Close Encounters of the Literary Kind

Professor Jiang wins ACLS fellowship to study modern Chinese literature.

By Brittney Corrigan-McElroy ’94 | July 20, 2020

In many parts of the world, science fiction is not viewed as serious literature. But in early 20th century China, it was afforded elite status as Chinese intellectuals began severing ties with old traditions and turned to newly-available translations of foreign sci-fi as representative of modernity and as vehicles to boldly imagine the possible future of China as a nation.

Prof. Jing Jiang [Chinese 2006–] focuses her academic research on how contemporary Chinese writing is in dialogue with literature from other cultures. What do science fiction, magic realism, and utopian fiction have to do with modern Chinese literature? With the support of a new fellowship in Chinese and comparative literature from the American Council of Learned Societies, Jiang is diving into these questions. Her project, “The World Embedded in Modern Chinese Literary Imagination,” will explore the influence of a global array of writers on the historically inward-looking canon of Chinese literature.

She developed this topic for her fellowship while at work on her first book, Found in Translation, an investigation of twentieth-century Chinese science fiction (forthcoming in November 2020 from Columbia University Press).

Intrigued by the role of translation in ushering China’s long history of self-referential literature into a modern identity that is oriented toward a diverse body of world literature, Jiang created a course at Reed on Chineseness, Translated Modernity, and World Literature in the fall of 2018. Students read works by Gabriel García Márquez, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Beckett, and others with an eye toward their influence on celebrated works in the modern Chinese canon, including lauded writers such as Lu Xun. Within the course, students explored the cross-fertilization of ideas among the texts and how contemporary Chinese literature is often a product of translingual practice. 

Developing the course at Reed emboldened Jiang to further pursue this confluence of literary imaginations. Says Jiang, “Modern Chinese writers are notorious for their ‘obsession with China,’ but they also carry on intense, ongoing dialogues with world literature while working through that obsession. These dialogues that form the subtexts of some of the best known works are the most fascinating to me.” As the inaugural recipient of the Pauline Yu Fellowship in Chinese or Comparative Literature, Jiang hopes to research and complete the initial chapters of a new book based on these ideas.


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