Memory or Fantasy: Honggaoliang‘s Narrator

By G. Andrew Stuckey

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 18, no. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 131-162

The critical reception of Mo Yan’s Honggaoliang jiazu has tended to fall into two camps: the novel is either approached through the framework of historical fiction or as an example of experimental fiction. My analysis of the novel, though, focuses on the ways memory is spun into a narrative by the novel’s narrator. In recent critical accounts, memory, as an embodied and personal access to the past, has been opposed to history, the collective organization of the past to validate national ends. However, my reading of Honggaoliang jiazu suggests that memory works somewhat differently, that memory rather than embodying the past, points to a vanishing past.

I show how the narrator wrests control of the memories he employs to tell his story through a consideration of Gérard Genette’s concept of narrative order. I argue that Honggaoliang jiazu ‘s narrator, in his zeal to reconnect to his family roots, usurps the position of the author and fabricates the memories which make up the novel. In order to support his fabrications, the narrator resorts to narrative frameworks established during the Maoist period, specifically the Maoist discourse of the Hero. Ironically, the sheer fantasy of the notion of Heroism relegates the narrator to perpetual exile and alienation from the truth of his own past. It is precisely this notion of a memory reconstituted out of the narrator’s fantasies that leads to a consideration of a vanishing past and the role memory plays in its perception.