By Harlan Chambers
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.2 (Fall 2019), pp. 249-292
From Chinese thinkers’ earliest engagements with “reportage literature,” their endeavors have always been grounded in explicitly leftist political commitments; but what has become of the practices sustaining this genre amidst today’s “depoliticized politics”? To interrogate this problematic, this article examines the “Liang Village Series” by author Liang Hong, who has not only distanced herself from a defined political agenda, but from the very genre of reportage literature itself. I will argue that a postsocialist tension unfolds between Liang the literary critic’s withdrawal from a defined political project, on the one hand, and Liang the investigator’s exposure of the social logic driving China’s reform-era rural transformations on the other.
The first part of this article examines Liang’s contributions to non-fiction writing as a contemporary literary genre emerging amidst a broader “farewell” to reportage literature. The distance Liang poses between her own non-fiction writing and the political engagement of reportage literature is consonant with a broader discourse in China’s contemporary literary field, holding that historic practices of literary reportage have little to offer the present. The second section turns from Liang the critic to Liang the investigator, examining how her approach conceptualizes the “rural” as embedded in disjunctures of urban time and space. To clarify the stakes of Liang’s intervention, I will contrast her approach with Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao’s China Peasant Investigation (2004), an influential work of contemporary literary reportage. The third section then turns to a close reading of Liang’s texts to interrogate how Liang the investigator engages with “feeling” as a field of experience bound to the social logic of the market economy. The fourth and final section will interrogate the limits of Liang the investigator’s discoveries to indicate new possibilities for thinking the rural within contemporary, postsocialist politics of political disavowal.