China and Inner Asia
Washington University in St Louis, United States
“Inference,” as an important structural and stylistic element in literature, was introduced along with Western detective fiction into China at the turn of the 20th century. Recently, a series of murder-mystery-game variety shows have set off a new craze of "inference" among Chinese audience. Examining “inference” in these two kinds of cultural products, this paper discusses how the agenda, mode, and characteristic of Chinese popular culture have changed. The continuing popularity of inference reflects the celebration of reason, which has been promoted by scientism in Chinese society since the beginning of the modern time. Nonetheless, the form, connotation, and function of inference have significantly changed nowadays. A hundred years ago, with “inference” as a constructive structure, Chinese detective fiction enthusiastically constructed an ideal world of order, rationality, and certainty. To inference and detective fiction, Chinese writers attached the importance of spreading scientific knowledge, enlightening common readers, and reforming the society. In contrast, such importance has been lost in contemporary variety shows. Combining highly abstract, simplified, and artificial logic with elaborated narratives, these shows build a world of simulation. In this world, diverse symbols seized and severed from reality are structured by simulative “inference,” which is featured by ambiguity, uncertainty, chaos, and emptiness. It is these features of the new inference, however, that have allowed this world of simulation to continuously expand and accommodate more and more commercial interests.