Inquiries of “Home” in Modern and Contemporary East Asia
2: In Searching of “Home”: Memory, Fantasy, and Nostalgia of China's Educated Youth in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
The University of Arizona, United States
Beijing Institute of Technology, China
In 1953, the Rustication Movement began. Over 60 million urban youths, aged from 16-18, were sent down to the countryside. These urban youths are collectively termed as the “sent-down educated youths” (zhiqing for short). Almost 60 years later, contemporary stories of these people were proliferated in cultural productions of various kinds. Yet the narratives have shown a divergence of affect, which rigorously shapes the relationship between the past and present, while opening up a space to investigate the crucial role memory plays in sociohistorical practices.
In this respect, the paper explores the fantasy and nostalgia of two Chinese zhiqing as depicted in the novel and the later-adapted movie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, written and directed by Dai Sijie. The novel tells the story of two urban zhiqing and their complicated romantic relationship with a rural girl. By exploring this novel, the paper will first investigate how the hardship and trauma informs nostalgia as manifested in the constant fantasy of “home.” Secondly, the paper compares different endings of the novel and the film. The novel ends in the 1970s, yet the movie stretches the time to the 2000s when the village in the countryside was destroyed by flood due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. The paper concludes that the sociocultural nostalgia is energized by imagining a spiritual home and romanticizing the past. Such processes further invigorate the sentiment of a particular historical moment and the collective memory.