From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Tiananmen fiction: literary insurgencies in the diasporic Chinese community

Elisa Bordin


This article investigates the literary representation of the 1989 protest of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, in three texts that can be ascribed to what Belinda Kong defines as ‘Tiananmen fiction’, that is, works produced by writers in the Chinese diaspora with Tiananmen as a central narrative event. The analyzed novels, Ha Jin’s The Crazed (2002), Xialou Guo’s I Am China (2014), and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016), all written in English, take some distance from other more traditional themes in the literary output of the Asian diasporic community, usually linked to the identitarian issue, to embrace a clear political and ethical stance. Although produced in distinct geographical areas (the US, Canada, and the UK) and by authors differently ascribed to the Chinese diaspora, the selected texts share an interest in the historical event of Tiananmen Square as an occasion to reflect on questions of human dignity, national history, and the revolutionary role the arts have in totalitarian regimes – all themes that merge in the memory of Tiananmen. The current emergence of such issues in the literary production of the Chinese diaspora offers an opportunity to discuss the representation of Chineseness both at home and abroad, providing a resistant positioning against the official history of the country that has silenced the event, and highlighting the importance of insurgency as a tool for the survival of human dignity.




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