In ancient China a monster called Taowu was known for both its vicious nature and its power to see the past and the future. Over the centuries Taowu underwent many incarnations until it became identifiable with history itself. Since the seventeenth century, fictive accounts of history have accommodated themselves to the monstrous nature of Taowu. Moving effortlessly across the entire twentieth-century literary landscape, David Der-wei Wang delineates the many meanings of Chinese violence and its literary manifestations. Taking into account the campaigns of violence and brutality that have rocked generations of Chinese—often in the name of enlightenment, rationality, and utopian plenitude—this book places its arguments along two related axes: history and representation, modernity and monstrosity. Wang considers modern Chinese history as a complex of geopolitical, ethnic, gendered, and personal articulations of bygone and ongoing events. His discussion ranges from the politics of decapitation to the poetics of suicide, and from the typology of hunger and starvation to the technology of crime and punishment.
1. Invitation to a Beheading
2. Crime or Punishment?
3. An Undesired Revolution
4. Three Hungry Women
5. Of Scars and National Memory
6. The Monster that is History
7. The End of the Line
8. Second Haunting
David Der-wei Wang is Dean Lung Professor of Chinese Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernity of Late Qing Fiction, 1849–1911 (1997) and Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen (1992). He is the coeditor of Chinese Literature in the Second Half of a Modern Century: A Critical Survey (2000).
“This book contributes to the literature of violence particularly and criminology in general via a unique approach—a historiographical and literary examination of the variety of violence in China in the 20th century.”—Criminal Justice Review
"This is a magnificent book—one of the most original and stunning in the field of modern Chinese literature. The eight studies that comprise the book unfold a vast canvas of twentieth-century China, one that is filled with terror, violence, phantasmagoria, and death. This is indeed the dark, ghostly side of the 'Chinese Modern.' Wang's prodigious command of primary Chinese texts from the entire literary legacy of twentieth century China is nothing short of stunning. No other study in the field in any language is remotely comparable to the richness and density of materials and insights packed into the book."—Leo Ou-fan Lee, Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University
"This is a revolutionary book, a series of connected essays that lay bare 20th-century China's history of violence. The range and quality of investigation into literary and historical representations of pain are stunning; the material is as fresh as the scholarly ends to which it contributes. An absolute must read."—Howard Goldblatt, co-editor of The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature
"David Wang is in his element. In this monumental work on the mutual implication of Chinese modernity and the representation of violence, Wang is at once historical, critical, and mythopoetic. The haunting metaphor of tauwu as monster and history gives this book both a theoretical backbone and a contemplative richness that goes beyond the genre of literary criticism. It is a masterpiece of the finest caliber."—Jing Wang, S.C. Fang Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology