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Full Spectrum of Selves in Modern Chinese Literature: From Lu Xun to Xiao Hong


Despite postcolonial theory's rejection of legacies of Western imperial dominance and cultural hierarchy, the superiority of Euro-American notions of subjectivity remains a persistent theme in third world cross-cultural literary analysis. Interpretations of the Chinese May Fourth era often reduce the period to one of wholesale westernization and cultural self-repudiation. Euro-American notions of the self often reify ideologies of individuality, individualism, rationalism, evolution, and a "self-versus-society" dichotomy, viewing such positions as universal and applicable for judging decolonizing others. To interrogate this assumption, I examine the writing of Lu Xun and Xiao Hong, two May Fourth writers whose fictional characters present innovative, integrated, heterogeneous selves that transcend Western critical models. This "full spectrum of selves" sustains contradicting pulls of identity--the mental (the rational, the individual), the bodily (the survivalist, the affective), the cerebral (the moral), the social (the relational, the organismic), as well as the spiritual and the cosmic. I argue that Lu Xun's "A Madman's Diary" transcends limited Euro-American notions of subjectivity and the self by blending Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian elements and by creating a "both/and" dynamic, inclusive of collectivist allegory and personal interiority. With regard to gender, I argue that Xiao Hong's characters cannot be circumscribed by Euro-American notions of subjectivity and feminism, or by Chinese patriarchal nationalism. Contrasting Lu Xun's tendency to kill-off female characters with Xiao Hong's themes of female survivorship, agency, and accountability--I highlight the latter's focus on agency over victimization, innovation over mimicry. Moreover, I explicate how Xiao Hong's notion of female subjectivity re-introduces survival as agency, challenging the covert links among agency, accountability, subjectivity, and judgment. Moreover, her stories contest the assumptions of the Great Man theory of history, asserting that quotidian details offer an alternative narrative and undo History as such. I thus posit that May Fourth did not enact a totalistic iconoclastic rejection of China's cultural self, but was an era of phenomenal self-inventory, re-invention, and change. By illustrating how different experiences of historic events, culture, gender, and class impacted cultural concepts of the self, I seek to recuperate cultural specificity from the dominion of Euro-American notions of subjectivity.

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