Chinese Journal of Sociology ›› 2023, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (1): 173-202.

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Home, Factory and the Birth of Modern Individuals in China:An Analysis of the Life-World of the Characters in Fei Xiaotong's Cocoon

LING Peng, MENG Qi   

  • Published:2023-03-08
  • Supported by:
    This article is a phased achievement of the Chinese National Social Science Foundation Youth Project "Research on Land and Social Governance in Traditional Chinese Society" (19CSH011).

Abstract: Cocoon is an English novel written by Fei Xiaotong after his work of great importance in theory and documentation-Peasant Life in China. Previous studies of the novel have mainly focused on its social economy and family structure, and have rarely explored the significance of the major characters' emotional and mental changes in the story. By introducing the concept and perspective of "life-world", this paper carefully analyses the emotional and mental changes of the characters in the novel, and finds that Fei Xiaotong presents the birth process of his ideal modern Chinese individual through the image of Baozhu, that is, in the overlap and tension of home(i.e. cocoon) and factory, the modern individual can truly emerge. What follows is a new life-world structure based on modern individuals. In this structure, home is not only the place where the individual is raised, but also the source of motivation and the place of security for the individual. After breaking off from the cocoon(home), the modern individual is most likely to return to re-build the important place of "home" in the new life world. In contrast, the image of Wang Wanqiu in the novel shows another possible entanglement state of the individual. For Wang Wanqiu, there is no real home as a place of nurturing and a source of motivation, so her self-individual is unable to build a system that re-accommodates the home and the external world. Instead, she longs more for a fantasy home, resulting in a series of actions and consequences. The contrast between Baozhu and Wang Wanqiu in Cocoon truly reveals Fei Xiaotong's understanding of the complex possibility of Chinese people and Chinese society changing from tradition to modernity. The novel opens up an important sociological research avenue on the relationship between individuals and families in China.

Key words: Fei Xiaotong, modern personality, social transformation, home, Life-world