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The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941

Chao Liu

This is the first work in English to explore Manchukuo literature in its entirety. It provides comprehensive, in-depth, and thought-provoking research by placing the literary history of Manchukuo from 1937 to 1941 in specific cultural lineages and socio-political contexts and focusing on four major literary groups of that period—the Manshū rōmanha, the Sakubun writers, the Yiwenzhi intellectuals, and the Wenxuan School—to illuminate its underlying intellectual dynamics. As it turns out, Manchukuo literature notably featured multiplicity, ambiguity, and self-reflexivity, which enabled it to transcend the dichotomy of romanticism and realism and that of the colonizers and the colonized. Not unlike a coordinate system, it took modernity and national identity as its horizontal and vertical axes. The Manshū rōmanha and the Sakubun writers respectively adopted an anti-modern or a modernist perspective and unanimously headed towards the intellectual stance of denying their own national identity and merging into the indigenous society of the colony; in comparison, Manchurian intellectuals, as epitomized by the Yiwenzhi School and the Wenxuan School, started from the same purpose of promoting national consciousness, but at last embarked on a bifurcated path to either modernization or cultural regression. Moreover, although the literary writings of these four groups differed much from each other in topics, stylistic features, and narrative modes, they all showed a deep concern for the sufferings of the Manchurian people brought by colonialism, coincidentally directed their criticism or sarcasm against the colonial rule, and thereupon endowed Manchukuo literature with a keynote of darkness.

The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941 is a bold and ambitious work that sheds light on one of the most controversial literary legacies of the twentieth century—Chinese and Japanese fiction produced in Japan’s puppet state of Manchukuo, today’s Northeast China. Chao Liu breaks free from long dominant narratives of collaboration and resistance to illuminate in new ways a literary landscape that entertained, inspired, and educated readers during the first half of China’s War of Resistance Against Japan. This volume sets a new precedent for challenging interpretations of a most contentious history, both in its theoretical approach as well as its impressive breadth of research.”—Norman Smith, Professor of History at the University of Guelph; Author of Resisting Manchukuo and Intoxicating Manchuria

“In the complex world of the first half of the 20th century, the cultural exchanges between East Asian countries in the context of Manchukuo suffered from various difficulties and setbacks. A blank part of the long history of Chinese literature was also engaged in this process. Although the situation of Manchukuo literature has been somehow clarified with the efforts of many researchers, this book by Chao Liu, a distinguished scholar who is willing to meet new challenges on the very topic, will definitely win over the readers confronted with a different difficult time.”—Suzuki Sadami, Emeritus Professor of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies

The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941 dexterously combines studies of Japanese and Chinese literary production and scholarship to capture the cultural zeitgeist of Manchuria during the Japanese colonial era. Focusing on the two intersecting axes of modernity and identity, the author reveals complimentary and contradictory aspects of the dilemma of modernity for both Japanese and native writers, while locating their literary productions within the larger context of world history. This is a must read not only for those interested in Manchurian literature but for readers who are interested in cross-cultural and translingual practices in East Asia.”—Faye Kleeman, Professor of Japanese Literature at the University of Colorado, Boulder