Experiments in self-narration in twentieth-century Chinese fiction

Terry Yip

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Storytelling is a form of expression through which the narrator seeks to better understand not just the world around but also his or her self. That implies the narration of the self is often related to the construction or decon-struction of the self as the subject. In many literary works from both China and Western Europe, writers often examine self-formation in relation to the socio-cultural milieu, which immediately puts the individual at odds with the rational, collective, or political group. Such concerns have been the focal point of many writers of the twentieth century whose experimentations with the narrative mode reflect not only their artistic inclinations and conscious attempts to break from existing paradigms to reach new frontiers, but also their ardent desire to make sense of their experience and to position themselves and understand their selves in the flux of change. Influenced by their European counterparts, many Chinese writers such as Yu Dafu, Lu Yin and Ding Ling in the 1920s, and Zhang Xinxin and Gao Xingjian in the 1980s and 1990s have all attempted to break from prevailing/ dominant modes of narrative that tend to treat literature as personal testimonies or socio-moral manifestoes. They consciously look for alternate modes of expression-new modes that allow them to address the personal and the psycho-cultural aspects of existence. Presented in their writings are individuals caught in conflicts between traditional and modern culture, and between Chinese and Western values. Their conscious quest for a new identity and their attempts to (de)construct their individual selves reveal the cultural disorientation in China. Viewed in this light, the significance of the selected texts lies not so much in their comments on culture, sexuality, politics and history as in their modes of narrative. The writers' experimentations with the narrative mode enable them to fully explore the essence of self as understood by the Chinese, the process of construction or deconstruction of the self, their general concerns over cultural issues, including issues pertaining to role identity and the formation of cultural identity, as well as their inquiry into the impact of Westernization and/or modernization on the individual.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalTamkang Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cultural identity
  • Deconstruction
  • Experimentations
  • Gender
  • Modernization
  • Narrative modes
  • Self fashioning
  • Subjectivity


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