1. See Michael Berry’s chapter “Beijing 1989” in his A History of Pain for a discussion of Chinese literary and filmic representations of Tiananmen within the critical framework of trauma.
2. The climate in the PRC has changed in the past few years for these writers. Duo Duo was allowed back in China in 2004 and now teaches at Hainan University; Yang Lian has made frequent trips back to China since 1999 on a New Zealand passport; and Bei Dao, though still barred from China, now teaches at the City University of Hong Kong and is finally permitted to have his books published on the mainland.
3. Ha Jin is the pen name of Jin Xuefei, hereafter referred to as Jin.
4. The GCIM was launched in 2003 by the United Nations and a number of world governments to respond to these planetary realities, but its 2005 report forcefully concludes that “the international community has failed to capitalize on the opportunities and to meet the challenges associated with international migration,” and that “new approaches are required to correct this situation” (2).
6. For a survey of some Tiananmen films and documentaries, see Berry (319–52). For a study on the influences of June 4 on transnational Chinese cinema more generally, see Gina Marchetti’s From Tian’anmen to Times Square.
7. Sheng Qi’s art can be viewed on his website, Sheng Qi. From March to May 2011, eight of his paintings of Tiananmen Square comprised the solo exhibition Square at the Fabien Fryns Fine Art Gallery in Los Angeles.
8. One of the paintings in this series, which depicts crumpled tents and moving tanks under the misty floodlights of a square, is part of Goya to Beijing, an internationally traveling exhibition memorializing June 4, comprised of some twenty works by contemporary artists from around the world. The exhibition organizers hope to ultimately end the tour in Beijing, “to bring this collection of artwork to Beijing as a memento,” at a future point when the massacre has been officially acknowledged (P.-Y. Han).
9. For these reasons, too, I regrettably give short shrift to Tiananmen fictions that have not been translated, such as Hong Kong writer Li Bihua (Lilian Lee)’s Tiananmen jiupo xinhun (Tiananmen old souls and new spirits) (1990), and those works originally written in languages other than Chinese and English, such as the Japan-based novelist Yang Yi’s recent prize-winning Toki ga nijimu asa (A morning steeped in time) (2008).
10. For this reason, I cite Gao’s play throughout this book as Taowang—as opposed to my usual practice of citing Chinese-language texts first by their English titles, followed by the original Chinese in parentheses. In instances in which the Chinese text has not been published in English (as with Liusi shiji and Tiananmen qingren), I cite the Chinese title first, followed by a parenthetical translation of it in roman type.
1 / The Existentialist Square
1. Even the most casual sampling of one day’s news in English will reveal this media pattern. The October 13 Boston Globe article “Nobel in Literature Awarded to Chinese Dissident” begins with “Gao Xingjian, a Chinese novelist and playwright whose works have been banned by the Chinese government, has been chosen to receive this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature” (Feeney), while the same day’s Washington Post likewise emphasizes Gao’s exilic condition with the headline “Chinese Exile Wins Nobel for Literature” (Weeks). In Canada, the Toronto Star article “Exiled Novelist Wins Nobel” recounts how “the 60-year-old survivor of China’s upheaval and oppression became its first Nobel Prize laureate for literature,” while the Montreal Gazette, with greater sensationalist flare, runs the headline “Writing to Survive: Chinese Nobel Winner Was Forced to Destroy ‘Kilos and Kilos’ of His Works.” Across the Atlantic, London’s Independent reports on “Exiled Dissident Whose Works Are Banned in China Wins Nobel Prize” (Moyes), while the Financial Times begins its coverage by describing Gao as “a Chinese-born novelist branded persona non grata by Beijing’s government” (Kynge). Similarly in Australia, Melbourne’s Herald Sun calls Gao a “Chinese-born writer” who had his works “banned in his homeland” (“Chinese”), while the lead-in to the next day’s Sydney Morning Herald article “Writer Could Trust No-one, Not Even My Family” histrionically relates how the writer “burnt his early writings to save himself from communist zealots, was denounced by his wife and eventually went into exile” (August). For a summary of similar media reportage on Gao’s Nobel in languages other than English—in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Europe—see Kwok-kan Tam’s “Introduction” (4–7).
2. The exception is The Other Shore (1999), a collection of Gao’s post-PRC experimental drama dating largely from the early 1990s. See appendix 1 in Henry Zhao’s Towards a Modern Zen Theatre for a checklist of Gao’s major works, in original Chinese and in various Western translations, up until 2000.
3. The publication of Gao’s two novels, Soul Mountain (2000) and One Man’s Bible (2002), has been followed swiftly by that of his plays: Snow in August (2003), Escape & The Man Who Questions Death (2007), and Of Mountains and Seas (2008). A collection of his short fiction in translation, Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather (2004), has been succeeded by a multigenre bilingual anthology, Cold Literature (2005), as well as a collection of his essays in translation, The Case for Literature (2006). Even his visual art has been assembled into two volumes, Ink Paintings by Gao Xingjian (2002) and Return to Painting (2002). In addition, Gao is now the focus of numerous journal articles and a scholarly anthology, Kwok-kan Tam’s edited Soul of Chaos (2001), as well as the subject of several single-author critical studies: Sy Ren Quah’s Gao Xingjian and Transcultural Chinese Theater (2004), Izabella Labedzka’s Gao Xingjian’s Idea of Theatre (2008), and Jessica Yeung’s Ink Dances in Limbo (2008). One exception here is Henry Zhao’s Towards a Modern Zen Theatre (2000), the first English-language book-length study of Gao’s drama, which was first written in Chinese and published in Taipei in 1999 before its English version appeared just days before the Nobel announcement.
4. In his introductory sections to Soul of Chaos, Kwok-kan Tam argues that Gao Xingjian’s “transcultural” aesthetics places him “in the forefront of world literature,” marking a “transition from tradition to modernity” (“Introduction” 2). This claim is materially reproduced by the 2003 edition of The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, which has added Gao to its ranks, after Lu Xun and Bei Dao, as only the third representative twentieth-century Chinese writer of “world literature.” More recently, at the December 2007 conference “Globalizing Modern Chinese Literature: Sinophone and Diasporic Writings,” held at Harvard University, Gao was the name most frequently cited in conversations about Sinophone writers in the diaspora. Just a few months later in May 2008, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, and the University of Aix-Marseille I jointly organized an international conference in Hong Kong focused solely on Gao, this time to explore his relationship to “his culture,” that is, Chinese cultural traditions.
5. Contrast Mabel Lee’s passage with this more subdued account by Bonnie McDougall and Kam Louie: “The increasingly repressive atmosphere [in the PRC] after 1986 led to prohibitions on Gao’s new work. After travelling to Europe in 1987, he settled in Paris where he continues to write fiction and drama” (365).
6. See Lovell too for a penetrating analysis of the larger cultural significance of the Nobel Prize for post-Mao intellectuals in their quest for international—that is, Western—recognition of Chinese national literary identity, a quest she diagnoses as an anxiety-ridden “intellectual marginality complex.”
7. Throughout this chapter, where no translator is cited in the text or in the bibliography, the translation is my own.
8. Unless otherwise noted, quotations from “Without Isms” are based on Mabel Lee’s translation of the essay in The Case for Literature.
9. The first term is adopted by Mabel Lee (64), the second by Winnie Lau, Deborah Sauviat, and Martin Williams in their earlier translation of the essay (105).
10. In Gao’s post-1989 drama too, we discern a steady disappearance of social preoccupations. Of his PRC plays, Alarm Signal (Juedui xinhao) (1982) is the most overtly social, though Bus Stop (Chezhan) (1983) has also been widely read as an allegory of the Cultural Revolution decade. While Henry Zhao points out that, by the late 1980s, “Gao’s positions of social engagement” were already becoming “gradually individualized,” that “social issues no longer commanded his attention” (94), we can still see visible ties to contemporary social issues in his work of this period, and even Wild Man (Yeren) (1985), the last of his plays to be staged in the PRC, addresses a specific cultural crisis in China.
11. In his grand history of Western philosophy, Castoriadis identifies Plato as the one who “inaugurates the era of philosophers who wriggle out of the city” by conceiving of “a city removed from time and history, governed not by its own people but by ‘philosophers’” (8). Castoriadis is critical of this philosophical tradition for emptying the city of its political function and for absolving citizens of public service and civic responsibility.
12. The English translation history of this passage in Mencius indicates a divergence of interpretation over this very question: should Mencius be read as strictly a man of his time and an advocate of imperialism, or can we recuperate him as a more modern and egalitarian spirit? Waley suggests the latter, and he may well be supported by both James Legge’s 1860s translation and Bryan Van Norden’s more recent one in 2001. The key term here is tianxia—“under Heaven” for Waley, “all under heaven” for Legge, and the most secular of all, “the world” for Van Norden. D. C. Lau, by contrast, insists on the terminology of empire and translates the passage with colonial overtones: “When he saw a common man or woman who did not enjoy the benefit of the rule of Yao and Shun, Yi Yin felt as if he had pushed him or her into the gutter. This is the extent to which he considered the Empire his responsibility” (V.B.1).
13. See Peg Birmingham for a discussion of this dimension of Arendt’s thought, particularly her principle of “common responsibility” premised on the human “capacity for both horror and gratitude, both violence and pleasure” (1–3).
14. Gregory Lee first translated Taowang into English as Fugitives in 1993, but this version was published in a little-circulated collection of conference papers. The recent retranslation of the play by Gilbert Fong, as the first title work in the independent volume Escape & The Man Who Questions Death, stands to gain a much wider readership for Gao. See Henry Zhao’s appendix 1 for a list of Taowang’s translations and performances up until 2000.
15. Gao identifies the locale simply as dushi yi feixu (130), which Gregory Lee translates as “a ruin in a capital” (89) and Gilbert Fong as an “abandoned market in the city” (2). Lee’s translation is more accurate in this instant, though with the translation of the female character’s title, Fong’s “Girl” is closer in connotation to Gao’s Guniang than Lee’s “Young Woman.” For convenience of cross-reference, since Fong’s version is now widely distributed and accessible, my quotations of Taowang are taken from his translation of it in Escape & The Man Who Questions Death.
16. Earlier in his career, Gao had adopted this allegorical figure of the passerby from Lu Xun’s short play Guoke as the Silent Man in The Bus Stop. The point of disparity between the earlier play and Taowang is that, while the Middle-aged Man remains immobile, the Silent Man walks out on a situation of inertia and opens up the promise of an exit in an otherwise no-exit drama. Comparing these two works, we can appreciate how Gao’s stance on nonaction has become solidified from the time he was in the PRC to the time he wrote his Tiananmen play.
2 / The Aporetic Square
1. “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry” was first published in the New Yorker in 2008 before its inclusion in A Good Fall in 2009.
2. See also my “Theorizing the Hyphen’s Afterlife,” in which I read the motifs of bodies in The Crazed through a theoretical framework of biopower and within the context of Asian American transnationalism (151–55).
3. For a reading of modern Chinese narratives of trauma via the conceptual dichotomy of “centripetal” versus “centrifugal,” see Michael Berry. Borrowing from Bakhtin, Berry distinguishes between two types of traumatic narratives: the first involves episodes of violence occurring under the shadow of colonialism such as the Nanjing Massacre, which lead to a drive to “create and cement a new modern conception of the ‘Chinese nation,’” while the second involves episodes of “indigenous violence” propagated by the communist state itself such as the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen, which lead to narratives seeking “alternatives to the nation in a new global landscape” (5–6).
4. See, for example, the website June 4th Memoir (Liusi dangan).
5. Several book-length studies are illustrative in this regard. Xiaobin Yang’s The Chinese Postmodern is arguably closest to the psychoanalytic method. Yang uses the lens of trauma to read a host of contemporary mainland writers, linking their “postmodern” narrative strategies to the psychic effects of actual historical violence. Citing Freud’s theory of deferred action, Yang proposes that trauma offers a broadly applicable basis for interpreting the “culturo-historical status of contemporary China,” for it is “Nachträglichkeit of the deeply ingrained trauma that correlates the previously experienced historical violence with the current act of writing of Chinese avant-garde fiction” (49). Another example is Michael Berry’s A History of Pain. Less psychoanalytically informed than Yang’s book but likewise deploying trauma as an overarching rubric, this study surveys a wide array of contemporary Chinese literary and filmic texts, organized chronologically by the episodes of historical violence they depict, from the Musha Incident to the Hong Kong Handover. Berry treats historical violence chiefly as representational content rather than life experience or psychic outcome, and so, unlike Yang, he does not endeavor to provide a unified theory of trauma as such. Instead, he sketches an expansive picture of the imagination of national crisis for contemporary writers and filmmakers, in which the notion of “pain” becomes “a crucial component of our understanding of modern China.” Against this backdrop, “historical crises have been continually renewed and re-created not in history, but through the lens of literature, film, and popular culture” (1–2). Berry thus mostly engages with trauma as artistic content and creative agency rather than psychic residue.
6. For an erudite exception to the rule, see Liangyan Ge. For another example, see Louis Parascandolathis, though the force of this latter is somewhat diluted by its generic comparison of Jin’s Waiting to George Orwell’s 1984.
7. Within this milieu, there is a world of difference, I think, between the claiming of Jin by a historically minor canon such as Asian American literature, for the purpose of pushing beyond its own entrenched positions, and by contrast, the co-opting of Jin by an expansionist model of the Chinese national canon that seeks to assimilate its most far-flung and trenchant critics by emptying out their political content.
8. For example, one 2003 anthology of diaspora theories defines “diaspora” as above all a “contestatory” structure, at once putting into “question the rigidities of identity itself—religious, ethnic, gendered, national” and providing “myriad, dislocated sites of contestation to the hegemonic, homogenizing forces of globalization” as much as “nation and nationalism” (Braziel and Mannur 3, 7).
9. With some skepticism does Bruce Robbins call this celebratory stance an “ethically idealized internationalization” (99), one that naively posits “transnational mobility and the hybridity that results from it as simple and sufficient goods in themselves” (98). As he points out, diasporic discourse constitutes only one version of “U.S. internationalism” in the 1990s. Some critics, however, do at times demonstrate an awareness of this limitation to diaspora discourse. Ien Ang, for one, despite the overall tenor of her book, which treats “hybridity” as a good-in-itself, recommends a deconstruction of the idea of diaspora, advocating instead a recognition of “the double-edgedness of diasporic identity: it can be the site of both support and oppression, emancipation and confinement” (12).
10. Hall’s theory has disseminated widely within Caribbean and black intellectual discourses of diaspora, where the deconstructive prong takes precedence as well. For instance, Paul Gilroy advances a view of diasporic cultural identity that is closely analogous to Hall’s second definition when he describes the “black Atlantic” through the language of “creolization, métissage, mestizaje, and hybridity” (Black 2). For a “tracking” of diaspora discourse, see James Clifford.
11. Aside from the macro narrative of A Free Life, arguably the most blatant example of Ha Jin’s pro-Americanist views, see the chapter “The Abduction of General Bell” in War Trash, especially the phone conversation between General Bell and General Fulton (180–81). In a telling passage, the novel’s narrator opposes two sets of political ethos, American friendship versus Chinese communist comradeship: “I was amazed by the phone call, not having expected that the American generals would talk in a casual, personal manner in the midst of such a crisis. They had treated each other as friends, not as comrades who shared the same ideal and who fought for the same cause. They hadn’t mentioned any ideological stuff. What a contrast this was to Chinese officers, who, in a situation like this, would undoubtedly speak in the voice of revolutionaries, and one side would surely represent the Party” (181).
3 / The Globalized Square
1. According to Huang, “In the 1980s, FDI [foreign direct investment] and international trade were minuscule” for the PRC (54). Yet Huang is also unique in arguing, contrary to most studies, that the 1980s was the “true China miracle” in terms of the country’s economic development, especially from the perspective of rural poverty reduction, whereas accounts of China’s achievements in the 1990s are vastly overstated (54–55).
2. In interviews, Wang states that Lili took ten years to write, a period that spanned most of the 1990s (“Beijing’s”; “Conversation”).
3. The first day Wang’s column became available online for South China Morning Post subscribers, the newspaper’s website received more than one hundred thousand extra hits, and the column itself averaged about fifteen thousand hits per week by mid-2004 (Chhibber).
4. Wang perhaps tries to thematize this class privilege in one chapter in The People’s Republic of Desire when she has her narrator report on factory workers in Shenzhen: although Niuniu proclaims the experience to be eye-opening, she devotes only one paragraph to the workers themselves, describing them as “an important part of the global economic chain that produces the goods that Wal-Mart or Nike stores sell in the United States,” and then lamenting the pittance they get paid (263). The chapter then switches to detail Niuniu’s romantic travails and her airplane conversation with a married engineer with a midlife crisis and a hankering for beautiful Shenzhen girls. In the next chapter, the only thing we hear about her Shenzhen article is a one-liner about her having spent three days doing interviews there (268), with no further reflections on how the products made by these very workers are invariably scorned by her and her yuppie friends.
4 / The Biopolitical Square
1. As Liu Binyan reports in his review of Zheng Yi’s Scarlet Memorial: “In Qingzhou District, with a population around 300,000, Zheng Yi found official Party surveys, done in 1983, of the grisly phenomenon of promotion as a reward for murder: 10,420 people were killed in Cultural Revolution violence; 1,153 people were admitted to the Communist Party after demonstrating credit for a killing; 458 officials received promotions; and 637 people were given urban work permits, on the same basis” (“Unnatural” 271).
2. See Albert Chang for a discussion of conflicting eyewitness accounts of the massacre’s location and scope.
3. In its continual canonization, Simpson’s piece has been republished in several anthologies, including a volume of his collected writings, The Darkness Crumbles, ever-newer editions of The Granta Book of Reportage, and an anthology of literary journalism entitled, ironically enough, The Art of Fact.
4. Shen Tong’s memoir likewise reinforces this view: “I was not in Tiananmen Square, but I was at one of the two centers of the most brutal killings. Many have corroborated what I saw: most of the people who died were civilians and workers, and they were gunned down in Xidan and Muxudi areas, on the western approach of Changan Avenue to the square” (337).
5. For a discussion of this controversy, see Barmé’s In the Red (328–33).
6. Aside from aforementioned sources that spotlight the deaths of workers and laobaixing, see Dingxin Zhao, who refers to the Liubukou massacre in a footnote as a tragic incident where “a speeding tank crashed into a crowd; several students who had just left the Square were killed or wounded as a result” (206 n. 177).
1. Mingjing Press, or Mirror Books, is itself a diasporic enterprise: founded in Toronto in 1991 by a China-born journalist, it is now based in New York with a Hong Kong office.