This paper explores the work of what has been called the ‘Torn Generation’ of contemporary Chinese science fiction authors, through the lens of Jerome Jeffrey Cohen’s ‘Monster Theory’ (1997) and the figure of the cyborg. Monsters, argues Cohen, are good to think with, because they are ‘cultural bodies’, and because they escape from categories; existing at borders, standing at the threshold of ‘becoming’. Monsters speak in specifics and universals at the same time. And whilst many of our most beloved monsters are fleshly creatures, there are also human-machine hybrids whose humanity/ inhumanity can be explored through this conceptual framework, exposing the anxieties and desires that surround humanity’s changing relationship with technology.
Using Cohen’s seven ‘monster theses’, I will look at the work of contemporary Chinese SF authors such as Chen Qiufan and Xia Jia, examining the ways in which they construct – and deconstruct – meetings of human and machine bodies. One of the key issues this younger generation of writers explores is the return of the discarded or abandoned, which is then, in its meeting with human flesh or consciousness, used to supplement and change ideas of ‘the human’. I will focus in particular on Chen’s novel The Waste Tide, in which a young migrant worker sorting electronic waste is transformed into a cyborg – a messianic figure who becomes an embodiment of a new collective consciousness, giving the ‘waste people’ a new voice and power. In this novel, human bodies are thresholds; becoming monstrous, they become sites of possibility and change, allowing the most precarious in society to take back what has been thrown away, letting out the ghost in the machine and seeing what can stand at these uncertain, malleable borders.
About the speaker
Sarah Dodd is a lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. She is deputy director of the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, and part of the Transcultural Fantastic project. She also co-edits Samovar, an online magazine of speculative fiction in translation.