Translating Memory, Transforming Identity: Chinese Expatriates and Memoirs of the Cultural Revolution
Keywords : memory, identity politics, Chinese diaspora, memoirs, Cultural Revolution, self-Orientalism, schizophrenia
This article explores a newly emerged popular literary genre in the West
at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century: Cultural
Revolution memoirs by expatriates. This literary phenomenon is revealing
of the continuous imbalanced power dynamics between the East and the West,
manifested in an interesting mutation of the discourse of Orientalism that
Edward Said has theorized of a similar phenomenon in the nineteenth century.
These Cultural Revolution memoirs guarantee the Western reader a direct
linguistic experience (without the mediation of translation) as well as absolute
cultural and experiential authenticity about Mao’s China. In addition to
feeding the West’s perennial fascination of the Orient, these memoirs of
victimhood—which always end with finding salvation and happiness in the
West—also help to strengthen the moral and emotional vulnerability felt in
the post-Cold War and post-911 West.