Project

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Fantasizing ghosts: Gendered memories and traumatic specters in post-Mao fiction (working title)

Applicant Imbach Jessica Elizabeth
Number 139627
Funding scheme Marie Heim-Voegtlin grants
Research institution Ostasiatisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Other languages and literature
Start/End 01.05.2012 - 31.10.2014
Approved amount 119'199.70
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Keywords (11)

post-Mao fiction; ghost fiction; Chinese ghost opera; Lu Xun; Jia Pingwa; May Fourth movement; Chinese Cultural Revolution; Theories of modernities; alternative histories; spectrality; gender

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Beginning with China's modernization in the late 19th century ghost fiction became viewed as an impediment to China's (cultural) development. However, modern writers continued to use ghosts in their fiction. Rather than reading these texts as culturally "conservative" and the figure of the ghosts as a signifier of the “premodern” or “timeless” , this project will argue that ghosts should be read as ambivalent figures problematizing issues of cultural belonging, nationalism and historiography.
Lay summary

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1976) and the beginning of China’s economic reforms, the established rationale of the “Chinese Enlightenment” and its notions of the “traditional” and the “modern” are becoming increasingly contested. In contemporary fiction tropes of haunting and spectrality are employed to revisit this modernity and its reliance on a “traditional other”, as well as to address the alternative histories that have emerged from the lacunae of official historiography. Not only the anti-traditionalist theorists of the New Culture movement at the beginning of the 20th century, but also the numerous campaigns by the communist regime since 1949 against ghosts and associated “feudalist” practices have transformed ghosts into a politically highly charged subject matter. So far, literary critics have focused primarily on the stylistic reconfigurations of the “realist paradigm” of the May Fourth movement (1919) in post-Mao ghost fiction. In light of the critical historico-political function ghosts have come to play in recent Chinese history and cultural texts, it will be argued that the new ghost tale has to be understood as a response to modernity’s narrative framework and its (historical-materialist) notions of the past - and not, as some critics have, of a nostalgia for a premodern “tradition”. This project aims to examine the ways in which popular ghost performances, ancestor rituals, ghost marriages, animism and funerary customs are given aesthetic momentum vis-a-vis China’s rapid social and economic development and environmental degradation. Furthermore, it will be argued that the (post-)modern ghost tale’s use of gendered imagery points to contemporary anxieties on the socially destabilising potential of emergent historical agents and their alternative histories. The main focus will lie on Lu Xun (1881-1936) and Jia Pingwa’s (1952-) respective treatments of the ghost opera “Mulian saves his mother” (Mulian jiu mu). Drawing on a wide range of theoretical concepts (especially Jacques Derrida’s “hauntology”) these two authors among others will be read in relation to the time period and its thinkers now subsumed under the term “Chinese modernity” as well as the ensuing fictional and historic treatments of ghosts. It will be argued that the ghost tale occupies a critical intersection in the study of Chinese (post-)modernities and the possibilities of (cultural, religious, environmentalist) critique under consumer-capitalist inflicted socialism, which still holds a strong monopoly on the definitions of “history”, “tradition” and “religion”.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.03.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Ghost Talk in 1936: “Living ghosts” and “real ghosts” in Republican-era literary discourse and the two Analects Fortnightly ghost story special issues
Imbach Jessica, Ghost Talk in 1936: “Living ghosts” and “real ghosts” in Republican-era literary discourse and the two Analects Fortnightly ghost story special issues, in Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
European Association of Chinese Studies conference Talk given at a conference '... as if I was playing world': Phantoms, Cross-dressing and Revolutionary Identity in Xu Xu's Ghost Love 23.07.2014 Braga, Portugal Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;
The Making and Remaking of China’s 'Red Classics': Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture in Literary Icons of Socialism and their Contemporary Remakes Talk given at a conference Not afraid of ghosts: Critical appropriations of the spectral in modern Chinese fiction (project presentation) 18.07.2014 Brisbane, Australia Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;
Ringvorlesung: Zugänge zur Sinologie Individual talk Gespenstische Moderne: Rachegeister, weisshaarige Mädchen und gescheiterte Reinkarnationen im Spannungsfeld chinesischer Literatur und (Kultur-)Politik 28.04.2014 Zürich, Switzerland Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;
开门揖鬼:试论二十世纪中国文学与文化政治中的鬼现象 [Unwillingly invited: Some thoughts on ghosts in 20th century Chinese fiction and culture politics] Individual talk 开门揖鬼:试论二十世纪中国文学与文化政治中的鬼现象 [Unwillingly invited: Some thoughts on ghosts in 20th century Chinese fiction and culture politics] 19.03.2014 Shanghai, China Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;
Workshop: Ghost-Movies in Southeast Asia and Beyond: Narratives, Cultural Contexts, Audiences Talk given at a conference Fictions of Mulian ghosts in Lu Xun and Jia Pingwa's writings 03.10.2012 Göttingen, Germany Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;
Tagung: Kleine Literaturen: Der Rand schreibt zurück Talk given at a conference ’Ich habe kein Amt und kein Geld, aber ich bin ein Müssiggänger (xianren)’:Eine Analyse der literarischen Figur des xianren in Jia Pingwas Weiss|Nacht 13.07.2012 Erlangen, Germany Imbach Jessica Elizabeth;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
157969 Not afraid of ghosts: Critical appropriations of the spectral in modern Chinese fiction 01.11.2014 Marie Heim-Voegtlin grants

Abstract

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1976) and the beginning of China’s economic reforms, the established rationale of the “Chinese Enlightenment” and its notions of the “traditional” and the “modern” are becoming increasingly challenged. In contemporary fiction tropes of haunting and spectrality are employed to revisit this modernity and its reliance on a “traditional other”, as well as to address the alternative histories that have emerged from the lacunae of official historiography. Not only the anti-traditionalist theorists of the New Culture movement at the beginning of the 20th century, but also the numerous campaigns by the communist regime since 1949 against ghosts and associated “feudalist” practices have transformed ghosts into a politically highly charged subject matter. So far, literary critics have focused primarily on the stylistic reconfigurations of the “realist paradigm” of the May Fourth movement (1919) in post-Mao ghost fiction. In light of the critical historico-political function ghosts have come to play in recent Chinese history, it will be argued that the new ghost tale has to be understood as a response to modernity’s narrative framework born of contemporary struggles with the past and not, as some critics have, of a nostalgia for a premodern tradition. This project aims to examine the ways in which traditional ghost performances, ancestor rituals, ghost marriages and funerary customs are reimagined in light of China’s rapid social and economic development and raise new questions about a politics of fiction. Furthermore, it will be argued that the (post-)modern ghost tale’s use of gendered imagery points to contemporary anxieties on the socially destabilising potential of alternative histories. The main focus will lie on Lu Xun (1881-1936) and Jia Pingwa’s (1952-) respective treatments of the “Mulian saves his mother” (Mulian jiu mu) ghost opera. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical concepts (especially Jacques Derrida’s hauntology and Julia Kristeva’s abject) these two authors among others will be read in relation to the time period and its thinkers now subsumed under the term “Chinese modernity” as well as the ensuing fictional and historic treatments of ghosts.
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