Zhang Xianliang: Recensions of the Self

  • Chloë Starr


The writings of Zhang Xianliang (b.1936) present an important case study for tracing the interplay of memory, voice and self-reflection in the first decades of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As Zhang moves between diary, short story and novel, at times rewriting earlier episodes from his own life in expanded form, at times re/presenting an episode in different form and blurring the boundaries between biography and fiction, he deliberately explores the bounds of self in self-expression. Some aspects of the process of Zhang’s self-inscription are universal; others are much more darkly representative of a particular social experience. This chapter considers how these two facets — the writtenness of the self and the interposition of the state in its formation — combine as Zhang writes and rewrites his life. Zhang’s work has been the subject of various studies, including social, psychological and political readings, but none has focused on the fine interplay between diary and novel forms in his life writing. The methodology is drawn from the texts: the chapter follows Zhang’s hermeneutical lead in making no attempt to separate out fictional and real versions of the narrated selves. It weaves between the diaries and novels under discussion and glides over the question of whether a given character is to be read as the author or a fictional being. If biography is the history of an individual’s life, then to understand the concept of self in authorial fiction, Zhang’s work suggests, we need to read across and between the entire oeuvre.


Short Story Chinese Writer Labour Reform Collective Acceptance Private Thought 
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© Chloë Starr 2013

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  • Chloë Starr

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