Chinese Modernist fiction is very complicated in terms of imagery and literary expression used by the author, as well as in terms of dual or multiple meanings of the works, but in general they express the mood of the epoch. Mu’s stories are to great extent experimental and vary between purely proletarian fiction and ‘dialect’ writings that express really deep thoughts through internal monologues and the use of dialogue as a tool of changing the characters’ self-perception or their impressions about their environment (MacDonald, 2004).
Mu Shiying’s prose is often called “New Sensationist” (Xin ganjuepai) style of writing short stories whose plot often develops rapidly, whereas the picture the author has drawn at first remains unchengeable(MacDonald, 2004). “The name “New Sensationist” was derived from the Shinkankahu ha, a group of Japanese avant-garde writers from the 1920s and 1930s. However, the evidence is against the actual existence of a group of writers who called themselves “New Sensationist” in China” (MacDonald, 2004, p. 797).
Nevertheless, Mu’s short story entitled “Five in a Nightclub” gives a number of sensational experiences, which this essay is designed to discuss. The first scene of the short story describes the intrinsic human need for material resources, the main drive of the business world: “Men with blood-shot eyes milled about the gold exchange. […] The speculators devolved into brutes.
The wind blew the reason from their minds and the steel from their nerves” (Shiying, 1992, p. 5), so that the first perception of Shanghai refers to the psychological tension between the people, who have suffered a lot from the adversities, brought about by life. The first episode represents the pace of Shanghai life: a person can lose their fortune or become rich in one moment, so the description of instability and nervousness refers to the lack of control over the situation, as if the participants were obedient marionettes in the hands of the powerful and malicious force.
The second scene, depicting a young man, scornfully rejected by the girl he loves, also refers to the whims of fortune and more precisely –explains the sensation of hope; this feeling appears hovering or hanging over the place where Zheng Ping is waiting for his darling. The words he sent to the girl yesterday are, as he realizes, written to describe his today’s situation: “Stranger, O stranger! / Yesterday I was your slave. Today you say I’m a stranger…” (Shiying, 1992, p. 6).
Importantly, there is a notable contrast between the first paragraphs, in which the author describes the character’s romantic thought, his illusionary closeness to the object of his strong feeling, and his disappointment and sorrow at the end, when “Zheng Ping’s hair turned white” (Shiying, 1992, p. 7). Fragments rapidly change one another. The short passage about a young woman, who has lost her beauty over the recent years, points to the perception of human body as machine that can be used: “Youth A – “Isn’t it Daisy Huang? She was the toast of the town five years ago! ” Youth B – “Amen.
She was quite a dish! ”” (Shiying, 1992, p. 8). Accordingly, human beings do not belong completely to themselves, as they should always try hard to meet the requirements, imposed by society, especially those related to appearance and beauty. Ji Jie, the character, described in the next episode, is also lost in his self-identity and self-perception, so that he even fails to comprehend his real nature and the sense of his being in this world. Another character, battered cruelly by life, is Miao Zongdan, a clerk, who has been working hard for his career development and who receives a letter of dismissal.
This episode is very similar to the first one, in which the sudden turning-point can ultimately change the individual’s life, destroy their desires, aspirations, ambitions – just like a high wave of tsunami that covers the person’s life. The first chapter of the short story therefore provides an overview of the psychological lives of certain dwellers of Shanghai, whereas the other people, surrounding them, remain indifferent, so that the average inhabitant of Shanghai is a ‘small person’, incapable of managing their fate. On the other hand, they should cope with their problems without any support from outside.
The second chapter narrates about a typical Saturday night in Shanghai, or the bright underground life, heated by neon, alcohol and cigarettes: “Red streets, green streets, blue streets, purple streets… City clad in strong colours! Dancing neon light – multi-coloured waves, scintillating waves, colourless waves – a sky filled with colour. The sky now had everything: wine, cigarettes, high-heels, clock-towers…” (Shiying, 1992, p. 10). Human mores become increasingly more relaxed at this time, and people are about to do unusual things, as such conducts are not likely to happen in the daylight.
In the third chapter, Shanghai is described in merely two colors: black and white, that symbolize purity and dust, but flow together into a single glamour of the night club. In addition, one can note a mixture of different cultures in nightclub settings: the club itself is designed in European style, as the idea of night amusements in such settings derives from this continent, whereas the customers are Chinese; and the dancers who entertain the visitors are “Russian princesses” (Shiying, 1992, p.
11). This pre-arranged chaos influences the characters almost magically: their dreams seem to come true. The idea of saving night resembles the fairy tale theme: at daytime, the characters remain ugly beasts, whereas at night they turn into young and attractive princes and princesses, who become rich and are as a result surrounded by their admirers.
In this sense, night is remedy against all daily troubles, as they all are resolved or fixed very quickly and naturally, as if the natural force that throws the characters into the depth of adversity and misfortune calms down at night – this magic conversion can be compared to black and white colors, which seem to be the major imagery in this place: “By the white tablecloths sit men dressed in formal evening attire: layers of black and white: black hair, white faces, black eyes, white collars, black ties, white starched shirts, black jackets, white waistcoats, black pants…black and white…” (Shiying, 1992, p.
10). The author seems to recognize only extremes, rather than the “golden middle” that balances the positive and negative forces and protects human psyche from excessively strong feelings and emotions. The city, in turn, also experiences a kind of transformation: whereas at daytime it looks like a huge technocratic monster that has only concrete and asphalt inside and is inhabited by people, who hurt each other with their apathy and indifference; at night it alters into a real paradise, filled with the radiance of happiness, kindness and friendliness.
Noticeably, the characters in the night club interact with one another very dynamically and seem united by this atmosphere of common joy and relaxation. Nevertheless, this illusion of amusement seems unrealistic after the events, which took place in the afternoon; in spite of the miraculous healing of all human hardships, it contains the after-pains, which give the idea of the possible return of all daily problems once this wonderful night comes to its logical end.
The depiction of the common excitement only reinforces the reader’s expectation of the future negative events, which will take place in the following morning or afternoon and shatter this positive emotional atmosphere. As for the characters in the nightclub settings, they are described as fragments, successfully integrated in an entity, as all of them manifest their self-confidence in almost the same way. For instance, Daisy re-gains her youth and beauty, so that nobody recognizes her, except her companion, Junyi, a gold baron: “”I’ve never been more sane in my life!
” said Daisy, who had regained her composure. Suddenly she laughed again: “I will always be young. Oh, Junyi, let’s make a real night of it! ” Daisy pulled Hu Junyi out onto the dance floor” (Shiying, 1992, p. 12). Later, Zheng Ping enters the club, looking drunk and happy because this time he has another girlfriend and therefore seems protected from the negative remembrances, which can be caused by Nina’s presence. Similarly to Daisy’s case, Zheng experiences a very short loss of nerves, but finally retakes self-control and focuses on his new girlfriend.
Although Miao’s problem is not solved yet, he also joins the party and soon becomes drunk and happy. Whereas at first, Daisy and Hu’s joy seems natural, later the company is gradually falling into absolutely inhuman and unexplainable ecstasy that can be caused only by the overuse of spirits: “Everyone laughed with her – open mouths, open mouths, open mouth… gaping holes that with every passing moment seemed less human” ((Shiying, 1992, p. 14). The characters have already joined to the nightclub atmosphere, primarily – because all of them have come with partners, so that they are no loner lonely and miserable.
Ji Jie, despite the demonstrative happiness of the other four persons, is slowly sinking in the marsh of his own thoughts, in his hard mental work. Nevertheless, he is no longer depressed, as his visit to the club will probably allows him to find his identity and understand himself better. Moreover, he is described by the customers as a happy person: “Customer D – “He who has nothing to do after dinner and who can come here to break matchsticks is a happy man”. Customer C – “ Even the drunkard with him is happy! He’s the guy who spilled the drink after badging in here.
A while ago he was picking fights, now he’s telling jokes! ” (Shiying, 1992, p. 18). Towards the end of the night the delight of the five characters begins to disappear, and the sensation of this night never seems to come again, as the problems, experienced by the five persons at daytime, are becoming more real. The sixth character, Jonny, later gets to know that her wife and newborn son are dead, but he is not allowed to leave the work and must continue entertaining the visitors with his music. The five personalities, who seemed cheerful to craze in the evening, are now described as “popped balloons” (Shiying, 1992, p. 20).
All the characters later reconcile themselves to the fact that they are losers in this life, only Hu Junyi kills himself. His death is a milestone, after which the other characters open their true faces and confess to their tiredness of living. The night was nothing more than an attempt to repair the shattered lives, whose pieces turned out so small that it was impossible to paste them together. To sum up, the new perception of Shanghai is presented as never-ending rolling down, a journey through the severe daily reality and exaggeratedly euphoric night parties, which, however, quicken human degradation.
Whiteness and blackness are never to mix together in Shanghai, so that its dwellers are fated to swinging between the two extremes, which are pain and delight. Either sooner, or later, the life of this small person will be shattered by the large city, as the short story narrates. Works cited MacDonald, S. The Shanghai Foxtrot by: Introduction. Modernism/modernity, Vol. 11 (4): pp. 797-807 Shiying, Mu. Five in a Nightclub, Renditions Spring 1992, pp. 5-22.