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“Strange Tales of the Electric Art”: Hypnotism and the Literary Imagination in Early Twentieth-Century China

Colloquium: Center for Chinese Studies | April 30 | 4-6 p.m. | IEAS conference room, sixth floor


2223 Fulton Street, Berkeley, CA 94720

Tie Xiao, CCS Postdoctoral Fellow

Laurence Coderre, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)


While now often written off as a “pseudo”-scientific hoax, the widespread engagement with hypnotism (cuimianshu) in early twentieth-century China was integral to what was most self-consciously “modern.” Its early practitioners claimed to hold the miraculous cure for the spiritual and bodily ailments of the nation and positioned themselves as part of an enlightened vanguard. The diffusion of the imported psychological knowledge of somnambulism and thought-transference introduced such concepts as hallucination and divided consciousness that extended well beyond the boundaries of medical science and was intrinsically bound up with the contemporary preoccupation with new dimensions of subjectivity and interiority as well as the politics of awakening. This study traces the introduction and dissemination of the idea of induced hypnosis, and illustrates how hypnotism animated literary imaginations where its promise of cure and enlightenment was overshadowed by the anxieties about unconscious manipulation. By inquiring into what has been disregarded as irrational, this study explores where the boundaries of plausibility and implausibility, the normal and the pathological, were disputed.


ccs@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6321