The Mouth That Begs

Hunger, Cannibalism, and the Politics of Eating in Modern China

The Mouth That Begs

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: Published: July 1999

Author: Gang Yue

Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

The Chinese ideogram chi is far richer in connotation than the equivalent English verb “to eat.” Chi can also be read as “the mouth that begs for food and words.” A concept manifest in the twentieth-century Chinese political reality of revolution and massacre, chi suggests a narrative of desire that moves from lack to satiation and back again. In China such fundamental acts as eating or refusing to eat can carry enormous symbolic weight. This book examines the twentieth-century Chinese political experience as it is represented in literature through hunger, cooking, eating, and cannibalizing. At the core of Gang Yue’s argument lies the premise that the discourse surrounding the most universal of basic human acts—eating—is a culturally specific one.
Yue’s discussion begins with a brief look at ancient Chinese alimentary writing and then moves on to its main concern: the exploration and textual analysis of themes of eating in modern Chinese literature from the May Fourth period through the post-Tiananmen era. The broad historical scope of this volume illustrates how widely applicable eating-related metaphors can be. For instance, Yue shows how cannibalism symbolizes old China under European colonization in the writing of Lu Xun. In Mo Yan’s 1992 novel Liquorland, however, cannibalism becomes the symbol of overindulgent consumerism. Yue considers other writers as well, such as Shen Congwen, Wang Ruowang, Lu Wenfu, Zhang Zianliang, Ah Cheng, Zheng Yi, and Liu Zhenyun. A special section devoted to women writers includes a chapter on Xiao Hong, Wang Anyi, and Li Ang, and another on the Chinese-American women writers Jade Snow Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan. Throughout, the author compares and contrasts the work of these writers with similarly themed Western literature, weaving a personal and political semiotics of eating.
The Mouth That Begs will interest sinologists, literary critics, anthropologists, cultural studies scholars, and everyone curious about the semiotics of food.


“A very provocative view of the way modern Chinese practice, imagine, and politicize food culture and alimentary discourse. Instead of paying only lip service to materiality, Yue truly grapples with the material aspect of Chinese modernity.” — David Wang, author of Fictional Realism in Modern China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen

“Eating is certainly one of the great cultural metaphors in China, past and present. The Mouth That Begs is magnificent—sophisticated in writing and original in approach and interpretation. A most brilliant work indeed.” — Leo Ou-fan Lee, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gang Yue is Assistant Professor of Chinese at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. The Social Embodiment of Modernity 61

II. Writing Hunger: From Mao to the Dao 145

III. The Return (of) Cannibalism after Tianamen, or Red Monument in a Latrine Pit 222

IV. Sampling of Variety: Gender and Cross-Cultural Perspectives 289

Conclusion 372

Notes 383

Glossary 407

Bibliography 419

Index 435

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2341-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2308-2
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