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Lifelong Construction of Self-identities: A Study of Han Suyin's Autobiographies

WANG, YUSI (2024) Lifelong Construction of Self-identities: A Study of Han Suyin's Autobiographies. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 19 May 2027.


This thesis critically examines Eurasian writer Han Suyin's representation of self-identity in her six-volume autobiography, The Crippled Tree, A Mortal Flower, Birdless Summer, My House Has Two Doors, Phoenix Harvest, and Wind in My Sleeve. These books provide a chronological account of Han's experiences from childhood to old age, alongside a series of significant historical events that took place in China and the world between 1885 and 1991. In representing how her identity was shaped by China's encounter with the West in the early twentieth century, Han's autobiographical project provides a meaningful site for exploring her complex, multi-dimensional, and often contradictory self-definition framed by both Western and Chinese history.
This thesis deploys a theoretical framework developed at the intersection of identity studies and autobiographical studies. Drawing on identity theories, especially Stuart Hall's concepts of ‘cultural identity and ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’, Paul John Eakin's notion of ‘relationality’, Melissa Brown's concept of ‘negotiated identity’ and Eilidh Hall's theory of ‘negotiation’, I discuss three distinct aspects of Han's identity, these being cultural, social, and political. I use Smith and Watson's theory of autobiographical subjects and autobiographical acts, particularly their discussion of memory, identity, agency, and the autobiographical ‘I’, to explore Han's autobiographical writing and her textual strategies of self-fashioning.
Han is a Eurasian who primarily identifies as Chinese. In line with her self-identification, scholars, particularly Chinese scholars in the post-1980s Chinese reform era, prefer to emphasise Han's self-representation as Chinese rather than her mixed identity. I challenge this binary opposition between Europeanness and Chineseness and demonstrate the mixed, heterogeneous, and ambiguous nature of Han's autobiographical self. Instead of assigning fixed and static identities to Han, I focus on three sets of concept—dialogicality, performance, and hybridity—to show how Han adopts a pluralistic methodology of self-definition to reveal a sense of identity-in-heterogeneity, identity-in-difference. By highlighting these three terms, I also challenge the basic paradigm of the independent, authentic, and unitary self of traditional autobiography and argue that Han's autobiographical self is relational, constructive, and multiple.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:21 May 2024 12:29

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