This dissertation is about the writer Yang Jiang 杨绛 (b. 1911). It opens up new intellectual territory by bringing together many forms of Chinese writing to describe the common influence of xie renwu or `writing the person.'
Though best-known for Gan xiao liu ji (Six records of a cadre school), Yang Jiang's memoir of experiences in a labor camp for intellectuals during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Yang Jiang's career as a whole testifies to the living value of story and portraiture manifested in plays, personal essays, literary criticism, translation, short stories, novels and biographical literature. Moreover, Yang Jiang's readership runs the gamut from enthusiastic welcome, in 1940s Shanghai, to rejection and silencing in the 1950s and 60s, and rising sharply upward again to iconic status in the 1990s and 2000s. Applying the terms and propositions of the interdisciplinary study of life writing, I identify the unity of Yang Jiang's writing in its focus on the person, and in particular the constant return to discourses of self, identity, subjectivity and social value entwined around traditional Confucian terms of personhood - especially qing, the sublime connection between persons based on feeling.
Critics inside China call Yang Jiang one of the best prose stylists of her time; general readers call her life story inspirational; in 2011, newspaper reports identify in Yang Jiang the moral and aesthetic qualities most recommended for China today. And yet, her work has received scant attention from scholars outside of China. My dissertation begins the project of filling in this lacuna through historical contextualization and close readings centered on her post-Cultural Revolution writing. The aesthetic qualities of Chinese rhetoric, the classical and romantic qualities of Yang Jiang's prose, and the deeper political and social implications of her writing since the late 1970s are major topics of the chapters. Throughout, I focus on gender and class, arguing that Yang Jiang deploys traditional
exemplary life writing (the image of the "good wife and model mother," for example) to build up a discourse of personhood that contains a renewed version of traditional Chinese cultural values.