The Russian Nihilist Party (xuwudang) is recognized as one of the most important literary themes adopted by Chinese writers over the course of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russo-Chinese literary interactions. Stories about a beautiful Russian assassin who sacrifices her life to murder the Russian emperor enjoyed great popularity in Chinese culture. However, most analyses of this theme focus on the depiction of female assassins and the social awakening of Chinese women in the late Qing dynasty; to date, no scholar has examined the transformations that this Russian motif underwent within East Asian literature.
By exploring the transcultural process of Russian nihilist story in East Asia, I reveal how Japanese media and literature inspired the depiction of Russian nihilists in Chinese literature, deviating significantly from the original Russian versions. Chinese intellectuals not only directly adopted the Japanese translation of the word “nihilist,” they also embraced the distorted Japanese interpretations of historical events associated with Russian nihilists. As a result, the Chinese idea of nihilism diverged from its Russian political connotations and was assimilated into an exoticized cultural topos of assassination plots. Through a close examination of Japan’s intermediary role in the process of the transculturation of Russian nihilism in China, I illuminate the convoluted journey that Russian literature and culture took to arrive in late Qing China via diverse mediators.
Xiaolu Ma is Assistant Professor in Chinese and East Asian studies at Kalamazoo College. She graduated from Harvard University in 2017, where she received her PhD in comparative literature. A native speaker of Chinese and fluent in Japanese and Russian, she engages in rigorous research and teaching in the areas of transculturation and world literature, translation theory, narratology and spatial narrative, literature and medicine, and auto/biography, all of which she applies particularly to the interrelationship of Chinese, Russian, and Japanese literatures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Her first book project analyzes how Chinese writers adapted, translated, and intertextualized Russian literature via the intermediary of Japanese scholarly and creative writing in the late of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a complement to this project, she has published in English and Chinese on topics of translation theory and transcultural study concerning Chinese literature and its interactions with Japanese and Russian literature and culture.