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A Dictionary of Maqiao: Metafiction of Collective Biography

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

In the field of life writing, a collective biography is a biography of a group of lives that share common background characteristics. Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao (1996) collects life stories, in a lexical list of entries, of 22 principal characters from the fictitious village of Maqiao. If there is a common background characteristic of Maqiao’s people, it is their special way of using words to shape their way of thinking. The 115 word entries that Maqiao people use reveal life stories covering more than a century. As a first person narrator and a biographer of collective lives, Han also seems to be a witness to their lives. How does he fuse autobiographical, biographical and historical truths into this text? How does he interpret Maqiao’s lexicon in the light of their collective lives? Are auto/biographical theories applicable to Han’s collective biography? Finally, what contributions does he make to collective life writing? To answer the above questions, this paper takes A Dictionary of Maqiao as a metafiction to discuss life writing issues with theorists such as Paul John Eakin, Philippe Lejeune, and Zhao Baisheng. It also searches for Han’s methodologies and techniques in creating collective life stories through a textual analysis. By reading literary biographies of Han Shaogong and his stories of Maqiao people, this paper also analyzes what constitutes “truths” and “facts” in this collective biography. Finally, it demonstrates how Han makes biography new in terms of life writing.


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