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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dreams and disillusionment in the City of Light : Chinese writers and artists travel to Paris, 1920s-1940s

  • Author(s): Chau, Angie Christine
  • Chau, Angie Christine
  • et al.

My dissertation on Chinese writers and artists that traveled abroad to Paris from the 1920s to 1940s discusses several intersections between modern Chinese literature and visual art and consists of five chapters. The first chapter, an introduction, provides historical background and contextualization of the study abroad movement in China and the significance of dreaming in literature, as well as a comparison of travel writing in the Western and Chinese traditions. The four subsequent chapters focus on the bilingual, experimental verse of modernist poet Li Jinfa; Chang Yu's nude and chrysanthemum oil paintings; Fu Lei's travel writing and art criticism; and humorous travel sketches by the fiction writer Xu Xu. Throughout my dissertation, I argue that these four young men were shaped by their travels to France in the first half of the 20th century. Faced with a French culture in decline, these travelers detached themselves in varying degrees from the mainstream ideology of political revolution and the discourse of national salvation during the Republican era. They chose instead to retreat to alternative spaces of the imagination, dreams, and classical aesthetics, and as a result were marginalized by the national canons of literature and art history. I read the motif of dream in their work, as a symbol of their political detachment, nostalgia for home, and disillusionment with Western modernity. My project is in dialogue with current scholarship in modern Chinese studies, comparative literature, world literature, and diaspora studies. Paris, long a site in the modern Chinese cultural imaginary, incited equal feelings of hope and disillusionment in Chinese youth. These diverse views of home, travel, and detachment can help us consider questions about the role of translation and the circulation of bodies and literature during this early moment of encountering modernity, when artists and writers were forced to negotiate their national identity in the increasingly divided political sphere from a place distinctly outside of China. This earlier period also informs the contemporary era of globalization and transnationalism, in which China plays a new role as a global economic power, and questions about translation continue to persist

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