Pathologizing China: Duality in Illness and Cure of China’s Modernity
2: The Duality of Cannibalism in The Day the Sun Died: A Cure or a Pathology?
Saturday, March 26, 2022
10:30am – 12:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 315
Tiffany Yun-Chu Tsai
The Citadel, United States
Practices of cannibalism for medical purposes in imperial China are associated with feudal values; this association is criticized by May Fourth intellectuals with a literary trope of cannibalism. Having lived under imminent threats of Western imperialism and precarity of China’s nationhood, May Fourth intellectuals incorporate a biomedical rhetoric of cannibalism and transform it into literary cannibalism. By doing so, they pathologize the body and spirit of the Chinese state and deploy a tactical rhetoric of cannibalism as a treatment to the nation’s illness and insecurity.
With the collapse of humanitarian and socialist ideals in the post-1989 era, contemporary Chinese writings of cannibalism consistently reveal an excessive desire for consumption in postsocialist China. This paper explores the symbiotic relationship between fears of and desire for cannibalization and between pathologizing and treating China through cannibalism by analyzing Yan Lianke’s The Day the Sun Died. Unlike their May Fourth predecessors who write about fears of cannibalism, contemporary writers reframe the trope by presenting cannibalistic desires. Yan’s solution to ruthless desire and violence is a symbolic cannibalistic redemption of burning purchased corpse oil with a human sacrifice to “waken” the sun and rescue humans from utmost and endless destruction. This paper asks: if cannibalism is a pathology of China’s modernity in crisis, can it also be a redemption, a cure to these modern crises, as May Fourth intellectuals and Yan Lianke suggest? Or is it, like Nietzsche warns, the abyss that gazes back into us and sees us turning into the monster we fight?