Unmaking of nationalism : drug addiction and its literary imagination in Bi Shumin’s novel

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Discourses of disease: Writing illness, the mind and the body in modern China

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The “genesis” of modern Chinese literature is closely connected with disease. Lu Xun’s 魯迅symbolic shift from medical studies to literature has, over the years, become a myth in the narrative of the rebuilding of a national literature. His relentless critique of the corrupt Confucian tradition and the defective Chinese national character, best exemplified in his short stories such as “A Madman’s Diary” (“Kuangren riji” 狂人日記), “The True Story of Ah Q” (“Ah Q zhengzhuan” 阿Q正傳) and, more manifestly, “Medicine”, constitutes a starting point for much modern Chinese literature and serves to shape its most striking characteristics, which is, in C.T. Hsia’s influential phrase, “an obsession with China”. What characterizes modern Chinese literature, in Hsia’s view, is “its burden of moral contemplation: its obsessive concern with China as a nation affliated with spiritual disease and therefore unable to strengthen itself or change its set ways of inhumanity.

This concern with spiritual disease, so prominent in Lu Xun’s works, as well as those of his followers, is inevitably in wedlock with national concerns, given modern Chinese literature’s “obsessive concern with China as a nation”. Recent studies have shown that writing of diseases in modern China is deeply shaped by sociocultural conditions and, as a result, diseases are often used as a metaphor and become highly ideological. However, drug addiction, a disease that is so central to Chinese nation crisis, has unfortunately yet been adequately explored. As I will show below, this disease, if it is so called, has been written and rewritten especially firmly within the paradigm of nationalism. It is only normal, given its critical role in modern Chinese history, that this disease be viewed as such. However, this nationalistic imagination of drug addiction (and, arguably by extension, many other diseases) is facing certain remodulations in contemporary time, due mainly to the new sociocultural conditions under which the disease is written about and read. To be more specific, the postsocialist condition has rendered the nationalistic understanding of drug addiction less than adequate, and required that it be “consumed” in a more diverse and less political fashion.



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ISBN of the source publication: 9789004319202

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Recommended Citation

Gong, H. (2016). Unmaking of nationalism: Drug addiction and its literary imagination in Bi Shumin’s novel. In H. Y. F. Choy (Ed.), Discourses of disease: Writing illness, the mind and the body in modern China (pp.123-150). Boston: Brill. doi: 10.1163/9789004319219_006