In the face of grand historical narratives: Documenting my grandmother’s past 祛蔽和重构:我的外婆小传

By Lui Zhuoran

刘卓然

In the 1980s, the literary trend of “individual historical narration” was born in Mainland China. At that time, enlightenment ideals were introduced once again into China; the state had no longer controlled private life as strictly as before, and restrictions on thoughts and speech were gradually relaxed, causing various ideological cultures to compete with each other in the field of public opinion. People no longer used a single perspective to contemplate the past and present. The literary school of new historicism had finally appeared in China, in which the power discourse was being rejected, and a strong emphasis was placed on individual perspectives and folk positions.

上个世纪80年代,“个体历史叙事”的文学思潮开始在中国大陆出现。当时,启蒙的思想春风又一次吹入神州大地,国家逐步放松对思想和言论的管控,这导致各种意识形态在舆论的竞技场上相互激荡,人们也不再用单一的世界观看待现实和过去。一种有别于以往宏大历史叙事的“新历史主义小说”悄然登场,它的典型特征是对权力话语的有意拒绝和对个体视角与民间立场的强烈突出。

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Frog and Red Sorghum Family are two representatives of new historicism by Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. Frog takes the One-Child Policy as its theme, portraying the image of “aunt” as a rural family planning worker. Red Sorghum Family takes the War of Resistance Against Japan as its theme and tells the story of Yu Zhanao and Dai Fenglian, the bandit leaders of Gaomi, leading their men to fight the Japanese invaders.《蛙》和《红高粱家族》是诺贝尔文学奖得主莫言的两部“新历史主义”小说代表作。《蛙》以“计划生育”为主题,塑造了“姑姑”这一农村计划生育工作者形象.《红高粱家族》以“抗日战争”为主题,讲述了山东高密的土匪首领余占鳌和戴凤莲率领手下勇斗日本侵略者的故事。

Reading Long Yingtai’s Big River, Big Sea and Qi Bangyuan’s The Great Flowing River.. inspired me to write a story about my grandmother. These two books show how to collect and distinguish historical materials, interact with interviewees, discover a meaningful life story from an interviewee’s experiences, and reflect the grand history from the individual life story.

我曾经读过龙应台的《大江大海》和齐邦媛的《巨流河》,受它们的启发,我决定去写一部关于我外婆的故事。通过这两本书,我学会了如何去收集和鉴定史料,如何去与被采访者沟通,如何从被采访者的身上发现一个有意味的生命故事,以及怎样从个体的生命体验出发反思宏大历史。

Like many Chinese female peasants, my grandmother’s story has been overshadowed by an abstract collective concept of the “people’s spirit” endorsed in the official historical narrative. Individuals like her are reduced to a collective “they” which robs them of their individuality. My grandmother attended elementary school for only two years, and she worked for her family without asking for anything in return. Her methodical, unhurried recounting of experiences during Rural Land Reform, the Three-Year Famine (1959-1961) and the Cultural Revolution reflect her adventurous childhood, rough married life, and unthinkable exhaustion.

像许多中国农妇一样,我坎坷一生的外婆被塞进一个抽象的集体概念并代言在正史里关于“人民精神”的宏大叙事中,因为被高高地奉在天上而面目模糊。她只上过两年小学,为家庭奉献了一生却不求回报。她不疾不徐、有条有理地给我从土改讲到三年大饥荒,再从三年大饥荒讲到文化大革命,这些讲述把我带进她冒险般的童年,阳光灿烂的青春岁月和风风雨雨的婚后生活,并让我触摸到她无法想象的艰辛。

Unlike traditional Chinese families wherein men are dominant, my grandmother took almost all family responsibilities. She was the eldest daughter with three sisters and one brother. She dropped out of school in second grade in order to take care of her siblings. During the Three-Year Famine, my grandmother had to seek food for the whole family nearly every day. Due to her tireless efforts, her entire family survived even as one-third of the people in her village died of starvation.

不同于男人才是顶梁柱的中国家传统家庭,我的外婆几乎承担起家庭的所有责任。在她出嫁前,她是家中的长女,下面有三个妹妹和一个弟弟,她二年级时辍学,为的是能够照顾弟妹们。三年大饥荒时,她几乎每日出去为整个家庭寻找食物,由于她不辞辛苦地外出觅食,她的一家得以保存,而她所在那个的村里死了三分之一的人。

After getting married, she was so poor that she and her husband had to borrow money from relatives and friends to pay for essentials. In order to relieve their debt, she pulled cargo on a cart with her husband, day and night. She also had to do farming, babysitting and other trivial household chores. However, the value of what the women like my grandmother devote to family is usually underestimated; at present, explicit and invisible discrimination against women is everywhere, so Chinese society urgently needs healthy feminism to inject energy to promote gender equality.

婚后,由于贫穷,她和丈夫不得不向亲朋好友借债度日。为了减轻还债压力,她和丈夫一起从早到晚地给别人用板车拉货赚钱。除此之外,她还得种田,带孩子和做其他琐碎的家务事。然而,像我外婆一样的中国女性为家庭所作的贡献其实是被低估的,并且在当下中国,对女性显性和隐性的歧视无处不在,中国社会亟需健康的女权主义为其注入促进男女平等的能量。

Attempts to uncover the history of Chinese society during this period are quite difficult. When checking the local chronicles to understand the famine situation at that time, I learned that the local history of my grandmother’s hometown was being compiled by the administrator of the local cultural station. When I asked someone to contact him, I was told that he did not collect historical data about the Three-Year Famine. He further added that he would not collect any material related to politics, and warned me to mind political correctness when writing this article and to avoid making mistakes. I understood him very much because Chinese people are tacit about certain things. However, people will likely forget the history if we don’t discuss major historical events, and forgetting means that we cannot learn anything from history.

我发现还原当时的历史现场是相当困难的。为了了解当时的饥荒情况,我决定去查阅地方志。几经辗转,我了解到外婆家乡的地方志正在由当地文化站的站长编纂,于是我托人联系上他,却被告知他并没有收录该地有关三年大饥荒的史料。他还进一步补充道,跟政治有关的内容他一概不收,并且告诫我在写这篇文章时应该注意方向,不能犯错。我很能理解他的忠告,因为彼此都对某些事情心照不宣,但对重大历史事件的避而不谈,极有可能造成对历史的遗忘,遗忘将意味着我们无法从历史中学到任何东西。

Grand historical narratives have brutally controlled personal memories. These narratives tend to praise suffering, but such praise is actually cruel and hypocritical because it is just a fig leaf covered by people who are responsible for the suffering. This shows the real preference of these hypocrites: to sit by and watch people suffer.

对个体记忆的遗忘相伴随的是宏大历史叙事对记忆的粗暴把持,这种叙事往往赞美苦难,但一切对苦难者的歌颂实际上是一种残忍与伪善,因为它给应该为苦难负责的人蒙上一层遮羞布,同时也显示出这群伪善者的本质:对苦难者受苦袖手旁观。

In order to fight against the power discourse of history, some non-fiction and fictional works with historical narratives from the perspective of ordinary people are becoming popular in China. Yang Benfen’s Autumn Garden is an 80-year-old woman’s autobiography, whose story ranges from war to peace as she portrays the life and death of a group of small people in the south-central backland of China. Similarly, Jiang Shumei, who only learned to read and write in her elderly years, wrote a family history entitled Times of Chaos, Times of Poor, which reflects the phenomena that individuals have a strong desire for self-expression. Under the individual historical narrative, people can become themselves, life will show its abundance and prosperity, and individual memories will be preserved and transmitted.

为了对抗宏大历史叙事,一些以普通人的视角进行历史叙事的非虚构和虚构作品正在当下的中国流行开来。《秋园》的作者杨本芬是一位八十岁的老太太,她在花甲之年才开始提笔写作。《秋园》这部作品是作者杨本芬一生的自叙传,它从战乱岁月写到承平年代,写尽了中南腹地一群小人物的生生死死。无独有偶,另一部以家族史为原型的小说《乱时候,穷时候》的作者姜淑梅晚年才开始识文断字,并进行文学创作。通过这些现象可见,个体是有强烈的自我表达欲的。在这种个体历史叙事下,人会成为人,生命也会展现出它的丰盈和旺盛,个体记忆也将得到保存和传递。

Photo credit: Douban&Douban

Both Yang Benfen, the author of Autumn Garden, and Jiang Shumei, the author of The Turbulent Time, The Poor Time started literary creation in their later years with the help and encouragement of their children. Their works emphasize their own family stories and life experiences. 《秋园》的作者杨本芬和《乱时候,穷时候》的作者姜淑梅都是晚年在子女的帮助和鼓励下开始文学创作,她们的作品多是对自家家族故事和人生经历的叙写。

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