Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
My dissertation explores a range of traditional autobiographical genres and multimedia autobiographical practices from the 1900s to the 1930s, including classical poetry, traditional vernacular novels, annalistic autobiography along with a modernized traditional form, self-inscribed photographic portraits. It aims to challenge the prevailing interpretative paradigm in modern Chinese literature that prizes Western discourses of individualism, selfhood and inwardness, which defines and legitimizes modern Chinese autobiographical writing by its drastic break with Chinese literary tradition. Much scholarly attention has focused on the western-style modern Chinese autobiographical writings from 1920s to 1940s. However, my archive research shows that this modern western-style autobiography is only one among many options of literary and artistic forms of autobiographical expressions that modern Chinese writers had chosen. Traditional autobiographical genres and practices had been extensively employed both before and throughout the May Fourth period. Combining approaches of literary analysis and visual culture studies, my dissertation argues that these traditional writersՠadaptations of and innovations on the traditional autobiographical genres provide alternative visions of self that not only interact with but also significantly complicate the May Fourth agenda of egotistic subjectivity.
My dissertation includes four analytical chapters. Chapter 1 analyzes the late Qing guixiu poet Shi Shuyiճ (1876-1945) autobiographical poetry, scholarly projects and self-inscribed photographic portraits. This chapter discusses how women writers made innovative use of modern photographic technology and the new print media to reconfigure their inherited literary tradition, creating a new subject position that is beyond the presumed antithesis between guixiu (talented woman from the inner quarters) and new woman. Chapter 2 examines Zeng Jifenճ (1852-1942) two editions of self-edited nianpu (annalistic autobiography) published in 1930s. Discussing its text, paratexts and context, I argue Zengճ autobiographical nianpu attests to the ңollaborative natureӠof the nianpu genre that can register distinctive female experiences and empower womenճ self-representation. Chapter 3 deals with Liu Eճ (1857-1909) philosophical autobiographical novel The Travels of Lao Can. My discussion revolves around the core concept of you (i.e.travel, wandering, boundary-crossing), on stylistic, discursive and philosophical levels, that not only imparts to the novel a narrative structure, but also serves as a philosophical trope of Liu Eճ understanding of Үo-selfӠ(non-identity, non-particularity). Chapter 4 discusses Su Manshuճ (1884-1918) autobiographical novella The Lone Swan. I investigate how the performative nature of Suճ self-representation and language style can dissolve the construction of modern sentimental subjectivity.
Chair and Committee
Robert Lingchei Letty E. Hegel Chen
Beata Grant, Marvin Marcus, Anca Parvulescu,
Lu, Jue, "Beyond the May Fourth Self: Chinese Autobiographical Writings and Practices in Traditional Genres, 1900s-1930s" (2018). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1635.
Available for download on Wednesday, August 13, 2025