Outwitting Patriarchy: Comic Narrative Strategies in the Works of Yang Jiang, Su Qing, and Zhang Ailing

  • Amy D. Dooling

Abstract

In depicting Wei’s descent into poverty, illness, and mental disequilibrium, Bai Wei uses laughter to call attention to the female subject’s problematic relationship to language itself. Driven precariously to the brink of rage and hysteria by a world of patriarchal privilege and power, Wei is rendered speechless, reduced in the end to a state of irrepressible mad laughter. On another level, as a mechanism of survival her laughter also signifies a subversive resistance to the stereotyped image of the passively suffering female and the tragic narrative ending to which she is habitually consigned. In this chapter, I am interested in further exploring the role of laughter in Chinese feminist narratives. Specifically, I will focus on the works of three popular women writers who came to prominence during the Shanghai Occupation period (1937–1945), all of whom draw on comic devices to critique modern gender relations. Yang Jiang (1911-) appropriated the European comedy of manners genre to expose the absurdities of bourgeois patriarchy in her two plays, Chenxin ruyi (As you desire, 1943) and Nongzhen chengjia (Forging the truth, 1944).1 In her best-selling novel Jiehun shinian (Ten years of marriage, 1944), Su Qing (1914–1982) incorporates satire into a scathing analysis of the contemporary institutions of marriage and motherhood.2 And in her novella “Qingcheng zhi lian” (Love in a fallen city, 1943), Zhang Ailing (1920–1995) subtly mocks the traditional femme-fatale paradigm to depict her heroine’s quest for love and marriage amid national crisis.3

Keywords

Amid Income Bark Arena Editing 

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Notes

  1. 4.
    Critical biographies of both Yang Jiang and Su Qing have recently been published, a promising sign that their work will receive the thorough critical evaluation they deserve. See Kong Qingmao, Yang Jiang pingzhuan (A critical biography of Yang Jiang) (Beijing: Xiahua chubanshe, 1998)Google Scholar
  2. and Wang Yixin, Su Qing zhuan (Biography of Su Qing) (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1999).Google Scholar
  3. For more on Yang Jiang, see also Edward Gunn, Unwelcome Muse: Chinese Literature in Shanghai and Peking, 1937–1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 231–243Google Scholar
  4. and Zhuang Haoran, “Lun Yang Jiang xiju de wailai yingxiang he minsu fengge” (On the foreign influences and national characteristics of Yang Jiang’s dramas), in Huaju wenxue yanjiu (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1987) 111–128. On Su Qing, see Gunn, 69–77Google Scholar
  5. Meng Yue and Dai Jinhua, Fuchu lishi dibiao (Emerging from the horizon of history) (Taipei: Shibao wenhua chubanshe, 1993), 301–319Google Scholar
  6. Yingjin Zhang, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configurations of Space, Time, and Gender (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 249–255Google Scholar
  7. Chen Qingsheng, Kangzhan shiqi de Shanghai wenxue (Shanghai literature during the War of Resistance) (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1995), 243–245. Zhang Ailing has received substantial critical attention. In addition to C.T. Hsia, who devotes an entire chapter to her in his A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917–1957 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), see also Karen Kingsbury, “Reading Eileen Chang’s Early Fiction: Art and a Female Sense of Self” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1995)Google Scholar
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    Rey Chow, “Against the Lures of Diaspora: Minority Discourse, Chinese Women, and Intellectual Hegemony,” in Lu Tonglin, ed., Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Chinese Literature and Society (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), 26.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    The phrase is from Teresa de Lauretis, “The Violence of Rhetoric: Considerations on Representation and Gender,” in Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, eds., The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence (London: Routledge, 1989), 239–258.Google Scholar
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    Xianglin Sao is one of the most frequently invoked modern female literary characters in feminist scholarship, a fact that attests to the power of her image. In addition to Feuerwerker, see also Ono Kazuko, Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution: 1850–1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 97–100, and Rey Chow, Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between West and East (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 107–112.Google Scholar
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    Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catharine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 76.Google Scholar
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    Regina Barecca, Untamed and Unabashed: Essays on Women and Humor in British Literature (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 145.Google Scholar
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    For a feminist critique of fictional romance, see Anne Cranny-Francis, Feminist Fiction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), chapter 6.Google Scholar
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    M.M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 23.Google Scholar
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    Bergson’s “Laughter,” in Wylie Sypher, ed., Comedy (New York: Doubleday Anchor: 1956), 97.Google Scholar
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    Zhang, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (1996), 247.Google Scholar

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© Amy D. Dooling 2005

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  • Amy D. Dooling

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