When thinking of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, one might picture horrific images of ruthless soldiers bearing down on frightened students and battered bodies strewn across the public city square.
But one can only imagine.
"Tiananmen Fictions Outside the Square," by Assistant Professor of English and Asian Studies Belinda Kong, was released today by Temple University Press. Analyzing three novels and one play, the work assesses certain values about Chinese culture through a diasporic lens, particularly in relation to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. In fact, the volume is the first book-length study of fictional works related to the atrocity, according to its press release. The hardcover version of the book will sell for $86.50.
Kong unknowingly began her book while writing her graduate dissertation at the University of Michigan 12 years ago. Starting with Gao Xingjian's play "Fugitives"—one of the works for which the author won the Nobel Prize in 2000—Kong went on to explore more Chinese diasporic literature. She said she became fixated on works that commented on Tiananmen.
"Originally, it was a more theoretical dissertation around Chinese-ness and Diasporic fiction in general, comprised of all kinds of writers," said Kong. "I didn't really have a focus, in terms of having a historical grounding. So, it really came together when I found myself continually drawn back to Tiananmen. At a certain point, I realized that it seemed to be something that had a charge for me, and I kind of psychically kept going back to it."
The common thread of the Tiananmen Massacre appealed to Kong because of the taboo surrounding the event in China.
"Because writing about the event is censored in China, it means that Chinese writers who are obliged to write about it must do so abroad," Kong said. "For someone like me who works with the Chinese diaspora and Chinese diaspora literature, it kind of clicked into place for me when I realized that this was a topic that could only be narrated from abroad."
The work that comes out today also incorporates three novels: Ha Jin's "The Crazed," Annie Wang's "Lili" and Ma Jian's "Beijing Coma."
Kong explores many aspects of the different fictions she discusses and ultimately engages with larger discussions about "political exile, historical trauma, global culture, and state biopower."
"As someone who works with the Chinese diaspora, I think, sometimes, there is a bias against diasporic writers having a claim to being able to give a portrait of China for the western audiences," she said. "I hope this book offsets some of that bias against outsiders. They are narrating an event that doesn't get narrated from within, and I think that is very important in terms of people continually remembering this episode for our whole generation and beyond."
A celebration for the release of the novel will be held on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Massachusetts Hall faculty room. It will include dialogue with Kong moderated by Professor of English David Collings and Associate Professor of Asian Studies Shu-chin Tsui.