Literature in the Time of Coronavirus: Online Diaries by Chinese Women Writers from Wuhan and New York

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project researches for the role of literature in the time of coronavirus from China to America, focusing on mainland and overseas Chinese women’s writings of this pandemic in the form of diary, the daily-based documentary literary genre, first appearing on the internet. From Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary, Guo Jing’s Diary of the Wuhan Lockdown and Ai Xiaoming’s “Wuhan Diary” to Zhang Lan’s “New Yorkers in the Epidemic,” Dou Wanru’s “Notes on New York’s Epidemic” and Wang Ruochong’s “New York Epidemic Diary,” I explore how these literary records of everyday life and emotions are different from official figures and reports of the outbreak, what personal stories of the disadvantaged and marginalized tell us about the human cost and social impacts of the disaster beyond the governments’ grand narratives, and why they become so popular and controversial. These women diarists provide their readers with feminine perspectives of the pandemic and inspire them to write about their own lives during the difficult time. In response to their diaries, there have appeared not only numerous comments but also follow-up diary entries. The phenomenon is worth studying as it indicates common netizens’ need to carry on writing as therapy against the trauma of the plague.

Methodologically, the metaphorical interpretation of illness literature since Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” and “Medicine” from the beginning of last century are no longer adequate to approach daily accounts of the current infectious disease so widespread in this century; instead, in women’s writings, the pneumonia has become a metonym for the problematics of gender and genre. Moreover, when the private thinking and feelings in the diaries are publicized, individual voices are treated as cyber virus under both media censorship and self-censorship. The topic will therefore be approached interdisciplinary in three folds: first, the methods of medical narrative developed by social psychologists and family therapists will be adopted to analyze the pandemic diaries; second, an appropriate literary feminism will be applied to the interpretation of these women’s diaries; and third, the nature of internet literature that lends force to the disseminations and debates of the diaries will be explored in light of Sinologist Michel Hockx’s earlier study. Composed in various styles, these women’s writings reinvent diary as “diarrheal” literature—a literary aesthetic characterized by excessive and repetitive discharging of words releasing abnormal anxieties and angers as an antidote of social upset.
Effective start/end date1/09/2131/08/23


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