David Wang’s lecture this afternoon about ghosts in contemporary Chinese fiction was another tour de force. Such a wonderful exploration of intriguing question: if China became an atheistic and realist society after 1949, why is are its writers now so fascinated by spirits and the transmigration of souls?
The lecture left me with a lot of questions about the life of the imagination in China today, but also had me wondering about alternative histories — the particular kind of haunting sense that the world could have been different. So you can answer either of the following two questions:
- What story of imaginary hauntings intrigued you the most, and why? Is there a novel you will now read based on Professor Wang’s suggestions? Or…
- In what sense do you imagine the world we have studied is in some way haunted by an historical legacy? If you could write a novel with a haunting or an alternative history, what would it be? Which of the styles that Prof. Wang mentioned would your novel resemble?
13 Replies to “Another fabulous David Wang lecture, and two questions”
I found Professor Wang’s parallel between the haunting of ghosts and the burden of ancient traditions in a modernizing world fascinating. I thought the metaphor of exorcism of society to cleanse it of its traditions that hinder progress, both a vivid image and a thought-provoking explanation for the often violent push back against traditional belief systems in society. With this in mind the idea of a haunting past and even more so the ghosts of what could have been was interesting. He brought up the show, Man in the High Castle, which is about what the world would look like if the axis powers had won World War II. The show is ominous and thought provoking and helped me grasp what Professor Wang was saying about feeling haunted as the show is incredibly haunting if nothing else as its reality of a Nazi and Japanese run America is terrifying to say the least. In this way the past is meant to haunt us, so we may learn from our mistakes, but in other ways the idea of what might have been if things had been different is terrifying. If I was attempting to provoke this I would create a book in a similar style based around a well-known historical event with an alternative outcome to show the importance of the haunting history rather than just discrediting history and repeating our mistakes, through an event like the Civil War which had the outcome been different the world may have been very different.
Throughout our study, I kept thinking about the idea of good and evil/purity and polluted that exist in the world. Despite the different forms, this distinction of good and bad exist in every culture. This contrast exist not only between different cultures but also within one culture itself. This idea of good and evil becomes a social norm that is deeply rooted in people; in other words, there is always a common enemy, i.e. a ghost or some savage creature. For example, European settlers viewed indigenous people as animal like, uneducated savages that need to be saved. In Chinese society today, there is the superiority and ignorance toward people of color. A parent from my high school refused to let their son be roomed with black students.
I am intrigued by Mo Yan’s style. I like how he used a analogy originating from Chinese folk tale to convey the symbolic ideas, which lightens the political charge on the surface but at the same time made the novel even more powerful and thought-evoking. I might write about myself as a Chinese student studying in the US, using Chinese myth about lingering at a foreign land.
The kind of story that attracted me the most is the idea of animals into the human being. When I was reading such kind of writings, I always interpret it as the animal actually has a human soul; however, according to Professor David Wang’s lecture, I learned that it is not animals that actually become human beings, but the way people look at the animals. Another point I am very interested in is the alternation of the Chinese society. The stories about the mainland China being taken by the Nationalist Party sounds very different. As a student in the IGS major, with more understanding of politics, cultures, and other elements can definitely help me read this book. Some people say history repeats itself. Just as President Xi brings back the old Chinese Confucius idea, I see some parts of how this repetition occurs. If I am going to write a novel, I will take the current presidents from each country back to 1949 with their current memory. I want to see how the history of China could change that the “peaceful rise” of China is definite or not.
Professor Wang’s lecture reminds me of the book Animal Farm written by George Orwell. Although all of the main characters are animals, they all have humanity in some ways. By looking at these animals, we can find the shadows of ourselves: we human beings are all selfish, violent, cruel, and greedy in some ways. Just as Professor Wang said in his lecture, it is the way which we look at those animals makes this writing style different. As someone says, history is written for those people who receive the victory at last. This reminds me of the history textbooks in my high school. In those textbooks, they tell me that in the war against the Japanese invasion in the Second World War, the Communist Party’s army defend our China most severely, and the Kuomintang’s army did nothing. However, when I started to read more historical texts, I found out that the fact was totally different from what I learned from the high school. In fact, the Kuomintang contributed most to the war against the Japanese invasion. Therefore, if I am going to write a novel, I will focus on finding the truth behind the history. History should not be a tool for governments to praise themselves. Instead, it should be a mirror which we can see what we truly are. Furthermore, I may also use the writing style from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
During Professor Wang’s yesterday lecture, the part of animal he talked about interested and inspired me a lot. His idea and talk aroused me to rethink the nature of animal. Before his lecture, I believed the nature of animal clearly represents the side of evil or goodness. I listened to a lot of stories when I was young. In those fables, animals have the good or bad quality. For example, in the story named the Farmer and the Snake, the Snake indicates and refers to the characteristic of ungracefulness. And all those descriptions in fables people used to describe animals are originated from animals’ own characteristics from my original point of view. But after Professor Wang’s illustration, I understood that those negative and good sides of animals are majorly entrusted by people’s own understanding and preference. There may be a negative side in the Snake, but should people use the Snake to be the representative symbol of ungratefulness just from a created fable? To some extent, It’s understandable that people want to use those stories to teach children to be a better person and distinguish the goodness and badness in the world. But how about the understanding and learning of animals’ true nature? If I have the chance to write something in a novel, I will focus on talking about the relationship between the nature of animals and people’s understanding towards them in order to let more people have more comprehensive learning about the nature of evil and goodness as well as the nature of animals.
I think it is fascinating how Prof. Wang made a connection between human and animals. Sometimes we try to see some human characters in animals; or we want to use animals to illustrate human stories. We then write novels based on animals turning into human. It is not that animals have certain characters. Foxes are no smarter than other animals. It is the human writer that gives them certain traits. When they write about animals, they are actually writing about humans. Animals are used as tools to tell stories. Many Chinese authors use animals or animal-like human to write stories, such as Journey to the West. There is no good or bad on animals; they are creatures that do their own stuff, go their own way and live their own lives. Predators have to hunt to keep themselves alive， while herbivore can live with merely grass. Does it make predators more evil than sheep or cows? No. The traits that animals bear are from human.
If I have a chance to write a novel, I would write about how animals would describe human in their perspective. Would wild animals see us as robbers that take over their land and resource? Would chickens see us like murders who raise them up for their meat?
The book ‘Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out’ really inspired me. The way that Ximen Nao, the protagonist of the book was targeted for being a landowner despite his generosity and kindness towards the people reminded me of the case system in India and how lower paid jobs are looked down upon and the people are discriminated against. When Yama put him back on Earth, he did so as animals and that was really interesting to me because it represents the difficulties in the lives of the Chinese during the Communist Revolution. The point of reincarnating him as an animal rather than a human being was to remove all the hatred from his heart and mind and make him start fresh as a human being only after all this was removed. I would really like to read this book because it represents the animal-like, selfish, and greedy nature of human beings. I feel like this is something that everyone can relate to because every person has sinful thoughts. Reading this would make people realise that these thoughts should be eliminated and human beings should be more down to earth and selfless.
Professor Wang’s described the alternative history really caught my attention. If the winner of the Wod War two was Axis power but not Allies power, how the history would be like? I have some personal ideas on this topic. Although China was one of the winner country of the World War Two, it inflicted heavily losses on. However, as a Chinese, I still wanted to appreciate the changes that this War brought to China. This War made China realized the problems of governing and methods of developing. The prosperity of China can never be achieved with out the World War Two as an alarming for us. So, I think everything has two sides. Whatever the history was, it would have its own meaning and would exert certain positive and negative affects on human beings. We can try to image the alternative history, but we should never feel regetful for it.
If I have a chance to write a novel, I want to write a topic about exchanging the governors of developed and developing countries back in a hundred years. Then, I want to write about how their countries develop and to find out if the prosperity of a country depends on its govnor’s ability.
David Wang’s wonderful lecture ” LIfe and Death are Wearing Me out” really struck me as an Chinese. For so many years I have read so many Chinese literature books, but I have never come to an understanding of his level. I’m really captured about his interpretation about the idea of transmigration, time travel and transference. And ghosts themselves represent the return of the repressed uncoming; the deviant; the uninvited—in this way, the return of “ghosts” are not just coincidence if consider the special political time when they occur.
I see ghosts in Chinese literature very different from the western culture. In Western culture, the ghost are defined in very different appearance from the human. In China, the ghosts are very “humanized” . Chinese writers depicted them as beautiful young girls, strong men or even the old ladies. They are have personalities just like the living people who are on this world. So actually I think ghosts in Chinese literature are not some kind of special creature that is meant to be seperate apart from the human beings，quite the opposite. Ghosts are human. So that’s why David Wang said: “The new society turns ghosts into human, and turns human beings into ghosts.” —-Because in Chinese literature, the idea of ghosts themselves may just be human. Ghosts are human. Human are ghost. We have no difference.
One sentence on the PowerPoint left me thinking over and over for almost two whole days—” IN the times of peace, men and ghosts are kept apart. In a world like ours, men and ghosts mingle freely.”
Chinese government has been restricting the TV shows for a few years—no GHOSTS, no TIME TRAVEL…It got me really confused when I first heard the news (I was still in Junior school) because I saw nothing offending the communist government. After listening to David Wang’s lecture , I kinda understand why the government see these as threats. Because ghosts themselves may represent those who were struggling and suffering in his times, who could only desperately wandering in this world to express the feelings which he could not have the chance to express in his times. Ghosts may represent the rebellious group.
And the idea of time travel is actually similar. Those who go time travel in the literature or films often times struggle in their real life—those who cannot be who they want to be in their real life. So as they become unconscious because of an car accident or they are beaten to almost death in their real life, their soul travel back in ancient times. They fall in love with the people they love and they accomplish their originally unapproachable dreams in a completely different dimension.
The idea itself is expressing how bad the situation of the current time is —how impossible the people can live through it and fulfill their personal dreams. Time travel or ghosts, although represent nothing violent, but they probably are the extreme way to express desperation—“I choose not to fight because I can never fight against my fate successfully at my time.” ” I will fulfill my dreams in some kind of illusion or another “cycle” of my life”—only the most desperate would think in this way. “Time travel “or “ghosts ” are all ways of imagining people themselves running away from the time they live in right now.
I definitely will read ” White Haired Girl” in this semester, since David Wang emphasized its significance several times in the lecture.And I’m captured by its ideas—” the old society turned ghosts into human beings, the new society turned ghosts into human beings.”
Overall, it was a fascinating lecture. I enjoyed every minute of it.
In Professor Wang’s speech, he mentioned the significance of haunting history. These historical events had an imprinted impact on many nations’ life track and helped form the world pattern. They also had huge influence in a spiritual way, for example, as a cultural heritage that rooted in generations. Although as an atheist society currently, China has a long-lasting culture of valuing spiritual power. As a result, it is not strange to have so many artworks and novels about the stories of soul transmigrations because people actually believe in the unique power of spirits. Moreover, the imagination of altering and rewriting the historical events somewhat shows people’s fantasy of romanticism. The impacts of haunting history is not limited to beneficial way but also destructive. If we can rewrite it, we might avoid the regretful outcome led by some minute details or mistaken decisions. If I can write an alternative history, I would recreate the story about the Great Cultural Revolution in China so that more cultural deposits and heritage could be reserved.
I had never considered the wide range of meaning that a ghost could embody. I found David Wang’s lecture fascinating as it explained the notion of a ghost as a national exorcism campaign or as a symbolic feeling shared by a community in response to social and political turmoil. Wang’s commentary on how we should consider ontology rather than hauntology was also very interesting.
I had known a little bit about Buddhist transmigration, the idea that there is a cycle of death and rebirth. I found particularly fascinating the story of the generous landlord who is killed, and goes through six reincarnations of different animal, because of the symbolic meaning held in becoming each animal, as well as the element of repetitiveness. Wang’s lecture has further inspired to me to learn more about the works of Hu Shi.
It is interesting that Professor.Wang connected people with animals. Professor Wang’s talking inspired my a lot indeed. We wants to use animals to represent us, so we write novels about animals. I think human beings and animals, we are the same species living on the earth, and we have the same target, which is to live better than our ancestors. Animals, just like us, have the dark side, they wants to survive, so sometimes, they are also greedy, evil and self-fish. We use animals as a tool to represent human’s characteristics.
If I could write a novel with an alternative history, I would write about the real history. I would write about what was happening in China after Qing dynasty. I think citizens should know their country’s real history, no matter it is good or bad. The government do not has rights to conceal the truth.
Wang describes how the emergence of ghosts has been seen in Chinese literature, from 1891-1962. Then, in the 1980s, Chinese literature began to include writings on supernatural human beings. I found the story “eyes of heaven” interesting, in which there is a loss of a daughter who died in Taiwan. However, there is no torture that can be seen as she died in the deep sea. This story shows transmigration, and how there are new ways being developed to “negotiate life”. I found this story to be an interesting illustration of transmigration, as it is increasingly more common today. Another interesting point that Wang brought up in stories of transmigration, is how animals are viewed as “human”, and life and death are wearing out transmigration. Animals are often seen as lower creatures compared to human beings. For example, in Uni Shuiqui’s story it is described how a wife dies, and so the husband wanted to slaughter an Ox. The Ox is aware of its faith, so it begins to stop eating and drinking. This story is interesting to me as it shows the interconnection between humans and animals, and how animals are smarter than you think. Another interesting point Wang stated is “how in times of peace, men and ghosts are kept apart, in a world like ours, men and ghosts mingle freely”. I find the connection between ghosts and humans interesting and how it describes the afterlife, the unknown and points out flaws in today’s society.