China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The theme of failure and melancholy that pervades leftist literary imaginations in China spans across the entire twentieth century: from Mao Dun’s portrayals of decadence and vacillation in the aftermath of the failed 1927 Revolution, to Qu Qiubai’s controversial confession of his ill-fated revolutionary career before his execution; from Chen Yingzhen’s pathos of despair as responses to the collapse of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, to Wang Anyi’s impossible mourning for the eclipse of socialist culture in Shanghai. These literary soundings resonate with Western cultural expressions of left melancholia in the postrevolutionary era.
In this part, I offer a rational reconstruction of the multivalent literary journeys of Wang Anyi (1954-), a literary star in Shanghai, to shed light on the ambiguous interpretations, contested memories, and divergent literary representations of Mao’s revolution. For Wang’s generation, the withering away of Maoist ethics, the accelerating privatization of economy, and the nascent consumer capitalism have fundamentally altered their perceptions of China’s socialist past. In her 1993 novel The Documentary and The Fictional, Wang describes a doomed socialist takeover of Shanghai: as soon as idealistic communists enter this bourgeois enclave, their revolutionary passions are destined to be diluted, forgotten, and swept away by the longue durée of history. The reader discovers that Mao’s sweeping revolution fails to root out the bourgeois sentiment of Shanghai citizens. Wang’s impossible mourning for socialist culture offers a complex contour into the melancholic turn of radical politics in post-revolutionary China.