When Heaven Collapsed: Writing the Taiping Civil War (1851–1864)
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AbstractThis dissertation investigates different aspects of the psycholinguistic devices employed during the Taiping Civil War (1851-1864), one of the most destructive wars in human history. By bringing together an unusual combination of genres, including propaganda, fiction, drama, and poetry, I examine the reciprocal erosion of political and cultural order, a process that is revealed through unfolding events, historical retrospection, personal memories, and aesthetic transformation. Aiming to impose order onto a chaotic reality, the Taiping rebels and the Qing government constructed utopian and dystopian discourses that begat dire consequences. To the chagrin of the writers who wished to transcend the chaos by appealing to literary and religious ideals and by imagining themselves as celestial beings banished from Heaven, they found such ideals to be as defeated and broken as their war-torn selves. The gravity of the mid-nineteenth century mayhem and the anguish it caused was so intense that it consumed those who attempted to escape the pain with fantastic-mythic visions; they were inescapably sucked into deeper and darker realms of despair and disillusionment. This profound disillusionment, however, primed China for future political, social, and cultural revolutions. In sum, I argue that the Taiping Civil War marked the unmooring of certain Chinese writers from their traditional convictions. Furthermore, I elaborate on how this process provoked an array of strategies meant to fill the void left after the collapse of a familiar world.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:37944976
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