Theses Doctoral

Fictions of Authorship: Literary Modernity and the Cultural Politics of the Author in Late Qing and Republican China

Sun, Myra

Between the founding of the Republic in 1912 and the 1937 outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, an unprecedented pooling of cultural, technological, and financial resources centered around a concept of authorship as the work of a modern, individuated creator. The emergent figure of the author, as a new centerpiece in the reception of both traditional vernacular fiction and New Literature alike, was first and foremost an unfolding literary event throughout the 1920s, which simultaneously gained enough social and institutional traction to quickly spread across various other fields of cultural production by the late 1930s. However, despite its status as a historical construct, the author-centered model of interpretation and analysis remains the least interrogated and historicized assumption in the scholarship and pedagogy of modern Chinese literature.
In approaching this problem, I propose “fictions of authorship” as a conceptual framework to account for the different domains of cultural formation in which discourses of authorship obtained relevance in early 20th century China. Additionally, the framework is also useful for registering different historical moments of author-making. The most recent of such moments, and the object of study in this dissertation, can be characterized by major shifts within lateral and hierarchical organizations of textual labors from the late Qing onwards. Moreover, this particular episode of the modern author articulates a critical redistribution of symbolic power amongst appearing (and disappearing) literary agents, from which authorship emerged as the most authoritative form of creative labor.
Fabulations of the modern author was as much about ushering in new concepts and practices of literature as it was about the death of traditional literati institutions and modes of knowledge production. Beginning with the introduction of modern punctuation initiated in 1916, the erasure of fiction commentary from canonical vernacular novels throughout the subsequent decade, followed by the New Literatures of 1920s and early 1930s, this dissertation traces the emergence of the author through developments in theories of reading and literary criticism, the temporal structures of paratextual practice, discourses of creativity and writing, and legal codifications of copyright. I argue that the notion of individuated authorship competed with other collaborative or collective forms of textual labor—if not in actual practice, then certainly in their institutional articulations and the professionalization of various textual roles. Taken together, these historical processes of negotiation and reorganization manifest a “fiction of authorship” that illuminates both productive and constraining dimensions of the literary reform agenda in China’s struggle for nationhood during the early 20th century.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Liu, Lydia H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 29, 2019