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.

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