Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese Language and Comparative Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Lingchei Letty Chen


My dissertation explores literati criticism of injustice embedded in revenge narratives. Ranging from the late Qing to modern China, this research project elaborates on the existing scholarship regarding historical and cultural meanings of revenge to demonstrate the use of earlier textual sources by intellectual writers to embody their ideas and strategies. The literati community inherited a keen sense of injustice in society from previous writing practice and passed it down to later generations. Revenge narratives were able to reinforce this intellectual tradition because the authors of social criticism could use fiction to express their anger and frustration over injustices suffered by the people. Despite differing political ideals, authors of revenge narratives all deliberated on the problems out of which social injustice originated; thus, they claimed for themselves a timeless mission: criticism of all manner of violence along the routes of historical events.

The frequent usage of implications is the focus of my textual analysis. In particular, I discover that illustrations of violence are rich sources of implied messages. Works of revenge have multiple layers of narrative structure. In order to carry out their moral criticism, the intellectuals wrote indirectly about political questions, usually through stylistic control of tone and diction. Embedded meanings often appear to contradict the authors' political backgrounds. This arrangement, however, is essential in overcoming reductionist political meanings of their revenge narratives. My textual examples promote different political perspectives: Confucianism, nationalism, May Fourth cultural criticism and anarchism. The literati criticism of injustice also varies in pointing out physical and psychological violence. Nevertheless, this stylistic elaboration enabled these authors to sympathize equally with the victims of social injustice.

I arrange my four major chapters in the chronological order of the works discussed. Following the trajectories of historical events, I examine applications of the revenge theme with special attention to descriptions of violence. Yu Wanchun: 1794-1849) wrote Dangkou zhi: Quelling the Bandits, 1851) in order to oppose banditry. His illustrations of lingchi: death by slicing), on the other hand, envision the triumph of legal justice against abusive ministers. Wu Jianren's: 1866-1910) Tongshi: A History of Pain, 1903-06) draws on the Mongol invasion of the Southern Song in order to protect the Qing empire. His conventional descriptions of tucheng: massacre of a whole city), nevertheless, transcend the anti-Manchu discourse and further indict the repeated violence of dynastic change. Lu Xun: 1881-1936) manipulates multiple editions of the Meijianchi tale in compiling his “Zhujian”: Forging the Swords, 1926). Because his criticism of filial revenge implicates the victims of abusive power, Lu Xun slips into self-criticism, insinuated in the psychology of zhanshou: decapitation). Ba Jin's: 1904-2005) Miewang: Destruction, 1929) explores the political impotence of an anarchist. The merciless warlord rule is to blame for the public execution; but its psychological impact prompts the youth to assert their moral responsibility through assassination. I conclude my dissertation with Cao Yu's: 1910-96) Yuanye: The Wilderness, 1937). The literature of revenge, however implied the messages were, allowed intellectuals to carry on the perennial exposure and criticism of injustice.


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