Abstract Introduction Reading through Tears and Laughter A Topography of Emotion From Intimate Reading to Public Resonance Conclusion Endnotes Works Cited

Literature and Modern China, vol. 2, no. 1
ISSN (online) 2687-8208; ISSN (print) 2687-8194

Not Just Tears and Laughter: Rethinking the Spatiality of Emotions in Zhang Henshui’s Fate in Tears and Laughter


Fangyuan Huang
Princeton University


This article rethinks the spatiality of emotions through the lens of Zhang Henshui’s Fate in Tears and Laughter, one of the most popular novels in the Republican era (1911-1949). Drawing on Ling Hon Lam’s work on the spatiality of emotion in premodern Chinese theater, this study reformulates emotion as a space that transposes an affective body into a spectatorial position in front of the emotion-realm mediated by theatricality. This article sets out to delineate the melodramatic polarization of emotions (tears and laughter), the spatial topography of emotion embedded in geographical loci, and the emotional spectatorship in which a private self is enmeshed in a public domain through bodily engagement in laughing, crying, and sympathizing with fictional characters. It contributes to a new understanding of the affective assembly of emotions evoked by reading experiences that is not so much an innate faculty but rather the coded registers of an imagined community.

Keywords: Fate in Tears and Laughter, emotion, spatiality, theatricality, Zhang Henshui


Scholars working on literary modernity in the late Qing (1644-1910) and early Republican Era (1911-1949) cannot ignore the overwhelming presence of old-style literature, usually labeled as the “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies School (Yuanyang hudie pai 鴛鴦蝴蝶派)” and the “Saturday School (Libailiu pai 禮拜六派).”[2] Two approaches to this literature are common. The first is to follow the May Fourth intellectuals’ exclusion of old-style literature from consideration in the discursive invention of a new fiction as the epitome of modernity. From this perspective, butterfly literature is the opposite of modern literature. The second is to recuperate the long-repressed Butterfly school as a necessary complement to the elite-led May Fourth literature, but this approach is still premised upon the conception of a traditional, less modern if not anti-modern, and even vulgar body of middlebrow literature called Butterfly literature. The third is what I call “mutual illumination,” which problematizes the binary construction of popular and elite literature and studies how they overlap and infiltrate one another to problematize any fixed boundary between them. The juxtaposition of the two seemingly incompatible concepts is manifested in the term vernacular modernism, which describes the secularization of modern aesthetics in lived experience. By invoking this term, I have in mind Miriam Hansen’s conceptualization of the mass-produced, mass-mediated experience of modernity and modernization for wider consumption and everyday usage. I am not particularly interested, however, in rephrasing previous scholarly engagements with the mishmash of plebeian, everyday life and the urban, modern sensations of Shanghai. Instead, I use Hansen’s vernacular modernism more as a prompt than an answer. I argue it is necessary to foreground the variegated spatiality embedded in the affect of vernacular modernity as an entry point into the interrelations between indigenous locality and imagined community, between private emotions and public resonance in the Republican era. I am making a claim that is both more general and more specific than the spatial circulation and dissemination of new media and discourses. It is more general because it is not bounded by the physical, geographical space of the urban milieu. Instead, it opens up the topology of emotional territories and spatial imagination. It is more specific because rather than treating the literary text as a free-floating, dematerialized phenomenon, I focus on the print mediality of a popular literary text and interrogate the ways the text strikes a sentimental chord in many Republican readers.

In this article, I situate my discussion of the spatiality of emotions in the reading experience of Fate in Tears and Laughter ( Tixiao yinyuan 啼笑因緣). This novel deserves more research not only because its unprecedented popularity extended to suburban and rural areas, but also because it grafts emotive responses (“tears” and “laughter”) onto modern sense-making, epitomizing a culmination of sentimental education that Enlightenment discourse often fails to register. Written by Zhang Henshui (張恨水, 1895-1967), Fate in Tears and Laughter (hereafter, Fate) was serialized in the Kuaihuo lin 快活林 (Forest of Lightheartedness) column of Xinwen bao 新聞報 (The News), one of the two largest newspapers in Shanghai, from March 17 to November 30, 1930. Following the newspaper serialization, the novel was almost immediately published in book form. Zhang Henshui recalls in his memoir that the copies sold of Fate far exceeded those of his other novels.[3] Accord -ing to him, Fate became an instant hit among the public from top-ranking officials to lower-class courtesans (Zhang H., “ Wode xiaoshuo guocheng” 275). People everywhere—not only in Shanghai—talked about it and bought newspapers every day to see how the story developed (Zhang Y. 133). It is impossible to gauge the sensations elicited by this novel without taking into full consideration the print mediality under which it was produced, circulated, and consumed. In Shanghai of the 1920s, the readership of popular fiction reached between several hundred thousand to a million according to publication figures. If we take into account the circulation of newspapers, the readership of serialized novels was much larger. The novel’s popularity was premised on the development of modern printing techniques, the lower cost of newspapers and magazines, and mass literacy among urban residents. In addition, before film and radio were easily accessible to mass audiences, reading fiction undoubtedly remained one of the most convenient and inexpensive ways to pass the time.

We might ask, therefore, what’s particular about Fate? Why did it win the hearts and minds of so many readers? Sweeping social transformations took place around the turn of the 20th century in China. In order to make sense of their present, the nature of which was increasingly hard to pin down, the urban public looked for a form of entertainment that could disseminate intuitive knowledge, conceptual tools, and a glimmer of hope. Sentimental articulations were instrumental in distinguishing right from wrong and sensible human beings—in the eighteenth-century sense—from apathetic ones. Scholars working on the rise of modern fiction in England and France take emotion as a criterion to measure the transition from aristocracy to a modern world order.[4] Popular sentimental novels, exemplified by Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novels Pamela and Clarissa, evince that the practice of sentimental codes replaced desacralized religious beliefs and functioned as the moral basis of the urban bourgeoisie. For example, Pamela’s assertion of chastity and her unflinching resistance to her master’s seduction attest to the establishment of a new moral order despite commercial flows and socio-economic transformations. An individual’s moral strengths and virtues instead of hereditary status and wealth determined his or her worthiness. In his pioneering study on popular literature in modern China, Perry Link connects the bourgeois sentimentalism of the Industrial Revolution in England to popular sentiments in early twentieth-century Shanghai. He discerns the impending need for blatantly sentimental stories in the 1910s when “changing social patterns left individuals, especially among the young, with less support from traditional family and community ties” (55). Hence for Link, fiction reading is a source not only of information but also of affective experience: it mobilizes individuals to observe new behavioral norms while reaffirming their psychological security.

Building upon previous scholarship on the relationship between the rise of modern novels and the discovery of interiority, this article serves as a modest yet much-needed intervention into our study of modern Chinese literature in the grand epoch of revolution and enlightenment. Before such diverse affective responses to sweeping social changes are elevated into aesthetics and ideology, it is necessary to expand the discovery of May Fourth writers’ individual and subjective narrative underwriting of their Enlightenment and revolutionary discourses to the subjective world of the urban populace, who, as passive readers, were often silenced. The implications of sentimental fabulations should not be excessively linked up with the makings of interiority and selfhood. I am more interested in excavating the intersubjectivity of feelings of the mass reading public, arguing that feeling, in essence, is feeling with, feeling into and feeling through others. Walter Benjamin insightfully points out that nothing attracts the attention of nineteenth-century writers more than a crowd that was “getting ready to take shape as a public in broad strata who had acquired facility in reading” (166).[5] Benjamin’s comment proves amazingly apt in twentieth-century China, where modern publics emerged from a class of readers, spectators, opera consumers, and later from audiences for mass media performances. Spellbound by new forms of mass media and cultural practices, one’s feelings were constantly mediated by the interaction between self and others, between individual and environment.

Insofar as the mass of feelings evoked by cultural practices such as reading implies feeling with, feeling into, and feeling through others, at the heart of my discussion lies the readers’ unprecedented emotional immersion in the novels. The vernacular storytelling of Fate creates a sense of intimacy between readers and text and enjoins readers to consume stories in tears and laughter. Fate generates a heightened sense of what I call “affective literacy”—intuitive know-how and vernacular wisdom ingrained in the sympathy and bodily sensations evoked by reading. Readers of Zhang’s novels are initiated into a social ambiance and learn to negotiate the terms of sentimental education.

Moreover, the size of the readership offers a point of departure to discuss what I call “the spatiality of emotion.” Here, I take up Ling Hon Lam’s explication of emotion-realms that treats emotion as the immediacy of what passes between affective bodies as atmosphere and ambience. Drawing on Heidegger’s Dasein and phenomenology, Lam compellingly foregrounds emotion per se as a space, a situation, and the mood we find ourselves “involved in, delivered through, and coming upon” (5). Delivered across space, the affective body’s “deliverance into” and “face-off with” the emotion-realm are the keys to the dreamscape and theatricality of emotions (7, 202). In so doing, Lam challenges the paradigm of emotion as a state of mind “being imprinted by, overflowing onto, or mingling with things in external space” (4). Lam audaciously reformulates emotion as a spatial structure and an ontological condition which delivers an affective body in front of the emotion-realm mediated by distanced spectatorship and theatricality (4, 189). In this study, I further this line of thinking by emphasizing that a moving affective body is integral to the conceptualization of emotion as a space. The affective body is transported through space as an illusory spectacle, a spatial image to register the felt reality of relation with other bodies. In addition, I find it necessary to delineate the boundary between emotion and affect, despite the fact that the two terms are often used interchangeably. Broadly speaking, emotion is socio-linguistically structured and implies a psychological, and at least slightly interpretive and performative experience. In the Chinese context, the rough equivalent of emotion is qing 情,[6] a combination of feelings and circumstances, sentiment and facts. Affect, however, is less codified and lies on the other end of the spectrum. It is physiological, intense, unfixed, an eruption of pre-linguistic sensations or potentialities. My understanding of affect is inspired by the Bergsonian concept of body-image, which is invested in the affective movement of the body in a continuum of aggregated images that covers the interval between self and other, body and object. The moving body is key to understanding the spatiality of emotions.

To do this, this paper will concentrate on the spatiality of emotions in affective, geographical, and communal terms and argue that the emotional topography of Fate codifies and charts people’s feelings, sentiments, and states of mind and bridges the rift between body and environment, between selfhood and community. To begin with, I discuss the spatial polarization of tears and laughter as leading to a heightened sense of moral dilemma. Then, I chart the spatial topography of emotions in which joys and sorrows are not internal overflows vis-à-vis external stimuli but rather are registered in the physical milieus of Beijing, ranging from the lively Bridge of Heaven (Tianqiao 天橋) to the tranquil Western Hills (Xishan 西山). I will show how the spatial topography of emotions—centering on the kinesthetic activity of a body across physical and narrative space—generates an affective mapping of the city. Lastly, this article articulates the ways the interaction between the private sphere of silent reading and the public resonance of the emotions brings the gravity of affective literacy home to an imagined community of sympathetic readers. Feelings elicited by silent reading vibrate with the feelings of the characters in the novel and, by extension, with the feelings of a sympathetic collective. From the author’s sentimental mapping of emotional territories to a solitary reader’s acting out emotions on behalf of fictional characters, the act of silent reading through the tears and laughter of the fictional characters not only enacts an emotional mapping of literary topography in tears and laughter but also stimulates sympathetic resonance within an imagined community.

Reading through Tears and Laughter: Melodramatic Rendering of Emotions

Stuck in between two intertwining yet counterintuitive incentives—the individual pursuit for freedom and romantic love on the one hand and the lure of Confucian familial bonds on the other—a sentimental education comprises the main classroom for securing practical views of social reality. In response to the heightened sense of chaos in reality, a mode of narration that is emotional, sensational, and even redundant is aptly attuned to the ebbs and flows of life experiences. Peter Brooks deploys melodrama as a descriptive term (without pejorative connotations) to refer to a melodramatic mode central to modern sensibility, the origins of which can be located within the context of the French Revolution and its aftermath (14). Unlike Peter Brooks’ observation that melodrama is recognized as a constant among literary modes, melodrama in the Chinese context should be understood less as a constant among different literary genres than a narrative mode of aesthetic operation, a sense-making apparatus saturating a variety of mediums and platforms. To borrow Brooks’ insight, elements of melodrama—the hyperbolic presentation of conflicting forces, polarization of morality, and excess of emotion—register a need to locate and make evident the choices of life which we hold to be of overwhelming importance (viii). Emotions, in particular, are foregrounded to “represent the theatrical impulse itself” (107), to “act out” the heightening sensations of daily life, and to evoke the moral imperative to make a choice.

Fate ’s original title in Chinese, Tixiao yinyuan 啼笑因緣, is saturated with spatial polarization of emotions: from ti 啼 (tears) to xiao 笑 (laughter) and vice versa. Tears and laughter as a pair of affective responses correspond to you 憂 (inner emotions of worry or sorrow) and xi 喜 (happiness, lightheartedness) respectively.Yinyuan 因缘 is a compound word deriving from Sanskrit nidāna. Yin 因 (Sanskrit: hetu) means primary or first cause and yuan缘 (Sanskrit: pratyaya) designates the process in which the primary cause is entangled and bounded with other agents and conditions. Taken together, yinyuan refers to fate, destiny and karmic causality. In traditional tales, karma echoes the belief in moral recompense for one’s actions (baoying 報應) and addresses the ethos of punitive justice. At the advent of the modern, yinyuan speaks to both traditional ethos of retribution and new possibilities emerging from social changes. The characters’ lives are inevitably permeated with uncontrollable forces of modernization that either draw people closer or tear them apart. Therefore, personal joys and sorrows are grafted onto larger socio-historical dynamics.

In terms of generic lineage, Weijie Song discerns a pronounced linkage between Fate and the late Qing social exposé novels. He argues that “tears and laughter” implies the romantic tradition and the tradition of social satire. On the one hand, “tears” designates both personal romantic feelings and emotive response to social and political conditions (Song 110). On the other, “laughter” evokes the tradition of satire to mock social perversities with parody and laughter. Together, weeping and laughing imply weaving stitches of individual sentiments into the larger social tapestry. While Song is attentive to the implications of the affective evocation of tears and laughter, he doesn’t further this line of inquiry by probing the linguistic renderings of emotive registers and the spatial sedimentation of affect, as in the connection between fictional sentiments and affective responses of the reading public.

The weaving of tears into laughter allows us to examine the melodramatic circulation of emotions and the ways in which emotive responses are mapped onto beliefs and sense-making. The alternation and the interpenetration between joy and sorrow, laughter and tears are vividly registered in Fate.[7] While “tears” gestures towards the private sphere of ernü 儿女 (young lovers) weeping in seclusion, laughter is encoded with sociality—a signal of the self being with a group. The term ernü qingchang 儿女情長 (the stubborn endurance of young lovers) evokes the literary imagination of young lovers’ indulgence in the circulation of joy and sorrow, departure and reunion, breaking up and reconciliation, echoing Jonathan E. Zwicker’s remarks on the sentimental fiction of tears in nineteenth-century Japan, “these very visible tears [in the texts] lead to a different register of tears (...) as mechanisms designed to elicit tears from the historical reader” (43).

The plot of Fate centers on Fan Jiashu’s 樊家樹 romance with three young women in Beijing. Jiashu comes from a well-to-do family in Hangzhou. In the 1920s, he leaves for Beijing to study for the college entrance examination and stays in his rich cousin Tao Bohe’s 陶伯和 house. One day, he meets the poor street drum-song singer Shen Fengxi 沈鳳喜 during a street performance near the Bridge of Heaven and falls in love with her. He also befriends a female knight-errant Guan Xiugu 關秀姑 and her father Guan Shoufeng 關壽峰, who perform martial arts to make a living. Later, Jiashu accompanies his cousins to an upper-class restaurant and encounters He Lina 何麗娜, the daughter of a millionaire. Both the glamorous Lina and the chivalrous Xiugu fall for Jiashu. At the highpoint of Jiashu’s relationship with Fengxi, he gives an engagement ring to her, but disaster begins to strike when Jiashu leaves Beijing for Hangzhou to visit his mother. During Jiashu’s absence, a warlord named General Liu Dezhu takes a fancy to Fengxi and traps her in his mansion. Seduced by the warlord’s wealth and luxurious lifestyle, Fengxi becomes his concubine. Moved by Jiashu’s love for Fengxi, Xiugu decides to hide her romantic feelings for Jiashu and helps bring Jiashu and Fengxi together for a farewell meeting. However, as soon as her secret rendezvous with Jiashu is discovered, Fengxi is tortured, abused, and driven insane by General Liu. Meanwhile, the villainous warlord takes a fancy to Xiugu and attempts to marry her to replace the insane Fengxi. Xiugu tricks the warlord into visiting a temple in the Western Hills and takes revenge by killing him. In the end, Xiugu and her father Shoufeng arrange a reunion between Jiashu and Lina in the Western Hills.

Xiugu forfeits her secret love for Jiashu on discovering his affection for Fengxi. Overshadowed by Lina’s wealth and beauty, Xiugu withdraws even further. Jiashu’s choice between Fengxi and Lina is full of melodramatic potential, as Fengxi and Lina look almost identical to each other. Their uncanny physical resemblance leads to a series of misrecognitions and misunderstandings by Jiashu and their acquaintances. Despite their marked similarities, the two girls are drastically different in their upbringings, class, values, and personalities. Fengxi is a naïve and gullible seventeen-year-old drum-song singer while Lina is a Westernized and dignified young lady of around twenty who lives a luxurious lifestyle.[8] Jiashu’s decision therefore hinges not so much upon the beauty of the girls as on his psychological struggles between incompatible values and morals. His negotiation between Fengxi and Lina is unraveled spatially as he wavers between the polarized worlds of the high and the low, the imported and the indigenous.

Fengxi’s emotional struggles between Jiashu and General Liu are rendered in nuanced articulations, which promote the reader’s sympathetic identification with her. Her internal theater unravels as she vacillates between two marriage choices, and ultimately, two different ways of living and two conflicting moral imperatives. Fengxi is so caught up in this dilemma that any emphatic rhetoric breaks down, and via theatrical codes of representation, the intensity of her emotional struggles is visualized in a rich variety of emotive gestures. For instance, after being invited to attend an opera performance by General Liu, she first “forces a smile (qiangxiao 強笑)” upon going back home. When General Liu’s gifts of jewelry gratify her vanity, she “smiles slightly (weiwei yixiao 微微一笑).” Later, when she is awakened by a sense of guilt regarding Jiashu, she is stupefied with worries (fachou fadai 發愁發呆) and “gives a mirthless smile (lengxiao 冷笑)” in front of General Liu’s material temptations (Zhang H.109, 112-114). From feeling uncomfortable at first, to being pleased with warlord’s solicitousness, and eventually to being disturbed by a sense of guilt, her wavering in between a guilty consciousness over Jiashu and avarice for General Liu’s wealth is powerfully acted out. Fengxi’s various gestures bear an indexical relationship to the heightened drama within her emotional realm and magnify the significance of the choice she is going to make. On the one hand, Fengxi knows that Jiashu’s love for her is not based on money and Jiashu is willing to ensure her economic and spiritual independence.[9] On the other hand, she is too weak-minded to resist the superficial lure of material abundance.[10]

In a stream of consciousness, her thoughts wander back to the past and recall Jiashu’s affection for her, then flash forward to a promising future of becoming a rich madame if she marries General Liu. Fengxi’s mind oscillates between awakening and dreaming before she forfeits the prospect of becoming a new woman and chooses the path to self-destruction. In the end, Fengxi becomes a plaything of the warlord and subject to torture and abuse. Reduced to a screaming wreck, Fengxi is punished because of her moral flaws. The moral undertones of Fengxi’s choice revitalize the tradition of karmic retribution and testify to the moral regime operating at the level of melodramatic exposition.

Between Tears and Laughter: A Topography of Emotions

In Fate, emotions are mapped onto the geographical territory of Beijing. Through the eyes of Fan Jiashu, a sojourner from Hangzhou in the south, the narrator unfolds Beijing almost like a tour guide for the readers. Jiashu’s mapping of Beijing is sustained by the vivid depictions of local landmarks and social customs and “creates territories in which emotions, feelings, and meanings can be enciphered and deciphered” (Song 34). The different cultural sites serve not only as external stimuli to animate emotions but as affective spaces that retain the memory of experiences as well. This mingling of emotion and landscape to constitute an emotion-realm has been discussed extensively in shihua 詩話 (remarks on poetry) and cihua 詞話 (remarks on song lyrics)—two well-established genres of Chinese literary thought. In poetic composition, the boundaries between feelings (qing) and landscape ( jing 景) are often traversed. The Chinese notion of landscape is distinct from the Cartesian notion of a preexisting environment with an objective and unmediated quality, independent of human agency. It may help to give an example where Wang Guowei (王國維, 1877-1927) pictures a poetic space diffused with mood and imbued with emotion.[11] Traditional poetry commentaries, however, emphasize not so much the spatiality of emotion as an ontological condition but rather as the externalization of interiority. To them, emotion reflects an inner state of mind, the spatiality of which bears an indexical relationship to its diffusion across external things.

Rather than presuming that emotion is the overflowing of an inside to an outside, I regard emotion as a space in and for itself in likening the topography of emotions to that of the city. Drawing on French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s proposal of a topo-analysis of space auxiliary of psychoanalysis, I adopt a topological schema and examine the way in which affective space informs and shapes the individual psyche, which for Bachelard is “the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives” (8). The interactions between space and emotions can be interpreted as the spatialization of emotion and the sentimentalization of space. Spaces of intimacy, such as the house, serve as shelter from the shaky outside, providing an ideal nest for daydream and imagination.

Furthermore, theatricality is crucial to our understanding of the spatiality of emotions because it unsettles the distinction between subject and object, inner and outer. Lam’s provocative reformulation of emotion as a space helps me to craft a spatial topography of the emotional realm less in terms of internal response to external space than in terms of a moving body and its being thrown into a mood (Stimmung) that is a third space in and for itself. In other words, a sentimental topography does not center on emotion as a stable state of mind but rather on the varying relations between body and environment, which involve both detachment and engagement of self. Seen in this light, emotions should be understood as a mode of self-differentiating reflexivity. Such reflexivity—generating and dissolving the subject simultaneously—unsettles the boundary between a body and scenes. The movement of the body hither and thither generates space and maps out affective territories.

If we trace the affective origin of tears and laughter in Fate, we will find that the emotional territories of the author were significantly inscribed by his own sojourning experiences in Beijing. The melodrama of tears and laughter is intimately bound up with the topography of the city in the mindscape, echoing Bachelard’s observation that “for a knowledge of intimacy, localization in the spaces of our intimacy is more urgent than determination of dates” (9). Hence Zhang Henshui recalled, a year later, almost every detail of the space where he had written the novel’s outline. In his preface to Fate, he attributes his sensations to the affective landscape of Zhongshan Park (Zhongshan gongyuan 中山公园) in Beijing.

I carried a pocket diary in my bag, walked through Four Pleasures Veranda, crossed the stone bridge, and went straight up the hill. In between a series of earthen hills, there was a thatched pavilion with a stone table and chairs perfect for relaxing. It is a secluded place, without people coming and going, and I took my time to appreciate the scenery—as refined as a painting with fine brushwork. I let those external stimuli agitate my emotions. In a good mood, phantasmagoric scenes of joys and sorrows, departures and reunions occurred to me. I didn’t want these phantoms to pass away immediately. I took out my diary and wrote them down hastily with a pencil. What are these phantoms? To tell you the truth, they are what you are reading now. When I created these phantoms in my mind, the plot fell into place naturally like the scenes of a movie on the screen, one scene after another, constantly pouring out (...) It was in this way that Fate in Tears and Laughter was produced. I don’t know if I had any purpose, nor do I know if what I wrote in this way makes any sense. In short, it’s all about a fantasy that I wrote down on that day and in that place (Zhang H., “Author’s Preface” 239).
袋裡揣了一本袖珍日記本,穿過四宜軒,渡過石橋,直上小山來,一列土山之間,有一所茅草亭子,亭內並有一副石桌椅正好休息。這裡是僻靜之處,沒有什麼人來往由我慢慢的鑑賞這一幅工筆的圖畫。我只要藉這些外物,鼓動我的情緒。我趁著興致很好的時候,腦筋裡構出一種悲歡離合的幻影來。這些幻影。我不願它立刻即逝,一想出來之後馬上掏出日記本子,用鉛筆草草的錄出大意了。這些幻影是什麼?不瞞諸位說,就是諸位現在所讀的《啼笑因緣》了。當我腦筋裡造出這幻影之後,真個像銀幕上的電影,一幕一幕,不斷的湧出。 … 這一部《啼笑因緣》,就是這樣產生出來的。我自己也不知道我是否有什麼用意,更不知道我這樣寫出,是否有些道理。總之,不過捉住了我那日那地一個幻想寫出來罷了。

The pavilion near the lake was imbued with emotions; the scenery in front of author’s eyes was aligned with his thoughts and daydreams. It is, however, overly hasty to conclude that outside stimuli mediate the private sphere of emotions without paying sufficient attention to the co-extensiveness of the topography of emotions and the mise-en-scène. Insofar as the exterior landscape serves as an affective medium agitating the body towards action—following Bergson’s yoking of affect with bodily sensation—affective engagement and detachment alter the distance between body and object as if it is experienced physically through bodily movement in space. By the same token, the author’s emotions are realized by his bodily impulse to act out these emotions dramatically. His emotion-scape is likened to a series of “phantasmagoric scenes of joys and sorrows, departures and reunions” (ibid. 239) on a virtual stage. The mental illusions of joys and sorrows are compared to a series of cinematic images on the silver screen unfolding unremittingly in front of the author, from which we may infer an incipient mode of spectatorship in front of one’s own mental images in addition to a beholder’s position in front of the physical topography. The psychic topography converges with the physical one precisely because the distance between body and object is bridged by affect.

The affective space anchored in Zhongshan Park left an indelible impression on Zhang Henshui. When the novel was completed in November, 1930, a year and a half had passed since the jotting of the outline on a summer day. At the end of the preface, Zhang conceives himself sitting on the same bench in Zhongshan Park where he felt inspired, this time perceiving an emotional landscape different from that more than a year ago. The gap between real life and fictional illusions has shrunk:

At that time, the willows, lotuses, ponds, water pavilions were probably all the same, but one could no longer meet with the girl of that year, the magpie of that year. The fantasies of life can form a fiction of falsified facts. However, life really does resemble a phantasm! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (Zhang H., “Author’s Preface” 241).

What was once real now has an illusory, dreamlike quality to it—more so does the fictional staging of joys and sorrows, partings and reunions. The author experiences a disjunction of temporality and does not know whether to laugh or cry in face with his previous staging of emotions. Nothing is everlasting: only words inscribed on paper capture some traces of what happened; only the affective territory of Beijing mapped in the fictional world retains and replays the phantoms of emotions.

It comes as no surprise that Zhongshan Park inspired Zhang Henshui’s literary creation of tears and laughter.[12] Since its opening in 1914, the Park served as a favored gathering place for old literati and new intellectuals alike. It was a space sedimented with the emotions of poets and writers and became a source of inspiration, a venue for literary composition and the subject of literary writing. Therefore, in order to map the emotional topography of the novel, it is necessary to go through the literal topography of Beijing through the characters’ eyes (observation) and feet (movement). The urban locales and cultural scenes for staging emotions in the novel include the Altar to Agriculture (Xiannong tan 先農壇), the Laozi Pavilion (Laozi guan 落子馆, an indoor space for performing northern folk arts), Zhongshan Park, North Lake Park (Beihai 北海), Ten Temples Lake (Shicha hai 什刹海), and the Western Hills. They become the settings for chance encounters, social gatherings, and frequent rendezvous between Jiashu and the three women. A detailed description lends a “reality effect” (Barthes 141-148) to these places that in turn verifies the authenticity of the narration. On top of that, the interplay between geographical space and collective social practices constitutes an interface of experience that inaugurates affective engagement ranging from perception to action. Alexander des Forges notices that the urban spaces represented in novels already preconfigure a certain set of ways to behave (68). For example, the park is a space for roaming, daydreaming, and lamenting frustrated desires.[13]The Bridge of Heaven is a semi-closed space for mass entertainment where observers and performers look at each other in such a way that one becomes both a spectator and a spectacle at the same time. In the Guans’ eyes, Ten Temples Lake is much more plebian and enjoyable than the refined North Lake Park and the snobbish Zhongshan Park. The interplay between geography and affect echoes what Weijie Song calls “the literary topography of emotion” (2), which is superimposed upon the topography of the city.

Reminiscent of the scenes of bazaars, crowded teahouses, and popular inns, the opening scene in the novel takes place at the Bridge of Heaven, located between Yongding Gate and Zhengyang Gate. Its east borders the Temple of Heaven and its west approaches the Altar to Agriculture. As a part of the walled enclosure of the outer city of Beijing, the area has been long known as a locale where people from all social classes congregated, consumed, entertained, and gossiped. Unlike public parks that were only open to the public after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, The Bridge of Heaven had been a hustling commercial market for cheap daily necessities and folk entertainment since the Qing dynasty.

The Bridge of Heaven is the locale where Jiashu develops a strong attachment to Fengxi. It is in the teahouses, taverns, and street restaurants there that Jiashu builds a friendly relationship with Xiugu and her father Guan Shoufeng. The overlapping of social experience in various times effects a sentimental mapping of the Bridge of Heaven which creates layered emotional territories. On her first date with Jiashu at the Altar to Agriculture, Fengxi experiences polarized states of emotions from exhilaration to melancholy. The physical space anchors spatial traces of bodily acts. The cypress forest, the stone table, and the two stone benches constitute the physical space for their secret meeting, which is then superimposed upon the virtual milieu of sedimented joys and sorrows. When Jiashu arrives at the same place before Fengxi breaks off their relationship, their intimate past replays before his eyes and their bodily movement in an affective space rekindles his memories of their pledges of love and devotion. The stone bench Jiashu sits on was the one Fengxi sat on when she burst into tears with her arms resting on the stone table and her head buried in her arms—a scene in which her extreme happiness gave rise to sadness. Jiashu’s subsequent acts of relating himself to and distancing himself from the position of Fengxi create affective relations between body and space. In this time-space continuum, Jiashu feels the presence of Fengxi so powerfully that he is on the verge of tears (Zhang H. 155). Jiashu’s emotional reaction, mediated by the body of Fengxi in the same locale, suggests both synchronic and diachronic connections between an affective body and a physical locale: emotions may be evanescent, but they are anticipated, elicited, and inscribed by the connections between an affective body and the space it inhabits.

The vicissitudes of time, however, lead not only to the transience of emotions but also to the ephemerality of space. The spatial traces in time attest to the interplay between individual memories and historical changes. In Chapter 15, Guan Shoufeng recalls that Ten Temples Lake and Taoran Pavilion (Taoran ting 陶然亭) used to be surrounded by water, but the vast lake has now changed into farmland. The novel’s sentimental mapping of tears and laughter provides instantaneous snapshots of fleeting sentiments and instantiates the attempt to capture a transient reality—engulfed by transformation—in language.

The novel begins with the lively scenes of the Bridge of Heaven and concludes with an indoor scene in a Western-style villa at the Western Hills far away from the crowd. Jiashu reunites with He Lina in the villa:

Jiashu stood absentmindedly, holding the chrysanthemum in his left hand, and rubbing the flower stem with the index finger and thumb of his right hand. After a while, he smiled faintly. As a matter of fact (...) obsession with form leads to emptiness. Like shrike swallows flying in different directions, people are going their separate ways. In a knowing smile, when buddha holds up a flower, lie infinite feelings beyond words (Zhang H., Fate 24).
家樹呆呆的站著,左手拿了那枝菊花,右手用大拇指食指,只管掄那花乾兒。半晌,微微的笑了一笑。正是 … 畢竟人間色相空,伯勞燕子各西東。可憐無限難言隱,只在拈花一笑中。

The geographical and psychic enclosure of the Altar of Agriculture in the opening chapter forms a stark contrast with the open setting in the end. A sense of ineffable transcendence emanates from the unfinished ending. The last line of the heptasyllabic verse alludes to empathic feelings for and with others in Zen Buddhism. When happiness and sorrows dissipate, polarized tears and laughter are substituted by a revelation between tears and laughter. On the one hand, emotion is spatialized by the interplay between an affective body and its dwelling in the world. On the other hand, contingent emotions are transcended by a sudden epiphany of the inexplicable truth. The eternal is paradoxically recapitulated in fleeting moments of sorrow and joy, parting, and reunion.

Reading in Tears and Laughter: From Intimate Reading to Public Resonance

In Fate, reading classical romance reenacts the theatrical mode of staging one’s feeling on behalf of others and lends spectacular forms to emotion. For example, disturbed by modern pleasure-seeking and sensual extravagance, Jiashu resonates with the mood of traditional vernacular novels and projects his feelings in the mask of a fictional other—the sensitive and sentimental hero of the classical romance. After his first encounter with He Lina at a Western dance hall, Jiashu retreats to his room readingDream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng 紅樓夢,Dream hereafter) for comfort (28). Jiashu appreciates Dream’s cultural imaginary which registers the fantastic air of talented scholars (caizi 才子) and sensitive beauties ( jiaren 佳人) in a plot centering on the melancholic love triangle between the male protagonist Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉) and his two cousins—Lin Daiyu 林黛玉 and Xue Baochai 薛寶釵. Jia Baoyu’s wavering between Daiyu and Baochai recalls that of Jiashu between Fengxi and Lina. The scene Jiashu comes across is none other than Baoyu listening to Daiyu playing the zither ( qin 琴) (Cao and Gao 1376-77).

Apparently, Jiashu immerses himself in Daiyu’s composition of autumnal sounds on zither for the purposes of purification and restraint. However, listening to the zither further stirs rather than pacifies Jiashu’s emotions, reminiscent of Cui Yingying’s 崔鶯鶯 erotic arousal by Zhang Sheng’s 張生 performance on the zither in The Western Chamber (Xixiang ji 西廂記). To Jiashu’s mind, Daiyu playing the zither in Dream serves as a major reference to the scene where the drum-song singer Shen Fengxi chanted the drum song “Daiyu Mourning the Autumn (Daiyu beiqiu 黛玉悲秋).” Harboring feelings for the singer, Jiashu is unsettled again by this association. The affective body of a fictional reader (Jiashu) enters into a scene within a scene, a story within a story, and in the process of traversing the boundaries between self and other, the moving body facilitates the convergence of the two scenes predicated on theatrical identification. Baoyu listens to Daiyu playing the zither; Jiashu “feels into” his alter-ego, Baoyu, and engages with the calm and purifying ambience of the zither, as if he were Baoyu. On the other hand, in becoming Baoyu, Jiashu is transported in front of himself, observing himself listening to Fengxi’s singing. The alternating states of Jiashu’s emotions are generated by the deliverance of his body back and forth between the two scenes—moving and being moved are two sides of the same coin. The mobility of the body generates the interplay between detachment and engagement, between feeling one’s feelings and feeling into another person’s feelings, thereby speaking to the intersubjective nature of feelings. Feeling into Baoyu enables Jiashu to perceive and judge his own feelings from a third-person point of view. In being in front of oneself and being embedded in oneself simultaneously, the spatial interval between one’s body and other’s body is bridged by affect.

Jiashu’s intimate reading registers the interchange of feelings between him and Jia Baoyu. From this perspective, the feelings aroused by silent reading are not exclusively private in nature. Instead, they vibrate with the feelings of the characters in the novel and, by extension, with the feelings of a sympathetic collective. Scholars working on the emergence of publics in modern China frequently refer to the Habermasian bourgeois civil society and Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities.[14] It is important to note that both Benedict Anderson and Jürgen Habermas underscore the roles that fiction and newspapers play in the formation of public consciousness in terms of producing common themes, values, as well as a sense of simultaneity from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. While calling attention to institutional practices and print capitalism, their theorization of community overlooks the affective dimension of the community and the performativity of emotions elicited from newspapers and novels per se.[15] Compared with the imagined community I will delineate, nation-state and public spheres are saturated with political implications.

In the case of fiction reading, theatrical identification with the characters inaugurates the formation of a community. The reader’s spontaneous identification with a character in a novel is not only a matter of projecting his or her own desire onto the character, but also of putting oneself in the situation of the other. The reader’s self-othering experience serves not only to elicit sympathy for others—to feel into what others feel—but also to perform one’s feelings and inner awareness. One feels oneself impartially when one moves away from oneself and recasts oneself as an external spectacle. Self-reflexivity also comes into play when one stages oneself as a spectacle and sees oneself on behalf of the other. When Xiugu absorbs herself in Dream, “things depicted in Dream keep playing out one after another in reality” (Zhang H. 47). The romance in Dream triggers Xiugu’s mulling over Jiashu’s implicit intentions of giving her Dream to read. She relates Jiashu’s inarticulate feelings for her, and hers for him in turn, to the romantic feelings of Jia Baoyu in Dream. Again, theatrical identification plays into one’s reading practice. One acts out the story of someone else in line with the plot and feels what it would be like to become others so as to articulate ineffable feelings. For Xiugu, only through obliterating the distance between self and other can Jiashu’s inarticulate emotions and intentions be rendered conceivable.

Through fiction readers’ theatrical identification with fictional characters, silent reading for private enjoyment contributes to the formation of social bonds that are not reliant upon physical proximity. In 1932, an anecdote about Fate appeared in Shenbao 申報, (known in English as the Shanghai News). Its author, Wu Xiang 吾鄉 (possibly a penname) wrote about a newlywed wife’s obsession with enacting the scenes from the novel. For instance, she fashioned herself as He Lina, compared her husband to Fan Jiashu, and even let one of her acquaintances play the role of Tao Bohe. Her husband once drank in the company of other girls at some social engagement. The wife got very angry and when others teased her that since Fan Jaishu has a Shen Fengxi by his side, why not let her husband have one as well? She retorted back, “aren’t Shen Fengxi and He Lina the same person?” (Wu 11). The novel fan’s quick-witted retort keeps one between laughter and tears. She didn’t distance herself from theatrical role-playing, nor did she resort to a stable construction of (non)identity by asserting that she was not He Lina and her husband was not Fan Jiashu, hence her husband’s behavior should not be tolerated. Instead, she stuck to her theatrical impulses and played with the nebulous boundaries between fiction and reality. In the intra- and extra-fictional context, the female fan’s penchant in assuming the persona of Lina is also indicative of her identification with the cultural capital and modern values that Lina embodies. Nevertheless, when it comes to Jiashu’s affection for Shen Fengxi, the fan shifted her focal point from the novel to the eponymous film—an additional layer of theatrical role-playing—by underscoring the very fact that in the film the roles of Lina and Fengxi were both played by one actress. The fan’s subsequent engagement with the movie queen Hu Die (蝴蝶, 1908-1989) diverts a reader’s theatrical alignment with a fictional character to that with a real person. Feeling into characters is not incompatible with feeling into real representatives as long as they deserve readers’ emotional investment, cater to readers’ aspirations of refinement, and are one of “us.” In other words, reading is first and foremost reading together with others and, by extension, reading into the social beings to which readers aspire.

Having surveyed the dialectical relationship between self and other through the lens of theatricality, we arrive at a better understanding of the spatiality of emotions in terms of sociality. The connections between characters and sentimental readers are on a continuum with a community of sentimental readers. Tears and laughter within and without the fiction are intertwined. If we can feel the pain of the characters and weep for their fates, we can also weep for other pitiable beings and sympathize with a larger community. In turn, others will shed tears for us and share our laughter. There are innumerable Shen Fengxis in real life and there are countless warlords as ruthless as General Liu. The sufferings of ordinary people not only lend themselves to exposition but are also affectively registered as situated sensations within the community.

In her study of public passions in Republican China, Eugenia Lean alerts us to the pitfalls of falling into the dichotomy of a rational and autonomous public domain vis-à-vis an emotional and passive mass public. By examining the role of public sympathy in swaying the legal proceedings against Shi Jianqiao (施劍翹, 1905-1979), Lean shows how mass-mediated feelings and sensations not only helped create a fluid public-in-becoming but also channeled a powerful critique of the regime (8-9). Haiyan Lee directs our attention to the print mediality of feelings and points out that the Republican readers’ inclination to shed tears ensures them of their sensibility and, on top of that, of their humanity (301). To borrow Lee’s observation, “through the experience of reading and weeping, the readers are transformed into private individuals capable of coming together to form a public—a sentimental community”(301). However, Lee suggests that feeling is intrinsic to a singular, discrete self before it is interchangeable with other kindred emotions.

Building on Lean’s and Lee’s research, I foreground the role of sympathy in the formation of community. I contend that through silent reading, the self, from the very outset, is marked by intersubjectivity and entwined with an imagined community. Such a public in becoming is premised on the immediacy of lived experience and aestheticized emotive responses from deserving individuals capable of sympathizing with one another.

The serialization of roman-feuilleton inaugurated reading experiences distinct from that of early modern China. The day-by-day serialization was crucial to the formation of an imagined community in the late Qing (Des Forges 74-75), primarily because the update on a day-to-day basis and the timely solicitation of readers’ feedback by newspaper editors generated a sense of simultaneity. First, the progressing narratives in the installments imitated the unfolding of readers’ daily life, and the experience of reading was in sync with the experience of living. Newspapers’ publishing of reader correspondence, in turn, lent more visibility to the reading public. On October 21, 1930, the column editor of Xinwen bao solicited and published readers’ predictions about the final endings of Zhang Henshui’s Fate, obtaining 117 responses (fig. 1). The article lists eight different versions of the denouement and elaborates in detail the outcomes for all three female characters. As addicted readers wrote to editors and authors, demanded updates or new sequels, a reading community emerged from the private sphere of leisure reading.

As such, a sentimental subject—by sharing tears for the unfortunate and venting grievances against social injustice and absurdities—is integrated into a sentimental public. An individual matter becomes the subject of public sympathy, and social interchange of opinions in turn feeds into individual sensibility. The sentimental readers reading through tears and laughter are thus able to read together in tears and laughter independent of geographical proximity.


This article shows the multiple implications of spatiality by mapping the affective reading experience of Zhang Henshui’s Fate in Tears and Laughter. This study does not accept the Enlightenment assumption of a private self with universal equivalence. Instead, I problematize the distinction between private feelings and public sentiments as well as the assumption that the private self is a discrete entity that precedes the formation of the public. To recalibrate our ways of understanding the Republican Era reading public, I take issue with the conceptualization of emotion as being exclusively tied to interiority. Instead, I foreground the intersubjective relationship between self and other that transposes an affective body into a spectatorial position in front of the emotion-realm mediated by theatricality.

In so doing, my research departs from the assumption that private reading interiorizes emotions and reifies subjectivity. Instead, I first probe the formation of community through the melodramatic and theatrical implications of the spatiality of emotions. The study ascribes Fate’s appeal to the melodramatic rendering of polarized emotions that are saturated with the moral imperative that turns pathos into action. Second, this article charts the sedimented topography of emotions in which joys and sorrows are not internal overflows vis-à-vis external stimuli but rather constitute the very atmospheric environment that touches and moves an affective body. Emotional territories of tears and laughter are registered in the physical milieus of Beijing, ranging from the lively Bridge of Heaven to the tranquil Western Hills, all of which exude a sense of authenticity. Lastly, my reading of public resonance in light of theatricality suggests that readers are actively engaged in the creation of affective fantasies and spectacles via their bodily engagement in laughing, crying, and sympathizing with fictional characters.

The melodramatic polarization of emotions, the spatial topography of emotion embedded in geographical loci, and the emotional spectatorship in which a private self is enmeshed in a public domain, all contribute to a new understanding of the affective assembly of emotions that is not so much an innate faculty as the coded registers of an imagined community. From the intimate act of reading through tears and laughter to reading together in tears and laughter, a sentimental community emerges from the sentimental voyage of absorbed reading.


[1] Editor’s Note: This article was edited by Stephen Boyanton, who has since left LMC to pursue other projects. We wish him well.

[2] The “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies School” primarily refers to romantic love stories that originated in the late Qing and early Republican eras and gained wide popularity among the public in the 1910s and 20s. The inseparable lovers in the old-style novels are compared to mandarin ducks and butterflies in pairs. The “Saturday School” takes its name from an eponymous magazine Saturday (Libailiu 禮拜六), which published not only stories similiar to “Mandarin Duck and Butterfly,” but also detective novels, black curtain novels, knight-errant novels, social novels, etc. The two labels “Mandarin Duck and Butterfly School” and “Saturday School” began to merge and were used interchangeably to refer to middlebrow literature that included love stories, novels of knight errantry, and detective stories. In a recent re-evaluation of the late Qing and Republican era “popular literature,” Fan Boqun 范伯群 uses “Mandarin Duck and Butterflies-Saturday School” to foreground the diverse genres and contents subsumed under the rubric of this school. As a matter of convenience, in my discussion of popular novels in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, I deploy the term “Butterfly School” to specify their shared sentimental lineage.

[3] Zhang estimated in his memoir in 1949 that Fate had gone through a total of over twenty editions, not including the copies in southeast Asia and pirated editions. He recalled that the first two editions in 1930 had ten and fifteen thousand copies respectively. The subsequent editions (1930-1949) ran an average of three to four thousand copies (Zhang H., “Xiezuo shengya huiyi” 44).

[4] The rise of modern novels in Europe took place in tandem with the Industrial Revolution. Sentimental novels along with other early forms of novels paved the way for the emergence of modern fiction in Western Europe and elsewhere. See Margaret Cohen’s The Sentimental Education of the Novel, a study of French sentimental social novels during the first decades of the nineteenth century; and Jonathan Zwicker’s Practices of the Sentimental Imagination, an examination of the continuation between early modern and modern fiction through the lens of sentimental literature in Japan in the nineteenth century.

[5] To Benjamin, the crowd serves both as a shorthand for the emerging public and as a shadow cast by the coalescing urban mass. “The Crowd—no subject was more entitled to the attention of nineteenth-century writers. It was getting ready to take shape as a public in broad strata who had acquired facility in reading. It became a customer, it wished to find itself portrayed in the contemporary novel” (Illumination 166).

[6] Emotion and qing, are not entirely equivalent. Qing in the Chinese context can designate passion, nature, principle, and reality. In the late Ming, qing was viewed as a universal force in animation that gives life to the myriad things. See, for instance, the seventeenth-century compendium Qingshi 情史 (A History of Love).

[7] Hsiao-wei Wang Rupprecht discusses the structural design of Fate through the alternation and interpenetration of polarized emotions and other axes of correlatives amid characters’ union and separation. Her careful reading is helpful in understanding the polarization of emotion in a melodramatic mode (80-86).

[8] Lina’s full name He Lina approximates the female name Helena in both spelling and pronunciation and hits at both the degree of her beauty and her Westernized behavior. T.M. McClellan notes that Shen Fengxi and Lina fall readily into the dichotomy of pear/magnolia, reminiscent of the contrasting associations attached to the female protagonists Liniang (pear) and Yunqian (magnolia) in Xu Zhenyan’s Jade Pear Spirit (Yuli hun 玉梨魂) (11). While Lina is reminiscent of the “magnolia” lady Yunqian 筠倩 in Xu’s novel, I argue that Fengxi is different from the pear-type female protagonist in the 1910s. She is more modern and assertive than Liniang.

[9] Jiashu confesses to Fengxi about the nature of their love: “Our love is by no means based on money, and I would never dare to insult you by using this stinky money, but I am willing to help you to be self-reliant, so as not to collect money like before,” (110). Translations from Chinese into English are mine, unless otherwise noted.

[10] Fenggxi’s shallow materialistic penchant is vividly presented: “Fengxi only felt that wealth was compelling, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. As if she were a lady, she was busy taking care of these jewelry properties” (111).

[11] In Renjian cihua 人间词话 (Poetic Remarks on the Human World), Wang Guowei offers a well-known remark on the traversal of boundaries between the scenery and the emotion, “People talked about poetry in the past and distinguished the descriptions of scenary from the expression of emotions. However all descriptions of scenes are also expressions of emotions.”(34).

[12] The place where Zhang Henshui wrote the novel was previously known as Central Park (Zhongyang gongyuan 中央公園) as evoked several times in the novel. It was renamed Zhongshan Park in 1928 in honor of Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 孫中山, 1866-1925). This change explains away the difference between “Zhongshan” in Zhang Henshui’s preface and “Zhongyang” in his novel.

[13] In the early Republican era, imperial gardens were transformed into public parks in Beijing. As a representative of urban modernity, the public park served as a cultural space of leisure and entertainment for urban residents, and in particular, as a setting for romantic trysts between young lovers. Lin Zheng has written several articles about the social function and cultural imagination of public parks in Beijing (“The Urban Sojourner,”34-38, “From Imperial Gardens,”119-132, “The Zoological Garden,”325-401).

[14] For example, Haiyan Lee draws on Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and gives a comprehensive analysis of the formation of bourgeois identity and a sense of community through the lens of the literary public sphere in early Republican China (“All the Feelings That Are Fit to Print”). For a discussion of the rise and fall of the public sphere in broader scope and greater chronological depth, see Marie-Clair Bergère’s The Golden Age of the Chinese Bourgeoisie , 1911-1937. Leo Ou-fan Lee draws on Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities to illustrate how print mediums such as newpapers, periodicals and novels formed a new reading public and refashioned imagination of a new community of the nation (45).

[15] Habermas does hint at some degree of theatricality when he mentions that readers (of newspapers and novels) learn to orient their internal experience toward an imagined audience. However, he does not delve into the mediated interiority featuring such spatial practices as self-displacement but focuses on the implications of readers’ social engagement.

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Literature and Modern China, vol. 2, no. 1
ISSN (online) 2687-8208; ISSN (print) 2687-8194