A Chinese affair

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2013
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Migrant writers often grapple with the Aristotelian questions: ‘as whom’ and ‘for whom’ does one write? They must decide whether to remain loyal to their original language or adapt to their stepmother tongue. Each choice they make has a lasting impact on their artistic vision, readership, and the trajectory of their writing career. My thesis, A Chinese Affair, is a collection of 16 related but independent stories, structured thematically into four parts, inquiring into the complexities of existence in an adopted land. Nostalgia is the prevailing sentiment in the early stories, where the characters cannot embrace their new world, yet their remembered past no longer exists. Midway, they start to break away from the aspirations imposed by society and convention. Towards the end, a sense of optimism develops as the characters carry forward their Chinese heritage while actively engaging with their new environment. The collection is accompanied by a short exegesis that takes as its starting point Ha Jin’s collection of essays, The Writer as Migrant, which investigates the metaphysical aspects of migrant writers’ life and work, how they decide on the writing language, and their relationship with their homeland. Following Jin’s train of thought, I analysed my own collection, reflected on my journey of reading and writing, and examined the relevance of the established concept of ‘diaspora’ in interpreting Chinese migrants’ living experiences. As China has become more powerful in global politics and economy, so has there been an expansion of Chinese writing into the West, telling personal or family stories against the backdrops of changing historical periods. Some fine Chinese writers have started to emerge into the public eye, like Ha Jin and Yiyun Li, who write literary fiction in English containing largely Chinese cultural material, and whose craftsmanship has been deeply influenced by the Western literary tradition. I have analysed Jin and Li’s writings, identified the strengths of these texts, and used them as a reference point for refining and developing my own techniques. Language is a fusion, and migrant writers’ application of English as a tool for expressing their non-Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the world may result in innovation and fresh imagination, and thereby new aesthetic experiences. While the role of Chinese writers on the world literature stage is yet to be fully realised, my stories represent an attempt to bring Western and Chinese literary traditions together and bridge their linguistic and aesthetic differences.
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