Date of Award
Economics and Finance
Everything today's readers know about the man Zhang Daye comes from his memoir, The World of a Tiny Insect (Wei Chong Shijie, 微蟲世界). The manuscript was distributed locally after its completion in 1894, though it never achieved wide-scale circulation. Wang Yongyuan of Zhejiang Normal University donated the only complete copy to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the early 1950s where Harvard scholar Xiaofei Tian later discovered the manuscript. Since Tian's publication of an English translation in 2013, Zhang's writings have reached a wider audience than he likely ever imagined. As we read The World, Zhang's words leave readers reflecting on whether or not we have truly grasped his intent:
Who truly appreciates
This wild fellow, Zhang Daye?
In the whole wide world,
There is only Mr. Lü the Woodworker.
Zhang's vivid descriptions of terrors during the Taiping Civil War in The World's second section unwittingly distract readers from investigating his motivations for recording them. When a fragment of his horrific memories appeared in the 1955 Historical Materials, compilers noted that The World's remainder "records many trivial family matters that have no value as historical material," and hence, "were expunged." Family and other matters that Zhang recounts, however, provide an important lens into the dynamics of the world he inhabited. The World of a Tiny Insect contains invaluable descriptions of Chinese social and economic conditions at the end of the twentieth century. Xiaofei Tian's translation is masterful-a work of art in its own right. Her description of the text as one of "mourning and remembrance" focused on "coming to terms with the painful memories of a traumatized childhood," however, deserves reconsideration.
DeFriez, Joshua, "The Poverty of Prefectures: A Reevaluation of the Memoir of Zhang Daye" (2015). Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. 564.
Copyright for this work is retained by the student. If you have any questions regarding the inclusion of this work in the Digital Commons, please email us at .
Departmental Honors Advisor