Shanghai Variations on “Revolution Plus Love”-英文著作-刘剑梅网
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Shanghai Variations on “Revolution Plus Love”

 The series of political events during 1923-1927 gave rise to the notorious literary movement of “revolutionary literature (geming wenxue),” which aimed at criticizing capitalist modernity by bringing Marxism into the literary field.  As one of the most important literary practices of “revolutionary literature,” the formulaic writing of “revolution plus love” expressed a sense of an urgency to redeem nationalism from the domination of western capitalist culture, for which the May Fourth generation was regarded by radical leftists as the spokesmen. Initiated by leftist writers such as Jiang Guangci, this formulary writing attracted numerous followers from different political and cultural backgrounds who were not necessarily loyal believers in communism. However, previous scholars have focused only on leftists’ pursuit of this genre and ignored other Shanghai writers’ overlapping and contradictory historical expressions of the relationship between revolution and love. It is from this standpoint that we need to re-examine the multi-cultural background of Shanghai, where this formulaic writing was produced and transformed. As a modern city in a third world country, Shanghai had to reject modes of thinking that expressed its cultural imagination in simplistic ways, such as native nationalism, colonialism, and “modernity-as-revolution.” The cultural ambivalence of the city made it possible for writers to treat modernity from a variety of shifting positions that had been discursively articulated in cultural practice.
Yan Jiayan and Leo Ou-fan Lee’s introduction of urban modernists such as Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying, Shao Xunmei, and Ye Lingfeng, whose names were often consciously erased in many studies of modern Chinese literature, has redirected a certain amount of scholarly interest in Shanghai and its cultural practice.[1] Western scholarship on urban modernism has fundamentally altered the canon set originally by leftist writers and critics who promoted revolutionary romanticism, socialist realism, and the political function of literature. These leftist critics tended either to ignore the Shanghai modernists or castigate them as “bourgeois decadents.” Research on Shanghai modernism has demonstrated how through an experimental technique urban modernists’ obsession with erotic and exotic scenes of Shanghai created an interesting literary phenomenon that significantly contributes to “the development of literary modernism,” which “has been rediscovered after more than half a century of scholarly oblivion.”[2] However, those urban modernists’ pursuit and imitation of the formulaic writing of “revolution plus love”—a literary practice that resulted from leftists’ and communists’ advocacy of proletarian literature—has remained largely unexamined.
Although Yan Jiayan, Leo Ou-fan Lee, and Zhang Yingjin have discussed Liu Na’ou’s “Liu” (Flow) and Mu Shiying’s “Pierrot,” two stories that clearly carry the stamp of “revolution plus love,” they do not read them as derivatives of this formulary practice. Both Lee and Shih Shu-Mei have pointed out that Liu Na’ou’s journal Wugui lieche (Trackless train) juxtaposed progressive essays and fiction translated from or inspired by the Soviet Union with the decadent sensibilities of Paul Morand and Japanese shinkankaku ha fiction—a strange combination, but for Liu Na’ou and his fellow modernists a harmonious one, because both foreground and highlight the new. What has been ignored in their discussions of Wugui lieche is this journal’s contribution to the proliferation of “revolution plus love,” the central event in the wentan (literary field) around 1930. In my view, a consideration of those modernists’ early imitation of “revolution plus love” in the context of revolutionary literature is very meaningful because not only does it point to the complexity of the literary field around 1930, which was unnecessarily rigidly controlled by radical leftists, it also suggests the confusion of forms of newness understood by these writers, who negotiated between the binary oppositions of progress and decadence and of the serious and the nonserious.  More importantly, it demonstrates the reproduction and circulation of this formula have constituted a world of simulations in which the original leftist goal—the rational critique of capitalism—is subverted by different kinds of implications within the urban culture of Shanghai.
Literary historians such as Wang Yao and Tang Tao have assumed an existing revolutionary identity held by writers who embraced the formulaic writing of “revolution plus love.”[3] This identity not only includes Marxist goals and concerns, but also constitutes a progressive subject that is pursuing political representation. This assumption is created by the possibility of a total history (Foucault’s term) or total description, which relates all events to the so-called worldview or the spirit of a generation.[4] What has been excised from establishment histories of modern Chinese literature is the satirical treatment of “revolution plus love” by some Shanghai urban writers, such as Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying, Ye Lingfeng, and Zhang Ziping. In his study of Jiang Guangci, C. T. Hsia notes that leftists’ writing of “revolution plus love” could be very disturbing, because those leftists constantly vacillated between revolutionary ideology and the bourgeois lifestyle.[5] However, Hsia overlooks the more disturbing practice of this formula by other Shanghai writers, who were obsessed with the urban culture of Shanghai, which was then being denigrated by Marxist critics as an “immoral product of capitalist decadence.” In the involvement of Liu Na’ou and his fellow modernists with proletarian literature, “the so-called ‘depravity of capitalist culture,’” as Shu-mei Shih argues, “becomes the locus of allure and eroticization, thereby reducing the supposed socialist thrust to a kind of empty, perhaps fashionable gesture.”[6]  As a matter of fact, while pursuing the fashionable “revolution plus love” formula, those urban writers never hesitated to flaunt their critiques of the “decadent” bourgeoisie, while at the same time deeply indulging themselves in the seductive urban milieu of Shanghai. Revolution had proven irresistible for the playful literary games of writers intent on portraying it as just as dazzling and fluctuating as sexual desire. Their fiction transformed the exciting spectacle of revolution into an emblem of the psyche’s overflowing erotic fantasies. Despite their different styles of writing, they all treated revolution as an object on exhibit or an eroticized street scene, chaotic and alluring, orchestrated solely to satisfy the modern reader. In a sense, their placement of “revolution plus love” in the urban culture of Shanghai puts the meaning of revolutionary language to different uses, establishing new imaginative boundaries by breaking through previous progressive categories.
Among those five urban writers who imitated the formulaic writing of “revolution plus love,” Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, and Mu Shiying are usually categorized as belonging to the Japanese-inspired Neo-Sensationalist school (Xin ganjue pai) because of their obsession with literary modernism. Zhang Ziping is often criticized for catering to popular tastes and commercialization, and Ye Lingfeng is somewhere between these two extremes. Although most of their formulaic practices were launched two years before the famous Jingpai (Bejing school) and Haipai (Shanghai school) debate in 1934, collectively these five writers can be said to form the fictional landscape of the so-called Haipai. Putting them side by side not only challenges the conventional view that the Haipai simply refers to vulgar, consumer-based, low-quality urban literature,[7] but also goes beyond the paradigm of the Neo-Sensationalist school, which has been the central focus of Western scholarship on Shanghai literature of the 1930s. In other words, it is impossible to find a clear-cut distinction between so-called “high modernism” and “low culture” in the Haipai literature, such as that which perhaps characterizes the modern literary tradition of the West. In such a context, we need to raise the following questions: if the Haipai writers cannot be reduced to a simple integrated group, how can we categorize the Shanghai variations on “revolution and love”? Was their imitation of this formula merely a counterrevolutionary strategy by which they rewrote revolutionary literature in the light of the “immortal and decadent” capitalist culture, or was it actually the embodiment of a revolutionary spirit in a more political sense? Did they attempt to promote the sale of their books through catering to popular interests, or did they want to take the elitist, avant-garde stance by adopting the experimental literary techniques? Were they able under the pressure of national crises to break away from the idea of modernity as historical progress, or were they themselves actually among the producers of this modernity?[8]
In this chapter, I explore these questions by examining the sources from which the haipai writers derived their formula of “revolution plus love.” Tracing the sources of those marginalized formulaic writings reveals some literary practices that are seldom recognized by mainstream literary history. More important, such efforts make it possible to question assumptions about the period of revolutionary literature. It is these writers’ different ways of creating the same images (such as nation, class, and the object of desire) that need to be underscored as we examine the erotic undercurrent of revolutionary discourse in the cultural milieu of Shanghai. Observing how these writers articulated the popular theme of “revolution plus love” in various new forms not only helps us understand the way they defined modernity and its relationship to politics, but also shows there is no original, single, and stable identity inherent in the mere imitation and repetition of the formula. Those urban writers’ performative transplanting of the “revolution plus love” formula to the erotic urban context constitutes another facet of Chinese modernity and dismantles the binary opposition of progress and decadence, the opposition which is at once powerful and exhausting.

Shi Zhecun and Psychosexual Politics

Shi Zhecun was on the editorial staffs of Trackless Train, La Nouvelle littérature (Xin wenyi), and the famous Les Contemporains (Xiandai), the magazines that were identified most closely with Western modernist experiences ranging from new romanticism and expressionism to the use of psychoanalysis. When young members of the Creation and Sun Societies were busily involved in debates about “revolutionary literature,” Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, and their friends responded to this new phenomenon by introducing revolutionary novels from Soviet Russia in Trackless Train. For Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shi and his friends’ interest in revolutionary novels derived from their inclination toward cosmopolitan and avant-garde writing:
According to Shi, the term qianwei (avant-garde) was first introduced to China around 1926–1928 from Japanese sources on Soviet literature. Shi and his friends were initially attracted to this radical revolutionary metaphor because they believed that all the best Soviet writers active in the 1920s—Mayakovsky, Babel, and others—were avant-gardists, which they equated with the “modern” trend in art and literature in Europe as well. In other words, they saw themselves as both revolutionary and aesthetic rebels on an international “front line.”[9]
Unlike the leftists from the Creation and Sun Societies, who emphasized the social function of literature, Shi Zhecun was attracted to Soviet literature because of its new form and technique. Among Shi’s early writings, one short story, “Pursuit” (Zhui), which has seldom attracted critics’ interest, tackled the theme of “revolution plus love.” Written in 1928, the year he became friends with the Communist critic Feng Xuefeng, “Pursuit” was recognized as influenced by the English version of The Flying Osip: Stories of New Russia, written by Seifulina and others.[10] As Shi Zhecun later wrote: “‘Zhui’ was my attempt at imitating Russian fiction, using a rough outline to write a proletarian revolutionary story. This small book of Zhui was unexpectedly noticed by the GMD’s propaganda department and was included in the list of prohibited books. This  prohibition really elevated my market value.”[11] Although “Pursuit” is different from Shi’s later and more notable fiction, such as “A general’s head” (Jiangjun de tou), “Shi Xiu,” and “An Evening of Spring Rain”(Meiyu zhixi), it already shows the psychological exploration for which he is known. This story deserves attention because in it Shi invents a psychic world build on the discourse of social realism and its ideological underpinnings. Through the parallel conflicts in the story—between the poor and the rich, the sexual and the political, the personal and the collective—the author shows how revolutionary identity has been dislodged by perverted sexual desire.
Unlike Jiang Guangci and his followers’ literary versions of “revolution plus love,” “Pursuit” is neither dominated by hyperbolic romantic passion nor overburdened by slogans or revolutionary concepts. Departing from the notion of the “real” defined by revolutionary literature and its ideological frame of reference, Shi chose to represent the issue of class identity in terms of the hero Xinhai’s sexuality. The title obviously has a double meaning: is it a revolutionary goal that Xinhai pursues, or the sexy daughter of a capitalist? On the surface, the story seems conventional: a revolutionary proletarian worker is seduced by a bourgeois girl; because of his love for her, he allows her to escape when the workers and revolutionaries take over the city. After he realizes the “reactionary” girl has betrayed him and escaped alone, Xinhai gets so furious that he volunteers for a heroic mission—to bomb the bridge in order to protect the city. “Pursuit” may seem a standard Communist novel: it advises revolutionaries to be alert to the corruption of the bourgeois. However, the erotic fantasies of the oppressed that may be unleashed by revolution are hidden within every psyche; this generates a crisis of masculine sexuality that threatens political morality, which draws a clear demarcation line between the pure and the impure.
In this story, Shi blends class consciousness, sexual repression, sexual yearning, and sexual psychology. Against the background of a city controlled by a militia of low-class workers, the narrator creates a ghostlike reality of violence, death, and terror, a strange and dark scene of continuous violent acts, combined with a revolutionary sentiment mingled with masculine fantasies and desires. In this isolated revolutionary city, only the liberated oppressed can be named as human beings; the others, male and female, are all “reactionary dogs.” The original flourishing and bustling signs of the modern city, such as markets, dance halls, hotels, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and prostitutes, have all been replaced by merciless class struggle and revolutionary war. This scene looks more like an allegory of the terror of revolution itself than a record of reality in 1928. It allegorizes the future of revolution; interestingly, contemporary readers might even find this kind of terror and this ghostlike city in Mao’s era. Inside the isolated city, the faces of revolutionaries are anonymous, but their violent impulses and vague anxiety permeate every corner.
It is here that Xinhai encounters the “female reactionary dog,” the daughter of a member of the bourgeoisie, with whom he had secretly fallen in love while previously working for her father. The bourgeois daughter uses Xinhai’s sexual attraction to her to gain his help. Made to serve the political purpose of representing the decadent bourgeois class, she is portrayed by Shi Zhecun as a superficial, hypocritical, and erotic femme fatale, the trope of the decadent city before it was conquered by revolutionaries and workers. As the girl makes gestures of sexual invitation, Xinhai is tempted and thrilled by the possibility of possessing her. The original “master-slave relationship” and class consciousness have further intensified Xinhai’s carnal desire. Although the story follows the style of proletarian literature, it by all means resembles Shi’s studies of male sexuality and eroticism in his later fiction. Obviously indebted to Freud, Shi has created a psychic reality in which Xinhai indulges in a peculiar erotic fantasy. Suddenly realizing he has a chance to be this bourgeois girl’s lover, he feels extremely thankful to the revolution: “How happy I am today. You see, I have never seen such a seductive gesture from her. Without the revolution, I wouldn’t have been fated to encounter this romance.”[12] Xinhai’s repressed sexuality takes on the class dimension; his erotic fantasy is also an act of class revenge. Skillfully combining repressed sexuality with oppressed class status, Shi shows more interest in exploring the world of male psychology than in conveying political ideology.
Since the character of the daughter is a visible agent of the upper class, her seductiveness suggests that the power of decadence can match the power of revolution and sex can be more potent than military force. Xinhai’s masculinity and his meager knowledge of class struggle are quickly overcome by her allure and his own sexual hallucinations. Shi Zhecun juxtaposes the practical imperative to oppose the upper class and a complicated sex relation invoked to justify that opposition. The boundary between the bourgeoisie and the workers is temporarily eliminated by Xinhai’s sexual fantasies; he cannot find any reason to fight against the upper class. Actually, his beloved’s political status as one of the oppressors arouses and increases Xinhai’s desire for her. Only at the end of the novel, after Xinhai finds out the woman has deceived him, is the psychosexual war between the bourgeoisie and the oppressed transformed into a real political war. At the moment of his humiliation, Xinhai’s class identity is rekindled. In a sense, by inserting a psychosexual scene in the mapping of class struggle, Shi Zhecun represents the simultaneous breakdown of and desire for both sexuality and politics.
 The confusion of the protagonist Xinhai’s sexual and political desires translates into images of spatial closure and confinement in the story. The separation of the revolutionary city from the other, modern city indicates how military barriers define both inside and outside, the bourgeoisie and the workers, decadence and revolution, and also suggests the difficulty of keeping those categories clearly defined. In the author’s representation of psychosexual politics, the sexual and political voices meet and mix as the two opposing agents, Xinhai and the upper-class woman, get entangled in their ridiculous “love” affair. Such representation, combined with an experimental narrative technique and a parodic mode of writing, has put the formula of “revolution plus love” in a seemingly simple but actually very complicated and awkward situation.

Liu Na’ou and Hybrid Identities

Another famous writer of the Neo-Sensationalist school, Liu Na’ou, started the literary magazine Trackless Train in 1928,[13] and in 1929 opened the Shuimo (Froth) bookstore, which published a lot of progressive literary books, including The Collection of Marxist Artistic Theories (Makesi zhuyi wenyi luncong) and his own translation of the Soviet theoretician Vladimir M. Friche’s book, The Sociology of Arts (Yishu shehui xue). Liu and Mu Shiying, another prominent writer of the Neo-Sensationalist school, are well known “because for both the city was the only world of their existence and the key source of their creative imagination.”[14]  Liu’s life ended tragically: in 1939, he was assassinated while serving as an editor of a newspaper under the collaborationist regime of Wang Jingwei, possibly by the Green gang or secret agents of the GMD.[15] Mu was also assassinated in 1940 by secret agents of the GMD as he took over the editorship of a newspaper under the puppet regime.[16]
As Shi Zhecun recalls, Liu Na’ou introduced various new literary trends from Japan to China, contributing greatly to the translation and transformation of Western modernity into China from 1928 to 1931:
Liu Na’ou introduced a lot of newly published literary books, including some products of the new trend in Japanese art circles, such as Yokomitsu Riichi, Kawabata Yasunari, and Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s fiction; as for literary history and literary theory, he included some artistic books and reports on futurism, expressionism, surrealism, and historical materialism. In Japanese art circles, it seemed that all of these multicolored new artistic trends, as long as they were antitraditional, all belonged to “new” literature. Liu Na’ou had the greatest esteem for Friche’s The Sociology of Arts, but his favorite was the work depicting the erotic life of the metropolis. For him, there were no contradictions: in Japanese art circles, these products were all “new” and “avant-garde.” Their similarity lay in the newness of the creative methods and critical standards; their difference was in the direction of thought and social significance. Those opinions of Liu Na’ou had a great impact on us; therefore, our knowledge of art became very eclectic. [17]
From Shi Zhecun’s description of Liu Na’ou’s translations, we can see that modernities and modernism consisted of hybrid knowledge and as they are transmitted from one culture to the other, the conditions that produced them in the original culture do not necessarily get passed along into China.  Moreover, this translated knowledge does not automatically develop a site for resistance to Eurocentrism.[18] Rather, because of their “newness,” these different neologisms and forms of knowledge were mixed together, forging a connection between modernity and the complex process of domination, resistance, and appropriation in the cultural context of “Shanghai cosmopolitanism.”[19] Since Liu’s and his fellow modernists’ sense of “Chinese identity was never in question in spite of the Western colonial presence in Shanghai,” as Leo Ou-fan Lee argues, they “were able to embrace Western modernity openly, without fear of colonization.”[20]  Using Liu Na’ou’s representations of the westernized “modern girl” as an example to discuss the semicolonial formulations of gender and race in Shanghai, Shih Shu-mei also points out “the search for ‘civilization’ in the Western mode need not be hampered by the existence of Western imperialism in China.”[21] In other words, Liu Na’ou’s translation of mixed Western knowledge cannot be simply categorized according to Western theories of colonialism and postcolonialism. Rather, his way of “Sinicizing” and appropriating Western knowledge reveals complicated facets of Chinese modernity, beyond the binaries of the colonizer and the colonized, nationalism and imperialism.
Moreover, far from being interested in novelty as such or in novelty in general, Liu Na’ou and writers of the Neo-Sensationalist school actually tried to discover or invent a new form to convey the possibilities of crisis: the cultural crisis of Chinese tradition, the crisis of the nation, the crisis of modern man, or any other “created” crisis. In this new form, these writers juxtaposed the apparently contradictory notions of avant-gardism and decadence, revolution and eroticism. From this point of view, Liu Na’ou’s use of “revolution plus love” can be defined as his personal manner of translating Western modernity into China. Liu could always find a certain parallelism between urban eroticism and revolutionary desire; for instance, he translated a collection of Japanese modernist writings, Erotic Culture (Seqing wenhua), which included seven Japanese shinkankaku ha works and proletarian stories. He said those Japanese writers “were all depicting the unhealthy life of the corrupted period of modern Japanese bourgeois society, but they also revealed implications for tomorrow’s society and the new path of the future.”[22] But under this title, the meaning of revolution was shaped by its erotic sensation.
Since he was a Taiwanese who grew up in Japan, Liu Na’ou’s identity as “Chinese” was more problematic than that of native Chinese, caught up in the bitter conflict between the foreign and the traditional, the new and the old. The “un-Chinese” quality of his writing as well as his national identity became targets for leftist critics in the 1930s, but these characteristics “had been part of the aesthetic agenda of Shanghai modernist fiction from its inception.”[23]  His attitude toward the national crisis, or any other cultural crisis, was one of mockery of Chinese intellectuals’ obsession with China. Transgressing national and cultural boundaries, his depiction of the Chinese is ripe for  foreign flavor, without the agony of identity crisis but generating the fantasy of difference.
In his interesting collection of short stories entitled Landscapes of the City (Dushi fengjing xian), the story “Flow” (Liu) shows his intention to pursue the fashion of “revolution plus love.” Hidden in the crowd of a modern city, the story’s Chinese characters, whose revolutionary and erotic consciousness and unconsciousness mingle with each other and make a memorable appearance in an exotic land, are ambivalent about their political identities. “The experience of Shanghai modernity, as it stands at the center of Liu Na’ou and Mu Shiying’s short stories,” Yomi Braester suggests, “depends upon staging ‘the modern’ as a spectacle in which the characters view the city and the suburb and at the same time become part of that view.”[24] Regarding the theme of “revolution plus love” as also part of this “spectacle,” Liu Na’ou lavishes criticism on the depravity of capitalist culture but at the same time is unable to resist its seduction.
Liu Na’ou’s narrative strategy for grasping the fluidity of light, color, and sensation merits special attention here, because it creates a dazzling background behind which the lives of modern men and women are intensified and dramatized. The narrative language in “Flow” is a hybrid that crosses linguistic boundaries between Europeans and indigenous Chinese. This narrative language perfectly expresses the exotic and erotic city scenes, which titillate readers, making them feel lost in the array of modern cars and radiant neon signs, film images, and sensual fantasies. The story begins at a cinema where foreign technologies project and produce exotic and shocking experiences and visual pleasure. When Liu Na’ou depicts the atmosphere inside the cinema, he equates its real space with the illusory fluidity of fantasies derived from the silver screen:
Suddenly, the pink light coming from nowhere illuminates the whole scene of the cinema. Some beautifully dressed women, who are sitting on the left, quickly pull thin scarves with flowery decorations over their faces. People seem to walk in the new wedding tent, the pink feeling starts to surround them layer upon layer. After a while, as soon as the machine sounds, the scene turns dark, and the white screen on the opposite side sparkles with silver light. [25]
Switching dramatically from pink light to a pink feeling, from the gaze of real people to the gaze of the silver screen, and from the theater to the fanciful visual pleasure, Liu Na’ou smoothly leads the reader into this intoxicating world. Liu was fond of film and was something of a film critic in the 1930s. He promoted “soft film” (ruanxing dianying)—film for entertainment—for which he was attacked by leftist film critics.[26] In “Flow,” by emphasizing film’s “soft” material as well as its entertainment function, Liu intends to criticize the extravagant and decadent bourgeois lifestyle; at the same time, however, his story seems intoxicated by these “soft” and floating images. The protagonist, Jingqiu, who works for a textile factory owner and has an opportunity to become the son-in-law of his boss, goes to movies—the dream world—with his boss’s son, Tangwen. Although he accepts progressive idea to oppose the bourgeoisie, Jingqiu is immediately enchanted by the realistic yet imaginary atmosphere of the cinema, a product of bourgeois class. As Jingqiu stares at the fictional but real Western world in the film, his desires and fantasies mingle with the artificial and exotic visual objects. Liu Na’ou describes Jingqiu’s first time watching a foreign film as an almost bodily experience that overpowers his rational mind. His description of Jingqiu’s experience with foreign culture as one of fascination overwhelms any potential criticism Liu raises about the corrupt bourgeois lifestyle. Thus the real and the imaginary, the foreign and the native, as well as the upper-class and the proletarian consciousness contend with one another in Jingqiu’s experience.
In the middle of the film, Tangwen and Jingqiu discover that Qingyun, the third concubine of Tangwen’s father, is sitting in the same theater with another gentleman, with whom she is obviously having an affair. In order to cover up her illicit behavior, she recklessly comes over and seductively lures Tangwen away to a tryst. After the two of them have left Jingqiu alone on the street, he suddenly feels lonely and disillusioned, and at this moment his class consciousness is awakened:
Jingqiu still cannot calm his stimulated nerves, thinking silently in his heart. Hum! Is this what Tangwen had called the “diner de luxe” of eyes? Spending the  money workers can’t get even if they sweat for half a year only brings over one hour of pink excitement. No wonder the lower-class people often argue about unfairness. I also understand a little bit of the feeling of the rich, but how long can they still indulge in their comfortable life and silk culture? With today’s audiences, although they are enveloped in soft wool fabric and expensive fur, who knows if inside their bodies they aren’t already corrupted? Most people among them are either hysterical women or impotent old men. How much strength do they have to participate in the future society? [27]
Although bearing the imprint of class ideology, Jingqiu’s critique of capitalist exploitation and corruption is ironically triggered by his own repressed sexuality. Looking at the bourgeois class as represented by either “hysterical women or impotent old men,” he positions himself as a male chauvinist and social Darwinian. Stimulated by foreign bourgeois pleasures, Jingqiu reflects on society, the future, the rich, and the poor instead of looking inward at himself. His class consciousness is constructed through negotiations between pleasure and anxiety, gain and loss, identification and projection. Dovetailing leftist ideology with cultural crisis, social decay, and his own depraved and erotic fantasy life, Jingqiu attempts to maintain his “class identity” against destabilizing erotic desire. Yet here the class conflict is only an extension of the author’s imitation of the novelty or the avant-garde aesthetic gesture of Western modernity. The crisis also looks fake, deliberately created to link all existing symptoms of decadence and exhaustion to some vague class concept. Therefore, Jingqiu’s political rhetoric is a means of expressing self-consciousness, class consciousness, and racial consciousness, but it also serves to make these forms of consciousness ironic and self-destructive.
Living in his boss’s home, Jingqiu is involved in a sexual game with three women: the thirteen-year-old daughter of his boss; the daughter’s private tutor, Xiaoying, who is also a revolutionary; and the concubine Qingyun. Wooing Xiaoying substantiates Jingqiu’s class awareness. What attracts Jingqiu is her masculinized body—with its healthy dark skin, strong and elastic arms and legs, and short hair—and her masculine revolutionary ideas. Here masculinized body differentiates her from the femininity of the two other women in the decadent bourgeois family. The class boundary between the oppressor and the oppressed, or the employer and the employee has been seemingly secured, but class and gender serve only coincidentally as conduits for Jingqiu’s neurotic anxiety and sexual desire. Interestingly, Xiaoying declines Jingqiu’s marriage proposal; instead, she chooses to have only a sexual relationship with him. A revolutionary who enjoys reading Bukharin’s Theory of Historical Materialism, Xiaoying is also a typical modern “fox spirit,” who knows how to seduce men: she waits for Jingqiu in his bedroom, taking off her clothes and slipping into bed, titillating him in her cunning way. At this point, the “revolution plus love” formula is overtly transformed into the erotic game between man and woman. In addition, Jinqiu’s flirtation with Qingyun and liaison with his boss’s daughter turn a potentially progressive theme into a scandalous sexual game and orchestrate class differences in such a way that only unbridled desire is conspicuously highlighted. At the end of the story, Jingqiu quits his job and joins the workers’ strike. After seeing enough actual examples of upper-class perversity, he decides to fight the bourgeoisie instead of continuing as a middleman between the oppressor and the oppressed. But his revolutionary energy is soon redirected to flirtation: he joins the strike because Xiaoying is one of the organizers and because her flirtatiousness irritates him.
Generally speaking, Liu Na’ou’s rewriting of “revolution plus love” can easily overwhelm the reader with sensual excess, exotic language, and dazzling imagination. The title “Fluid” points to the seductive bodies of modern “fox spirits,” the revolutionary Xiaoying, and the capitalist’s concubine Qingyun. No matter which class they identify with, they both represent modern femmes fatales, whose floating and soft bodies are reminders of the softness of film, the product of the “immoral bourgeoisie.” Enchanted as he is by such softness, Jingqiu’s class consciousness inevitably loses its solid ground.
Although Liu Na’ou claims that his intention was to expose the decay of the bourgeois class and the crisis of a corrupted society, his obsession with erotic life and exotic urban scenes reveals a concept of class that is far removed from Marxist theory. As his inquiry into class differences broadens, so too do the initially circumscribed sexual anxiety and erotic fantasies. Paralleling revolution with eroticism, Liu Na’ou’s imitation of “revolution plus love” places this potentially progressive theme within the exotic world of sexual intoxication, which is utterly divorced from the social reality of the proletarian masses. Comparing to Jiang Guangci and other leftists’ intention of criticizing capitalist modernity, Liu Na’ou’s engagement with this theme, which is largely in tune with the sensations of urban existence, shows his ambiguous attitude of struggling against the forces of capitalism.

Mu Shiying, the Inner World, and the Criticism of Modernity

Liu Na’ou’s sense of crisis seems constructed only to provide opportunity for indulgence in erotic performance and to color his pastiche of exotic urban scenes. Mu Shiying’s consciousness of crisis is rather different: it involves a rhetoric of parody that draws a line between Western modernity and his reflections on it. In other words, Mu Shiying’s writings represent a modern artist’s alienation from society and are an aesthetic reflection of the modernity of his age. According to critics Su Xuelin and Zhang Jingyuan, Mu Shiying is the most successful writer of the Neo-Sensationalist school.[28]
In the early part of his writing career, Mu wrote fiction dealing with the opposition between the upper class and the oppressed from the point of view of the lumpen-proletariat,[29] focusing on the profound sense of loss, alienation, and crisis of modern Chinese men and women in semicolonial Shanghai. As Shi Zhecun describes, when Mu Shiying’s early fiction was published, everybody thought it was the epitome of leftist writing. But later on, people questioned whether Mu’s outlook was fundamentally Marxist, since he lacked proletarian life experiences. Shi Zhecun concludes that Mu Shiying could write fiction about Shanghai workers by relying on his uncanny ability to imitate content and form.[30] Later on, he turned from proletarian realism to urban modernism, taking the splendid and decadent city life as his central theme.
Like Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying worked for some magazines controlled by Wang Jingwei’s collaborationist government during the Japanese occupation; he too was assassinated by secret agents of the GMD. Ironically, writers like these who were more interested in the new technique of representation than in political ideology, all met with tragedy in the political sphere. An orthodox Marxist might easily relate these two writers’ political failures to their Western style of writing and its imitation of foreign decadence. However, their downfall resulted from national and cultural circumstances; as Shi Zhecun has said, “there was no room for development in literary themes, forms, and techniques.”[31] The relationship between Mu Shiying’s modernist writings, his political life, and the theme of “revolution plus love” evinces the entangling issues of politics and writing.
Mu Shiying’s “Pierrot” presents two worlds simultaneously: exotic and colonial Shanghai, where modern capitalist civilization, like a charming woman, allures and entices a nation; and a personal, subjective, and imaginative land in which an isolated individual feels a deep sense of crisis and alienation from the first world. The protagonist, Pan Heling, a writer, experiences the mental agony of the conflict between these two worlds. Driving and binding Mu Shiying’s modernist narrative are a series of interrelated sociopolitical, psychosexual, and aesthetic issues: the lifestyle and economics of the modern city; perceptions of friendship, love, and sex; the collusion of revolution and eroticism; the contrast between city and countryside; questions of narrative authority; and crises of representation. Two narrative voices, one from the objective world and the other from Pan’s subjective world, interweave throughout the story, exposing a deep spirit of ressentiment against life. The dialogue between the narrative voices documents the splendor and decadence of city life, while rendering a sense of alienation through the writer’s self-mockery. Although he shares Liu Na’ou’s obsession with urban decadence, Mu adds a voice critical of modern alienation. The lonely and subjective world becomes his counteractive force against modernity and progress.
Mu Shiying deliberately uses parentheses to indicate the inner voice of the protagonist Pan Heling, so the reader visually sees the dialogue between the outer and inner worlds, showing how this man gradually plunges into the despair of modern existence. Since the themes of anxiety, dread, and modern crisis are precisely the ones Mu attempts to capture in this story, “revolution plus love”—the real or imagined romantic home for most leftists—is inevitably swallowed by this sense of alienation. At the beginning of the story, after introducing Pan Heling’s exotic love, a Japanese girl named Liuli zi, the narrator describes a prosperous urban street scene:
Street. There are numerous magic eyes of the city on the street: the erotic eye of a dancing ball, a greedy fly’s eye on a department store, the heavenly happy drunk eye of Beer Garden, the cheating vulgar eye of a beauty parlor, the intimate lascivious eye of a brothel, the hypocritical judging eye of a church, the cunning triangular eye of a cinema, the vague sleeping eye of a hotel. . . . A pink eye, a blue eye, a green eye, in the light of all these eyes a picture of the social customs of the city is opened. . . . The travelers who enjoy and look at this secret picture of customs have a grinning cheeky smile for not reason. Smiling and grimacing, Mr. Pan Heling appears on this street. It seems he is influenced by this care-free picture of social customs. Mr. Pan Heling walks with vigorous strides, wearing his hat askew, smiling and grimacing for no reason, just like other travelers.[32]
Roving like a movie camera, the narrative produces a sensational visual effect. Those “numerous magic eyes” conjure up the visual image of the city, aggressively gazing at the crowd. As Pan Heling seeks refuge, he gazes back at the city and the crowd with “a smile and a grimace” like a typical flâneur, who maintains his personality and personal space while he walks among the people on the street. Walter Benjamin describes the flâneur as someone “who demanded elbow room and was unwilling to forgo the life of a gentleman of leisure” and who “is as much out of place in an atmosphere of complete leisure as in the feverish turmoil of the city.”[33] Using Benjamin’s conception, Yomi Braester has suggested that “the impersonal gaze is one of the flâneur’s ways to immunize himself to the shock of the crowd.” With it, he “restructures the space around him,” “ostensibly indulging in consumption and gambling” as an escape from “the stress caused by the modern urban redefinitions of space and time.”[34] Like the flâneur’s impersonal gaze, Pan Heling’s “smile and grimace” contain a self-mocking undertone, distancing himself from the crowd. When discussing his love affair with his old friend, he complains about the friend’s misunderstanding and concludes that “everyone in this world lives in a lonely and boring way.” Even if he is enchanted by the magic eyes of the street, he cannot escape the sense of alienation caused by this commercial and semi-colonial city. He walks and lives like a flâneur, but he is nevertheless unable to rid himself of an inner sense of contradict, , ion.
“A smile and a grimace” are a mask for Pan Heling’s lonely heart. Disguising his sadness with a happy face, Pan Heling is more like a Pierrot—a typical image of Mu’s literary imagination—than the flâneur. Emphasizing Mu Shiying’s pierrot character as a reflection of the writer himself, Leo Ou-fan Lee explains the difference:
That Mu has consciously chosen the pierrot as the central figure in his urban landscape and as the self-image of a writer, instead of the more aristocratic dandy and the more aesthetic flâneur, may be connected with the pierrot figure’s affinity to the Picaro, a roguish figure and tramp made popular by Charlie Chaplin. Both character types are, by definition, antiheroes, and can be regarded as lower-class counterparts to the flâneur and the dandy. [35]
Mu first portrays Pan Heling as a flâneur, then immediately criticizes and mocks that image from the perspective of the pierrot, who questions and criticizes the leisurely city life. Like other hommes de lettres who enjoy gathering and discussing a wide range of topics, Pan Heling holds a salon at his home. Suffused with an air of exotic imaginings and sexual fantasies, Pan’s salon is full of conversations about city culture, which go randomly from foreign movie stars to modernism, from Freudian to Russian revolutions, from narrative technique to eroticism. Interestingly, the narrator describes such cultural activity in a tone of parody. Pan makes every topic, high or low, into an erotic joke through Freudian interpretation in order to ridicule supposedly meaningful and noble subjects such as art, literature, and culture.
Sitting in his own salon, Pan Heling discovers his complete lack of identification with this erotic cultural phenomenon, especially when his guests give inaccurate interpretations of his novel. Finding his original meaning has been distorted, Pan Heling feels despair: if words cannot convey basic meaning, how can people understand each other? His inner voice tells us, “human beings are spiritually separated, they are living a lonely existence.” Once he is aware of the inescapable distance between words and meanings, his illusions of freedom, social relationships, and every other fundamental building block of modern life vanish. At this point, Mu Shiying’s modern narrative technique conveys a crisis of communication among author, reader, and critic, a crisis of words and meanings, and a crisis of arts and culture that make Pan Heling’s leisurely life as an homme de lettres incomplete and meaningless.
As he becomes disillusioned about such things as urban life, friendship, culture, and literature, his inner voice elevates love as a pure pillar in his spiritual ruins. But after he goes to Tokyo to pursue his love and discovers Liuli zi’s affair with a Filipino, Pan soon too becomes disillusioned with love and romance. He blames Liuli zi for forfeiting her chastity to a Filipino—“a slave without a country,” whom even Pan Heling, as a Chinese, despises. Originally, Pan’s relationship with Liuli zi was established in conjunction with Shanghai cosmopolitanism, which cannot be simply defined by either imperialism or nationalism.  In other words, the power relationship between Japanese imperialism and Chinese nationalism did not play an important role in Pan Heling’s pursuit of exoticism. Now, defeat in love evokes a complex racial identity, as his racial derogation of the Filipino reminds him of his inferior position before his Japanese lover, who represents imperialism and colonialism. As a typical Shanghai occidentalist who admires foreign power, Pan Heling imagines the exotic as a perfect other; this illusion has been pulverized. As a result, a particular discursive formation emerges, blending gender with race, eroticism with international interests, and love with power. Pan Heling’s disillusionment with urban exoticism and eroticism represented by Liuli zi’s body can also be read as a self-mockery of the writer who is intoxicated by foreign culture in Shanghai.
After he is disillusioned with the modern city culture—the erotic female body, urban exoticism, and the bourgeois lifestyle—Pan rediscovers the dream of his mother, his old family home, and the pure countryside. He buries his exotic fantasy and returns to his hometown. The contrast between the city and the countryside has deep allegorical meanings in modern Chinese literature: the city portrayed by writers such as Shen Congwen usually signifies decay, contamination, and alienation, while the countryside symbolizes the lyricism, purity, and the primitiveness, and health. In this pastoral environment, Pan suddenly longs for revolution. The connection between the idyllic countryside and revolution seems too abrupt, but it is the result of Pan Heling’s utopian thinking, springing from a radical impatience with the imperfection of the world as it is. Home, countryside, and revolution become his last spiritual resort. But Pan Heling’s utopian dream is easily and quickly shattered. After discovering that his parents regard him as little more than a source of money, he feels disillusioned about nature, countryside, and family. Now the only thing that attracts him is revolution, destruction, and rebellion.
As Pan Heling actively participates in revolution, he sees the masses, his heroic acts, and rebellion as poetry. He loves the masses and wants to be loved by them. But after he comes out of jail and becomes a cripple, the Organization and his comrades slander him as a traitor and the masses do not even know of his existence. At the end of the story, Pan has lost all his beliefs and can only smile like an idiot. As the narrator says, “Everything is deceit! Friendship, love, arts, civilization . . . everything, rough and exquisite, inferior and abstruse, is deceit. Everyone deceives himself and deceives others.”[36] The sense of crisis that Mu Shiying describes in this story is existential, going well beyond the political crisis of leftist ideology. However, for the critic Yan Jiayan, this sense of crisis, mediated by thoughts of nihilism, exposes the dark side of Mu Shiying’s psychology and reveals the negative influence of the Neo-Sensationalist school, which embraces Western modernism uncritically.[37] Yan sees the Neo-Sensationalists as passive recipients and imitators of Western modernization and capitalist culture. Different from Yan, Leo Ou-fan Lee affirms Mu as an agent and subject of Chinese modernity, whose relationship with the Western colonial culture in Shanghai is one of subtle complexity. The Pierrot-like figures that Mu creates “appear more self-paradistic than self-pitying,”  and their alienation in the urban city is, therefore, “more psychological than social.”[38]
Indeed, the self-mocking tone of the Pierrot character aims not only to ridicule the group of Shanghai leftists who embrace romantic revolutionary literature, but also to mock the writer’s own existence as a particularly self-conscious modern man. Unlike Liu Na’ou, who portrays revolution as just another scene of “urban exoticism,” Mu Shiying uses it to reflect modernity and Shanghai urban culture with which he is enchanted. His aesthetic seems caught in a major contradiction. On the one hand, by setting out to explore modernity as a spiritual adventure, he shows a genuine fascination with it; on the other hand, through a personal, individual, and subjective voice, he deplores the encroachment of materialism and hypocrisy and expresses his deep concern as a man inevitably fragmented by modernity. His rewriting of “revolution plus love” belongs to his project of reflecting progressive modernity; according to him, neither revolution nor love can rescue one from modern crisis, or from an alienating society. In this way, Mu Shiying’s modernist writings not only add a sense of irony to leftist prescriptions of “revolution plus love,” but also have the explicit dimension of self-reflexivity in representing desire and urban modernity.

Zhang Ziping and Consumer Culture

The case of Zhang Ziping is very complicated. Written while he was a member of the Creation Society, his early novels deal with some serious social problems, such as the freedom to fall in love and marry without consulting parents and the emancipation of the individual. With his 1925 novel The Flying Catkin (Feixu), however, Zhang changed into a popular writer specializing in triangular or quadrangular love stories. From then on, he catered to mass culture by focusing on eros, the psychology of sexuality, carnal desire, and love. In 1928, when leftist writers advocated “revolutionary literature,” Zhang Ziping responded immediately and claimed that he was willing to change direction again.[39] Some critics find connections between Zhang’s move toward revolutionary literature and his economic concerns: as the head of Yuequn (Entertaining the mass) bookstore in Shanghai, he had to attract more readers at a time when revolution was in fashion.[40] By then, he had translated some Japanese proletarian literary theory and fiction and started to tackle the theme of “revolution plus love.” But his “revolutionary” writing lasted only a short period. At the end of 1928, he resumed his old popular style and returned to themes of love and eroticism. Lu Xun once summarized the trajectory of Zhang Ziping’s fiction as a big love triangle.[41] Hostile toward Lu Xun, Mao Dun, and other leftist writers, Zhang aimed in his late fiction to denigrate both the older May Fourth generation of writers and the younger generation of revolutionary writers.
Zhang Ziping’s two novels, Long Journey (Changtu) and Pomegranate Flower (Shiliu hua), are the products of his pursuit of the theme of “revolution plus love.” With these two novels, Zhang closely associates this popular formula with commodification and urban mass culture. Unlike the writings of Shi Zhecu, Liu Na’ou, and Mu Shiying, which pursue the same theme though with experimental literary techniques, Zhang Ziping’s commitment to mass culture tied him to his previous style and precluded strategic innovation and novelty. He always returned to familiar generic stereotypes and imitations for mass consumption.
Written in 1928, Zhang Ziping’s Long Journey attempts to follow the pattern of proletarian novels. The first half of the novel surprisingly contains a serious critique of society. The female protagonist, Biyun, who comes from the countryside, suffers economic pressures and human indifference in a totally strange city. In the second half of the novel, Biyun finally finds a job as a secretary in the military department of the revolutionary army. She completes her transformation from a country girl into an urban erotic woman, but this painful process reveals the dark side of the revolutionary effort, where some revolutionaries degenerate into “new bureaucrats and warlords,” “depositing millions of dollars into the bank of imperialism.”[42] At the same time, Biyun cannot help but also degenerate in the evil city where the economy unscrupulously manipulates her body.
Although Long Journey is regarded as one of Zhang Ziping’s most serious novels, beneath the surface of the social and political criticism is his favorite narrative pattern—the love triangle. The female protagonist, like most heroines in Zhang’s fiction, is shaped and corrupted by the consumer culture of Shanghai. After recognizing the power of money, Biyun becomes more and more avaricious and never feels ashamed of sleeping around. Being chased by two or three men at the same time, she chooses money and sexual desire over traditionally defined love:
Only now, after two or three years’ hard work, she finally realizes her blind obedience. Before, when people talked about love, she believed in a real love; when people talked about saving the country, she believed it could be saved; when people said that after the success of the revolution everyone would have food, she also had deep trust in them. Actually, where does love exist? Nothing is real but eros and money. People are compelled by these desires, exhausted from running around; how can they have a heart for society, for the masses, and for love? [43]
Of course, surviving in the city is Biyun’s primary concern; everything else looks empty and deceptive. In Zhang Ziping’s fiction, money usually plays an extremely important role: he concretizes the urban existence by means of detailed records of earning and spending, opting for the direct narration of a city’s material life. Even when dealing with the theme of “revolution plus love,” Zhang still pays more attention to the economy than to leftist ideology. For him, the power of money and desire can easily surpass that of revolution and pure love. His meticulous account of ordinary life—everyday expenses, snobbish human relationships, and the crowded living space in Shanghai—is based on the conviction that economics has largely overcome the utopian impulse of revolution. In leftist writing, both revolution and love glitter like stars, instructing normal people to transcend the ugly and dirty world. Zhang Ziping, by contrast, maintains a suspicious attitude toward the illusive radiance of both revolution and love, since he himself is deeply rooted in the world of the urban petite bourgeoisie and their ordinary bustling reality. Revolutionary heroic spirit is absent in Long Journey, due to his consumption-oriented writing. By putting a price tag on Biyun’s existence and her relationships with other “degenerate” revolutionary lovers, Zhang Ziping unravels the urban landscape controlled by the market economy at the cost of impoverishing leftist ideology. Therefore, although he adds an ideological ending to the story—in which the masses come to struggle against Imperialists in defense of their own country—the whole structure of the story remains influenced by the consumer culture in which the so-called progressive youths care nothing but money.
 In the preface to his novel Pomegranate Flower, Zhang Ziping writes: “this draft was planned in the spring of 1927. I feel a bit ashamed of the contradiction here, since on the one hand I advocated proletarian arts, but on the other hand I was writing such boring fiction.” However, the contradictions between serious proletarian arts and vulgar entertainment did not stop Zhang from combining them. This bizarre synthesis in Pomegranate Flower redirected the author’s “progressive” practice back to the familiar triangular love stories and reinterpreted “revolution plus love” within the context of urban consumer culture.
When some leftist writers distinguished between the popularization of arts for the mass (dazhong wenyi) and for the general population (tongsu wenyi), they defined the former as proletarian literature and the latter as entertainment for the leisured middle class, which has money and time.[44] Aiming at the general urban audience, Zhang Ziping focuses more on entertainment, the production and reproduction of which are based on commercial values rather than on political ideology. In Pomegranate Flower, what is missing in his most persistent structure—the love triangle—is the notion of class, the most important component of proletarian arts. This novel, therefore, provides a striking illustration of displacement: class antagonisms between rich and poor have been transformed into animosity between rivals in love. In a sense, Zhang replaces the meaning of “the mass” in proletarian literature with “the mass” of commercial culture: the readers of urban popular literature with diversified class backgrounds.
The plot of Pomegranate Flower unfolds through a triangular love story: following her lover to join the revolution, Tang Xueqiao at the same time becomes the mistress of Commander Gu, who is a degenerate revolutionary, new bureaucrat, and warlord; at the end of the story, Tang Xueqiao assassinates Commander Gu to save her relationship with her upright revolutionary lover. The heroine resembles the stereotype of the revolutionary/decadent woman represented by Jiang Guangci and Mao Dun, but she never identifies sincerely with revolutionary ideology as they do. Rather, she appears rather fake, copying the images of New Women in a twisted way; with her hedonistic idea of what is modern and progressive, she is a parody of the meaning of revolution and its romantic spirit.
Zhang Ziping’s relationship to mass culture was closely linked with his view of naturalism, which in his mind occupied a much higher position than realism. His fondness for naturalism earned his writing a reputation for “low taste.”[45] Zhang regarded psychological and physiological descriptions as essential and determinative elements of naturalist fiction. He argued that “human beings were a kind of biological organism, so their thoughts and behavior were mostly controlled by physiology. Therefore any observation of human beings must start from the description of physiology.”[46] Unlike Mao Dun who promotes naturalism as a serious literary form of criticizing social reality, Zhang Ziping’s interpretation of naturalism paves the convenient way for himself to concentrate on the descriptions of wanton depravity, the commodity fetish of women’s bodies, and the materialization of urban life. As a result, most of his novels are trapped in “low” moral and artistic standards. Zhang’s exaltation of naturalist descriptions of sex is for the purpose of boosting the sale of his books, strengthening his alliance with the prevailing leisure-class culture in which the only unchallenged standards are utilitarian and mercantile. Therefore, his version of revolutionary literature not only appeals to the working class but also cuts across the entire strata of public taste, reflecting social disintegration instead of the unity of the subordinated class. As a result, the core of his “revolution plus love” writing is the intricate intersection between the new and the traditional, high and low tastes. His protagonists are at once modern and traditional, progressive and regressive; they reflect the mixed and complicated psychological and physiological turmoil faced by readers in an era of conflict between tradition and modernity.
While in some leftist writings, images of revolutionary/decadent women are utilized to convey revolutionary ideas, Zhang Ziping’s portrayal of Tang Xueqiao is meant to please, to satisfy the most widespread popular aesthetic taste, which includes a vague ideal of beauty held by both the leisure and lower classes. Described as a typical femme fatale, she appears as a female revolutionary who is capable of playing the game of flirtation and deceit.  At the beginning of the novel, the narrator presents some shallow discussion about women among progressive people and then places Tang Xueqiao in a triangular relationship. As the plot advances, a married professor becomes obsessed with her and then discovers in her diary the secret of her lost virginity. Of course, women’s bodies and virginity are the most vulgar commodities in the cultural marketplace, and through this popular aesthetic the signs of proletarian art are misused or counterfeited.  Tang Xueqiao finally chooses to assassinate Commander Gu, a negative example of revolution. But this dramatic event fails to save the novel from the popular aesthetic taste. The hedonistic Tang Xueqiao actually enjoys the voluptuous life Commander Gu provides; even her revolutionary lover cannot prevent her from degenerating. The “revolutionary” motivation behind the assassination is superficial; the basis of this triangular love story is still eros and material desire. Putting “revolution plus love” within the capitalist culture of consumption, desire, and commodification, Zhang Ziping responds primarily to leisure-class psychological and physiological needs, and such a response ineluctably alters the meanings of revolution that adheres to Marxism in Jiang Guangci’s serious political writing. In fact, Zhang’s “non-serious” and playful repetition of this formula can appeal to both the upper and lower classes. What is difficult for Zhang Ziping to accept is the identification of the “masses” with “the working class” in proletarian literature. Writing according to the aesthetic view of biological naturalism, Zhang Ziping is so obsessed with eros that he questions the transcendental power of revolution and love in his depiction of a romantic triangle. For him, there is nothing more substantial than psychosexuality and physiology, and the power of revolution and love is not necessarily superior to that of eros. Tang Xueqiao’s dramatic “revolutionary” action is not motivated by political ideology, but rather is arranged to entertain and divert readers with eros, sexual adventure, and other fashionable stuff.
Of course, the psychological consequences of modernity’s increasing pace and the turbulent revolutionary background helped popularize “revolution plus love,” for its content and form all represented the “new.” But, as an unmistakable sign of “modernization,” the consumer culture also gave fuel to writers’ imitating and duplicating of this popular theme. In his writing of this formula, Zhang Ziping feels no moral obligation to educate the masses. His narrative is obviously implicated in the commodification of literature, mirroring the details of daily life, the low taste of the urban audience, and the logic of the market. Revolution is but an empty shell, in which his heroines’ desires and needs are fueled by their materialist pursuits. As a result, the myth of progress appears to have been largely exhausted by the ethics of consumerism.


Ye Lingfeng and Political/ Commercial Kitsch

Ye Lingfeng also paid special attention to consumers of mass culture. As Zhang Jingyuan observes: “Ye Lingfeng often accommodates his fiction to the needs of common readers; that is, he often treats sexuality according to the conventions of popular literature.” She quotes Ye’s own words to demonstrate her observation: “I know that ordinary readers require me to produce stories like ‘Yu’ (Bathing) and ‘Lang tao sha’ (Waves wash sands), which contain strong erotic stimulation or extremely melancholy romances.”[47]  This, however, accounts for only part of Ye Lingfeng’s ambivalent attitude, for he also shows open appreciation of some of the new literary styles invented by Western modernist writers.
Ye Lingfeng was a member of the Creation Society, and his fiction not only carried on the tradition of romanticism favored by Yu Dafu and other members of the society, but also developed it by adopting Western decadent and fin-de-siècle styles. In 1926, he founded the magazine Illusive Land (Huanzhou), trying to separate himself from the leftists of the Creation Society by focusing more on “new romanticism.” Some of his writings are very similar to those of the Neo-Sensationalist school; Leo Ou-fan Lee discusses him along with other urban modernists such as Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, and Mu Shiying in his insightful study of modern Shanghai.[48]
We may see Ye Lingfeng as a writer who straddles the fence between the elite and the popular (as we have seen, though, the boundary between the two in Shanghai urban culture was never that clear). Both Ye Lingfeng’s illustrations, which imitate the style of Beardsley, and his stories aim to both promote a high literary style and cater to popular “taste” at the same time. In order to accommodate the urban audience which expects “those modern ‘talent-meets-beauty’ romances with ‘extremely strong sexual titillation or extremely sentimental romantic plot’,”[49] he chose a mode convenient for increasing the circulation of his fiction among a broad readership. Lu Xun once mocked Ye Lingfeng as “both a gifted scholar and a hooligan,” a popular disparagement that indicates Ye’s bizarre position in the literary field.[50] Ye was talented in assimilating elements of exotic modernism, but he wrote mainly for the entertainment of urban readers. While Ye Lingfeng’s fiction contains “newness” and experimentation, he is clearly committed to kitsch,[51] which suggests repetition, banality, triteness. Moreover, his imitation of the fashionable formula of “revolution plus love” belongs to both a political kitsch and a commercial kitsch, each of which has the potential to alter the original goal of this formula—the goal of propagating proletarian literature and Marxist thought. Masquerading as political propaganda, his writing is actually a part of cultural entertainment, which in turn becomes a satire of this fashionable formula that itself is also derived from a form of kitsch.
Written in 1930, “Miracle” (Shenji) represents Ye Lingfeng’s fictional practice of revolutionary literature. The plot of this story is rather simple: a modern/revolutionary girl, Ning Na, creates a miracle for the revolution. Utilizing her pilot cousin, who admires her, Ning spreads thousands of propaganda sheets all over the Shanghai sky from her cousin’s military plane. Like other New Women in left-wing writings, Ning Na simultaneously appears as a devoted revolutionary and maintains a modern Shanghai girl’s seductive and attractive manner. However, what distinguishes her is her romantic heroism, which Ye presents in an extremely exaggerated fashion. He treats Ning Na’s heroic flight as a kind of performance art: Shanghai is a big theater, and Ning Na performs in front of her audience—the masses; releasing the colorful propaganda leaflet, she decorates the sky and then unfolds behind the plane a long resplendent flag, delighting the spectators below. The audience is ecstatic over her romantic and heroic performance, shouting “long live Ning Na” and breaking into deafening cheers.
Relating a modern revolutionary girl to a powerful modern machine—an airplane—Ye Lingfeng understands revolution as in some ways strikingly similar to the shock of modernity. In that association, he not only romanticizes but also modernizes revolution; moreover, he describes Ning Na’s revolutionary act as an artistic manifesto. The shocking effect Ye pursues in this story shows his interest in exploring completely new, previously forbidden horizons of creativity in the spirit of the avant-garde. Ye writes revolutionary literature with the Western avant-garde’s aesthetic goal—to bring back art to the praxis of life.[52] Such a spirit can explain why so many Shanghai modernist writers were fascinated by revolutionary literature. However, such Western conceptions of the avant-garde fail to grasp the complexity of modernist practice in the Chinese context. Ye Lingfeng’s various writings demonstrate that he does not belong to high modernism, mass culture, or the avant-garde. “Miracle” is at once avant-gardist and receptive to mass culture. Ning Na’s revolutionary action is mixed with an entertaining effect, and the masses are enthralled by her performance. What appears most “revolutionary” in this story is the modern machine, Ning Na’s seductiveness, and her theatrical performance, not the revolutionary ideology conveyed on the leaflets. What is important is not what is printed on the colorful propaganda sheets, but the way they dance and flutter in the sky.
In another novel, Red Angel (Hongde tianshi), which also deals with “revolution plus love,” Ye Lingfeng shows a tendency to oblige popular aesthetic tastes. Treating this formula as something new, romantic, and stimulating, he avoids setting moral standards even if he is dealing with highly political and ethical topics. As a typical quadrangular love story, Red Angel is divided into three sections: Love (lian), Change (bian), and Reunion (he). In the first section, the protagonist, Jianhe, meets his two cousins Shuqing and Wanqing when he carries out revolutionary duties in Beijing. He soon falls in love with Shuqing and marries her after the three of them move to Shanghai. To eulogize the association of revolution and love, the narrator provides an extremely romantic scene:
This day on the morning sea, facing the rising sun from the East, this red angel, they feel it is the symbol of their bright future and happiness. Standing under the illumination of this morning sun, they all swear silently that as long as the sun exists, they will stand together inside its brightness forever. “Long Live the red angel!” “Long live people who are happily standing under his brightness.” [53]
This scene echoes Ning Na’s romantic manifesto, but as the narrator moves to the second section of the novel, Change, the rising sun inexorably slides down and loses its brightness. Because she is jealous, Wanqing schemes to foment discord in her sister’s marriage. After successfully seducing her brother-in-law, she plans to trap her sister in an illicit relationship with Jianhe’s friend Mr. Wei, who opposes Jianhe’s revolutionary ideas. But after Jianhe is betrayed by Mr. Wei and put in jail, Wanqing realizes her mistake and suddenly commits suicide. Finally, in the last section of the story, Reunion, Jianhe and Shuqing forgive each other and restore their marriage.
The rising sun, the so-called “red angel” in the novel, reminds us of the positive romantic spirit carried by “revolution plus love,” but Ye Lingfeng adds a twist by equating revolution with decadence. The cover that Ye himself designed for Red Angel best illustrates his decadent imagination of a supposedly progressive topic. In this drawing, the star and the half rising sun are cut into pieces by lines and shadows, suggesting that both revolution and love are entangled with sexual titillation, adultery, and the quadrangular love relationship. Although the revolutionary hero Jianhe seems to be well equipped with class ideology, he is nothing but a typical dandy who plays a sexual game with two sisters at the same time. The younger sister, Wanqing, an admirer of Shanghai’s urban culture and a loyal reader of Zhang Jingsheng’s History of Sex (Xingshi), becomes a metaphor for the city. Erotic and deceiving, she has the power to lure both her sister and Jianhe into a sexual frenzy in which revolution seems fake and love turns into adultery. She is no longer the passive object of the erotic sex game, but the one who aggressively designs and controls it until Jianhe is jailed by his rival. Emphasizing those decadent sexual games, the story does not have clear ideological content or serious social criticism.
Within the novel, two uses of language can be distinguished: a “political” use, which imitates  leftist writers’ ideological language, and a “seductive” use, which typifies most of Ye Lingfeng’s writing. As the famous critic Zheng Boqi observed:“What Ye Lingfeng emphasizes is the process of stories, which has a seductive effect through his way of narrating.”[54] Although he copies revolutionary language, Ye Lingfeng’s seductive narrative voice always disturbs the sense of morality that this political language attempts to convey. The combination conveys an ironic attitude toward the marriage of revolution and love. All the revolution-related language and details are just decorations for sexual flirtation.
Ye Lingfeng, in equating revolution with decadence, differs from Western artists and writers in the late nineteenth century “who considered themselves decadents, consciously and aggressively cultivated a style of their own alienation, on both moral and aesthetic grounds, against the complacent humanism and hypocritical philistinism of the bourgeois majority.”[55] In this story, he does not establish an aesthetic critique of revolution in terms of literary decadence nor does he show any intention of militating against the “immortal” bourgeois lifestyle. The novel is prone to political or commercial kitsch, derived from his eagerness to keep up with fashion. In other words, it reads like popular fiction, a modern “talent-meets-beauty” romance.
There is a certain similarity between Zhang Ziping’s Pomegranate Flower and Ye Lingfeng’s Red Angel. Besides the convenient framework of a triangular or quadrangular love story they share, both novels lead “revolution plus love” into an erotic system in which power is defined in relation to sexual energy. Adultery, for example, seriously interrogates and destroys the old moral system of society. Yet adultery also casts a shadow over the brightness of the sun, which symbolizes the progressive ideology of “revolution plus love.” Zhang Ziping’s and Ye Lingfeng’s erotic universes are fantasies that responds to the requirements of popular aesthetic taste and are far removed from social reality. This quality of fantasy undermines what serious social criticism they include in their novels and alters the utopian goal that impels the writing of “revolution plus love.” Deprived of its political function, the formula is reconstructed and recontextualized as another product of urban popular literature.
The Haipai writers’ variations of “revolution plus love” that we have examined thus suggest different strategies of representation that can alter the hegemonic ideological formula. The literary scholarship on Haipai in mainland China has usually condemned its tendency toward kitsch and low taste—products of a semi-colonial culture—but seldom has it emphasized that this form of literature has been a remarkable bearer of the newly emerged modernity.[56] The conventional view of Haipai has been challenged after Yan Jiayan and Leo Ou-fan Lee, who helped reintroduce the avant-garde, modernist stance that typified Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, and Mu Shiying. However, Yan and Leo’s promotion of the modernist Neo-Sensationalist School does not mean there existed a long-standing boundary between the high modernism and popular culture represented by writers like Zhang Ziping who eagerly joined the turbulent tides of the consumer market. The difficulty of categorizing the Haipai writers in terms of the old dichotomy of high and low forces us to reconsider the historical condition within which these writers mediated between aesthetic innovation and the marketization of Shanghai culture.
As we place these five Haipai writers in the framework of “revolution plus love,” we can see these writers integrate the politically-oriented form with commercial as well as aesthetic issues. By doing so, the seemingly unchanging formula begins to shatter into a complex mix of formal strategies that subvert the political ideology embodied by the formula. It is commonly known that Jiang Guangci—“a bad writer yet a somewhat effective propagandist”—was criticized for his notorious “neglect of art” by leftist critics such as Mao Dun and Qu Qiubai.[57] As an imitation of Jiang’s writing of “revolution plus love,” the aesthetic as well as political values of those Haipai writers’ formulaic practice were much less marked. Even Shi Zhecun himself was so ashamed of this stage in his career that once he became well known, he was never willing to mention his short story “Pursuit” again.[58] However, what is more important here is not a judgment of aesthetic values, but rather the complicated cultural politics during the period of revolutionary literature, which has been whitewashed by literary historians. As a matter of fact, those marginalized writings suggest a space of simulacra during the early stage of proletarian literature not exclusively defined by the proletarian ideology, where we can chart the emergence of hybridizing experiments that embody multiple ideologies. The revolutionary meaning and the leftists’ utopian dream of the nation are often altered by these Haipai writers through their combination of politics with the commercial, of avant-garde sensibilities with popular ones, through their emphasis on personal dream, illusion, and fantasy that are closely related to urban life, especially the bourgeois kind of lifestyle. Accordingly, the performative act of these writers should not be isolated from the study of revolutionary literature or excluded from the study of Shanghai culture.


Chapter Four
[1] Due to Yan Jiayan and Leo Ou-fan Lee’s promotion, writers of the xinganxue pai have received escalating critical attention since the 1980s. Examples of the scholarship fascinated with the city of Shanghai as well as urban modernists such as Shi Zhecun, Liu Na’ou, Mu Shiying, and Ye Lingfeng can be found in the following titles: Zhang Jingyuan Psychoanalysis in China; Heinrich Fruehauf, “Urban Exoticism in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature,” in Ellen Widmer and David David-Wang ed., From May Fourth to June Fourth, 133-64; Yomi Braester, “Shanghai’s Economy of the Spectacle,” Modern Chinese Literature 9.1(Spring 1995): 36-59; Zhang Yingjin, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film; Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern; and Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern.
[2] Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, 191.
[3] See Wang Yao, A Draft History of Modern Chinese Literature (Zhongguo xinwenxue shigao), 62-66.  Also see Tang Tao, Modern Chinese Literary History (Zhongguo xiandai wenxue shi), 196-205.
[4] Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, 10.
[5] C. T. Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 55-100.
[6] Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern, 287.
[7] Shen Congwen, “Yu Dafu, Zhang Ziping and Their Influence” (Yu Dafu, Zhang Ziping jiqi yingxiang), in Shen Congwen wenji, 11: 139-145.
[8] As Leo Ou-fan Lee argues, the modernity as culture and aesthetics never launched serious criticism of the modernity as the doctrine of progress in China, as happened in the West. “The crucial point of difference, however, is that these Chinese writers did not choose (nor did they feel the necessity) to separate the two dominants of historical and aesthetic modernity in their pursuit of a modern mode of consciousness and modern form of literature.” Instead, the cultural and aesthetic modernity “was not coequal with but ultimately subordinate to the new historical consciousness.” See Lee, Shanghai Modern, 109-35.
[9] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 134.
[10] See Yang Yi, History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 665. Also see Shi Zhecun, “My Last Old Fried—Feng Xuefeng,” in Xinwenxue shiliao 2: 199-203. Seifulina Shishkov and Kasatkin, eds, The Flying Osip: Stories from New Russia.
[11] Shi Zhecun, The Footprint on the Sand (Shashang de jiaoji), 15.
[12] Shi Zhecun, Pursuit (Zhui), 35.
[13] According to Shi Zhecun, Wugui lieche (Trackless train) was banned by the government in the name of “reddening” (chihua). See Shi Zhecun, “My Last Old Friend—Feng Xuefeng,” 202.
[14] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 191.
[15] Yan Jiayan, A History of the Schools of Modern Chinese Fiction (Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo liupai shi), 132.
[16] Ibid., 139-140.
[17] Shi Zhecun, “My Last Old Friend—Feng Xuefeng,” 202.
[18] Here Lydia Liu’s term “translated modernity” can well explain Liu Na’ou’s translation of modernities into China.
[19] In terms of “Shanghai cosmopolitanism,” Leo Ou-fan Lee points out: “Instead of colonial mimicry, I see this phenomenon of Chinese writers eagerly embracing Western cultures in Shanghai’s foreign concessions as a manifestation of a Chinese cosmopolitanism, which is another facet of Chinese modernity.”  See Lee, Shanghai Modern, 313.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern, 277.
[22] See the translator’s preface to Seqing wenhua (Erotic culture).
[23] Shih,Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern, 286.
[24] Yomi Braester, “Shanghai’s Economy of the Spectacle,” 40.
[25] Liu Na’ou, “Fluid” (Liu), in Landscape of the City, 39.
[26] See Chen Bo, The Leftist Film Movement in China (Zhongguo zuoyi dianying yundong), 142–74; also see Zhang Yingjin, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film, 154–55, 307n8.
[27] Liu Na’ou, “Fluid,” 44-45.
[28] Zhang Jingyuan, Psychoanalysis in China, 128.
[29] Mu Shiying’s first collection of novels, entitled Nanbei ji (The north and the south poles) contains a consciousness of the lumpen-proletariat. It deals with the struggle between rich and poor and also depicts urban life, although the atmosphere is hardly exotic. 
[30] Shi Zhecun, The Footprint on the Sand, 23.
[31] Shi Zhecun, preface to An Evening of Spring Rain (Meiyu zhixi).
[32] Mu Shiying, “Pierrot,” in Enthusiastic Bone (Reqing zhigu), 168-69.
[33] Walter Benjamin, Illumination, 172-173.
[34] Yomi Braester, “Shanghai’s Economy of the Spectacle,” 46-47.
[35] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 231.
[36] Mu Shiying, “Pierrot,” 185.
[37] Yan Jiayan, A History of the Schools of Modern Chinese Fiction, 164.
[38] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 231.
[39] According to Zhang Ziping’s own account, only in 1927 did he start to know something about revolutionary theory and proletarian art theory, and he was willing to recreate himself by this route. See Zhang Ziping, The Self-Selected Work of Ziping (Ziping zixuan ji), 20.
[40] Zeng Huapeng and Fan Boquan, “On Zhang Ziping’s Fiction” (Lun Zhang Ziping de xiaoshuo), in Wenxue pinglun, 5 (1996): 18-30.
[41] Lu Xun, “Zhang Ziping’s Theory of Novels” (Zhang Ziping shi de xiaoshuo xue), in Lu Xun quanji, 4: 230-231.
[42] Zhang Ziping, Long Journey, in Collection of Zhang Ziping’s Fiction (Zhang Ziping xiaoshuo ji), 769.
[43] Ibid., 767.
[44] See “A Symposium of the Popularization of Arts” in Dazhong wenyi 2.3 (March 1930). It records some leftist writers’ discussions about mass arts (dazhong wenyi) and popular arts (tongsu wenyi).
[45] Shen Congwen, “Yu Dafu, Zhang Ziping and Their Influence,” 139-145.
[46] Zhang Ziping, A Brief Summary of the History of Literary Arts (Wenyi shi gaiyao), 73.
[47] Zhang Jingyuan, Psychoanalysis in China, 122.
[48] As Zhang Jingyuan points out, “Some literary critics are reluctant to include him as a major writer of the psychoanalytic school, not solely because of the obsessive focus on sexual desire in his writings, but also because of his political stand and personality—even Shi Zhecun mentioned that Ye was not popular among the literary writers at the time.” Zhang Jingyuan, Psychoanalysis in China, 105.
[49] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 262.
[50] From 1926 to 1927, a writer with the pseudonym Yaling tried to define and promote “new hooliganism.” As he claimed, only this could save people from the miserable situation in China. “New hooliganism has no slogan, no belief,” as he said, “the most important thing is to rebel against whatever you are unsatisfied with.” See Yaling, “Xin liumang zhuyi” (New hooliganism), Huanzhou Part 2 (1: 1). Lu Xun thinks Yaling is Ye Lingfeng’s pseudonym, but Yang Yi believes it is that of Pan Hannian.  See Yang Yi, History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 635–636.
[51]As Matei Calinescu states, “no matter how we classify its contexts of usage, kitsch always implies the notion of aesthetic inadequacy.” “Such inadequacy is often found in single object whose formal qualities (material, shape, size, etc.) are inappropriate in relation to their culture content or intention.”  See Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity, 236.
[52] Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 3.
[53] Ye Lingfeng, Red Angel (Hongde tianshi), 38-39.
[54] Zheng Boqi,  Recalling the Creation Society (Yi Chuangzaoshe ji qita), 56.
[55] Lee, Shanghai Modern, 232–234. Lee points out that since most Chinese intellectuals couldn’t embrace decadence as a counterdiscourse of progress, literary decadence usually has a negative meaning in China.
[56] Wu Fuhui, “The Disease of the Century: The Pursuit and Wonder of Modern Sexuality” (Shiji zhibing: Xiandai xing’ai de miwang yu zhuisuo), in Chen Pingyuan and Chen Guoqiu, eds, Literary History (Wenxueshi), 1: 157-173.
[57] T. A. Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 55-100.
[58] Yan Jiayan, A History of the Schools of Modern Chinese Fiction, 134.