Historical novels can be windows into other cultures and eras, but it's not always clear what's fact and what's fiction. Thousands have read Ba Jin's influential novel Family, but few realize how much he shaped his depiction of 1920s China to suit his story and his politics. In Fact in Fiction, Kristin Stapleton puts Ba Jin's bestseller into full historical context, both to illustrate how it successfully portrays human experiences during the 1920s and to reveal its historical distortions.
Stapleton's attention to historical evidence and clear prose that directly addresses themes and characters from Family create a book that scholars, students, and general readers will enjoy. She focuses on Chengdu, China, Ba Jin's birthplace and the setting for Family, which was also a cultural and political center of western China. The city's richly preserved archives allow Stapleton to create an intimate portrait of a city that seemed far from the center of national politics of the day but clearly felt the forces of—and contributed to—the turbulent stream of Chinese history.
About the author
Kristin Stapleton is Associate Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is also the author of Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform, 1895–1937 (2000) and a member of the National Committee on United States–China Relations.
"What a marvelous resource for literature and world history courses! Stapleton provides invaluable insights on one of the most widely read modern Chinese novels, Ba Jin's Family. Beautifully written, Fact in Fiction invites students to research Chinese society and literature, and to explore how fiction shapes historical understanding. An excellent contribution!"
—Roberta Martin, Columbia University
"This book is beautifully written and a real pleasure to read. It offers a useful complement to Family that will enable readers to understand the social context and political implications of Ba Jin's work. It is also an instructive example of how to read literary sources with attention to their motivation and historical context."
—Henrietta Harrison, University of Oxford
"With insightful readings and incisive research Kristin Stapleton illustrates how Ba Jin captured the emotional truth about idealistic students in the May Fourth era while over-simplifying the history. The book is a beautiful demonstration of the ways historical research can enhance our understanding of fiction, and fiction can enrich our understanding of history."
—Paul S. Ropp, Clark University
"By placing Ba Jin's popular novels in the tangible urban environment in early twentieth-century Chengdu, Stapleton provides a wonderful window through which we see a cross-section of Chengdu society"
—Zhao Ma, Journal of Social History