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Ward, Sandi (2017) SAN MAO: OASIS OR MIRAGE? THE PHENOMENON OF THE "CHINESE WOMAN OF THE DESERT". Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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San Mao 三毛 (1943-1991) was one of the most popular writers of the Chinese-speaking world in the 1970s and 1980s. Her most popular works, Stories of the Sahara and Weeping Camels, describe her life in Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) and the Canary Islands with her Spanish husband in the early 1970s. These tales portray San Mao as an independent, resourceful wanderer, able to make a home for herself wherever she goes, and keen to interact with overlooked members of society. San Mao's self-depiction as a representative of Chinese culture spreading goodwill throughout the world found a receptive audience in 1970s Taiwan. Her fame spread to mainland China in the 1980s, when economic liberalization resulted in an expansion in publishing, giving mainland readers access to types of literature that had not been widely available for decades. These waves of enthusiasm for San Mao's work were dubbed "San Mao Fever" or the "San Mao Phenomenon."
This thesis explores San Mao's popularity using Raymond Williams's term "structures of feeling." Williams used "structures of feeling" to describe the state of experiences as they emerge and develop, before they solidify into recognizable social and cultural forms. Structures of feeling are emerging experiences that later identify a particular generation or the spirit of an era. I argue that San Mao achieved such great popularity not simply because of her writing style or the appealing self-presentation offered in her works, but also because her work articulated a structure of feeling with which sympathetic readers identified. This structure of feeling emphasized freedom and self-expression, at a time when readers in Taiwan and mainland China faced varying degrees of government oppression and isolation from the international community. Meanwhile, critics treated San Mao with disdain in part because of their inability to appreciate her method of articulating this structure of feeling. Concluding the thesis is my own translation of San Mao's essay "From Empty Hands, A Home," selected from Stories of the Sahara.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ward, Sandispw26@pitt.eduspw26
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairQian,
Committee MemberCarlitz,
Committee MemberBove, Carol
Date: 15 June 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 7 April 2017
Approval Date: 15 June 2017
Submission Date: 11 May 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 134
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > East Asian Studies
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: San Mao, Taiwan literature, Chinese literature, structures of feeling
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2017 22:01
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2017 22:01


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