Hsiang-Yin Sasha Chen

Hsiang-Yin Sasha Chen is Associate Research Fellow in Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, specializing in comparative literature and film studies. She earned her M.A. in St. Petersburg State University and finished Ph.D. at Trinity College in University of Cambridge. Prof. Chen is the visiting scholar at Harvard University in 2009 and 2010 and The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2016. Her recent publications include “Symbolizing and Dramatizing the ‘Self’: ‘Superfluous Man’ and ‘Superfluous Words’ in the Prose of Qu Qiubai” and “Eros Impossible and Eros of the Impossible in Lust/Caution: The Shanghai Lady/Baby in the Late 1930s and Early 1940s” in 2014.


Drink, Politics, and Literature: 

Kollontai’s “Theory of a Glass of Water” in the Early Soviet Union, Japan, and May-Fourth China

This paper examines the relationship among drink, politics and literature, illustrating how the “theory of a glass of water” was prevailing and even invincible via the mechanisms of public transmission in the early Soviet Union and the institutions of underground translation in Japan and China in the late 1920s and 1930s. The paper traces the origin of the theory and explains why Lenin mis- and over-interpreted the theme of love and sex in Kollontai’s stories for his political calculations. Such interpretation was further reconsidered, reinterpreted, repacked or/and reinforced by both Japanese and Chinese Russophiles (including translators); after that a wave of Kollontai’s works swept away the young women and men in the two countries in the late 1920s and the early 1930s.  

The first part of the paper studies Kollontai’s discourse of constructing Communist morality, gender awareness, and national identification, portraying her blue print of the “new woman” under the Communist ideology. The second section depicts the background and development of the theory of a glass of water, examining the evident influence of Kollontai’s works on Russian, Japanese, and Chinese youth and intelligentsia. Moreover, the Chinese translation of Kollontai stimulates the development of both modern Chinese leftist writing and public arguments of gender politics. I will clarify the mis- and over-interpretation and misunderstanding among the initiator, translators, communicators and receivers in Soviet Russia, Japan, and China, demonstrating how Japanese male translators overlooked the theme of “love” in transmission and Chinese blurred the Russian motif of sex in translation. Based on Kollontai’s ideas in Russian, the last part of the paper juxtaposes the original texts with the Chinese and Japanese translations in a comparative analysis of the globalization and localization of the “theory of a glass of water” in transcultural practices.