My dissertation is about the representation of transnationalism in the fiction by Yiyun Li, a contemporary Chinese American writer, who has garnered much praise and several awards including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and whose works are consistently rooted in history and politics but in a nuanced manner. Since transnationalism can acquire different meanings depending on the contexts, my study of transnationalism in Li’s fiction will focus on migrations for political/ personal reasons, and the continuous flows and interactions of people, goods and information across the Chinese border during the decades after Mao’s reign and the Cultural Revolution. I will examine how these transnational experiences profoundly impact the psyches of Li’s two groups of characters—the Chinese Americans and the Chinese populace, as they both pursue new lives during this particular historic period and are allowed to develop and maintain entirely “new” links to the evolving modern China.
This project seeks to provide a new and interdisciplinary and moreover, comparative approach to reading Li as well as China’s modern transformation, which is overly materialistic oriented yet neglects problems accumulated from ingrained political, social and cultural traditions. Thus, I will contextualize my research not only by comparing Li with the group of American-born Chinese writers such as Amy Tan, Jade Snow Wong and Maxine Hong Kingston, whose exotic imaginaries of China have often been controversial; but also by tracing the literary genealogy of contemporary Chinese exiled writers, who have created the tradition of writing exclusively in the language of their host country rather than that of their home country.