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Some memories of Nanxiu

It’s a great shock to know that Nanxiu has passed into the beyond. She was one of that generation of intellectuals who survived the Cultural Revolution and came to graduate school ten or so years late, and it was my good fortune to sit in classrooms with her— an infinitely more experienced, better-read, and more committed scholar than I could be at age 24. I learned from her in all sorts of ways. We grad students jokingly referred to her as our 姐姐 and as 南方的秀才, and she really was both. She was able to capture and pass on the subtle clues of Ming loyalist women who wrote 詩 and 詞 that were seemingly casual but hinted at much more below the surface. She gave me a sense of Nanjing and its lingering history. I remember watching a tape of 河殤 with her when it was new and coming to understand the urgency of historical critique for contemporary Chinese people. Our circle of friends also spent four or five days aghast in front of the television in early summer 1989, sharing the feeling that history and our ideals were being reversed. She moved on from tragedy and waste by writing brilliant scholarship. Her books, packed with learning and insight, draw us into the world of those Six Dynasties intellectuals, nonconformists, rebels, and survivors who pronounced a few immortal sentences (later recorded in 世說新語) before disappearing into the disasters of their times.

A few years ago, Nanxiu came to an art opening in Houston for my friend the artist Mel Chin. The global-health activist Paul Farmer was there too. I can't imagine a more brilliant assembly than those three. I always expected to see more of Nanxiu. If anyone has a recording of her operas, I would love to hear it. I will never forget her or the many lessons she taught me through her words and through her life.

Haun Saussy

December 30, 2022

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