Undergraduate and graduate programmes offered by the University iuav of Venice:

Paolo Magagnin



I am an assistant professor at the Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia and a corresponding member of the IrAsia (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Universit) research group. My fields of research include modern and contemporary Chinese literature, translation studies, and Chinese political discourse. Besides my research, I am also the Italian translator of fiction works by contemporary Chinese writers Zhu Wen, Xiao Bai, Xu Zechen, and Cao Wenxuan.Paolo Magagnin

Universit Ca’ Foscari Venezia / IrAsia






A Shanghai that never Existed: How Xiao Bai Reshapes the 1931 Urban Scenario

This paper aims to give an account of the innovative, postmodern operation carried out by the Chinese contemporary author Xiao Bai, both at the stylistic and narrative level, in recreating the Shanghai urban reality in his novel Zujie (The Concession). Upon its publication, in 2011, Zujie was critically praised as a unique achievement in contemporary Chinese historical crime fiction and welcomed as a literarythird typecrossing the boundaries between genre fiction (leixing xiaoshuo) and pure literature (chun wenxue). Set in the semi-colonial Shanghai of the early 30’s, inspired by real historical facts and supported by painstaking archival research, Zujie incorporates a variety of Chinese and foreign, past and contemporary literary models, narrative techniques, sources, genres, and themes. From the perspective of such hybridity, one of the most interesting operations carried out by Xiao Bai in the novel is precisely the recreation of the urban scenario of 1931 Shanghai. At the stylistic level, the description of the city draw heavily on the works of Chinese urban literature of the 20’s to the 40’s, from Mao Dun to the ‘New Sensationists’ (xin ganjue pai), from Ding Ling to Eileen Chang. Moreover, through the amalgamation of actual details drawn from historical documents (newspapers, maps, photographs, foreign residents’ accounts, diplomatic correspondence, etc.) and fictional elements, the city is depicted in a way that is likely to trigger both a set of familiar associations in the Western readership and a distancing effect in the Chinese one. The use and re-elaboration of hybrid sources, techniques and perspectives in the depiction of old Shanghai in the novel will be described and commented upon by resorting to significant textual examples, in order to highlight the nature and features of this specific literary operation.


Keywords: Xiao Bai, Shanghai, noir fiction, historical novel, urban space





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