How does an extended family, bound by shared history, affection, and duty but divided by generation, gender, status, and personality, memorialize its dead? This fascinating study shows how members of the prominent Yu family passed down their personal and familial memories over five generations, through the traumatic transition from imperial to modern China and amidst the radical change and destruction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their memory writing is unusual and compelling for its quantity, variety, and resonance of themes across generations. It reflects a particular cultural moment and family, yet offers insight into universal practices of writing and remembrance.
Ink and Tears begins and ends with the Yu family’s two most famous members: the late Qing writer Yu Yue and his great-great grandson Yu Pingbo, each among the most famous and prolific scholars of their respective generations. Over a span of one and a half centuries, they and their lesser-known female and male kin made use of an impressive diversity of genres—poetry, prefaces, biographies, diaries, correspondence, and strange tales—to preserve their family’s memories. During the times in which they wrote, the technologies of printing and the institutions of publication and book distribution were being transformed, and by the time of the great-grandchildren the language of education and governance, definitions of scholarship and literature, and the map of literary genres had all been remade. The Yus’ memory writing thus reveals not just how different family members remembered and mourned, but the changing tools they had with which to convey their loss.
Drawing on a wealth of archival material, Rania Huntington focuses on questions of how memory was crafted, preserved, and transmitted as much as on what was remembered, tracing common tropes and shared strategies. Her beautifully observed study will interest scholars of late imperial and early Republican literature and history, as well as readers more broadly concerned with the family, women’s writing, themes of memory and bereavement, and the personal functions of literature.