Old stories retold: the adaptation of traditional stories in contemporary Chinese fantasy narratives
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 00:43 authored by Yue Wang
This thesis examines the process by which contemporary Chinese authors and film directors reshape traditional fantastic tales to develop new narratives. In order to interrogate the ingrained hierarchy of male over female, adult over child, and Chinese culture over foreign influence within traditional Chinese stories, contemporary adapters employ innovative narrative techniques to create transgressive space. To better scrutinize these narrative innovations and their thematic significance, this project brings together a range of methodologies that include textual analysis, concepts from cognitive studies, especially conceptual blending and script and schema theory, Bakhtinian concepts of polyphony, intertextuality and carnivalesque, and, more generally, cultural studies and ideological criticism. The study of adaptation in Chinese fantasy, as an interactive dialogue between studies of adaptation and retelling in the West and East Asia, contributes to the academic examination of the complicated negotiation between the past and the present, tradition and the modern, the elite and the popular, the East and the West, and text and reality in a globalized and postmodern world. The focus of the thesis on fantasy narratives entails a primary corpus that ranges from contemporary film adaptations addressing an adult or young adult audience to children's fiction and picture books. Approaching fantasy fiction as a literary subgenre, my project situates the genre studies of fantasy developed by Western critics within a Chinese context. However, academic discussion of fantasy fiction in China tends to emphasize the "imported" and "Westernized" components of this genre, ignoring the rich and long history of local fantastic traditions. By bridging contemporary fantasy and classical canonical works, modern commercial texts and ancient high culture works, my project enacts a dialogical mode of discourse based on local cultural traditions and global influences, and thus crosses boundaries between studies of classical and modern Chinese literature, and between Western fantasy theories and Chinese fantasy texts. The investigation of the process of textual transformation also takes into consideration shifting social-historical contexts and seeks to discover the changing and unchanging metanarratives behind stories and their ideological implications for modern society. My examination of the relationship between fantasy and reality in the adaptation process focuses particularly on the potential of some retellings to interrogate and resist the conservative ideologies of their pre-texts. The first chapter lays the theoretical basis for the whole project by providing a literature review of adaptation studies and then introducing other analytical frameworks that are part of the methodology. The next five chapters are case studies, in which each chapter deals with a separate subgenre of traditional tales and their contemporary adaptations. Chapter 2 addresses the transformation of Chinese mythology, as represented by The Classic of Mountains and Seas, in modern texts including picture books, blockbuster films, and children's fantasy novels. By virtue of the fragmental nature of Chinese mythology, bricolage adaptation based on a practice akin to Hiroki Azuma's "database mode" prompts readers to excavate a myth's multiple pre-texts and compare the difference made by authors. During this process opportunities arise to expose and interrogate the metanarrative implicit in the myth. Chapter 3 focuses on the metamorphoses of a folkloric script of interspecies romance, as exemplified by The Cowherd and The Weaver Girl and The Legend of the White Snake. Particular attention is paid to feminist revisionist retellings of this folklore material and the radical or compromised ways they dismantle the male-centered and adult-centered metanarratives. Chapter 4 turns to ghost stories epitomized by the Qing dynasty author Pu Songling's tales. This chapter reviews the multiple cultural meanings behind the ghost, both as a literal entity and a metaphor, and then discusses how contemporary adaptations construct analogies between ghosts and such marginalized members of society as women and children. Chapter 5 takes up the classical novel Journey to the West and examines how two contemporary young adult adaptations use the Monkey King figure to symbolize both youth identity and national image. Chapter 6 addresses a local literature genre, martial arts fiction, and its modernization and transformation in a global era. As a Chinese indigenous genre corresponding to Western fantasy, the recent reshaping of martial arts novels and films functions as a good example through which to inspect the confrontation between the two generations of young and old and the two cultures of East and West. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are thematically linked by their focus on the feminist revision of patriarchal ideology and on the promotion of a more equal relationship between repressed child subject and adult authority. Chapters 5 and 6 are also concerned with intergenerational conflict between youth and adults, and they further call attention to the opposition between nationalism and multiculturalism in contemporary China.