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Fantômes dans l'Extrême-Orient d'hier et d'aujourd'hui - Tome 2

 | 
Marie Laureillard
, 
Vincent Durand-Dastès

Auteurs hantés de la littérature moderne

Illusion and Disillusionment in the Name of the “Ghost”:
A Study of Xu Xu’s “Ghost Love”

Illusion et désillusion au nom du « Fantôme » : une étude d’un Amour de fantôme de Xu Xu

以鬼之名,幻覺與幻滅:讀徐訏《鬼戀》

Chen Qin

Résumé

As one of the most popular writers of the Republican period, Xu Xu (1908-1980) is famous for fiction characterized by a cosmopolitan atmosphere, exoticism, and fantastic encounters. Ghost Love, his first well-known work, presents the traditional narrative of “a man encountering a female ghost” and offers serious contemplation about the nature of reality from the perspective of psychology, philosophy, and politics. In examining the intertextuality between Ghost Love and traditional ghost narratives, this essay demonstrates how Xu Xu intentionally alludes to and diverges from the stereotypes and scenarios of the zhiguai tradition, tactically combines that tradition with elements of Western gothic fiction, and sets this ghost story in a modern city involving modern issues. By contextualizing Ghost Love in the broader social context from 1927 to 1937—in relation to Bai Wei’s famous drama Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda (1927) and Ma-Xu Weibang’s horror film Song at (1937), as well as discussing the political connotations of Longhua, a setting repeatedly referred to in Ghost Love—the essay also unmasks the fallacy that Xu Xu’s writing is apolitical, and points to the complexity, ambiguity, and ambivalence in the binary trope of human/ghost in the Republican period. The essay also challenges the conventional idea of Xu Xu as a neo-Romantic writer, by examining his unique view of the ghost, as well as the themes of illusion and disillusionment.

L’un des écrivains les plus populaires de la période républicaine, Xu Xu (1908-1980) est célèbre pour ses écrits fictionnels caractérisés par l’atmosphère cosmopolite, l’exotisme et les rencontres fantastiques. Un amour de fantôme, sa première œuvre connue, présente le récit traditionnel d’ « un homme rencontrant un fantôme féminin » et offre une réflexion sérieuse sur la réalité d’un point de vue psychologique, philosophique et politique. En examinant l’intertextualité entre Un amour de fantôme et les récits de fantômes traditionnels, cet essai démontre comment Xu Xu fait intentionnellement allusion aux stéréotypes et aux scénarios de la tradition zhiguai tout en s’en écartant, combinant tactiquement cette tradition avec certains éléments de la fiction gothique occidentale, et comment il situe son histoire de fantôme dans une ville moderne impliquant une thématique moderne. En contextualisant Un amour de fantôme dans l’environnement social de 1927 à 1937—en relation avec la célèbre pièce de théâtre de Bai Wei L’évasion de la pagode des fantômes (1927) et le film d’horreur de Ma-Xu Weibang Le chant de minuit (1937), tout en traitant des connotations politiques de Longhua, un cadre auquel Un amour de fantôme se réfère à plusieurs reprises — l’essai met en lumière l’idée erronée selon laquelle les écrits de Xu Xu sont apolitiques ainsi que la complexité, l’ambiguité et l’ambivalence du trope binaire être humain /fantôme à l’époque républicaine. L’essai remet également en cause l’idée conventionnelle selon laquelle Xu Xu serait un écrivain néo-romantique en examinant sa vision du fantôme ainsi que les thèmes de l’illusion et de la désillusion.

作為民國時期暢銷作家之一,徐訏(1908-1980)以其作品展現的大千世界風貌、異國情調以及筆下主人公的奇遇而著稱。《鬼戀》作為他的成名作,在講述一個傳統的“書生艷遇女鬼”故事的同時,反映了徐訏從心理學、哲學和政治角度對現實的嚴肅思考。通過考察《鬼戀》和傳統誌怪小說的互文性,本文分析了徐訏是如何有意援引,又有意悖離誌怪傳統中的常見人物形象和故事場景,將這一傳統和西方哥特小說標誌性因素有機融合,講述了一個發生在現代都市的“倩女幽魂”式故事。其次,通過將《鬼戀》置於1927年至1937年這一更為廣闊的社會語境中,考察它與白薇的著名戲劇《打出幽靈塔》(1927)和馬徐維邦的恐怖電影《夜半歌聲》(1937)間的互文性,以及文中反復出現的地點“龍華”的政治內涵,本文在揭示徐訏小說所含的隱晦政治性之外,進一步闡釋了民國時期“人/鬼”二元對立修辭所內含的復雜性、模糊性和矛盾情感。借由考察徐訏對“鬼”的獨特理解,以及其作品中復現的“幻覺”與“幻滅”主題,本文也重新審視了徐訏在中國文學史中被定義為“新浪漫派”作家的身份。

Texte intégral

  • 1 Xu Xu obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Peking University in 1931 and studie (...)
  • 2 The original version was in Yuzhoufeng 32 (1937), pp. 444–448 and Yuzhoufeng 33 (1 (...)
  • 3 See Schyns Joseph 善秉仁 et al., eds., 1966, 1500 Modern Chinese Novels and Plays, Ho (...)

1As one of the most popular writers during the Republican period, Xu Xu (徐訏) (1908–1980) is famous for fiction characterized by a cosmopolitan atmosphere, exoticism, and fantastic encounters. “Ghost Love” (Gui lian 鬼恋), his first well-known work, was first serialized in the January and February issues of the journal Yuzhoufeng 宇宙風 (Cosmic Wind) in 1937, while Xu Xu was studying in Paris.1 The story was later published in book form by Yechuang shuwu 夜窗書屋 (Night Window Bookstore) in 1938 after Xu Xu returned to Shanghai.2 This novella immediately attained great popularity both in Shanghai and the interior during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and by March 1947 had gone through its nineteenth print run.3

2“Ghost Love” presents the traditional narrative of “a man encountering a female ghost” and offers Xu Xu’s serious contemplation about the nature of reality from the perspective of psychology, philosophy and politics. In examining the intertextuality between “Ghost Love” traditional narrative and traditional ghost narratives, this essay demonstrates how Xu Xu intentionally alludes to and diverges from the stereotypes and scenarios of the zhiguai (志怪) tradition, tactically combines that tradition with elements of Western gothic fiction, and sets this ghost story in a modern city involving modern issues. By contextualizing “Ghost Love” in the broader social context from 1927 to 1937—in relation to Bai Wei’s famous drama Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda (Dachu youling ta 打出幽靈塔; 1927) and Ma-xu Weibang’s horror film Song at Midnight (Yeban gesheng 夜半歌聲; 1937), as well as discussing the political connotations of Longhua (龍華), a setting repeatedly referred to in “Ghost Love”—the essay also unmasks the fallacy that Xu Xu’s writing is apolitical, and points to the complexity, ambiguity and ambivalence in the binary trope of human/ghost in the Republican period. The essay also challenges the conventional idea of Xu Xu as a neo-Romantic writer by examining his unique view of the ghost, as well as the themes of illusion and disillusionment.

A Chinese ghost story in a modern city

3As its title suggests, “Ghost Love” is a “ghost story”. Its storyline is based on the traditional romance/stereotype of “a man encountering a female ghost”. On a chilly winter night, the first-person narrator – whose name, Xu 徐, is identical to the author’s – encounters a beautiful young woman dressed in black in a tobacconist’s on Nanjing Road, and she approaches him with the following words: “Human being, please tell me the way to Xietu Road.”

4The narrator is astonished by her beauty and the manner in which she addresses him. Yet she insists that her way of addressing him as “human” is appropriate, since she is indeed a ghost. Full of curiosity, he agrees to accompany her to Xietu Road and persuades her to meet him again. In the following year, they meet at night every three days. The narrator becomes more and more infatuated with this nameless woman, though he remains suspicious of her claimed “ghostly” identity. The turning point comes with a sudden rainstorm, in which the woman finally invites him into her house in a village on the outskirts of the city. There, he finds some men’s clothing that she claims belonged to her husband when she was still alive. Then he confesses his love to her, but in return, is mocked by her. For her, love is an absurdity of the human world, and it is ridiculous for there to be love between a man and a ghost. Frustrated but still clinging to some faint hope, the narrator returns to the house during the daytime, trying to learn more about her true identity. He finally finds out that the woman who lived there died three years ago.

5The first installment suddenly terminated at this point, keeping readers in suspense as to whether or not the woman was really a ghost. In a manner, reminiscent of traditional Chinese storytellers and huaben 話本 fiction, the publisher announced that the second part would appear in the next issue.

6In the second installment, the narrator meets the woman again, still suffering from the same obsessive love. After he and the woman finally make a compromise to maintain a platonic love, he accidently meets her one day during the daytime dressed as a Buddhist nun. He questions her ghostly identity again, and this time she has to admit that she is a human being – a woman who used to be a revolutionary assassin yet feels disillusioned with this human world and prefers to be a ghost. At the end of the story, the woman hopes the narrator will go on with his life as a human (haohao zuoren 好好做人), and she disappears from his life forever as a “ghost”.

  • 4 See Pu Songling 蒲松齡, “The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag,” in Strange Tales from a Chines (...)
  • 5 Judith Zeitlin. also uses this film as a typical presentation of traditional fictional n (...)

7The basic storyline of this novella is apparently not new since records of encounters with supernatural phenomena can be traced back as early as in the zhiguai 志怪 (accounts of the strange) anecdotes of the Six Dynasties. This tradition later develops into Tang chuanqi 傳奇 (tales of the strange and the bizarre), then Song zhiguai stories, and most spectacularly, Ming and Qing biji 筆記 (jottings) of ghosts and phantoms. To this day, among various supernatural phenomena and spectral images, the female ghost remains as much a source of fascination in Chinese media, including fiction, movies and television series, as the vampire or werewolf in Western popular culture. A prominent example is the Hong Kong film A Chinese Ghost Story (Qiannü youhun 倩女幽魂), directed by Ching Siu Tung 程小東 and produced by Tsui Hark 徐克 in 1987, which is an adaptation of “The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag” (Nie Xiaoqian 聶小倩), a ghost story in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋志異, hereafter referred to as Liaozhai).4 This hit film perfectly visualizes this traditional stereotype of the female ghost (Fig. 1).5 Therefore, in this paper, when I use the term “a Chinese ghost story” to refer to Xu’s novella, I apply it not only for its literal meaning in Chinese, but also for its cultural implication in terms of the intertextuality between Xu’s story and the Chinese zhiguai 志怪 narrative tradition visually epitomized by the film A Chinese Ghost Story.

Figure 1 

A man encounters an enchanting woman (a ghost); they fall in love with each other. From the Hong Kong film A Chinese Ghost Story (1987).

  • 6 In the book version, Xu made some alterations to the original text, changing the chronol (...)

8Intriguingly, when the male protagonist in “Ghost Love” accompanies the female protagonist home, he tells her a traditional Chinese ghost story to prove his courage.6 It is about a fearless man who encounters a beautiful female ghost in a valley at midnight, and pursues her despite her attempts to scare him away with her horrible appearance. There is an interesting and salient correspondence between this embedded story and the frame story.

  • 7 Xu Xu 徐訏, 2008, Gui lian 鬼戀 (Ghost Love) , 2nd ed. Beijing: Huaxiang chubanshe, (...)
  • 8 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 43.

9Both stories start with an encounter at night between a man and a beautiful woman. The man pursues the woman and falls in love with her; she claims to be a ghost and tries her best to scare him away, but fails to get rid of him; she has to bring him back home and serve him with food and drink; he demands shelter for the night; yet finally when he wakes up from this “dream”, he finds that everything has been an illusion and cannot find her. The man in the embedded story confesses that he “really wants to meet the female ghost again, but he can only find a tomb during the daytime, whereas he can never find her place at night”.7 Likewise, at the end of the frame story, the first-person narrator – the protagonist – sighs: “Now it is winter … Winter comes again, yet the encounter in winter will never come. I always miss her, and yearn for everything about her all the time. However, in this vast earthly world, where can I meet her again?”8

  • 9 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 11.
  • 10 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 17.
  • 11 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 22.
  • 12 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 28.

10What interests me most is that the protagonist himself clearly realizes this correspondence between the embedded story and his own story. When he is telling the traditional ghost story, he feels that he himself is “seemingly involved in this story with the woman at his side in the role [of the ghost]”.9 And when he lights a cigarette for her, his hands are actually trembling because he is afraid that she may suddenly change her appearance to that of a horrible ghost in the light of the match, much like the female ghost does in the embedded story. When he finally successfully enters her house, he notices that her curtains have three layers: the one closest to the window is white, the next is grey-green, and the innermost one is made of black wool, which coincides with the color of the tomb in the embedded story. He wonders, “Is it really a tomb? I guess the white one should be the stone fence, the grey-green one the grass, and the black one the dirt.”10 Furthermore, what makes him decide to return to her house during the daytime also comes from his knowledge of traditional ghost stories in which “houses made by ghosts through magic in the night become tombs during the day”.11 Therefore, he believes that he can prove her to be a human being if her house does not change into a tomb during the day. Yet his test fails with the news that she died three years ago, and he continues to suffer in his hopeless love. When he becomes so gaunt that all his friends and relatives begin to worry about his health, he recalls that it is a typical symptom for “men bewitched by ghosts” in stories in Liaozhai.12

  • 13 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 11, p. 35.

11In this sense, the ending of the embedded story actually becomes a prediction of the tragic ending of the frame story. On the one hand, the narrator cannot help making allusions to traditional ghost stories to analogize his experience; yet, on the other hand, he tries to get rid of this stereotype through such efforts as arguing that his illness is not caused by her bewitching him, and that she lives in a house rather than a tomb, etc. However, all his efforts turn out to be useless. He finally repeats the same disillusionment of the man in the embedded story, who wakes up in the morning “finding himself sleeping near a stone fence in front of a tomb”, since he also wakes up one day outdoors, “dabbling in the dew”,13 and never has a chance to meet the female “ghost” again.

  • 14 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 5.

12Despite conscious allusions to and appropriations of some typical scenarios of the zhiguai tradition, some divergences can also be found between “Ghost Love” and traditional narratives. It is a modern ghost story set in a national metropolis, and the protagonist encounters the woman in a tobacconist’s on one of the busiest commercial streets in the city. As the protagonist says, even if one day he will believe in ghosts, “it certainly will not be on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, and in a beautiful woman who walks into a tobacconist’s asking for Era cigarettes and then has the courage to ask a stranger for directions”.14 Yet the erudite ghostly woman solves this ridiculous dilemma with an interesting binary: for her, Nanjing Road represents the “bustling” (renao de 熱鬧的) human world (renjian 人間), while the area west of the Xietu Road represents the “secluded” (pijing de 僻靜的) ghost world (guiyu 鬼域). She can wander in the human world at night if she so desires, but during the day lives only in the ghost world, where she refuses his company. Therefore, whereas in traditional narratives the two worlds coexist in the same geographic area but are separated temporally – day belongs to human beings and night belongs to ghosts (a principle applied to both ghosts in Chinese culture and vampires in Western culture) – the distinction between the human world and ghost world in Xu Xu’s novella is embodied through the distinction between the urban and suburban spaces. The former is the area represented by Nanjing Road or Avenue Joffre 霞飛路, which is full of shops, tobacconist sellers, cafés and other modern icons, and the latter is the area to the west of Xietu Road as well as the Longhua (龍華) area, which was at the time secluded from the modernized city.

  • 15 Interestingly, if we examine the embedded story in “Ghost Love” again, we find that in (...)
  • 16 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 15.
  • 17 Haggerty George E., 1989, Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form, University Park and London: Pennsy (...)

13But at the same time, these two worlds are not absolutely incompatible. Readers may notice that in their nocturnal meetings, the protagonist and the woman either roam about the deserted area, enjoying the beautiful night landscape, or sit in a café downtown, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and chatting through the night. Their shuttling between the human world and the ghost world suggests a movement between modernity and tradition. Furthermore, in the plot development, readers get the opportunity to visit the woman’s house through the protagonist’s eyes. The reader is perhaps surprised to find that the layout and the decoration of her “secluded” house is a mixture of Chinese and Western (traditional and modern) styles. Above the traditional redwood bed there is a round black bed-curtain, the likes of which he had never seen before (whereas it is a typical gothic-looking decoration in the West, Fig. 2); a Bible is laid on the redwood bookshelf next to a piano and a violin; and Chinese-style and Western-style pictures hang together on the wall. When the woman comes out, she serves him whiskey, hot coffee, milk with sugar, and cake – a series of exotic and fashionable Western food and drinks.15 This hybrid lifestyle is also embodied in her knowledge, since “she almost knows a little of everything, whether metaphysics or physics, astronomy or entomology”,16 which indicates that she has received a modern education. All of these make the story more like an urban (Westernized) gothic romance, in which facts “are not given, but must be discovered” through the protagonist’s active, intentional investigation,17 rather than a traditional Chinese narrative, in which protagonists usually accidently find the horrible truth after being bewitched, or know the identity of the ghost from the beginning through common knowledge.

  • 18 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 31.

14The protagonist’s encounter with the woman during daytime further breaks the boundary between the human world and the ghost world, and suggests the story’s departure from traditional ghost narratives. This serious violation of the norms enhances the male protagonist’s suspicion of the woman’s identity, and finally dispels the mystery around her – she has to confess that she is actually a mortal who would rather live as a ghost. She not only insists on the difference between the human being and the ghost, but also complains “Why can’t you forgive me? [Why do you] insist on arguing that I’m a human being, pulling me out from being buried in a tomb up to the human world, and forcing me to be a mortal in this ghostly human world?”18

  • 19 “All the living must die, and dying, return to the ground; this is what is cal (...)
  • 20 The embedded story narrated by the protagonist in the novella may be the only (...)

15This complaint obviously reverses the traditional hierarchy of beings in the world, in which deities go first, followed by human beings, with ghosts at the bottom.19 While human beings are associated with essence of yang 陽, something bright, elevated, good and beautiful, ghosts represent yin 陰, the dark, base, evil and ugly. That is why female ghosts in traditional ghost stories usually try to hide their ghostly identity and pretend to be human beings in their relationship with men, especially when they are in love with a man. The most typical and horrible story of this sort might be “The Painted Skin” (Hua pi 畫皮) in Liaozhai, in which a female ghost has created the perfect disguise of a painted human-skin, which she has removed from her victims, in order to project an identity as a mortal woman. In addition, a recurrent repertoire in traditional Chinese ghost-cum-love stories is the fantasy of a ghost’s resurrection or rebirth with the help of her beloved man. The Liaozhai tales entitled “Twenty Years a Dream” (Lian Suo 連鎖) and “Lady Wu Qiuyue” (Wu Qiuyue 伍秋月) contain detailed descriptions of this resurrection procedure as well as the celebration of the happy ending when the ghost finally turns into a human being and lives together with her lover.20

  • 21 Obviously, this idea resonates with the Buddhist metaphor of the human body – gelang zho (...)

16Yet in the logic of the female protagonist, the ghost is superior to the human being, and the ghost is not necessarily the same as an ugly corpse and base nature. Rather, the corpse is the final material form of any beautiful human being in this world. In other words, there is no beauty in the human world.21 This reversed dichotomy should be read in its relation to other binary tropes of human/ghost in the Republican period.

Ghost pagoda, deserted tomb and haunted theatre: Revolution and revulsion in 1927 and 1937

  • 22 Wang David Der-wei, 2004, “Second Haunting: The Meaning of Ghost is ‘That Whic (...)
  • 23 Hu Shi 胡適, 1986, “Zhengli guogu yu dagui” 整理國故與“打鬼” (Sino-logical learning and (...)
  • 24 Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda was written in 1927 and published in 1928. See Ba (...)

17As David Wang points out, “although ghosts appear to have been kept at bay by enlightened literati, chances are that they still lurked not far behind the façade of the new literature. More intriguingly, modern Chinese writers and intellectuals cannot carry on their enlightened discourse without invoking, or even inventing, new ghosts.”22 A haunted house, an evil ghost or a cannibalistic banquet can be used as icons in the May Fourth period to symbolize oppressive society, cannibalistic traditional culture, or even the damnable national character. Hu Shi’s condemnation of the “five ghosts” in the 1930s – poverty, disease, ignorance, corruption and chaos – can be viewed as one of the most representative discourses about ghosts at that time.23 Similarly, in Bai Wei’s Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda (Dachu youling ta 打出幽靈塔, hereafter Ghost Pagoda), a drama with references to both the Chinese legend about the White Snake imprisoned by the Leifeng Pagoda 雷峰塔 and to Ibsenian ghosts, the traditional patriarchy is compared to a ghost pagoda that suppresses the whole family and finally breaks down at the expense of the life of the heroic daughter.24 The drama develops its plots around how the female protagonist fights against, and finally fights her way out of, the “ghost pagoda” when she kills her “father”.

  • 25 An interesting combination of both themes in “Ghost Love” and Breaking Out of Ghost Pago (...)

18By contrast, in “Ghost Love”, the aforementioned binary discourse is completely reversed. The female protagonist was a revolutionary assassin before she meets the male protagonist; she did secret revolutionary work and killed several people with her dagger in the name of the revolution. Yet when she returned from exile abroad one day, she first found her lover executed, and then discovered that most of her revolutionary companions had betrayed the revolution. She gradually felt disillusioned with her love, her work, her belief, and indeed with the entire human world.25 Thus, the novella tells us a story of how a human being is turned into a ghost, and willingly buries herself in a “deserted tomb”. And the ghost in this story is not the symbol of evil, as in the play Ghost Pagoda and most works of the Republican period.

19Intriguingly, Bai Wei used a similar trope to depict herself in a letter to her beloved in 1924:

  • 26 Bai Wei 白薇 and Yang Sao 楊騷, 1999, Zuo Ye 昨夜 (Last night), Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chu (...)

You are just occasionally like a ghost emerging from a deserted tomb, yet the deserted tomb is where I rest forever. I don’t know how long I have been here and I don’t care what year this is. I meant to completely forget this human world where the pretty and the ugly are competing with each other. It makes no sense to inquire about my past. Who do you take me for? Why do you like me? You may have made a mistake. Are you in a dream? The difference between you and me is that between life and death.26

  • 27 The Northern Expedition (beifa 北伐), also known as the Great Revolution (da gem (...)
  • 28 According to the flashback by the protagonist – “it was ten years ago” – the setting of (...)

20This similarity between the two confessions in Xu Xu’s “Ghost Love” and Bai Wei’s love letter deserves our attention on two levels. On the one hand, Bai Wei’s Ghost Pagoda has usually been viewed as a typical allegory of the ghost in Republican-era literature, which is totally reversed in her early self-confession. On the other hand, the year 1927 is also remarkable. For Chinese readers who are familiar with Republican-era history, this year is the watershed of the Great Revolution when the Kuomintang (hereafter KMT) breaks with the Chinese Communist Party (hereafter CCP) in the Northern Expedition.27 Coincidentally, both Ghost Pagoda and “Ghost Love” ) set their stories in 1927.28

  • 29 Bai Wei and Yang Sao, 1999, Zuo ye, p. 6; Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 33.
  • 30 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 5–6. Guidaqiang 鬼打牆 – “ghost building the wall” (...)

21Bai Wei confessed that she often asked herself “Am I a ghost or a human?”, and sometimes felt that she had a certain Buddhahood (foxing 佛性), a term also used by the female protagonist in “Ghost Love”, gained through her harsh life and meditation in prison.29 But the difference lies in the fact that Bai Wei’s self-portrait as a ghost is more self-pitying and that she still has a faint hope to return to the normal human world from her “deserted tomb”, with the help of her “angel-like” lover. On the contrary, the female protagonist in “Ghost Love” is more strong-willed. She retreats from human society and lives a ghostly life by her own volition. Even though the male protagonist swears that he loves her and she finally admits that she also loves him, she still refuses to return to the human world, which is as dizzying as the ghost world, since the ghost can easily be lost due to rendaqiang 人打牆 (man building the wall), an ironic parody of the term guidaqiang 鬼打牆 (ghost building the wall).30 To her, the ghost world is at least as good, if not better, than the human world. Sometimes, the former is even easier to understand.

22This difference between the woman in “Ghost Love” and Bai Wei further leads to their different attitudes towards disillusionment. If we compare the former’s claim in the story with the latter’s claim in her later autobiographical fiction “My Tragic Life” (Beiju shengya 悲劇生涯) – which was a response to her lover’s betrayal and desertion after their “honeymoon” period – we find that while these texts again share dramatically similar expression of disillusionment at the beginning, they contrast sharply in their endings (the italicized part):

  • 31 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 33. Italics mine.

But since then, we failed time after time. Some of them betrayed, some of them informed, some of them worked as government officials, whereas others were arrested or executed, and I am the only one left in my company! I thoroughly experienced this world, absolutely exhausted my life, and totally recognized the human heart. I want to be a ghost, a ghost … Yet I don’t want to die – death will make me lose everything, but I want to dispassionately witness the change of this human world. So I live in the guise of a ghost here.31
Xu Xu, “Ghost Love”

  • 32 Bai Wei, 1936, Beiju Shengya 悲劇生涯 (My tragic life), Shanghai: Shenghuo shudian, p. 217. (...)

Humanity loses its heart, and the universe is in chaos. I can no longer stand the blows of a stormy life. I am going crazy … I feel suffocated, I weep, I jump, I want to die. Death, no! I want to declare war against all the evils in the world. I want revolution, I want revolution, and I swear that I will dedicate my life to revolution!32
Bai Wei, “My Tragic Life”

  • 33 This easily reminds us of the story of Wu Zixu 伍子胥, who swore before his execution that (...)
  • 34 Hong Ruizhao 洪瑞釗, 1928, Geming yu Lian’ai 革命與戀愛 (Revolution plus love), Shangh (...)

23Both of them declare that they will not die. But the female protagonist in “Ghost Love” rejects death only because it will make her lose the chance to witness the vicissitudes of society.33 For her, living as a ghost is the best remedy for her past spiritual scars. Yet for Bai Wei, who feels disillusioned with love only at that moment, revolution remains effective as a good remedy and becomes an alternative expression for her wild passion. She does not want to die, because she wants to fight against all the evils in the world. Her life trajectory confirms a Republican critic’s presentation for depressed youth at that time: “[F]or those who do not wish to be trapped by lack of sexual fulfillment, they had better heighten their desire to a love for truth, goodness, and beauty, to a love for family, society, and nation, so that they will contribute to academic construction and Nationalist Revolution.”34

24Ironically, although Bai Wei zealously declares in her autobiographic fiction that she will completely devote herself to the revolution, she actually harbors certain suspicions about it as well. Through the accusation from Ling Xia 凌俠, a revolutionary who has been set up by the villain in Ghost Pagoda and betrayed by his revolutionary companions, Bai Wei expresses a similar disillusionment to what the female protagonist feels in “Ghost Love”:

  • 35 Bai Wei, 1985, Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda [Dachu youling ta 打出幽靈塔] (...)

Previously, I could not stand the darkness and oppression in society. I fought back and ran away, ran into the group of rebels, jumped into the revolution. Now I cannot stand the darkness, oppression and filth in the revolution. I fight back and I want to escape and jump again. But the whole human world is totally dark and filthy, where can I escape to?35

  • 36 Green Frederik Hermann, 2009, “A Chinese Romantic’s Journey through Time and Space: Cosm (...)

25The victory at the end of Ghost Pagoda is therefore an illusionary one because the death of the villain does not mean the end of darkness in society. If we take into consideration the story’s setting, we may find that the historical background of 1927 can be viewed as a hidden political connotation in both Ghost Pagoda and “Ghost Love”. What I want to point out is that although Xu Xu did not explicitly write about his disillusionment with the KMT government, as Frederik Hermann Green points out, he was “just as disillusioned with the proto-fascism of Chiang Kai-shek’s government as he was with communism”.36

  • 37 See Chen Boxi 陳伯熙, 1999, “Longhua zhi shenhua” 龍華之神話 (The legend of Longhua), “Longhua s (...)
  • 38 Chen Boxi, 1999, “Longhua cangsang tan” 龍華滄桑談 (On vicissitudes of Longhua), “Longhua (...)
  • 39 Lu Xun, 1976, “Zhi Yan Limin” 致顏黎民 (A letter to Yan Limin), Lu Xun shuxin ji 魯迅書信集 (The (...)

26A pivotal clue as to Xu Xu’s disillusionment is the repetition of the setting of Longhua in “Ghost Love”, as a site (in addition to Xietu Road) where the ghost lives, an important landmark for the ghost world. On the one hand, Longhua had been famous for the Longhua Temple and related legends of spirits since the Ming dynasty, thus making it a natural setting for a supernatural fantasy.37 On the other hand, Longhua had been occupied by warlords since the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, and taken over by the KMT government in 1927, becoming the site for the Shanghai Garrison Command and an execution ground to kill leftists.38 On the night of 7 February or the morning of 8 February 1931, twenty-four leftist writers, who had been arrested by the KMT government in January, were secretly executed in Longhua. In a mourning essay for those martyrs, “In Memory of the Forgotten”, Lu Xun expressed his sorrow and frustration: for him, Longhua was a place where he had lost his friends, a place full of sorrowful memories, an icon of the dark world and the long night, thus he would not go to there, though he liked the peach flowers for which Longhua was famous.39 Undoubtedly, it is arbitrary to say that Xu Xu had exactly the same feeling as Lu Xun, and expressed the same indignation when he mentions Longhua in his writing. But we need to take into consideration the remarkable year that was 1927 (the setting of the story) and the plot elements in “Ghost Love”, such as the revolutionary past of the female protagonist: her lover, also a revolutionary, was executed by the government, and she then found that most of her revolutionary companions had betrayed the revolution. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the setting of Longhua has decided political connotations in the story. This execution ground is not only the perfect setting for ghosts and haunting, like the site of the massacre in the Liaozhai tale “The Ninth Daughter of the Gongsun Family” (Gongsun jiuniang 公孫九娘), but also a memorial place for those spirits who died for their ideals, though Xu Xu only generally and vaguely calls them “revolutionaries”. Is it possible that the female protagonist wanders in this deserted and macabre place because her beloved had been executed here? Does she believe that she can meet his spirit some day? Or does she hope to become one of those real ghosts, secluded from this ugly human world?

27Ironically, despite her wish and declaration live as a ghost, the female protagonist actually fails to be a ghost who only dispassionately witnesses the change of this human world. This “fake seclusion” reminds us, in a sense, of Shanghai in 1937. After Japan launched its all-out war against China on 7 July, half the territory of Shanghai was occupied by Japanese troops in November, while the other half enjoyed a certain safe “seclusion” under the auspices of the International Settlement and the French Concession. Yet it was only a fake seclusion. In December 1941, Japanese troops stormed in immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which spelled the end of the so-called Solitary Island period in Shanghai.

  • 40 Wang David Der-wei, 2004, The Monster That is History, p. 1.

28Yet at the beginning of 1937, before the outbreak of the war, people in Shanghai still enjoyed a relatively leisurely urban lifestyle. In January and February, Xu Xu’s “Ghost Love” was serialized and quickly became a bestseller; at the same time, on 20 February, the Chinese film world saw its first horror film: Song at Midnight (Yeban gesheng 夜半歌聲) was released and would become the most profitable film of the year. As such, literary and filmic texts are inevitably interwoven with history, violence, monstrosity and traumas. As David Wang argues, “fiction may be able to speak where history has fallen silent”.40

  • 41 This statement was first made by He Jingzhi 賀敬之, one of the co-writers of the (...)
  • 42 For example, Braester Yomi, 2000, “Revolution and Revulsion: Ideology, Monstrosity, (...)

29Little scholarly attention has been paid to the similarity between the novella and the film, despite their shared fascination with the macabre and the ghostly: how the dark society distorts human nature and makes a woman or man a living “haunting ghost”, a trope that was later picked up by the CCP in the play White-Haired Girl (Baimao nü 白毛女) (1945): “The old society turned human beings into ghosts, the new society turns ghosts into human beings.”41 I do not give a comprehensive comparative study here, since abundant attention has been paid to Song at Midnight.42 Rather, I focus on the semiotics of the culture that both the novella and the film reflected in 1937.

  • 43 For more information about the League of Left-Wing Writers, see Wong Wang-chi, 1991, Pol (...)
  • 44 Liu Jianmei, 2003, Revolution Plus Love: Literary History, Women’s Bodies, and Thematic (...)
  • 45 For more information, see Xiong Quan 熊權, 2007, “Lun Dageming yu zaoqi zuoyi we (...)
  • 46 Liu Jianmei, 2003, Revolution Plus Love, p. 104.

30In the 1930s, there were two prominent trends in the literary field – indeed, they pervaded the entire cultural atmosphere. On the one hand, the romanticism that flourished in the May Fourth period had ebbed since the late 1920s. Realistic “revolutionary literature” and leftist thought began to occupy both literary and film circles. Remarkable events such as the “Left Turn” of the Creationists, the formation of the League of Left-Wing Writers as well as the famous polemic between soft films (ruanpian 軟片) and hard films (yingpian 硬片) and the intensive attack on the films Humanity (Rendao 人道) (1933) and The Pink Dream (Fenhongse de meng 粉紅色的夢) (1933) by leftist film critics, all indicated the great influence of leftism and realism at that time.43 On the other hand, the nostalgia and imagination of revolution after the failure of the Great Revolution in 1927 led to the flourishing of the “revolution-plus-love” (geming jia lian’ai, 革命加戀愛) formula from the late 1920s to the 1930s. As Liu Jianmei argues, “love contains irreducible components of the individual’s sexual identity and bodily experience, relationship between man and woman, and a sense of self-fulfillment; revolution is related to the trajectory of progress, freedom, equality, and emancipation. These two categories constitute, clash with, or otherwise influence each other in the mainstream narrative of modern Chinese literature.”44 This “revolution-plus-love” formula not only offers a chance for writers and readers to both reminisce about the past and look forward to the future,45 but also links gender identification to class identification, in that “the subordinate position of women in the binary sex/gender system is reconsolidated through a pre-established position or a uniform entity on the political landscape.”46

  • 47 For more analysis about the film in terms of ideology, see Braester Yomi, 2000 (...)

31Obviously, Song at Midnight does not depart from the “revolution-plus-love” formula. Song Danping’s 宋丹萍 love for his beloved Li Xiaoxia 李曉霞 is as strong as his hatred for Tang Jun 湯俊, a symbol of the evil power in society. The scar on Song’s face is both evidence of his sacrifice for love, and an icon of revolutionary virtue, marking his struggle against the feudal forces. Although he claims that “I am a demon, I am a beast, I can no longer stay together with you!” – just as the female protagonist in “Ghost Love” insists that the barrier between her and the male protagonist is the difference between ghost and human being – he does not thoroughly seclude himself from the outside world, since he always sings at midnight, causing Sun Xiao’ou’s 孫小鷗 investigation of the phantom in the theater. The process of unmasking his identity is, as Yomi Braester points out, both a process of expressing his love for his beloved through Sun Xiao’ou and of communicating the revolutionary message and his ideological authority to the younger generation.47 At the end of the film, he perishes together with the villain in the raging flames, recapitulating the last scene of Ghost Pagoda, in which the good daughter and the evil father die together. Sun Xiao’ou’s explicit declaration can be viewed as the elevation of the theme of the whole film: “We must strive harder to struggle against these dark forces, smash them, and fight for the freedom of the masses.” As such, this horror film won appreciation both in terms of ideology as well as box-office success.

32“Ghost Love” presents a different take on the “revolution-plus-love” formula. Xu Xu subverts the motif by plotting the story in an “anti-revolutionary-plus-anti-love” mode. The story reveals not only the disillusionment of the male protagonist with love, but also the disillusionment of the female protagonist with revolution. Where Song Danping secludes himself in the theater’s attic because of his facial deformity, the female “ghost” in “Ghost Love”, who is as beautiful as a deity, also willingly secludes herself from the outside world. Again, compared with Song Danping, she not only loses hope for love, but also for the revolution. The ending of the story leaves much space for readers to freely imagine whether she will come back one day or whether she will rekindle her hope for love and revolution. Readers are left as empty and lost as the male protagonist in the story.

  • 48 Shi Huaichi 石懷池, 1945, “Bangxian de mengyi Ghost Love): Xu Xu de shu zhi yi” 幫 (...)

33This anti-revolutionary tendency, which first appeared in “Ghost Love” and flourished in Xu Xu’s later writing, clearly does not match the standard of “revolutionary literature” at that time, and the escapism lurking under various romantic encounters with the cosmopolitan was also criticized by leftist critics as inviting readers to “enter a world of illusion”.48

Conclusion

34Through a close analysis of the human/ghost trope in “Ghost Love”, in comparison with ghost–human relations in the Chinese zhiguai narrative tradition as well as in other ghost-themed works by Xu Xu’s contemporaries, this essay has demonstrated the complexity, ambiguity and ambivalence in the binary trope of the human/ghost in the Republican period.

  • 49 Novalis, 1978, Werke, Band II, ed. Hans-Joachim Mahl, Munich: Heimeran, p. 334. Quoted i (...)
  • 50 Unlike those male protagonists who have the same surname as him in his fiction, Xu Xu is (...)
  • 51 Gunn Edward M., 1980, Unwelcome Muse: Chinese Literature in Shanghai and Peking 1937–194 (...)
  • 52 Link Perry, 1981, Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies: Popular Fiction in Early Twentieth-Cen (...)

35Xu Xu has been labeled as a “neo-Romantic” writer in some studies of the history of modern Chinese literature, yet unlike his earlier Chinese Romantic predecessors, Xu Xu’s fiction does not only emphasize individualism, but also tries, as Novalis put it in a very different context, to “give a lofty meaning to the vulgar, a mystical countenance to the events of the everyday, the dignity of the unknown to the known”.49 In other words, he romanticizes the quotidian and builds a “world of illusion” for the reader. What is more, since most of his stories are narrated by the first-person narrator “Xu”, it is easy to read the narrator as the author himself. In this sense, Xu Xu not only romanticizes the object he wants to depict, but also romanticizes himself – the subject in his writing. The “world of illusion” is not only a world for readers, but also a refuge for himself from the real world, in which he had an ordinary appearance, an unfortunate marriage with a disloyal wife, had been rejected by his dream girls,50 and felt disillusioned with both Communism and the proto-fascism of KMT government at that time, as well as with the mainstream enlightenment and utilitarian role for literature. In Unwelcome Muse, Edward Gunn categorizes Eileen Chang 張愛玲 (1920–1995), Yang Jiang 楊絳 (1911–) and Qian Zhongshu 錢鐘書 (1910–1998) as “anti-Romantic” writers, because “no idealized conceptions appear in their works, not of heroic characters, revolution, or love. Instead there are disillusionment, the exposure of fraud, and compromise with reality.”51 This argument offers another avenue to understand Xu Xu’s “Ghost Love”, which expresses a similar sense of disillusionment with heroism, revolution and love. Nevertheless, Xu Xu chose a different way to confront disillusionment through constructing a romantic illusionary world to comfort and/or entertain common people struggling with a reality interwoven with war, violence, death and fear. His fiction shares, to a certain extent, the function of earlier Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly fiction, which, as Perry Link argues, offered a form of comfort to the overwhelmed modern subject.52

  • 53 Xu Xu, 1966, “Huanjue” 幻覺 (Hallucination), Xu Xu quanji 徐訏全集 [The complete works of Xu (...)
  • 54 Xu Xu, 1966, “Zibai” 自白 [Confession], Xu Xu quanji, 15 vols., Taibei: Zhengzhong shuju, (...)

36From another perspective, as Xu Xu argued, “illusions and reality are very difficult to tell apart, for reality may consist of the common illusions of the majority, while an illusion can be one person’s reality”53. Who can declare that the “world of illusion” in Xu Xu’s fiction is not the embodiment of the real world, or one person’s reality? Who can deny that there are also some serious concerns in the guise of entertainment, in the name of ghost and fantasy? As Xu Xu argues at the end of his 1938 poem “Confession” ], “now I become a madman / because I suddenly realize that / all the colorful dreams are lives / and all the bizarre stories are aural and visual histories”.54 “Ghost Love” hence not only challenges the traditional dichotomy of illusion and reality, but also endorses Xu Xu’s unique view of illusion and disillusionment in the name of ghosts.

Notes

1 Xu Xu obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Peking University in 1931 and studied psychology there for two more years. He then went to Shanghai, where he worked as an editor for the Analects School (Lunyu pai 論語派) journals. In March 1936, Xu started his own bi-monthly journal, Tiandi ren 天地人 (Heaven, Earth and Man), which unfortunately folded after five months. In the fall of the same year, Xu left Shanghai for Paris to continue his studies.

2 The original version was in Yuzhoufeng 32 (1937), pp. 444–448 and Yuzhoufeng 33 (1937), pp. 488–493. In the book version, Xu made some alterations to the original text, changing the chronology in some places and adding length to the dialogues, e.g. an embedded ghost story narrated by the male protagonist when he accompanies the female protagonist to Xietu Road. The text I am referring to in this essay is the book version based on the Yechuang shuwu version, published by Huaxia chubanshe in 2008, unless otherwise stated.

3 See Schyns Joseph 善秉仁 et al., eds., 1966, 1500 Modern Chinese Novels and Plays, Hong Kong: Lung Men Bookstore, p. xxi; the original edition was published by the Catholic University Press in Beijing in 1948. See also Rabut Isabelle and Pino Angel, eds., 1996, Le fox-trot de Shanghai et autres nouvelles chinoises, Paris : Albin Michel, p. 308.

4 See Pu Songling 蒲松齡, “The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag,” in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, trans. John Minford, 2006, London: Penguin, pp. 168-179.

5 Judith Zeitlin. also uses this film as a typical presentation of traditional fictional narratives of the female ghost. See Zeitlin Judith T, 2007, The Phantom Heroine: Ghost and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 1–2.

6 In the book version, Xu made some alterations to the original text, changing the chronology in some places and adding length to the dialogues. For example, he adds an embedded ghost story narrated by the male protagonist when he accompanies the female protagonist to Xietu Road.

7 Xu Xu 徐訏, 2008, Gui lian 鬼戀 (Ghost Love) , 2nd ed. Beijing: Huaxiang chubanshe, p. 11.

8 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 43.

9 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 11.

10 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 17.

11 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 22.

12 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 28.

13 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 11, p. 35.

14 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 5.

15 Interestingly, if we examine the embedded story in “Ghost Love” again, we find that in this seemingly traditional ghost story, when the man visits the ghost’s family, what her mother serves him is also “coffee”—something which by no means existed in traditional Chinese culture. This small “flaw” challenges the integrity of this embedded story as a “pure” traditional ghost story, which can also be viewed as an intentional literary tactic adopted by Xu Xu to indicate its peculiarity as a reinvention of the traditional ghost story.

16 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 15.

17 Haggerty George E., 1989, Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form, University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, p. 1.

18 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 31.

19 “All the living must die, and dying, return to the ground; this is what is called kwei [ghost]. The bones and flesh, moulder below, and, hidden away, become the earth of the fields. But the spirit issues forth, and is displayed on high in a condition of glorious brightness.” See Liji 禮記 (Book of Rites), Chapter XXI “The Meaning of Sacrifices” (jiyi 祭义). See also Confucius, Legge James, Chʻu Chai and Winberg Chai, 1967 [1885], Li Chi: Book of Rites: An Encyclopedia of Ancient Ceremonial Usages, Religious Creeds, and Social Institutions, New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1967, Book XXI “The Meaning Of Sacrifices” (Kî Î), http://www.sacred-texts.com/cfu/liki2/liki221.htm

20 The embedded story narrated by the protagonist in the novella may be the only exception in this sort of ghost-cum-love story, since the female ghost has no interest in the identity of the human being, and tries to drive away the man with her horrible ghostly appearance. However, it is a reinvention by Xu Xu, and one which combines several archetypes of traditional ghost stories. The zhiguai narratives I have examined so far do not feature a story exactly the same as this one. These include Soushen ji 搜神記 (In search of the supernatural), (c.350); Youming lu 幽明錄 (Records of the hidden and the visible world) (403–444); Youyang zazu 酉陽雜俎 (Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang) (803–863); Jiandeng Xinhua 剪燈新話 (New stories written while trimming the wick) (1378); Jiandeng yuhua 剪燈餘話 (More stories written while trimming the wick) (1420); Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio [Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋志異] (1679); Zi buyu 子不語 (What the master would not discuss) (1781); Yuewei caotang biji 閱微草堂筆記 (Jottings from the thatched cottage examining the epigrammatic utterances) (1800); and Yeyu qiudeng lu 夜雨秋燈錄 (Writings done in the rainy nights and under the autumn lamp) (1877).

21 Obviously, this idea resonates with the Buddhist metaphor of the human body – gelang zhonghui 革囊眾穢 (“a leather bag holding various [kinds of] filth”) – and also embodies certain common views in neo-Romanticism that we also find in Wumingshi (無名氏), a popular writer and imitator of Xu Xu’s style in the 1940s. In a memoir by a friend, Wumingshi) is shown as having a special interest in collecting skulls and views them as a kind of mirror for human beings: no matter how pretty when they are alive, once dead, the brain will be evacuated, the eyes will become two holes, the face will be like a cliff and the enticing mouth will become a horrible black hole. Quoted in Yan Jiayan 嚴家炎, 1995, Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo liupai shi 中國現代小說流派史 (A history of schools in modern Chinese fiction), 2nd ed., Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe), pp. 304–305. Actually, this association between beauty and the skull is a traditional metaphor –hongfen kulou 紅粉骷髏 (“beautiful skeleton”) – in Chinese ghost stories such as “Mudan deng ji” 牡丹燈記 (The peony lantern) in Qu You’s Jiandeng Xinhua 剪燈新話 (New stories written while trimming the wick).

22 Wang David Der-wei, 2004, “Second Haunting: The Meaning of Ghost is ‘That Which Returns’”, in The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fiction Writing in Twentieth-Century China, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p. 275.

23 Hu Shi 胡適, 1986, “Zhengli guogu yu dagui” 整理國故與“打鬼” (Sino-logical learning and “subduing the ghosts”), in Zhixue de fangfa yu cailiao 治學的方法與材料 (The method and materials of learning), Taibei: Yuanliu chuban shiye gufen youxian gongsi, p. 160. For more information about the attitude of the May Fourth and post-May Fourth literati and intelligentsia towards the ghost and supernatural phenomena, see Zeng Yu 曾煜, ed., 1996, Liaokan gui yu shen 聊侃鬼與神 (Random notes on ghosts and gods), Changchun: Jilin renmin chubanshe.

24 Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda was written in 1927 and published in 1928. See Bai Wei 白薇, “Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda (1928)”, in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama, ed. Xiaomei Chen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pp. 165-226.

25 An interesting combination of both themes in “Ghost Love” and Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda is Wumingshi’s Ta li de nüren 塔里的女人 (The woman in the tower) (1944), in which a woman willingly secludes herself from her former lover and society as well. At the end of the story, the narrator argues that: “Women are always in the tower, which was probably built by others, or by themselves, or by some unknown power!”

26 Bai Wei 白薇 and Yang Sao 楊騷, 1999, Zuo Ye 昨夜 (Last night), Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe, pp. 3–4. This is a collection of love letters, which was first published by Shanghai Nanqiang shudian in 1933. In Bai Wei’s words, “it is extremely senseless and miserable to sell love letters because of poverty”.

27 The Northern Expedition (beifa 北伐), also known as the Great Revolution (da geming 大革命), was a military campaign led by the KMT from 1926 to 1928. Its main objective was to unify China under the KMT banner by ending the rule of local warlords. It led to the demise of the Beiyang 北洋 government and the Chinese reunification of 1928. The KMT and the CCP formed an alliance at the beginning of the expedition, yet Chiang Kai-shek decided to purge all Communists from the KMT in 1927. In the Shanghai massacre on April 12, 1927, thousands of Communists were executed or went missing, while others were arrested and imprisoned. The purge caused a confrontation between the KMT and the CCP, as well as a split between the KMT’s left and right wings.

28 According to the flashback by the protagonist – “it was ten years ago” – the setting of the story in “Ghost Love” starts in 1927 approximately.

29 Bai Wei and Yang Sao, 1999, Zuo ye, p. 6; Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 33.

30 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 5–6. Guidaqiang 鬼打牆 – “ghost building the wall” – is an idiom in Chinese folk culture. It is said that people easily get lost in suburban or deserted areas at night. No matter how far they walk, they find that they still stay in the same place. The explanation for this phenomenon is guidaqiang – the ghost(s) build(s) an invisible wall to enclose human(s), so the human(s) circle around the same site.

31 Xu Xu, 2008, “Ghost Love”, p. 33. Italics mine.

32 Bai Wei, 1936, Beiju Shengya 悲劇生涯 (My tragic life), Shanghai: Shenghuo shudian, p. 217. Italics mine.

33 This easily reminds us of the story of Wu Zixu 伍子胥, who swore before his execution that he would witness the collapse of the state of Wu through his eyes hung on the city wall. See the biography of Wu Zixu (722–481 BC) in Sima Qian 司馬遷, c.145 or 135–86 BC, Shiji 史記 (The Grand Scribe’s records).

34 Hong Ruizhao 洪瑞釗, 1928, Geming yu Lian’ai 革命與戀愛 (Revolution plus love), Shanghai: Minzhi shuju, p. 51.

35 Bai Wei, 1985, Breaking Out of Ghost Pagoda [Dachu youling ta 打出幽靈塔] , Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe, p. 303. Trans. Paul B. Foster, 2010, in Xiaomei Chen, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 165–226.

36 Green Frederik Hermann, 2009, “A Chinese Romantic’s Journey through Time and Space: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Nostalgia in the Work of Xu Xu (1908–1980)”, PhD dissertation, Yale University, p. 117.

37 See Chen Boxi 陳伯熙, 1999, “Longhua zhi shenhua” 龍華之神話 (The legend of Longhua), “Longhua si ta zhiyi” 龍華寺塔志異 (Records of the bizarre in Longhua Temple and Longhua Pagoda), Shanghai yishi daguan 上海軼事大觀 (The grand view of anecdotes in Shanghai), Shanghai: Shanghai shudian chubanshe, p. 369. The original edition was published by Taidong shuju in 1924.

38 Chen Boxi, 1999, “Longhua cangsang tan” 龍華滄桑談 (On vicissitudes of Longhua), “Longhua dao shang zhi jinxi” 龍華道上之今昔 (The past and present Longhua), Shanghai yishi daguan 上海軼事大觀 (The grand view of anecdotes in Shanghai), Shanghai: Shanghai shudian chubanshe, p. 128–129.

39 Lu Xun, 1976, “Zhi Yan Limin” 致顏黎民 (A letter to Yan Limin), Lu Xun shuxin ji 魯迅書信集 (The collected correspondence of Lu Xun), 2 vols., Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, ii, pp. 982–983.

40 Wang David Der-wei, 2004, The Monster That is History, p. 1.

41 This statement was first made by He Jingzhi 賀敬之, one of the co-writers of the Yan’an version of Baimao nü. See Meng Yue 孟悅, 1993, “Baimao nü yanbian de qishi: jianlun Yan’an wenyi de lishi duozhixing” 《白毛女》演變的啟示 – 兼論延安文藝的歷史多質性 (The transformation of “White-Haired Girl” and its significance: On the polyphony of history in Yan’an literature), in Tang Xiaobing 唐小兵, ed., Zai jiedu: dazhong wenyi yu yishi xingtai 再解讀:大眾文藝與意識形態 (Rereading: Mass literature and ideology), Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, pp. 68–69.

42 For example, Braester Yomi, 2000, “Revolution and Revulsion: Ideology, Monstrosity, and Phantasmagoria in Ma-Xu Weibang’s Film Song at Midnight”, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 12/1, pp. 81–114.

43 For more information about the League of Left-Wing Writers, see Wong Wang-chi, 1991, Politics and Literature in Shanghai: The Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, 1930–1936, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. For the polemic between “hard films” and “soft films”, see Meng Jun 孟君, 2005, “Huayu quan, dianying benti, guanyu piping de piping: ‘yingxing dianying’ yu ‘ruanxing dianying’ lunzheng de qishi” 話語權·電影本體: 關於批評的批評 – “硬性電影”與“軟性電影”論爭的啟示 (The right to discourse, the essence of film: A criticism on criticism: The apocalypse of the controversy between the “hard films” and the “soft films”), Dangdai dianying 當代電影 (Contemporary cinema), 2, pp. 79–82.

44 Liu Jianmei, 2003, Revolution Plus Love: Literary History, Women’s Bodies, and Thematic Reception in Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 3.

45 For more information, see Xiong Quan 熊權, 2007, “Lun Dageming yu zaoqi zuoyi wenxue de xingqi: yi dui ‘geming jia lian’ai’ chuangzuo fasheng de kaocha weili” 論大革命與早期左翼文學的興起 – 以對“革命加戀愛”創作發生的考察為例 (The Great Revolution and the rising of the early leftist literature: The example of the writing of “revolution plus love”), Zhongguo wenxue yanjiu 中國文學研究 (Research of Chinese literature), 1, pp. 97–101.

46 Liu Jianmei, 2003, Revolution Plus Love, p. 104.

47 For more analysis about the film in terms of ideology, see Braester Yomi, 2000, “Revolution and Revulsion”.

48 Shi Huaichi 石懷池, 1945, “Bangxian de mengyi Ghost Love): Xu Xu de shu zhi yi” 幫閒的夢囈《鬼戀》 – 徐訏的書之一 (The trashy rigmarole in “Ghost Love”: One of Xu Xu’s books), in Shi Huaichi wenxue lunwenji 石懷池文學論文集 (Shi Huaichi’s anthology on literature), Shanghai: Gengyun chubanshe, p. 152.

49 Novalis, 1978, Werke, Band II, ed. Hans-Joachim Mahl, Munich: Heimeran, p. 334. Quoted in Green Frederik Hermann, 2009, “A Chinese Romantic’s Journey through Time and Space”, p. 97.

50 Unlike those male protagonists who have the same surname as him in his fiction, Xu Xu is not a charming prince in real life. Xu once had a romance in France with Asabuki Tomiko 朝吹登水子, a Japanese girl. In the fall of 1937, Xu proposed to her, but she declined and reminded him of the fact that their countries were at war, and that he was going to return China to join the war of resistance against Japan. Xu divorced his wife in 1941 when he found her having an affair with Su Qing’s 蘇青 (1917–1982) husband when they were neighbors. He remained single before he met Shao Xiaohong 邵綃紅, the daughter of his friend Shao Xunmei 邵洵美. He tried to chase Shao Xiaohong, who was twenty-four years his junior, yet was rejected by her and severely blamed by Shao Xunmei when he found out.

51 Gunn Edward M., 1980, Unwelcome Muse: Chinese Literature in Shanghai and Peking 1937–1945, New York: Columbia University, p. 198.

52 Link Perry, 1981, Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies: Popular Fiction in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Cities, Berkeley: University of California Press.

53 Xu Xu, 1966, “Huanjue” 幻覺 (Hallucination), Xu Xu quanji 徐訏全集 [The complete works of Xu Xu], 15 vols., Taibei: Zhengzhong shuju, iv, p. 145.

54 Xu Xu, 1966, “Zibai” 自白 [Confession], Xu Xu quanji, 15 vols., Taibei: Zhengzhong shuju, xii: 305–308.

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