With a narrative scheme of manifold plots and characters, cumulating in the eruption of a communal crowd, Li Jieren’s trilogy on the Chinese Revolution of 1911 scales history from individual to mass experience with an ethnohistorical perspective. In this spatially and scenically structured ethnohistorical novel series, Li locates what he calls the “historical real” in the intertwining of political upheavals and the “stirrings in people’s lives and feelings” of a particular place, where local characters become makers and riders of historical “great waves” through processes of socialization within an inherited but changing communal network. The essay argues that in Li’s gazetteer-style account, the geographically rooted multifariousness of human feelings and actions escalates into an ending that belies the claims of a bourgeois national revolution. Its narrative heralded a modern Chinese historical novel with formal and affective possibilities that becomes all the more significant because of its loss in the second half of the twentieth century.
1911 in Chengdu: A Novel History
Yi Zheng is associate professor of Chinese and comparative literature at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and distinguished lecture professor, College of Literary, Cultural and Communications Studies, at Sichuan University. Her works include From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature (2011), Contemporary Chinese Print Media: Cultivating Middleclass Taste (2013), and From Crisis Poetics to Place Fiction: Collected Essays on Modern Chinese Literature (Taibei: Huamulan Publishing House Limited, 2018).
Yi Zheng; 1911 in Chengdu: A Novel History. boundary 2 1 February 2020; 47 (1): 173–199. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-7999557
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