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Title: Zhang Henshui's fiction : attempts to reform the traditional Chinese novel
Author: McClellan, Thomas M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1992
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This thesis is an attempt to show the place of the popular author Zhang Henshui (1895-1967) in modern Chinese literature. Discounting his formative period up to 1924, from which almost none of his writing survives, and the period after the author suffered a debilitating stroke in 1949, nine of his major works of fiction are examined in detail. Employing the criteria Zhang claimed in non-fictional writings to have set himself, while exercising proper caution with such material, the fiction is analysed chronologially in search of ways in which the author progressively achieved 'reform' of the traditional novel and succeeded in 'catching up with the times'. With respect to the former criterion, attention is focussed on the structure, language and style of his novels, while the latter criterion chiefly concerns content and mode, although the two are interconnected. It emerges that during his early period (ca. 1924-1930) Zhang's fiction was, as has been generally assumed, strongly influenced by traditional Chinese literature. Almost its only modernity lay in anecdotal content which was superfluous and often disruptive to the plot. Even within this early period, however, in the novel A Grand Old Family, the author began to make attempts to improve the structure of his fiction and in his most successful novel, Fate in Tears and Laughter, which spans the early and second periods of his career, he successfully eliminated extraneous anecdotal material. Structured around a complex system of relationships among the major characters, and while containing elements of realism, this transitional novel remains highly traditional by virtue of its plot's heavy reliance on coincidence and on the supernatural. Most of all, it shares with the early novel a 'dreamlike' atmosphere which is seen as the major traditional feature of Zhang Henshui's fiction. During the second, 1930s, phase of his career, Zhang continued to effect modest 'reform' on the language and structure of his fiction, drawing on Western literary techniques as gleaned from early 20th century translations and presumably also at second hand from the new Chinese writers of the May Fourth era. He concentrated, however, on modernisation of the content of his fiction as a means of 'catching up with the times'. In certain areas, progress may be seen to have been made in this, particularly with regard to the portrayal of women, but frequently modern situations continued to be depicted in a highly traditional light. Indeed, examples of novels which did not have modern subject matter grafted on in the usual way are also seen during this period. An example of an extremely anachronistic novel with an urban setting is briefly discussed, while more space is devoted to an oddity for this phase, a period novel set in the countryside, which paradoxically achieves a relatively stronger realism, being less imbued with the 'dreamlike' atmosphere which is usually associated with rural values.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available