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On the Aesthetics of the Ugly in Su Tong’s Novel on Female

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2017/2018 School of Chinese Research Students Seminar

On the Aesthetics of the Ugly in Su Tong’s Novel on Female

辜雨瑤 KU Yu Yiu

April 27, 2018 (Friday), 5:30-6:45pm
Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus
Language: Putonghua


Chinese literati have included “the ugly” in their writing since the ancient times, but it has often served as an accompany of “beauty”—the Ugly has not evolved into an independent aesthetic category all along until the 1980s: the comparatively freer literary environment in China then gave rise to the literary trend of the aesthetics of the Ugly, making ugliness a popular theme in literary texts. The blood and gore and morbidity of the plots and the peculiar language have formed a hideous literary landscape and burst upon the literary circles. Su Tung (1963- ), a writer who emerged in the 1980s, also incorporates worldly ugliness in his works, consciously depicting shoddy environment, degenerate and ruthless society, as well as distorted and denatured humanity. Just as beauty can have millions of manifestations in literature, the representation of the Ugly differs among writers. There are some writers who go after every minute detail of ugliness, whereas more subtlety can be found in Su Tong’s pursuit of the aesthetics of ugliness. He does not play with exaggerations or obsess over lurid details to nauseate people; his light touch for the Ugly sends a shudder down people’s spine all the same. His renowned “Hongfen xilie” (“Red Faces”/”Blushes” series) novels, including Wives and Concubines (Qiqie chengqun)Blushes (Hongfen)Women’s Life (Funü shenghuo), and Another Kind of Women’s Life (Lingyizhong funü shenghuo), could be said to be Su Tong’s signature works that explore the theme of ugliness. The female protagonists in Su Tung’ novels represent the struggle of women in the era where ideas new and old, traditional and modern collide; his characterisation also reveals the ugliness of the female. Albeit himself being a male writer, Su Tong managed to turn away from the literary tradition’s patriarchal poeticizing of females. His adoption of a neutral point of view in writing the female is exemplary. This presentation will first clarify what “the aesthetics of ugliness” means and then focus on how Su Tong constructs his own aesthetics of ugliness in his series of novels depicting female.


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