Recentering the Self and Nation Through Memory – Mixing History, Romance and Memoirs in the Autobiographical Writings of Han Suyin


Han Suyin had once described herself as “a fragmentation of the total self” where “each piece recreating from its own sum of facts a person…” This principle seemed to be operating in a number of her memoirs, in particular, Birdless Summer (1980) where she completely reconfigured her war-time experience in Chungking Destination (1942). The two memoirs recalled the same geopolitical journey into Chungking. But what was recalled in Birdless Summer had dramatically changed what was written in 1942. Her young self as the dauntless Chinese patriot who left England to serve war-torn China was recalled as a battered Eurasian wife cowered by her racist and xenophobic husband, who was depicted earlier in 1942 as a romantic KMT officer embracing the spirit of China at war. The great leader of China during this period was no longer Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek but Chairman Mao. Could Destination Chungking be read as a memoir? What was its relationship to the extra-textual reality? Had the autobiographical pact and memoir ethics somewhat compromised? Was Destination Chungking a memoir or romantic fiction? What about Birdless Summer? History? Was Han witnessing a new self being invented with new perceptions? A form of recentering of the self as well as the nation by the writer?

Author Information
Vicky Lee, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2018
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon