Organizer: Yenna Wu, University of California, Riverside
Chair: Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania
Discussant: Chia-Lin Pao Tao, University of Arizona
This panel explores various facets of cannibalism in Chinese literature and culture, analyzing the narrative images and authorial intentions in relevant literary accounts.
Chün fang Yü examines iatric, i.e. medicinal, cannibalism in the practice of gegu (severing a piece of one's own flesh to offer as a tonic to a dying parent) and in Chinese stories about Kuan yin and the Buddha. Under investigation are the concepts implied by this practice about the human body and its ritual manipulation, and certain values promoted by the Confucian and Buddhist traditions.
Yenna Wu analyzes the topos of cannibalism in Ming Qing fiction, showing how portrayals of anthropophagy related to famine, revenge, ritual, or disordered appetite, become a powerful symbol in the authors' discourse on morality. Connecting the physical body with ethics, the body politic, and the cosmos, writers manipulate the topos for didactic and satirical purposes.
Philip F. Williams probes the mythical and metaphorical aspects of cannibalism in modern Chinese literature, and argues that recently published literary reportage has inverted the May Fourth ideological thrust of "cannibalism" as an epithet for a deeply flawed cultural inheritance: the revolution which was supposed to have overthrown the old cannibalistic order has instead given rise to a more concrete variety of it.
Gang Yue compares the allegorical cannibalism in Lu Xun, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan. He argues that while Lu Xun moralizes the issue of cannibalism under a subjective rubric of national salvation, Kingston and Tan de-center the subject and "re oralize" intersubjective experience.
Chün fang Yü, Rutgers University
Filial piety took a peculiar and extraordinary form in late imperial China: the practice of ko ku [gegu]. When all normal medical resources failed to cure a dying parent, the daughter or daughter-in-law (sometimes also son) would at times slice off a piece of flesh from her/his thigh and cook it in broth to offer it as medicine/food. A miraculous recovery was always the result. Although this practice was reported to begin in the T'ang, it was only after the Sung and especially during the Ming and the Ch'ing that it became increasingly a commonplace occurrence.
One of the most dramatic moments in the life of Princess Miao shan, the human incarnation of Kuan yin, was her offering of her eyes and hands as medicine to save her dying father. Kuan yin, moreover, often acted as the savior to the filial child who performed ko ku. In the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, the theme of iatric cannibalism was also quite prominent.
What were the philosophical and religious ideas involved in the bodhisattva's self sacrifice versus that of the filial child? What concepts did iatric cannibalism imply about the human body and its ritual manipulation? While ko ku derived its rationale from Confucian filial piety and Buddhist compassion, what did this practice tell us about the conflicting yet also complementary values promoted by these two traditions as manifested in the domestic lives of Chinese women?
Gang Yue, University of North Carolina
The paper proposes a comparative study of allegorical or symbolic cannibalism in Lu Xun, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan. It situates their representations of the cannibal in the global discourse of cannibalism as part of the colonial legacy, but also complicates them through two recurring themes in the native tradition, namely: 1) the political ritual of "revenge cannibalism," and 2) the mythological view of the world as a devouring monster and life asfraught with the danger of being eaten. Organized around the post-Freudian notion of the "spectacle," the paper focuses on the construction of intersubjective relations in the texts and their different historical and cultural conditions and implications.
More than any other atrocities committed toward one's own kind, cannibalism always evokes in the "civilized" mind a most repulsive sense of complicity in the collective autophagy and thus hauntingly implicates the self in the recycle of human life. Though profoundly aware of this dilemma, Lu Xun chooses to leap out of the irony of language into the totality of faith, channel his self-hate into other-hate in the name of national salvation, and stage his existential predicament in the spectacle of modernity. Kingston and Tan, on the other hand, refuse to allow themselves full exit out of this dilemma. Instead of purely moralizing cannibalism, they de-center the subject and collapse the spectacle of totality by "re-oralizing" intersubjective experience (in both the alimentary and communicative sense of the word). Postmodern and feminist, they challenge our entrenched reading of Lu Xun but also pose a series of questions for cross-cultural studies.
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