“Diary of a Madwoman” Traversing the Diaspora:
Rewriting Lu Xun in Hualing Nieh’s Mulberry and Peach

By Carolyn FitzGerald

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 26, no.2 (Fall 2014), pp. 38-88

In this essay, FitzGerald interprets Hualing Nieh’s (1926- ) novel Mulberry and Peach (Sangqing yu Taohong; 1970), written from the perspective of a woman in the Chinese diaspora, as a reworking of Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) “Diary of a Madman” (Kuangren riji; 1918). Reminiscent of Lu Xun’s short story, Nieh’s novel is filled with images of cannibalism and features a schizophrenic character who serves as allegorical symbol of the Chinese nation. Yet, whereas Lu Xun indicts traditional Chinese society when his madman reads “eat people” between the lines of Chinese history, Nieh relocates Lu Xun’s cannibals to Taiwan and the United States. In doing so, she critiques the madness of Western colonialism and U.S. immigration policies during the height of the Cold War (1947-91). Replacing Lu Xun’s madman with a pregnant madwoman, she also substitutes the perspective of the “father” of modern Chinese literature with that of a mother. While her protagonist’s body is “cannibalized” by various male desires within patriarchal society, her madness is emblematic of the “schizophrenic split” between Taiwan and mainland China.

The essay also discusses the novel’s ties to Shen Congwen (1902-88) and more generally to modern Chinese literary traditions. Moreover, it situates her novel within the context of Western, in particular American literary traditions, and adopt a combination of allegorical and Asian American approaches. In general, Asian American readings stress the novel’s deconstruction of a variety of patriarchal and nation-centered discourses. In contrast, allegorical interpretations emphasize interconnections between the fate of Nieh’s protagonist and that of the Chinese nation-state. However, Nieh’s novel can be best understood by paying close attention to the complex interplay between these divergent reading strategies. As the essay shows, the novel evinces a schizophrenic tension between its status as ethnic allegory and its multicultural critique of Lu Xun.