AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

A Study in Didactics

by Jordan Cormier

Institution: Louisiana State University
Department: Liberal Arts
Degree: MALA
Year: 2014
Keywords: Chinese literature; Chinese literature; Huo Sang; Sherlock Holmes; Shanghai; detective literature
Record ID: 2042911
Full text PDF: http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-11112014-183906/


When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ended The Final Problem with Sherlock Holmes apparent death there was a mass outcry of protest from his fans to the point that myths still circulate about how young Victorian men wore black armbands in mourning. There was a reason why the Holmes stories had such a mass appeal: Sherlock Holmes, brilliant, asexual, emotionally reserved and eminently rational detective that he was, was in many ways the archetype of the ideal Victorian man. As such he struck a very deep chord with British society at the time, the extent of which his creator never quite seemed to have grasped. Given that Sherlock Holmes was a bipolar cocaine addict who would occasionally shoot up the walls of his shared apartment as a salute to the Queen while drinking this probably tells you all you need to know about the Victorians. During the 1920s and 1930s a Shanghai writer by the name of Cheng Xiaoqing wrote a series of stories about a Shanghai-based Chinese master detective character called Huo Sang. Cheng Xiaoqing, who had read the Holmes canon and translated it into Chinese, based his character on Holmes, albeit with Chinese characteristics. The stories were extremely popular in Shanghai at the time but received relatively little critical attention due to being seen as lowbrow literature aimed at popular audiences. More specifically he was classified as a Butterfly-Saturday writer: that is, one who was read avidly but not taken seriously and moreover dismissed by more serious writers as a frivolous distraction from the contemporary issues of the day, dominated by pointless love stories and tales of knight-errantry. Cheng Xiaoqing believed that detective literature could be used as a sort of didactic device to teach the public how to think rationally and be good, modern Chinese citizens, and referred to his detective stories in essays as popular science textbooks in disguise. He argued that while art and literature in general could serve to promote morality, law, order, utility, etc detective stories had an additional kind of value. As he put it, The material of detective stories places a particular emphasis on science and can expand the intelligence and rational mind of human beings, cultivate peoples observation, and increase and improve peoples social experience. The stories are intensely moralistic, with the protagonist frequently commenting or passing judgment on contemporary social issues or debunking superstitions and ghost stories. Just as Holmes served as a sort of ideal British citizen, Huo Sang fulfilled a similar role as a model Republican Chinese citizen. Cheng Xiaoqing clearly had a message and an agenda in mind when he wrote these stories. Given that they proved popular enough to be adapted into at least one movie and a readership sufficient to be serialized in various literary journals for over a decade and a half it would seem that quite a few Chinese people found this message agreeable. Because of this it is worth asking why the stories were well-received and by whom. In doing so we can gain new…