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Heterogeneous Time and Space: Han Shaogong’s Rethinking of Chinese Modernity

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This article is set against the post-Mao official discourse on modernity, in which the conceptualization of a homogeneous, progressive time dominates the public consciousness. The focus is on Han Shaogong, one of the most important writers and cultural theorists in contemporary China, and on how he imagines a heterogeneous spatiotemporality away from the centralized and teleological paradigm. Han’s emphasis on the heterogeneity of time and space puts the homogenized, Hegelian-Marxist, developmentalist logic at the core of China’s modernization project into question. The article begins by examining how the linear and evolutionary concept of time has determined the perception of history and reality in modern China. It then moves to an exegesis of Han’s famous literary treatise “The Roots of Literature,” illustrating how Han’s insistence on tracing multiple roots rather than one singular Root challenges the monocultural, essentialized notion of Chineseness that prevails hegemonically in the discussion of Chinese modernity. The last section analyzes Han’s “Homecoming,” a story centered on an educated youth’s compulsive return to the village where he was rusticated. Moving beyond the conventional interpretation of identity crisis, the present study illuminates a different sense of time toward which Han gestures—a multi-directional and displaced temporality, to which the unconscious and the repressed both claim access.

Affiliations: 1: Asian and Pacific Studies, Loyola Marymount UniversityLos


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