International colloquium “Pionnières oubliées: Invisibilisation et instrumentalisation des femmes en Asie”

Lyon, France, 1–2 June 2023

Organizers: Jacqueline Estran and Min Sook Wang, Institut d’Etudes Transtextuelles et Transculturelles, Université Jean Moulin Lyon III

Barbara Hoster, Monumenta Serica Institute

“Between Recognition, Taboo and Rediscovery: The Changing Reception of the Chinese Writer Su Xuelin 蘇雪林 (1897–1999) and Her Work”

The Chinese woman writer Su Xuelin 蘇雪林 (1897–1999) can be regarded as a pioneer in several respects. She not only belongs to the first generation of Chinese women writers that emerged around 1920 in the wake of China’s cultural renewal movement, but she was also among the first Chinese women to study abroad – in her case in Lyon, France. Furthermore, she was one of the first women who embarked on an academic career as a university teacher. Thanks to her professional autonomy and the financial independence from her husband, from whom she de facto lived separately after only a few years of being together, Su Xuelin approached the model of the New Woman (xin nüxing 新女性), who strove for personal autonomy. Although she had been recognized as a writer since the late 1920s – both by Chinese literary critics and later by some francophone Catholic missionaries in China – and also made a name for herself as a literary scholar since the 1930s, a break occurred in her life around 1950, and along with it in the reception of her works. Because of her harsh criticism of Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881–1936), the “godfather” of modern Chinese literature, her staunch anti-communism and her explicit Christian confession, which was evident in both her life and work, she became persona non grata in Mainland China. Her person and her work were ignored there for decades, while she gained some recognition in her new homeland Taiwan. Her continued invisibility on the Chinese mainland, on the other hand, had the effect that she was also largely unknown in Western Sinology for a long time. By looking at the reception of her work in East and West, especially her autobiographically inspired novel Jixin 棘心 (Heart of Thorns), I show which mechanisms – of a political, religious, and literary nature – have led to her disappearance in literary historiography and to her gradual rediscovery since the 1990s.