TRACING SHISHI IN CONTEMPORARY CHINESE HISTORICAL NOVELS
This dissertation aims to address the lack of transcultural and historical perspective in the study of the Chinese term shishi and its role in the contemporary literature among the current scholarship. To begin with, the study traces the origin and genealogical development of shishi as a literary concept. It concludes that although it was initially invented as a translation for the Western term “epic,” the connotation of shishi was then greatly expanded and modified by Chinese intellectuals and should be understood as a unique aesthetic paradigm for evaluating literary works and inspiring writers, especially in terms of the criticism and the creation of historical fiction.
Guided by the craving for building a unified identity for the newborn nation with literary works inspired by communist ideology, the revolutionary historical novel from the “Seventeen-Year Era” (1949-1966) becomes the embodiment of the classic ideas of shishi: heroism and optimistic belief in social progress. With the revolutionary era coming to an end, the orthodox historical narrative was challenged by writers and critics who began to implement new and alternative methods of representing and reconstructing past events and memories, which leads to the renovation and diversification of shishi. With a combination of textual analysis and historical interpretation, this study shall examine the works of six writers with varied and distinctive features from the 1980s to the present and demonstrate their contribution to the continued relevance and vitality of shishi in Chinese literature. The final lesson is, instead of sustaining a static and definitive view of shishi, we should recognize and embrace its dynamic and plural natures, and its ability to adapt and innovate.