Feline Dystopias in Republican China: From Lao She’s Cat Country to Liao Bingxiong’s Kingdom of Cats

In ancient China, the cat was rather considered as a beneficent animal whose attitude was mimicked in agrarian dances (Marcel Granet, 1926), even if it was associated with theimage of a demon around the 6th century. For a long time it played a marginal role, probably because its cousin the tiger received all the attention (as shown by the choice of the twelve animals of the zodiac, of which it is not a part). Moreover, the Chinese holistic view of the world, which assigns each living being a place in the cosmic hierarchy, undoubtedly hindered the development of literature that gave animals an anthropomorphised role, an illustrious exception being the sixteenth-century novel Journey to the West. A popular animal among Chan Buddhists, it was well represented in paintings from the Song dynasty (960-1279) as a symbol of good fortune and longevity. As Wilt L. Idema (Mouse vs. Cat in Chinese Literature, 2019) has shown, the confl icting relationship of the
cat and the mouse inspired the legend of the trial of the mouse against the cat in the court of Yama, the king of the underworld, a popular subject in late imperial ballads and modern popular literature, as well as that, often depicted in New Year prints, of the mouse’s wedding. This allegorical and moralising depiction of the cat as a predatory hypocrite was repeated in the three Republican-era (1912-1949) satirical works I will discuss here, the poem Admonitions of the Cat (Mao gao 貓 誥) (1925) by Zhu Xiang 朱湘 (1904-1933), the novel Cat Country (Maocheng ji 貓記)(1933) by Lao She 老舍 (1899-1966) and the comic strip The Cat Kingdom (Maoguo chunqiu 貓國春秋) (1945) by Liao Bingxiong 廖冰兄 (1915-2006): I will show how cats, through their supposedly indolent and devious attitude, were able to act as alter egos embodying the ills of Chinese society in disillusioned and self-critical narratives.

Marie Laureillard
Associate Professor of Chinese studies (accredited to direct research) in Lyon 2 University in France, member of the Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies (IAO), is specialised in modern literature and art history and cultural studies of China and Taiwan. She has published Feng Zikai, a Lyrical Cartoonist: Dialogue between Words and Strokes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2017, in French) and co edited Ghosts in the Far East in the Past and Present with Vincent Durand-Dastès (Presses de l’Inalco, 2017, in French), Night in Asia with Edith Parlier-Renault (Asie Sorbonne, 2021) and Cartoons in the Far East: origins, encounters, hybridation with Laurent Baridon (Hémisphères, 2023, in French). She is currently working on literature and comics from the Republican period. She is also the editor of a Taiwanese poetry series published by Circé.