As one of the best and most complicated books by Brian Castro (an Australian writer of Chinese heritage), Shanghai Dancing has received much critical attention from diverse perspectives. Bernadette Brennan has comprehensively discussed the language play in Shanghai Dancing, while Katherine Hallemeier and Maryline Brun focus their research on the contested notion of hybridity and its representations in this book. Scholars like Wang Guanglin have interviewed Brian Castro about Shanghai Dancing and produced several critical papers reflecting on the author’s original views of the text. Although these existing discussions have touched on many of the notable aspects of Shanghai Dancing, there is a gap to fill in the scholarship if we highlight the way this book represents memory, family history and a notion of self.
Generically, Shanghai Dancing blurs the boundaries between fiction and autobiography, and deconstructs the common approach to writing about family history. It fictionalizes the author’s autobiographical memory and contests how family myths are recorded and rediscovered through memory, and how both national history and family history are presented from perspectives of individual memory and family memory. Therefore, in a way, Shanghai Dancing is a text for looking at the relations between memory, history, and the fictional construction of family myths. By narrations of the Castro family myth and history, the notion of the self is thus contested linguistically, temporally and geographically.
My argument is that Shanghai Dancing is not only a postmodernist fictional autobiography; it is also a template for studying how the self, memory and family history relate to each other. It should be situated in distinctive transnational literary linguistic, and cultural contexts in order to be comprehensively interpreted.