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Mr Liu Xinglong, a Hubei writer, published his novel Heavenly Mission (Tianxingzhe 天行者) in 2009. The novel is an expansion and continuation of his 1992 novella Country Teachers (Fenghuang qin 鳳凰琴), that tells a story of the life of community-hired (minban 民辦) teachers during the last decade of the twentieth century in a village school called Jieling Primary School (界嶺小學, hereafter JPS) located in remote rural mountainous area in China. Liu was over 50 years of age at the time of the composition of the novel when he had already experienced the good and the bad that life had to offer. The work can thus be read as his reflections on fate and the meaning of life. This novel was one of the five novels that won the Eighth Mao Dun Literature Award (茅盾文學獎) in 2011. This thesis reviews the progress of Liu as a writer and the social background of his novels and his literary life. The position of Heavenly Mission in the creative journey of Liu is examined, and the meaning of the novel studied. The first chapter looks into the early budding period of the writer Liu and the social background of the times. In the first section, Liu’s upbringing, education and career -- the period between the 60s and 90s in the 20th century -- are studied. Liu grew up in the Dabie mountainous area (大別山) of the Yingshan County (英山縣 ) in the eastern region of Hubei Province. In the second section, the historical background of Yingshan County during the Republican period as well as the local folk beliefs is assessed. The third section examines the dual social structure that accounts for the development of the urban and rural identities in the early stage of the People’s Republic of China and the state’s policy on the conversion of the resident registration from rural to urban (nong zhuan fei 農轉非). The fourth section reviews the changes during China’s reform and the opening-up era when China was experiencing rapid social and economic changes, the very environment that Liu confronLiu confronts in his writings. The theme of Heavenly Mission involves rural primary school and community-hired teachers. This section therefore looks into the situation of rural education in China, the phenomenon of community-hired teachers and the difficulties they encountered in becoming state-employed (gongban 公辦) teachers. The change to state-employed teachers is known as zhuan zheng (轉正). Understanding the reality and problems faced by community-hired teachers will shed light on the meaning of the novel.
The second chapter, which is divided into three sections, outlines Liu’s literary path. The first section gives an overview of Liu’s literary life, and the people and the events that are influential to his writings with a view to explore the standpoints, the emotions and the ideologies of his works. In the second section, nine novellas/novels from the three creative stages of Liu are selected for brief discussion. The selected novellas/novels are significant in that they reflect many of Liu’s positions. On the basis of their themes, plots and ideologies, this section discusses the evolving creative path of Liu’s literature, in the process highlighting the relevance of these novellas/novels to the overall discussion of this thesis. The third section compares Country Teachers with Heavenly Mission in exploring the four points of differences between them; 1) the time setting and the environment of Liu’s novels, 2) his mental and emotional state when they were written, 3) his creative objectives, and 4) the varying degree of absurdity that these two novels serve to reveal. The third chapter analyzes the theme of Heavenly Mission, which, in Liu’s words, is human’s “persistence and dignity in the face of absurdity.” This chapter first discusses the two narrative strands of the novel, one obvious and the other subtle. The former refers to the conversion of community-hired teachers to state-employed teachers, while the latter to the vision and mission of three JPS teachers. Both the obvious and the subtle strands spell out goals that the JPS teachers strive for. The chapter is then divided into five sections. The first section analyzes the absurd episodes in the novel. It first examines the implication of the term “Liu-Guan-Zhang of Jieling” (界嶺的劉關張), which brings to light that the first cause of absurdity in the novel springs from the absence of a coherent policy on the part high-level government to handle the conversion of community-hired teachers to state-employed teachers. This section proceeds to discuss the two different kinds of absurd situations found in the novel. The first kind comes as a result of a person’s insufficient knowledge of the working of the external reality. When a person acts in accordance with a belief based on his limited knowledge, his desire is out of sync with the objective conditions of the world. No matter how hard he tries, the outcome of his actions will contradict his expectations, leading to absurdity. The second kind occurs when a person lives in a distorted world in which he finds it hard to deal with things in a normal way and is forced to take exceptional measures. He may make compromises or become reckless, both of which also lead to absurd situations. The difference is that the first kind of absurd situations does not come into a being through the conscious decisions on the part of the individual while the second kind does. This section then explores the absurd situations in three episodes in the novel. The second section discusses three episodes in which the characters, finding themselves in absurd situations, live out a tragic fate against a force that seems much larger than themselves. The third section of this chapter discusses the spirit of persistence of the community-hired teachers which originates from their pursuit of their vision and mission as well as from the ethics of the rural society in which they live. This section then focuses on three points of plot details related to the persistent spirit: the ceremony of raising and lowering the national flag, the “Holy Corner” (聖的角落), and “the drug of JPS”(界嶺小學的毒)”. The raising and the lowering of the flag becomes a symbol of the persistent spirit among community-hired teachers, but it also has the effect of strengthening their resolve to pursue their mission. By Liu’s concept of the “Holy Corner,” this thesis understands that prompted by a “sacred” or religious belief to which he is inclined, a person is awakened to the meaning or the mission of his existence, which then occasions a set of corresponding behavior or ritual. This section analyzes three episodes in the novel that manifest the idea of the “Holy Corner.” It then proceeds to investigate the complex feelings of guilt and regret in the two characters that have addicted to “the drug of JPS.” The fourth section reviews the situation of community-hired teachers, who, despite their loyalty to their educational duties, fail to change the objective reality that they face. The fifth section discusses the dignity of those who remain persistent in the face of absurdity. They are mocked as fools (苕, shao, which means a foolish person in Hubei dialect). Shao laughs at these persistent people like a curse, which has to be lifted for human dignity to resurface in the “Holy Corner.”
|Description:||234 pages : illustrations
PolyU Library Call No.: [THS] LG51 .H577M CC 2018 Leung
|URI:||http://hdl.handle.net/10397/73176||Rights:||All rights reserved.|
|Appears in Collections:||Thesis|
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Citations as of Jul 10, 2018
Citations as of Jul 10, 2018
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