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Lyricism as Epic’s End: A New Approach to Wang Zengqi’s Novels

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This article seeks to reinterpret Wang Zengqi’s (汪曾祺, 1920−97) novels written in the early and mid-1980s. Through a historical lens, the author examines the era immediately following China’s reform and opening-up when the political ideal of “distribution according to work” (anlao fenpei) had met with social realities at that time. Departing from the mainstream approach to Wang Zengqi, which oversimplifies China’s process of reforms and opening and consequently reduces Wang Zengqi’s literature to a “pure literature” devoid of social implications, a lyricism of individuals, and a depiction of depoliticized everyday life, this article lays emphasis on the interconnection between Wang Zengqi’s time and his writings. By analyzing the forms and styles of Wang’s novels, the author endeavors to place his writings back in their historical context as a means of rediscovering their underlying meanings and politics hitherto neglected by the scholarship on Chinese literature from the 1980s. Therefore, this article refutes the misconception of Wang Zengqi being a “small writer” and acknowledges the writer’s “bigness” in his writing. In fact, big writers like Wang Zengqi are indispensable in the conception of new political worlds under any historical condition.

Affiliations: 1: China Institute, Fudan University


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