a suppositional rather than truth-giving space.