Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chinese detective fiction

Tomorrow's the big day--our group is departing Newark Liberty Airport at 12:05 pm.  Beijing, here we come...after a 13.5 hour flight. I can watch at least six movies in that time or I can use my time more wisely by doing some reading and working on some ideas I have for my time in China. And I think Dr. Poe is going to make me do some brainstorming about our fall class, though my tendency (Kids, don't try this at home!) is to do that in, say, late August.  Dr.'t make me change my seat.

Since classes finished a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been able to devote more time to considering precisely what area of contemporary Chinese writing fits my interests and overlaps with my academic preparation.  One of the subjects I teach at Pace is American Detective Fiction, but for about three years I have been contemplating putting together a course that would explore detective fiction in the rest of the world, including, of course, East Asia.  I have been able to do only a small amount of research (all online, alas) in the time I have had to devote to this subject about which I am nearly completely ignorant, but it does seem like a worthwhile area of inquiry and one in which not much work has been done yet. Not to mention that it will give me even more reasons to read crime fiction, as if I needed any more. I looked through several years' worth of Clues, the journal of detective fiction, and found no articles at all about Chinese fiction and only one about Japanese. I have come across references to some printed works that will provide some information and I have found bits and pieces online (such as this from a Dartmouth professor, G.J. Demko: 

I contacted Dr. Eva Shan Chou, of Baruch College (CUNY), who spoke to our faculty seminar a couple of months ago about twentieth-century Chinese literature. She suggested a book that looks like a perfect introduction to the subject of Chinese "crime fiction."  Through the good graces of Xiaohong Hu I have a copy of this book (Chinese Justice, the Fiction: Law and Literature in Modern China by Jeffrey C. Kinkley) in my hot hands and plan to read it on the plane. It's a library book, so please God don't let my hands wander near a highlighter. In China, we're going to be meeting with a lot of academics at several universities and I hope to be able to meet at least one professor in China who knows something about the field. I also hope he or she speaks English, because I think I failed my Mandarin final.

I understand that little contemporary crime fiction has been translated into English. In fact, my only direct knowledge of the subject comes from writers such as Qiu Xiaolong and Diane Wei Liang, "overseas Chinese" who are writing in English.  I also understand that the “private eye” holds a tenuous place in contemporary China.  However, detective fiction as a genre also encompasses fiction that describes the work of police officers or the investigation of crimes by others out of professional interest or mere curiosity.  The detective figure does not have to be a private investigator.