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A homophony of despair: xiangchou and utopia in China

In previous sections, images and symbols show that the key anxiety driving the utopian impulse of Bian and his fellows lies in the clash between total iconoclasm and longing for the classical Chinese ideal of beauty in denial. Xiangchou, at the same time, does not revoke key issues in the Western concept of nostalgia such as anti-urbanism, regionalism, corporatism and doubts about the new technology in the cultural and art historical discourse. Moreover, xiangchou has much to do with the cultural system in the ancient Chinese mythology of ancestral worship.

Consisting of two expressive Chinese characters, xiangchou is a human emotion toward, first of all, ^ (‘hometown’). The second character, Ш (‘sorrow’), offers a vivid description of a delicate and subtle emotion acquired by generations of Chinese intellectuals. The character Й (‘sorrow’) forms itself on the basis of 'Ij (‘heart’) since the emotion is perceived in the heart; the upper part is the character (‘autumn’), a combination of the characters Яс (‘crops’) and X (‘fire’), symbolising the spirit of agricultural tribal life and connections built among people on the basis of traditional ethics.

Xiangchou’s reflection in Chinese literature, from the classical period to modern and contemporary time, showcases the metaphysical solitude and the consequential collective consciousness that yearns for familiarity and intimacy, a spiritual land to return to, rather than the physical dwelling land. Therefore, xiangchou is evoked, in most cases, during a spiritual exile. That is to say, for poets like Bian, the metaphysical solitude could not be resolved simply by staying in their home country; even more, the fact that they are not outside of China aggregates their xiangchou as they witness the internal and external existential crisis of China, both physically and spiritually.

From tianxia to guo: self-criticism and the construction of the xiangchou dystopia

In pursuit of modernity, most Chinese writers writing about their nationalist xiangchou are intellectuals educated with the core idea proposed by Confucius in The Great Learning (X-f-)' ‘Their persons being cultivated; their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy Ж?гШШШУн <> Э}р|ПШ^;Т¥).’ It is

interesting to notice that the classical teaching makes a distinction between guo (Ш ‘state’, ‘country’, or ‘nation’) and tianxia (9^T ‘the whole kingdom’). The two concepts and the distinction were held true in the whole intellectual history of China: the idea of China is not limited to one state (guo) sitting in the middle of the world where no higher civilisation stands above it, China is tianxia, ‘as long as the people of “Chung-kuo” deserved to be central, as faithful servants, not careless masters, of the ideals of civilization’ (Levenson 1968: 103).

As the Chinese society began its transition after 1840, the ideal of tianxia was dissolved, causing the intellectuals to confront the reality that China is merely another guo in the whole world. As the glory of the ancient Chinese tianxia fade away, since the May Fourth Movement, intellectuals travelled to Western countries (and in many cases, to Japan). At the same time, they blamed the downfall of their tianxia on the corrupted, outdated characters of its people. In consequence, in detest of the classical Chinese culture and morality, they look to the West in an attempt to reform the national character. At this stage, Chinese intellectuals have sent both their bodies and their minds into exile. This is reflected in literature in early modern China as the motif of xiangchou integrates hate and love for the Chinese tradition.

In this very special period of history, Chinese intellectuals found profound reflections in criticising ancient China, notably its collective unconscious reflected in the traditional superstition, feudalist ethics and the twisted psyche of the nation. In literature works written by many early modern Chinese literati, xiangchou aligns the description of a beautiful, traditional rural landscape with the painful discovery of the disconnected beauty of nature and the twisted, sick life of traditional Chinese people. More importantly, writing xiangchou allows the writers to exploit the national character ([SI KIT.); they claim that the sick, outdated national character is limiting the spiritual development of a proper modern man. In these works, time plays a vital role in the idea of home; the chou (Й ‘sorrow’) in their xiangchou is echoed when examining the twisted human nature and fate of people living in grief, a dystopia.

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