This article examines the promises and predicaments of May Fourth writers in their experimental writing of the “long novel” (changpian xiaoshuo 長篇小說) as a Chinese brand of the modern epic. May Fourth intellectuals showed a conscious effort to institute a new brand of fictional genre to enlighten the reading public. Yet their “education of the novel” was far from complete, as New Literature writers found fictional expressions primarily in the form of the short story, with strong undertones of individualism, subjective lyricism, and elitism. By focusing on Mao Dun's 茅盾 (1896–1981) Ziye 子夜 (Midnight; 1933), the article examines his call for the establishment of the long novel and his strenuous efforts to “take over” the modern novel as an ideological form to narrate a teleological progression of history. How do Mao Dun's fictional narratives illuminate the representational problems between fiction, locality, and modernity? For Mao Dun and his May Fourth contemporaries, modernity at large was expressed in a teleological mode of time and progress, both in the rhetoric of modernity and in fiction writing. The article reflects on Mao Dun's creative and ideological impasse by teasing out the narrative loopholes of traditional voices and popular fictional registers in the modern epic.

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