How to Read Modern Chinese Literature in English? The Women Beside/s Modernism

How to Read Modern Chinese Literature in English? The Women Beside/s Modernism
This thesis historicises a mid-century phenomenon that saw increasing numbers of Chinese writers working in English. I study this “anglophonic turn” mainly through the lives and careers of four women—Yang Buwei, Ling Shuhua, Eileen Chang, and Nieh Hualing—all of whom produced original works, translations, or self-translations in English. Their works took stock of the successes and disappointments of Chinese modernity after the May Fourth era, while advancing stylistic experiments and political commitments through the tricky geopolitics of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Cultural Cold War. Taken together, their individual stories of linguistic and geographical migration offer a women-centred history of how English rose to power as a global lingua franca and as one dominant language of world literature.

This corpus of anglophone Chinese writing offers fresh possibilities for comparative work in modernist studies. To this end, I adopt the orientational metaphor “beside/s” as a way of conceptualising these women’s affinities with (hence “beside”), and divergences from (“hence besides”), anglophone modernism. “Beside/s” offers a mode of prepositional thinking that stresses the coeval and collaborative nature of the exchanges and contiguities between Chinese and high modernist writers. Their encounters are evidence of the overlapping intellectual networks that stretched across China, the U.K., and the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century. By positioning these Chinese women beside/s modernism, I avoid the totalising risks of reading them for modernism, the antagonism of reading them against modernism, while sidestepping questions of “who/what came first?” that bedevil practices of reading before or after modernism.

“Beside/s” fires at multiple levels of analysis. It co-implicates historical accounts of modern Chinese literature and Euro-American modernism. It draws attention to the neglected women beside/s the famous men of May Fourth literature and high modernism. It points to the minor genres beside/s revolutionary manifestoes and novels, which include self-help works, women’s life writing, essays, short stories, and novellas. For scholars committed to the diversification of the New Modernist Studies, “beside/s” offers another interpretive tool for reading outside of the canon.


Tan Teck Heng

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

National University of Singapore, and King's College London; Department of English Language and Literature, and Department of Comparative Literature




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
Southeast Asia


International Relations and Politics
National politics
Art and Culture
Gender and Identity
Diasporas and Migration