Urban Scenes, by Liu Na’ou; translated and introduced by Yaohua Shi and Judith M. Armory
Cambria Press, 2023
More than eighty years after his death, Liu Na’ou (1905—1940) remains a fascinating figure. Liu was born in Taiwan, but early on he wrote that his future lay in Shanghai and did indeed spend the entirety of his glittering but all-too-brief career in his adopted city, working closely with a small coterie of like-minded friends and associates as an editor, writer, film critic, scenarist, and director. Liu introduced Japanese Shinkankakuha (New Sensationism) to China and made it an important school of modern Chinese urban fiction. Urban Scenes, his slim volume of modernist fiction, in particular, has had an outsized influence on Shanghai’s image as a phantasmagoric metropolis in the 1920s and 1930s. This collection is especially valuable since there are no more works from Liu because shortly after producing this he was murdered purportedly for political reasons.
Like Japanese New Sensationists, who zeroed in on sensory responses to the new technologies rapidly transforming Tokyo after the Great Earthquake of 1923, Liu was fixated on the sights, sounds, and smells of Shanghai, that other throbbing metropolis of the Far East, and these came through in his writings. Liu’s urban romances depict, as he himself put it, the “thrill” and “carnal intoxication” of modern urban life. His stories take place in Shanghai’s nightclubs, race tracks, cinemas, and cafes—sites of moral depredation but also of erotic allure and excitement; therein lies the contradictory nature of his urban fiction, which gives us a vivid picture of early twentieth-century Shanghai.
This complete translation of Liu’s seminal work is available for the first time to researchers, students, and general readers interested in modern Chinese literature and culture. In addition to the eight stories in the original Urban Scenes, this collection includes an introduction by the translators and three additional pieces Liu published separately. The translations are based on the first editions of the Chinese texts. Urban Scenes is a valuable addition to collections in Chinese and Sinophone studies.