Science and Poetry: Narrativizing Marital Crisis in Reform-Era China

By Hui Faye Xiao

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 23, no. 2 (Fall 2011), pp. 146-174

Through a close reading of “Return, Cries the Cuckoo” (1980) and “Flying Afar” (1981), two highly controversial short stories about peasant couples’ marital crises at the 1980s’ “scientizing moment,” I explore how the power of scientific knowledge is constantly invoked to naturalize the strategies of domination and to interfere with people’s marital life. While denouncing the socialist state intervention in the domestic sphere, I argue, the early 1980s’ intellectual discourse subjugates the “private” realm to the regulation of a dominant ideology of scientific modernity. As Jing Wang has noted, the reconfiguration of the social stratification and power structure caused an “epistemological reorientation” in the 1980s. While this “epistemological reorientation” still dwells on the rational level, I propose that there is also a pervasive re-construction of the structure of feeling on the domestic site. The educated elites not only rise to dominate the emerging “technocratic class order,” but also re-configure the familial order in which domestic power and affective value are re-assigned based on one’s access to “scientific knowledge” and urban civilization. Moreover, literary representations have played a central pedagogical role in the process of narrativizing scientific modernity and modernizing the structure of feeling through a formidable alliance of “science and poetry.”