FEMALE SYMBOLISM: Translation and Interpretation of Selected Works of Mu Shiying



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When it comes to the early 20th century, China—the forbidden land, the Eastern fantasy— was forced to open the gate and “welcome” its unpredictable future. On the one hand, the drastic social, political, and cultural changes paved the way for modernist thinking and lifestyle. Yet on the other hand, ongoing wars and ever-increasing tensions worldwide had broken down people’s perception of ordinary civil society and became the hotbed for hedonism, nihilism, and even hermeticism. In the early 20th century Shanghai, rapid modernization brought people a seemingly fantastic newborn world—a world full of awakened desire, love, and fleeting happiness. Thus, the notable change in lifestyle and outlook attracted many young writers, whose stories primarily focused on people’s turbulent city lives and romantic relationships with modern Chinese women. Among those talented young writers was Mu Shiying 穆時英 (1912-1940), the rising star of Chinese modernist writings, who vividly illustrated the bizarre and motley metropolitan life in his unrivaled avant-garde writings and deliberate depiction of sensations. Throwing himself into the world of literature, Mu lived a modest life while depicting the luxurious yet unsettled city life. Later some of his modernist stories, such as “Five in a Nightclub 夜總會裡的五個人,” “Shanghai Fox-trot 上海狐步舞,” and “Poles Apart 南北極” outstand in Chinese modern literary world. Because of Mu’s contentious political standing during wartime, a large part of his literary works remained undiscovered until the 1980s. However, it can never be denied that Mu is one of the most brilliant early Chinese modernist writers, who had a significant impact on later contemporary writers such as Eileen Chang and Mo Yan. When it comes to the 21th century, scholars such as Leo Ou-fan Lee and Shu-mei Shih have introduced Mu Shiying and his masterworks to Western audiences. In their researches, Lee and Shih thoroughly illustrated the short but unrivaled life of Mu Shiying and his adventure in literature, modernity, as well as a semi-apocalyptic world. Appreciating their works on Mu’s life and legacy, I have noticed that the images of female characters in Mu’s work have been rarely discussed or analyzed. Though female characters in Mu’s short stories vary from socialites to religious figures, they still naturally, consistently possess a strong sense of unreality. The unreality—even fantasy—has made Mu’s female characters divorced from reality and become literary symbols, which subtly blur the boundary between fantasy and reality, and profoundly embody sexuality, hedonism, and even serenity. Thus, I was encouraged to translate another four short stories of Mu, which profoundly involve the utilization of female symbolism. This thesis will provide a thorough explanation of the time and cultural condition of 1930s Shanghai as well as Mu’s extraordinary yet turbulent life. Through analyzing Mu’s depictions of women as symbols, allusions, and images, I argue that the female characters in Mu’s work are highly abstracted and become symbols of desire, of nostalgia, of peace, and of hedonism.



Chinese Literature, Translation, Mu Shiying, New Sensationalism, Modernism, Female Symbolism