An Epic Poet in the Information Age: Revisiting Haizi at the Intersection of Literature and Science in Postsocialist China

  • Author / Creator
    Lin, Chengxiang
  • This thesis attempts to offer a new interpretation of the poet Haizi 海子 (1964-1989), with a focus on the affinity between his epic writings and the systems sciences. An iconic figure in contemporary Chinese poetry, Haizi was particularly engaged in the proliferation of epic poetry during the early postsocialist period, producing a number of ambitious works over the course of his meteoric career. Yet, despite his well-known engagement in the literary trend, Haizi’s reception of the systems sciences (e.g., cybernetics, information theory, system theory) as shown in his academic, religious, and arguably literary practices as well, have regrettably incurred little attention. These theories had a prevalent influence in early postsocialist Chinese society: they initially emerged in the scientific and engineering fields and then quickly turned into a universal approach for understanding the mechanism and structure of systems, permeating into the social sciences and humanities, as well as popular culture, like qigong 气功 cultivation. In this context, this thesis aims to articulate, with respect to Haizi’s epic writing, how technoscientific discourse and literary creation can shape each other, and what social, political, and cultural implications such interaction bears. Specifically, the first chapter examines the overall world setting of Haizi’s epic poems such as the river and the land, both of which typically stand for national civilization. While revealing the self-regulating and self-organizing nature of these settings as cybernetic systems, Haizi seems to suggest that a catastrophic change from within is needed to overcome the negative stability of a system so as to reactivate it. The second chapter associates the recurring basic natural elements in Haizi’s works such as water and fire, with qi 气, the central concept of qigong doctrines, which is identified as information by some of the so-called somatic scientists. The way Haizi deals with the basic elements reflects both his aspiration and worries in the face of the advent of information governmentalities. Lastly, the third chapter homes in on the characters dwelling in the epic settings, typically depicted as being distorted, fractured, mutilated, or stretched. Casting his notion of subjectivity on these figures, Haizi contradicts the dominant humanistic discourse of his time and heralds the rise of posthumanism in the postsocialist condition. In its reconfiguration of Haizi, this thesis recharts the spiritual topology of early postsocialist China and relocates China in the global dissemination of technoscientific discourses.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Library with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.