Ellen WidmerSep 21, 2016
Zhan Xi, Zhan Kai, and the Business of Women in Late-Qing China
Harvard University Asia Center 2016
Ellen Widmer's new book tells a story of the life and work of a literary family in China, in order to open out into a fascinating discussion of the ramifications of that story for how we understand and produce relationships between fiction and history. Fiction's Family: Zhan Xi, Zhan Kai, and the Business of Women in Late-Qing China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2016) looks carefully at the work of Zhan Xi and Zhan Kai, brothers and late-Qing writers of fiction and other forms. Widmer contextualizes that work within a larger frame of the lives and writing of their parents, associates, and (in one case) children, weaving together seemingly-disparate literary and historical threads in order to create a richly detailed and evocative account from sometimes-fragmentary evidence. The result is a riveting contribution to the studies of women, gender, fiction, and reform in modern China. Over the course of our conversation we spoke of the particular challenges and opportunities offered by the kinds of sources that Widmer worked with.