David Der-wei Wang 3 Feb

The first distinguished scholar in our 2015 lecture series on China will be Prof David Der-wei Wang, Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University.

David Der-wei Wang

Distinguished Scholar

As the Edward C. Henderson Professor in Chinese Literature, David holds a joint appointment in Comparative Literature. He is Director of CCK Foundation Inter-University Center for Sinological Studies, and Academician, Academia Sinica. His specialties are Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature, Late Qing fiction and drama, and Comparative Literary Theory. Wang received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and has taught at National Taiwan University (1982-1986) and Columbia University (1990-2004). He was on Harvard`s faculty in 1986-1990, and rejoined the faculty in 2004.


Writing History after `Post-History`: On Contemporary Chinese Fiction

Fiction was taken up by enlightened Chinese intellectuals as a vehicle of reforming politics and remaking history as early as the turn of the twentieth century. It became all the more polemical in the late twenties when leftist writers and critics invested in it purposes ranging from critiquing the status quo to promoting progressive agenda. How to compose fiction the right way in relation to history has always been a contentious issue from the Yanan era to date. Fiction is not only expected to reflect but also rectify history; more, it is even expected to project History – the Socialist state of plenitude as promised by the success of revolution.

It is against this background that we come to the contemporary scene. Much has been discussed about the 80s, the `New Era` when fiction commanded enormous attention in terms of both formal experimentation and conceptual interrogation. But more than twenty years after the `Root-seeking` and `Avant-garde` movements that shook `Maoist discourse` and unleashed waves of creative energy, one wants to ask: How have the writers of the New Era come along in the aftermath of market economy and media explosion throughout the end of the last century? What concern them now with regard to their creative capacity as well as social agency? More importantly, how do they come to terms with the Red Legacy that has once dominated the conception, production, and consumption of fiction?

Writing at a time when History has collapsed and Revolution has lost its mandate, writers cannot take up the two subjects without pondering their inherent intelligibility. Drawing upon theories on post-history as developed by scholars such as Jacques Derrida, Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu, and contemporary fictional works as created by writers such as Mo Yan, Yan Lianke and Wang Anyi, this lecture will address the following three issues:

History after Post-History
Enlightenment versus Enchantment
Socialist Utopia and `the Best of all Best Possible Worlds`


Wang’s recent publications include Taiwan under Japanese Colonial Rule (co-ed. with Ping-hui Liao, 2007); Globalizing Chinese Literature (co-ed. with Jin Tsu, 2010); The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists through the 1949 Crisis (2014).

He is Editor of Harvard New Literary History of Modern China (to come, 2015).