Zhang Tianyi’s selective acceptance of Charles Dickens
This research is a comparative study on the works of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Zhang Tianyi 張天翼 (1906-1985). The former was one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era; the latter, a Left-wing writer in Republican China. The study analyses five short stories from Zhang’s corpus and compares his works with ten novles of Dickens. The study argues that Dickens is one among other writers that have parallels with Zhang, through the exploration of several aspects of their works. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Dickens’s novels were introduced to China by Lin Shu. Since then, they have influenced a great number of Chinese scholars and writers. First, considering the contents of Zhang’s short stories, I roughly categorise them into five modes, respectively focusing on bureaucrats, villains, social climbers, revolutionary propa-ganda and wartime intellectuals. One short story of each type is analysed in detail. Second, this study explores both the similarities and the discrepancies between Zhang and Dickens’s inner worlds and the projections of those worlds within their texts. I find that the two authors have much in common in their character portrayals, humour, language, children’s perspectives and focus on social issues, whereas they differ considerably in what they hoped to achieve with their works, partly due to their different social settings, and this in turn gives their works very different qualities. Where Dickens believed in the goodness of human nature and hoped for gradual reform, Zhang Tianyi was a proponent of radical change and revolution. This study expands the scope of the existing research on Zhang Tianyi, clarifies and establishes important factors in Zhang’s literary development, and explores how Zhang imitated Dickens’s artistic techniques and then creatively transformed them. Moreover, this study provides new perspectives and deepens existing studies. This investigation will thereby enable others to better understand Zhang’s literary works, and will simultaneously help map Dickens’s influence outside Britain.