Nostalgia: The Cultural Configuration of the "Past"
One of the most obvious characteristics of post-Mao literary and cultural discourse is its insistent reconceptualizing of the past. Images of yellow earth, yellow river, the village and the country people conjure up not only a cultural consciousness and a national spirit China needs at a particular time and place but also a timeless collective imagined memory. It is this collective memory of the past or rural imaginations that provide 1980s root-searching writers with an alternative to what was officially sanctioned by the nation-state. When the spatial embodiment of China's identity shifted from countryside to city, from desolate yellow earth to congested alleys, the urban naturally provides an imagined space for the past or present/past. The emergence of urban nostalgia answers a cultural need in 1990s China. History in Wang Anyi and some other writers' recent writing was structured as a visual cultural phenomenon of people's "own interior daily life", with unique tastes and smells of trivial urban life, and suggests there is a way of time experienced subjectively and personally. This paper thus attempts to discuss how post-Mao Chinese writers have dealt the "past" and why this "past" has become a significant topic in literary and cultural discourse through close reading of several literary writings of Wang Anyi, which focus on describing urban consciousness and the life in Shanghai alleys.
Keywords: Nostalgia, Cultural configuration of the past, Urban consciousness, Daily life, Shanghai alley, Petty urbanites, Wang Anyi
Dr. Hong Jiang
Associate Professor, Department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages, The Colorado College