World-oriented Crossings: The Covert Globality of Malaysian Chinese Literature
Chan Cheow Thia - Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Studies, national University of Singapore
No scholar of modern Chinese literary studies in its globalizing mode will miss the recent spotlight on Malaysian Chinese (Mahua) literature. Previously untapped, works from or about the Southeast Asian country are now read for bracing ideas on language, ethnicity, and diaspora. In Malaysian Crossings: Place and Language in the Worlding of Modern Chinese Literature, Chan shows how the minor literary formation’s grasp of its own marginality in the world-Chinese literary space constitutes the threshold—instead of a hurdle—to creating signature aesthetic imprints that foster global outlooks.
In the book, Chan describes the strategic “worlding” of modern Chinese literature that involves authorial navigation of inter-connected literary spaces. Foregrounding the inter-Asian linkages between Malaysia and other Sinitic-speaking locales (such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore) in the writing practices of Lin Cantian, Han Suyin, Wang Anyi, and Li Yongping, Chan analyzes narrative representations of multilingual social realities, and authorial reflections about colonial Malaya or independent Malaysia as valid literary terrain. Both sets of creative discourse underlie the literary worlds built out of the physical journeys, the interactions among social groups, and the mindset shifts entailed in creating distinctive literary languages for the place. Historicizing such “crossings” from the 1930s to the 2000s, Chan contends that new perspectives from the periphery are essential to understanding the globalization of modern Chinese literature. By emphasizing the inner diversities and connected histories in the margins, Malaysian Crossings offers a powerful argument for remapping global Chinese literature and world literature.
CHAN CHEOW THIA is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. His research interests include modern Chinese-Sinophone literature, Southeast Asian studies, and diaspora studies. His book, Malaysian Crossings: Place and Language in the Worlding of Modern Chinese Literature, is published by Columbia University Press as part of the “Global Chinese Culture” series.
His articles have appeared in disciplinary and regionally focused venues such as Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, as well as PRISM: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature. He co-edited the special issue of PRISM on “The Worlds of Southeast Asian Chinese Literature” (September 2022). As a literary translator and editor, he has worked with Renditions: A Chinese-English Translation Magazine.