Thursday, July 19, 2007

I would marry Yu Dafu except he's dead and I'm really not into that kind of thing

I've been reading Yu Dafu in Chinese. I kind of moderately liked him when I read him in translation. I moderately liked a lot of people, but I really like him a lot in Chinese. It's kind of cool when that happens, kind of like falling in love with someone you've been in class with for a really long time, but never really noticed before.

However the main thing that struck me is that his main characters of the short stories I've read so far struggle with both ill health and feelings of inferiority in relation to the empire. It's pretty clear that the characters' weakness and impotence are directly related to his feelings of shame and inferiority. And I have to say, he handles these questions, so familiar to Asian Americans, of impotent Chinese masculinity, so much more gracefully than say, Frank Chin, who pretty much just beats you over the head with it until you get a concussion.

Interestingly, Yu Dafu leaves it pretty ambiguous about whether the character is actually discriminated against or not. Both characters are clearly described as mentally unstable, oversensitive and depressed. However read in terms of China's place in the world at the time, these feelings of inferiority, as well as his perceptions of the other characters' condescending attitudes towards him make a lot more sense.

Furthermore, China's earlier definition as the "sick man of Asia" makes Yu Dafu's characters even more suggestive, since it seems that perhaps he is attempting to represent his ideas about China, or even his feelings for China. And in "Sinking" Shenlun, the main character explicitly blames his condition on China, and its weaknesses.

The other interesting thing, is although Yu Dafu is clearly engaging the effects that empire has had on the Chinese psyche, this is not divided by the color line, as imperialism is generally thought of. Both characters are students and long time residents in Japan. In some ways, the characters' reactions to Japanese people are fairly standard. Jealousy of Japanese men, feelings of inferiority, an inability to speak, an unrealized desire for Japanese women, as well as an inability to act upon it. However generally, I think a lot of people think of this in relation to race. Asian men desiring white women, and envying white men. In the case of Yu Dafu, there really isn't a racial difference, possibly people didn't think of race in the same way as we do today. (He was born in 1896 and died in 1945.) But it is an interesting dynamic nonetheless. As I read more of his stuff, I'll probably have more to say about this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

if you read Yu Dafu maybe you can answer the question nobody could answer so far:

"I need help with the translation of some parts of Yu Dafu's Reminiscences on Returning Home (郁达夫, "还乡记"), which are still obscure to me even after asking a couple of mother tongue teachers...

I have underlined the 3 weird parts: what looks like the Chinese transliteration of a foreign name (is it?), the title of a work by Burns, and 4 characters I don't have a clue about (another transliteration?). The beginning of the poem quoted is obviously from Burns' John Barleycorn, but about the rest... no idea.



Thanks a lot!"