Early twentieth-century Chinese realist depictions of indoor space, such as the crowded tenement house and the penniless writer’s abode, enabled the portrayal of the physical and psychological exigencies of poverty. This set of narrative concerns arose in a period when Chinese writers were preoccupied with the alleged material and cultural poverty of China in comparison to the West. To remedy this purported backwardness, Chinese writers appropriated from foreign literatures, especially Russian realism, narrative themes and techniques such as the use of metonymy in the depiction of spatiality, the figure of the impoverished flâneur-like urban perambulator, and the very topic of poverty itself. This gave rise to innovative forms of modern Chinese narrative, tracing the spatial, material, and bodily experience of poverty in painstaking detail. In particular, I examine how Yu Dafu elaborates on literary elements from Russia in his 1924 story “Nights of Spring Fever,” which deploys the metonymic confines of impoverished, narrow spaces in order to explore wider topics of social class and transcultural encounter.

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