Wash U China Forum with Professor Michael Berry (UCLA) and Professor Letty Chen (WUSTL)
Since the pandemic broke out in January, fiction of disaster gained renewed popularity in China. French author Albert Camus’s La Peste hit new sales record in Chinese bookstores, and local literature, such as Xu Yigua’s White Mask and Bi Shumin’s Corona Virus witnessed overwhelming demand. Despite their popularity, fictions of disaster have also invited heated debate over how they should be written. Wuhan diary – also known as Fang Fang’s Diary in China, which describes the hardship of life under lockdown in Wuhan, drew flak from critics who believe that the account undermines Wuhan’s international image and discredits the effort of local authorities.
The portrayal of national disasters in fiction can reveal much about the function of individual memory and the shifting status of national identity. In the context of Chinese culture, works such as Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness, Wang Xiaobo’s The Golden Age and Liu Qingbang’s The Ballad of the Champaign reimagine past traumas and give rise to alternative historical narratives. In today’s COVID-19 outbreak, media technology has enabled a chaotic jumble of accounts and narratives to prevail. Some would lament that we lack a work of fiction that documents this disaster coherently and thoughtfully. In this context, does Fang Fang’s Diary qualify as a work that captures the collective memory of the Chinese nation?