China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Integrated with the Local? Linguistic Bifurcation in Contemporary Chinese Zhiqing Fiction and Films

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 1, Exhibit Level

In contemporary educated-youth (zhiqing) fiction rendered in local languages and dialects, Putonghua, as the language of the educated, is largely spoken by the sent-down zhiqing, while dialect, as the language of the uneducated, is spoken by local people. Examining four works, this paper explores how educated urban narrators condemn, transform, ignore, or negotiate uneducated, rural, local languages. In Joan Chen’s film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, the protagonist speaks her native urban Chengdu Mandarin at home. Yet she speaks Putonghua after being sent down. Her shift in language as she moves from a private space to a public space parallels the gradual exposure of her body in public, which is seduced, violated, and ruined by local men who speak various rough rural dialects. In Dai Sijie’s novel and film Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, two educated youths with urban accents try to transform a mountain girl and her rural accent through exposure to Western literature and art. Lü Yue’s film Foliage (Meiren cao) focuses only on the Putonghua-speaking educated youth and ignores the local people who speak various dialects. In Yi Ling’s novel To Separate the Sheep from the Goats, the sent-down girl Tang Xiaoya tries to assimilate herself among the local Shanxi people by speaking the local dialect and adopting a local name, yet experiences an identity crisis because of her double appellation. Therefore, from the perspective of language, sent-down youth were never entirely integrated with the local people, as Chairman Mao’s rustification movement originally called for.

Jin Liu

Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia

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