"Life Writing and Film Biography in the Trans-Cultural Context" was jointly hosted by the Center for Life Writing and the Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawai‛i at Shanghai Jiaotong University in October, 2016. This issue contains Fan Chen’s report of this conference, wherein over 60 papers were received. We are to share with you some of them from this issue.
Three distinguished biographers outline their writing experiences. Professor Leo Damrosch argues that puzzles and mysteries are inevitable in biographical writing. His solution is to share the game of detective work with his readers. He believes that this is a more progressive modern approach of life writing and is accepted more and more by biographers. Li Hui, the renowned life writer, believes that the best way to approach history is by presenting details in life stories of various characters. In this way, history is represented in the framework of literature whereas the life story is recounted in history. Sang Fenkang, a prolific literary biographer, contends for the top priority on truth and authenticity in biographical writing in addition to rich details and well-rounded characters. Their experience is worth paying attention to by life writing practitioners.
Contemporary life writings are the focus of the biography studies, albeit they are outcomes of historical development. The life-writing history, home and abroad, is also a major concern in our journal. Three seminal articles are included here. It is tough to categorize life-writings for their diversity teeming multitude. Common approaches tend to be too inaccurate. Professor Liu Yiqing initially comes up with the concept of “the learning-based critical biography” and “the learning-based critic” and innovatively illustrates the notions with Dr. Johnson and his Lives of the English Poets. Her elaborations demonstrate her unique insight in Chinese academia. Li Zheng’s An Early Form of Confession discusses the prayer of Hittite King Mursili II around 1320 BC and discovers some basic features of confessions. This research employs the materials rare to common readers and enriches the understanding of confessions and autobiographical genres. Liang Qingbiao, by investigating the early history of Western autobiographical criticism dated back to 18th century, initiates the study in China.
In the section of Theory Study, Liu Jianjun examines the logical starting point and the value orientation of Western literary biography from three perspectives: functions, academic theories and aesthetic judgment. Shi Jianguo dives deeply into two “unorthodox” biographies to address the ethic issue in the production of the parent biography. The “logical starting point” and the “parent biography” are relatively new in terms of concepts and perspectives in life-writing studies.
The section of Comparative Biography features Liu Yunfei’s comparison of two biographies of Erasmus by Johan Huizinga and Stefan Zweig respectively. According to Liu’s findings, either of the two biographers converse with the subject spiritually and both of the biographers have in commonan an ideal,which Liu labels as the “humanistic dialogues across time and space,” revealing the essence of biography to a great extent.
All the four papers in the two sections of Autobiography Study and Subject Study address contemporary authors. Tsun-Jen Cheng studies Hualing Nieh Engle’s Three Lives. By comparing Engle’s word biography and film biography, Cheng analyzes the reason why Engle’s autobiography has become repeated and redundant in some places and more difficult to understand after three republications. Lei Ying discusses Jia Pingwa’s I Was a Farmer and explores the stance this farmer biographer takes in quest of self and cognition. Lu Siao-Wun’s examination puts Gu Cheng’s and others’ life narratives in the frame of “Diasporic experience” and “Cultural Shock” in an attempt to reveal the poet’s internal contradictions, conflicts and final suicide. In her study of Margaret Atwood’s autobiographical novel Cat’s Eye, Wang Yunqiu gives an analysis of how the Canadian nationalist works through those traumas inflicted on her. All these papers are designed to inspire the readers by in-depth exploration of the biographical subject’s characters.
This issue features six papers on film biography. Professor Howes is one of the producers of TV series Biography Hawai’i. His experience tells us that a documentary maker cannot represent as neutral. He agrees on the notion that life narratives in film biography reinforce dominant ideology. Song Xiaoying compares the theme of “faraway place” in European and American autobiographical movies and the theme “there is poetry elsewhere” in contemporary China. In his “Reshaping in Culture: Issues in Film Biography,” Quan Zhan explores three Chinese films, Confucius, Mei Lanfang, and Qigong. Zhao Bin’s survey demonstrates the aesthetic deviation to “story telling” as a present trend in the documentary The Piano Dream. Si Ri’s "The Thinker’s Solitude and Courage: An Examination of the Biopic Hannah Arendt” acclaims the deep meaning of the film while pointing out its flaws.Fu Yingjie focuses on the British film The King’s Speech and combines the film biography with the contemporary celebrity culture to illustrate film biography as a revisionist art form. These papers cover a wide area with multiple methods employed. They have, however, a common ground that the authors, especially those junior scholars, elaborate their arguments by looking closely to specific works and draw a generic conclusion with a steady theoretical analysis. This tendency is particularly necessary, as theories are a sore need for the development of film biography.
The section Meditation on Life Writing is newly opened in this issue, designed mainly for long-lengthed expositions. We also welcome shorter essays with rich contents and vivid style such as Gu Nong’s “Life Writing May Be Fictionalized, but Must Never Be Fabricated,” though it is no longer than 3,000 Chinese words.
Since the Journal of Modern Life Writing Studies started over three years ago, the life-writing community home and abroad have spared no effort to support us, in particular by submitting their insightful articles and accepting our interviews. As a result, this journal is largely welcomed by readers and has been ranked in Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI). We are truely grateful to all of our authors and readers and determined to run the journal with greater efforts. We hereby welcome articles, suggestions, or critiques, concerning any aspect of the journal, whether on its aim, sections, designs, promotions, etc. Some of your letters and calls will be published on our journal.
The Editorial Committee