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Uncertain Satire in Modern Chinese Fiction and Drama: 1930-1949


My dissertation rethinks satire and redefines our understanding of it through the examination of works from the 1930s and 1940s. I argue that the fluidity of satiric writing in the 1930s and 1940s undermines the certainties of the "satiric triangle" and gives rise to what I call, variously, self-satire, self-counteractive satire, empathetic satire and ambiguous satire. It has been standard in the study of satire to assume fixed and fairly stable relations among satirist, reader, and satirized object. This "satiric triangle" highlights the opposition of satirist and satirized object and has generally assumed an alignment by the reader with the satirist and the satirist's judgments of the satirized object. Literary critics and theorists have usually shared these assumptions about the basis of satire. I argue, however, that beginning with late-Qing exposé fiction, satire in modern Chinese literature has shown an unprecedented uncertainty and fluidity in the relations among satirist, reader and satirized object. My dissertation analyzes not only satire, but several related varieties of pathos and humor, in the work of Wu Jianren, Xiao Hong, Lao She, Yang Jiang and Qian Zhongshu and makes comparative references to foreign writers such as Nikolai Gogol and Jonathan Swift, who were deeply influential in shaping the understanding of satire among Chinese writers of the era.

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